Sunday, March 17, 2013

Victorian Values

Over Shabbat, I was rummaging through drawers and found a toy I had bought (for myself) years ago, from the Metropolitan Museum in New York:  a large book that when folded out, reveals an exquisitely detailed two-story eight-room Victorian doll house.  Over the years I have collected miniatures from all over the world for the doll house I never had as a girl.

I wondered if Raphaela was old enough to appreciate this toy, and whether her hands were gentle enough to play with the cut out figures that accompany it;  I decided to take the risk, especially because at that moment my daughter was approaching the threshold of boredom and destruction.

She immediately fell in love with the book, carefully placing the mother (holding a handkerchief), father (mustached, holding a newspaper) and the two little girls in the family unit.  The set also included a cut out of a nanny, dressed sternly with a bun in her hair and book in her arms.  When it came to dinner time for the family, Raphaela sat them at the elaborate dinner table and then said, "Why are there only four place settings?  Where is the nanny supposed to sit and eat her food?"

I hesitated to explain issues of class, that the "staff" is not welcome to join the family at intimate events; as a value system, I am the last to encourage division and snobbish omission.  I tried to gloss over the issue by placing the nanny at the table, saying that they must have forgotten to set another place setting.

Raphaela paused for a moment, took the figure of the nanny into the Conservatory, and said, "It's OK, she wanted to read her book anyway."

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