The place of the doll in 18th century societies

The place of the doll in 18th century societies

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In modern times, the toy is first considered unnecessary, because it is too expensive, harmful and distracts the child from serious study. Under the Age of Enlightenment, it becomes an interesting object to understand the child and make him happy. The doll being the toy most used by the little girl, allows to observe the social evolutions of the time. The word "doll" first appeared in accounts in the 18th century and has its roots in the Latin "pupa" which encompasses several meanings such as the little girl, the doll, the figurine or the mother's breast. The very translation of the word shows the stereotypes associated with the use of this toy by the girl since the beginnings of mankind.

The making and appearance of the figurines

The dolls can be made roughly in wood, in straw or on the contrary be an object made with meticulousness, precious, fragile in porcelain, in wax and with glass eyes. Depending on the background of the girl, the toy is made by a parent with his own hands with the means at hand and by the child himself. For the most privileged, the doll is made by a toy specialist. Initially, these dolls represent religious figures, then they are mainly female figurines adorned with sumptuous dresses.

In the 18th century, dolls embodied fashion icons and imitated women of high society, but also the child himself. The girl dresses and combs her doll like her, like a future lady of high society. These physical evolutions are due to the assertions of the ideas of the Enlightenment criticizing the Catholic Church. The dolls therefore hardly take on the appearance of religious, especially in wealthy circles. They now have an appearance that girls can compare and relate to.

The functions of the doll

The role of the doll is varied. It allows the child to awaken, to grow, to develop his imagination and therefore to learn. The populations of the eighteenth century gradually discovered the world of childhood and tried to understand it. As the girl plays with her doll and humanizes her, the parents must teach the child that her toy is different from human beings. The use of this toy has a didactic purpose, in addition to the game. The little girl, playing with her doll, performs role plays where she imagines herself with her baby. She therefore learns to feed, dress and take care of her toddler by imitating the gestures of the women around her. In modern times, the role of women remains simple, she must be fertile and have many children. The Church insists on procreation, which is the primary goal of marriage.

When the little girl uses the doll for her future role as a mother, the men accept the use of the toy. But debates arise when the doll is used for more intellectual education, because the female child should not be taught too much. The goal is to keep the woman in her stereotypical functions. The doll can be used to teach the laws of nature on animate and inanimate beings, being an object that she is very fond of, the little girl listens attentively to the lessons given to her through the toy. The doll is often given as an example in the writings as what should be a woman for the time, an individual not having to show any emotion, not having to talk too much and especially not standing up to men. The main objectives of this toy are to help the girl become a future woman, a docile wife and a devoted mother.

Acceptance of the toy in families

Since the Renaissance, iconographic and handwritten sources containing young girls with their dolls have existed. But it was in the 18th century that a change took place, these sources became even more numerous, because the place of children was more important within families. Childhood becomes a period recognized in the same way as adulthood. People procreate less in order to take better care of their offspring. Thus, the toys that follow the evolution of the cherubs accompany them in the stories and paintings. Artists paint portraits of young girls holding their dolls, whether they are from a bourgeois or poor background. Family portraits and everyday scenes highlight the doll, which in the 18th century obtained a prominent place in the sources. The toy allows parents to interact with their child, this link created between the two generations is present in the writings of the time of governess such as Félicité de Genlis, who takes care of the education of the children of Orleans whose Louis-Philippe in 1773, future king of the French.

The girl with her doll reflects the fate of the child. She will have to take care of her home. She will have the duty to belong to her husband who has all the powers within the family. Once married, the woman must continue the lineage of her husband. This stereotypical image of women, which has endured since the beginnings of mankind, is still present in the 21st century, when in toy catalogs and Christmas shelves, there is a pink side intended for girls' toys, and a blue side. reserved for boys. On one side, dinettes, prams, toddlers, vendors, mini-ovens, vacuum cleaners, irons and on the other, construction objects, tractors, police accessories, firefighters, cars. Prejudices against women remain stubborn despite attempts to achieve equality between the two sexes, as they are part of the culture and are the result of mental construction.


- ARIES Philippe, The child and family life under the Ancien Régime, Paris, Seuil, Points Histoire, 1977.
- MANSON Michel, Toys of always, from Antiquity to the Revolution, Paris, Fayard, 2001.
- LAMBOLEY Claude, "The toys of the children of France", Bulletin of the Academy of Sciences and Letters of Montpellier, n ° 35, 2005.
- MANSON Michel, "Various approaches to the history of dolls from the 15th to the 17th century", Games in the Renaissance, Proceedings of the XXIIIth international conference of humanist studies Tours - July 1980, Paris, Philosophical Library, 1982.
- MANSON Michel, “The doll, the object of multidisciplinary research. Balance sheet, methods, perspectives ”, History of education, volume 18, n ° 1, 1983.
- MANSON Michel, “Writing the history of toys, a scientific challenge”, Games and toys in the museums of Île-de-France, Paris, Editions Paris-Museums, 2004.

Video: Victorian Era Couple Live Like Its The 19th Century. Extraordinary People. New York Post (May 2022).


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