Sunday, May 10, 2009

Samantha Who?

As we well know from the Bendel's clothing department, all good things must come to an end. Sad, but true. Even Samantha the American Girl doll has said her last farewells, as I was recently reminded. Samantha, the arguably most stylish of the bunch, with her infinite Victorian/Edwardian wardrobe, was discontinued cerca December 2008 due to... well, I'm not exactly sure what. More unimaginative children? Children with poorer senses of style?
Alas, it is time to say our own sweet goodbyes to the delicate doll, as I did in a yet-unsent letter to The Learning Company, P.O. Box 620497, Middleton, WI 53362-0497:
Dear American Girl,
I am seventeen years old. Ever since my parents bought me Miss Samantha Parkington twelve years ago, long before American Girl Place appeared in either of the two cities in which it is currently present, I have been receiving your catalogues. Even know, I love looking at all the beautiful dolls you sell, and for the brief period that you sold American Girl Minis, I loved looking at those too (and regret never buying any!). A week or so ago, I received this year's, and with it, the news that my favorite American Girl is to be discontinued. So I am writing to tell you how heartbroken I am that you are removing Samantha from your permanent historical doll collection.
I received Samantha for my birthday when I was five. I distinctly remember that my parents had sent me on a search around the house to find her package, but it was hidden far above my three-foot-six eye level, high up in a bookshelf, and they had to point out out and dig it out for me.
With Samantha the doll came Samantha the wardrobe, the next-best part. I got her basics - her default "Meet" tailored dress and velvet hat and locket and sweet nightie and robe and knit slippers - but even better, I got her beautiful birthday pinafore, with its deep pink and cream stripes and lace apron. I have been searching for a life-size dress like it ever since, though it was only recently that I made this connection. In fact, I had even since bought a hair garland much like the one that had come with her party dress.
The wicker furniture, too, was wonderful, and I remember tying the dainty floral pillows to the seats and covering the table with a lace tablecloth before spreading out the treats, those fragile birthday miniatures. There was the pitcher of lemonade and its corresponding glasses, but the petit fours, ice cream bombes, bouquets, and fans were even lovelier. I also got Miss Samantha's doll pram, which I used to cart her around, although it was meant for her own little doll.
I loved Samantha more than I can say, primarily because I could so identify with her. She and I both had pale skin, brown hair, and brown eyes. As I mentioned, her wardrobe epitomized the very wardrobe I wished - and still wish - I were to possess. Though I now know some disenchanting facts regarding the misogyny of the Victorian era, I remain enamored with and quite envious of Samantha's lifestyle, and, well, sort of pine for those other pieces I never got for her: the school uniform, the sailor dress, and every last hair ribbon. I did eventually get a metal bunk bed for she and Lindsay (my customized American Girl doll) to share, I still wish I had purchased (or received) Samantha's golden four-poster bed.
Samantha was the only historical American Girl doll I ever had. I read all of the books in her series - about five times apiece - and Samantha made frequent appearances in the computer-animated skits I created using my American Girl Premiere software. Even now I am still emulating Samantha: last year, for our school production of The Pirates of Penzance, I complemented my rag-curled ringlets, lace fan, and late-nineteenth-century costume, with a bit of typical Samantha sass. As I type this letter, I am dressed as a doll for Halloween, wearing a cream frock with latte-colored lining and a bow in my hair, hair that has been curled, once again, into ringlets.
I am so beyond devastated that Samantha is, as you put it, "moving into the American Girl archives." Out of all the historical dolls (except maybe Kirsten), Samantha puts a face on a time period and struggle that the average girl under ten knows the least about. Therefore, I see her as having the most substance in that her story is accented with references to the burdens of socioeconomic class tensions (as in her relationship with Nelly) and even male chauvinism, neither of which you address through your other characters' stories.
I would love to one day work as some sort of conceptual director at American Girl because of the magic your dolls create. But I wanted to let you know how disheartened I am that the next generation of girls will never know of our little ingénue, who has now been overshadowed by a number of dolls attached to more recent eras. Were it not for Samantha, I would have felt much more alienated as a Caucasian brunette in terms of nationalistic (American) identity, and Samantha instilled in me a Romanticism that is manifest even in my choice of colleges.
Though I have already subconsciously grown up to embody Samantha, it saddens me that she will never change another girl's life the way she did mine.
With love and squalor,
Hannah Serena

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