In anticipation of our trip to Holland, I bought this book at the Dutch Painting show at the MFA in Boston last November. It sat patiently until time for the trip. I became instantly captivated by the world of 17C Amsterdam and the peculiar household of the heroine. The right to publish this first novel by Jessie Burton was subject to an 11 publisher bidding war at the London Book Fair! Over a million copies have been sold in 26 languages. An impressive debut!
Dolls houses, Poppenhuizen in Dutch, were the hobby of the wives of very wealthy Dutch merchants. On a weekend trip to Amsterdam, Ms Burton visited the Rijks Museum and saw the dollhouse that inspired the story. The one above is in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. It was created between 1743 and 1751 from parts of three earlier houses.
There are only six surviving houses in the Netherlands and they give a fascinating glimpse into the domestic life at the time. No area is neglected including the attics, here containing a exquisite miniature of a Japanese screen.
Filled with tiny collections of Delft, pewter and glass, the dining room is set for a family of six. The gold leaf panels shimmer against the vibrant green paint.
Next door on the lower lever (you can see them both in the full length photo) is the kitchen, replete with fireplace and ruffled hood, spigots and cupboards of serving platters.
In a room ready for grand entertaining, a huge cabinet displays the most treasured possessions, announcing to visitors that this is a family of wealth indeed! Its hard to remember how diminutive this all is!
A parlor with an odd figure in it displays books, paintings and a stepped shelf of more blue and white porcelain.
With the grand piano, this music room must tell a story with its falling curtains and cracked mirror – but what?
Bedrooms are not forgotten and, in these cold houses, bed hangings are needed to keep warn enough for sleep.
In another room of the museum, an exhibit of replicated and real rooms from this doll house and others allows visitors to get very close and see all the many many details in each room. Did you read this book? It was a little strange, but I loved it. It received uniformly excellent reviews but online readers comments varied widely. Her new book “The Muse” has just been published in the US.