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. 

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Last Updated on October 2, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 445

Katherine Mansfield’s short story “The Doll’s House” commences when Mrs. Hay, a previous guest of the 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...

(The entire section contains 1099 words.)

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Katherine Mansfield’s short story “The Doll’s House” commences when Mrs. Hay, a previous guest of the 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’s 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, they have been ordered to stay away from the other girls. 

As the days go by, more and more children come over to see the house. 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 friends flaunt their superiority by encouraging a schoolmate, Lena, 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, 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 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 them, and sends the Kelveys running. Aunt Beryl, who had been anxious that day, feels lighter after scaring the Kelveys and scolding Kezia. 

The Kelveys sit down to rest, 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.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 654

One day Isabel, Lottie, and Kezia Burnell are given a beautiful dollhouse by a houseguest. After it is placed in a courtyard so that its paint smell will disperse through the remainder of the summer, the children lift back its entire front wall to examine its contents. Its beauty overwhelms them. Kezia particularly loves a little lamp, filled with oil, that stands in the middle of the dining room table. To her, the lamp is real.

Burning to boast about their new dollhouse to classmates, the girls go to school the next morning. They are permitted to bring other girls home, two by two, to see the dollhouse in the courtyard. As girls surround the Burnells during a school recess, the eldest sister, Isabel, describes the dollhouse. The girls crowd in to get as close as possible, but two girls do not join the ring; they are the little Kelvey girls, who know better than to try to approach the Burnells.

The Burnell girls are not allowed to speak to the Kelveys, whose mother is a washerwoman and whose father is rumored to be in prison. Lil Kelvey, the elder sister, is a “stout, plain child, with big freckles.” Her younger sister, Else, follows her everywhere, holding onto her skirt, which she tugs when she wants anything. The Kelvey girls wear “bits” given to their mother by the people for whom she works. Lil wears a dress made from an old tablecloth belonging to the Burnells, and her feathered hat once belonged to the postmistress. Else wears a white dress that looks like an old nightgown. She never smiles and rarely speaks.

The Kelvey sisters hang about around the circle of girls who raptly listen to Isabel Burnell. When Isabel finishes her story, Kezia reminds her that she has forgotten to mention the dollhouse’s lamp. Kezia cries out, “The lamp’s best of all,” but no one listens as Isabel begins choosing who will be first to see the dollhouse. Every girl around Isabel adores her and wants to be her friend.

As the days pass, pairs of girls visit the Burnells’ home in order to view the wonderful dollhouse, whose fame soon spreads. Everyone talks about the house in their classes. The Kelveys remain the only girls who have not seen the dollhouse, but they sit as close to the other girls as they dare so they can hear its descriptions. One evening when Kezia asks her mother if the Kelveys may come to see the house, she is told firmly that they cannot.

Eventually, the dollhouse ceases to interest the girls at the school, who now amuse themselves by taunting the Kelveys. At her classmates’ urging, Lena Logan goes up to the Kelveys and insults them. The other girls enjoy this so much that they run off, skipping higher and running about faster than they ever have before. After school that afternoon, Kezia Burnell sneaks out of her house in order to avoid her parents’ guests. When she spots the Kelvey girls coming up a road, she invites them to come in to see the dollhouse. Lil gasps and says they cannot because they know Kezia is not allowed to talk to them. Lil resists Kezia’s insistent invitation until Else tugs at her skirt. Though still doubtful, Lil gives in and follows Kezia to the courtyard. The moment that Kezia opens the dollhouse so the girls can see inside, Kezia’s Aunt Beryl enters the courtyard. Having had a bad day, the aunt orders “those little rats of Kelveys” away and scolds Kezia, thereby making herself feel much better.

The Kelvey girls rest in a field on their way home. Lil has taken off her feathered hat. They dreamily look over the hay paddocks across the creek. Else strokes the feather on her sister’s hat; smiling her rare smile, she softly says that she has seen “the little lamp.”

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