The Daisy Dolls

While I disliked the Borges readings (it’s true, Jon), I did like reading “The Daisy Dolls.” My initial impression of the story was that it was another feminist story, where women are depicted as daisy dolls to be used for pleasure and thrown aside once they ceased to interest their masters. Then I realized this may be one element to the story, but the story seemed to center more on Horace than the actual daisy dolls (despite the title of the book). So what is this story trying to say about Horace?

The way I see it, Horace is, in some ways, a form of Jekyll. A man who has an “outside” self and an “inside” self. He has his hidden desires that won’t go away, so he turns to a solution to indulge in them. He doesn’t exactly have a Hyde, but he does try to hide his sexual relationship with a doll. At least he does make an attempt to do so. Whether he is actually successful or not is another story. I found it hard to understand how any person could possibly be sexually attracted to a doll- and act on those impulses too! Maybe I’m being narrow-minded. After reading the short story, I’m still not quite sure what kind of a person Horace is. Has he been abused in his childhood, so now he’s messed up and wants to have many relationships with many dolls? He cares about his wife, but he still can’t help himself from cheating on her. We don’t know what happened in his childhood. We’re only given a hint. Apparently, they died in an epidemic when he was a child- and he resented them for it. What happened after that? We don’t know.

And what is it about those daisy dolls? Are they really a host body for spirits, as Horace believed? Or are they manufactured as sexual objects? In some ways, they really are both. They’re not just dolls. There’s something odd about them. They’re not the dolls you’d give a child to play with. They’re like… inanimate prostitutes? As for the spirit theory, the dolls really do have a personality. Horace swears they even move on their own. So what are they, really? Even after pondering this question many times, I still haven’t a clue. If I had to go with one answer, I’d say these dolls are inanimate prostitutes. But even that answer isn’t a sufficient answer. They’re more than prostitutes.

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2 Responses to The Daisy Dolls

  1. Jon says:

    There’s certainly no one way to read this story. I’m intrigued by the notion that it might be a “feminist” story (and we’d have to define what we meant by that). I’m not sure that it is, but think I see how it could be read that way. Except that the dolls aren’t *really* women (even though in some sense they’re not *really* dolls). As Santiago Colas points out (I quoted him in the lecture), the status of just about everything in Hernández is pretty ambiguous. Everything has some kind of spirit; but then everything (people included) is in another sense treated as a thing.

  2. I wrote a Goodreads review of this short masterpiece:

    Gabriel García Márquez, Italo Calvino and Julio Cortázar all acknowledge Felisberto Hernández (1902-1964) as a major influence. Not bad for a writer from the city of Montevideo, Uruguay who was a self-taught pianist and who earned his living playing in cafés and silent screen theaters. His writing is so dreamlike and surreal, so lush, aesthetically refined and artistically polished, I’m hard-pressed to characterize it other than observing on a scale of one to ten for the above literary qualities, I would place Henry James at nine and place Felisberto Hernández at ten since Hernández possesses much of Henry James’ aesthetic polish and adds his own generous helpings of the dreamy surreal.

    I must say, having authored over 400 book reviews to date, composing this review was one of the most challenging I’ve faced. I feel my words only touch the surface; it’s as if I’m attempting to describe the paintings of Salvador Dali for someone unacquainted with the great Spaniard’s art. With this in mind, in order to share a glimpse of what a reader will encounter in this sixty-page, ten chapter novella, I will focus exclusively on the first chapter. And please note, The Daisy Dolls is available as a PDF (second website down) using this link:

    The Really Odd Couple: The novella’s first lines: “Next to the garden was a factory, and the noise of the machines seeped through the plants and trees. And deep in the garden was a dark weathered house. The owner of the “black house” was a tall man.” The tall man living in this black house is an extremely wealthy eccentric by the name of Horace who lives with his nearly equally eccentric wife, a lady by the name of Daisy Mary. Also, we are well to bear in mind how the rumbling from the factory machines next-door rumble relentlessly, twenty-four-seven, a rumbling not only seeping through the plants and trees by also through Horace’s waking and sleeping hours.

    Bizarre Obsession: Horace is a collector of lifelike dolls a bit taller than real women. In one of the larger rooms of his mansion, he has fashioned a showroom with three glass cases, cases especially built for the purpose of having men come in to invent scenes for his dolls, set designers and costume makers as well as caption writers who compose a caption describing each scene. Horace will read the caption, usually placed on a piece of paper in a drawer, after he has had an opportunity to mentally create his own story of what the scene is all about. Sound crazy? It is crazy, and this is only the beginning as the novella’s constant crescendo of craziness will keep you turning the pages in near disbelief of what Horace and Daisy Mary dream up next.

    Prelude: One evening after dinner in the dining room, Horace is drinking wine with Daisy Mary (Filesberto almost comically repeats ‘wine from France’ throughout the novella). Their butler Alex enters to inform Horace that Walter, the pianist, has arrived. Horace tells Alex to let Walter know he should play the first piano piece on the program repeatedly until a light flashes and under no circumstances speak or ask questions. At this point, Horace rises, walks over and kisses Daisy Mary, then moves to a chair in the little parlor next to the showroom where he begins to sip his coffee, smoke and collect himself until he feels completely isolated in preparation for his entrée into the showroom.

    Soundtrack: Horace hears both the piano and the factory machines as if through water, as if he is submerged and wearing a diver’s helmet, but when he tries to concentrate on the sounds, “they scattered like frightened mice.” Being a piano player himself, in all likelihood Filesberto particularly enjoyed including a piano player – piano music along with the sound of the factory machines are a constant presence, either directly or indirectly, so much so I can imagine a film adaptation of the novella with piano music and the rumbling from those factory machines comprising the entire soundtrack.

    Showtime, One: Horace opens the door and moves toward the first glass case. He switches a light on in the case and through a thin green curtain scans the scene: there’s a doll sprawled on bed. Inside the case there is also a small rolling platform with a chair and little table; Horace mounts the platform and takes a seat for a better view. He ponders: Is the doll dead or is she dreaming? She’s dressed as a bride, eyes wide open, starring at the ceiling and her arms are spread in either abandon or despair. Is she a bride waiting for her groom who will never arrive, having jilted her just before the wedding? Or is she a widow remembering her wedding day? Or, perhaps, just a girl simply dressed up as a bride? Sidebar: The author’s depiction of this scene and setting of mood is so stunning and surreal, it’s as if we step into a René Magritte painting to imagine for ourselves what the scene entails.

    Showtime, Two: Horace opens the drawer of the little table and reads: “A moment before marrying the man she doesn’t love, she locks herself up, wearing the dress she was to have worn to her wedding with the man she loved, who is gone forever, and poisons herself. She dies with her eyes open and no one has come in yet to shut them.” Horace reflects that she really was a lovely bride and savors the feeling of being alive when the bride is not. He then opens a glass door and enters the scene itself in order to have a closer look, but right then he thinks he hears a door slam. He leaves the case and sees a piece of his wife’s dress caught in the door leading to the parlor. Horace rips open the door and Daisy Mary’s body falls on him. But wait . . . Daisy Mary’s body is so light. Ah, Horace recognizes the body he is holding isn’t his wife’s but Daisy, the doll who resembles her. His wife has played a little joke on him.

    Deep, Dreamy Surreal: This chapter continues with Horace conversing with Mary (yes, his wife retains the name Mary while bestowing the name Daisy on the lookalike doll) before retreating to his bedroom to pen an entry in his diary and then returning to the showroom to view the scene with the doll in the second glass case, which, as it turns out, really rattles and unnerves him. And, again, this is only the first of ten chapters with mounting surreal weirdness. We feel as if not only have we entered a René Magritte painting, but the paint begins to drip down the canvas and occasionally morph, twist and magnify, all to the sound of those rumbling factory machines and piano music, sound turning visual and the visual turning into sounds. Synesthesia, anyone?

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