The Doll's House Summary
In Katherine Mansfield’s “The Doll’s House,” the three Burnell sisters are gifted a beautiful dollhouse.
- The wealthy Burnell sisters, already popular at school, become even more so thanks to their beautiful new dollhouse. Their parents allow them to bring their friends home two by two to see it.
Else and Lil Kelvey are the destitute daughters of a rumored criminal, making them social outcasts. Mrs. Burnell forbids Kezia from inviting the Kelveys to see the dollhouse.
- One night, Kezia breaks this rule and invites the Kelveys to see the dollhouse. However, they are promptly chased off by Kezia’s aunt. Despite this, they are pleased to have seen it.
Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Katherine Mansfield’s short story “The Doll’s House” commences when Mrs. Hay, a previous guest of the wealthy Burnell family, sends the Burnell daughters a magnificent dollhouse. The house is beautifully decorated and comes with four dolls, but the dolls are too big and don’t look right for the house. However, the girls are captivated by the house’s tiny accessories, from paintings with tiny gold frames to a realistic miniature lamp.
Isabel Burnell declares to her younger sisters, Lottie and Kezia, that she will be the one to tell everyone at school about the dollhouse because she is the oldest. Isabel is also given the right to choose the first pair of schoolmates to come over to see the dollhouse. At playtime, all the schoolgirls crowd around to hear Isabel’s news. Isabel describes the house and all its glories, especially the lamp. Else and Lil Kelvey, listening from afar, know not to come close to the other children; as the daughters of a local washerwoman and an absent father, who is rumored to be in prison, they have been ordered to stay away from the other children. Their poverty is evident in the clothes the sisters wear, which are sewn from scraps of fabric cast off by their mother’s clients. While children of different social classes generally mix at the school—the only one in the area—the Kelveys are outright shunned by many of their classmates.
As the days go by, more and more children come over to see the Burnells’ dollhouse. The girls compete for Isabel’s attention, hoping to earn the right to see the house sooner and to be close friends with the Burnell girls because of their status. Kezia asks to invite the Kelvey girls to see the dollhouse, but Mrs. Burnell flatly refuses. When everyone has seen the dollhouse except the Kelveys, Isabel and her friends flaunt their superiority by encouraging a schoolmate, Lena Logan, to bully them: she asks if Lil will be a servant when she grows up and taunts her about her father. The girls then run away from Lil and Else and begin skipping rope, excited by having insulted the Kelveys and “wild with joy.”
One night, Kezia sees the Kelveys walking on the road past the Burnell home and invites them into the courtyard to see the dollhouse. Lil, the eldest, refuses the invitation twice, insisting that she and her sister have been told to not go near the Burnell girls. Else’s “imploring eyes,” however, convince her to accept the invitation. They follow Kezia into the courtyard, and she begins to show them the dollhouse. Kezia’s aunt Beryl catches them, yells at Kezia for inviting the girls, and sends the Kelveys running. Aunt Beryl, who had been anxious that day because of a threatening letter she had received, feels lighter after scaring the Kelveys and scolding Kezia.
The Kelveys sit down to rest on a drainpipe, out of sight of the Burnells, and are content that they got a glimpse of the dollhouse. Else remarks that she even saw the little lamp.