Carrie's Reviews > The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll by Jean Nathan
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Jan 13, 2009

really liked it

Wow – this is a weird book. Not, despite the title, a young adult book, but rather the biography of a woman who wrote a number of bizarre children’s books between 1957 to 1981, the most famous of which was called The Lonely Doll. I wasn’t familiar with her children’s books when I was young, but I glanced at The Lonely Doll when I bought this paperback. It tells the story, all through posed, black and white photographs, of Edith, a little doll who lives alone in a fabulous apartment. She is miserably living all alone until two bears move in with her. One day, Edith and the small bear get into a great deal of trouble, and Edith is afraid that the bears will leave forever. They do not, but Edith is spanked, in a particularly disturbing photo. Evidently, at the time these books were published they were much acclaimed and loved, but nowdays they just seem bizarre and Freudian.

It turns out that there is a reason that the books are so odd. The author, Dare Wright, lived a bizarrely sad life. Her parents divorced when she was young. She stayed with her mother and her brother went to live with her father. She never saw her father again, and didn’t see her brother for twenty years. Dare grew up to be beautiful (she worked as an actress and a model before she became a professional photographer), but she was eternally childish. She never married, but had odd relationships with many men. She seemed to be afraid of sex, and of growing up. She had an extremely unhealthy co-dependant relationship with her mother (down to taking naked photographs of each other!) and was obsessed with her brother. She ended up alone, living like Miss Havisham in a grim apartment, and died indigent, in a state hospital. Her books seem to all be attempts to rewrite her own sad story and make it a happy one.

Jean Nathan came upon this story when one day, out of the blue, The Lonely Doll popped in her head. When she tried to find more about the book, she fell into Dare’s story. The tale she tells is strange, sad, and moving. The book is interwoven with many of Dare’s own photographs, which are also melancholy and odd. This book records the story of a sad and fascinating life, and if you are inclined toward such stories, I highly recommend it.

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