The Captain’s Doll


Our Daily Correspondent

Even creepier than he looks.

A friend drew my attention to a news story. It concerned the German-born footballer Bastian Schweinsteiger and his lawsuit against a Chinese company. It seems the company, Dragon in Dream, is selling a doll that bears a more than passing resemblance to the Manchester United midfielder. The suit may sound frivolous, but check out the side-by-side comparison. Also, there’s this:

The figurine comes in several outfits—including a version with a steel helmet, white winter jacket and woollen gloves, and another in a typical army uniform, complete with the “Wehrmachtsadler” insignia, an eagle with a swastika above the right breast pocket.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who read this and thought of the 1923 D. H. Lawrence story “The Captain’s Doll”: 

It was a perfect portrait of an officer of a Scottish regiment, slender, delicately made, with a slight, elegant stoop of the shoulders and close-fitting tartan trousers. The face was beautifully modeled, and a wonderful portrait, dark-skinned, with a little, close-cut, dark moustache, and wide-open dark eyes, and that air of aloofness and perfect diffidence which marks an officer and a gentleman.

An allegorical work, “The Captain’s Doll” uses the eponymous figure—a dead ringer for a Scottish officer—as the linchpin in a story of a love triangle, the human condition, class, nationality, and the alienating horrors of world war. 

Then, every day for a week did he walk down that little street and look at himself in the shop window. Yes, there he stood, with one hand in his pocket. And the figure had one hand in its pocket. There he stood, with his cap pulled rather low over his brow. And the figure had its cap pulled low over its brow. But, thank goodness, his own cap now was a civilian tweed. But there he stood, his head rather forward, gazing with fixed dark eyes. And himself in little, that wretched figure, stood there with its head rather forward, staring with fixed dark eyes. It was such a real little man that it fairly staggered him. The oftener he saw it, the more it staggered him. And the more he hated it. Yet it fascinated him, and he came again to look.

If this is Schweinsteiger’s feeling, one can hardly begrudge him his suit. On the other hand, perhaps Dragon in Dream is making a powerful statement: on war, on capitalism, on nationality.

Says a spokesperson for the company, “We thought that all Germans look like that. Bastian is also a very common name in Germany.”

Oh, yes—did I neglect to mention it? The doll is named Bastian.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.