Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2006


Vernon Lee's "The Doll" is the story of a collector's reformation. The thing (which perhaps should not be called a thing) that is responsible for putting the collector "out of conceit with ferreting about among dead people's properties" is a doll that once belonged to a widowed count. The count had spent hours each day holding this life-sized mannequin, which had been dressed in his wife's clothing and a wig fashioned from her hair. When the count died, the doll was cast into a closet. The collector encounters the doll while shopping for bric-a brac and presses her curiosity dealer for its history. Indignant that this tragic object should be left to gather dust in a closet, she purchases the doll in order to burn it. Burning the doll cures her insatiable desire for bric-a-brac and puts "an end to [the doll's] sorrows."1 The historical contextualization of this object has remedied the narrator's taste for collecting and has facilitated the liberation of an object from degradation and disregard. In this essay I read Lee's fiction as an eth ical instruction manual for the modern consumer, as allegorical directions for the recontextualization or re-auraticization of objects. I argue that Lee formulates an ethical corrective to the subjectivism of modern consumer practices in her ghost stories. The heroes of these stories model a method of appreciation that acknowl edges the historical otherness of the cultural relic and grants the object a separate and distinct identity, allowing it to exceed its utility as an indicator of taste. This praxis of ethical consumption is set up as an alternative to aggressive modes of consumption that threaten to absorb and assimilate difference. Again and again in Lee's short fiction, characters are awakened to the sanctity, the otherness, the separateness of objects, and these ethical awakenings are often the result of what I refer to as "historicized consumption."

Publication Title

Criticism-A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts





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© 2006, Wayne State University Press.View original published version at 10.1353/crt.2007.0018.

Subjects - Topical (LCSH)

Consumption (Economics)--Moral and ethical aspects

Subjects - Names (LCNAF)

Lee, Vernon, 1856-1935. Doll