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The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,251 ratings  ·  233 reviews
In 1957, a children's book called The Lonely Doll was published. With its pink-and-white-checked cover and photographs featuring a wide-eyed doll, it captured the imaginations of young girls and made the author, Dare Wright, a household name. Close to forty years after its publication, the book was out of print but not forgotten. When the cover image inexplicably came to j ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 1st 2005 by Picador (first published January 1st 2004)
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karen
Nov 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfictions
so it is now biography month. i think i expected something more tragic and explosive than this. instead, it is as tragically funny as watching grey gardens - maybe a little sadder. mothers and their daughters should not spend this much time together. everyone knows that. much like three or four women cannot be around each other without spontaneously engaging in lesbian pillow fight action, mothers and daughters living together their whole lives leads to emotional claustrophobia and, eventually, ...more
Jessica
Feb 18, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: posers
Recommended to Jessica by: Tosh Berman
This biography of Dare Wright had a lot of flaws, but a year later the story's still imprinted in my generally flaky memory, and I can't deny that I sat down and inadvertently read the whole thing in one sitting, sooooo.... The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll is definitely a four-star book. I don't think Jean Nathan's the greatest biographer who's ever lived, and I felt her pop-Freudian analysis of Wright left a lot to be desired (okay, it annoyed the crap out of me, though that's a personal pet ...more
Tosh
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: emotionally damaged people and Goodreads world
I love this book and I love Dare Wright. Even her name is great. Dare was a beautiful model who did a series of children books called "The Lonely Doll," where she photographed and wrote the narrative of this ugly little doll and her other doll friends. At one time it was thought to be charming, but looking at the books now they are truly hidious and scary.

The story of Dare Wright is truly an American Gothic tale, with a mother very close to her daughter (Dare Wright) and then to add more weirdne
...more
Callie
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Grey Gardens!
Recommended to Callie by: Kylee's to-reads
I can't believe I had not heard more about this book before!
It really seems like one that snuck under the radar. Oh my freaking god is what I kept wanting to shout out loud as it kept me up, reading page after page some nights past three in the morning. You are immediately drawn into the wacky lives of two women- the shy, ethereal, bizarre & gorgeous author of The Lonely Doll (also model/actress/artist), Dare Wright, and her crazier, eccentric artist mother, heavily painted faced Edie Wrigh
...more
Jackie "the Librarian"
Aug 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of dysfunctional biographies
I don't know if you remember the Lonely Doll books. Bordered in pink checkerboard, and illustrated with black and white photos of the doll and her adventures, the first book was about a lonely little girl doll named Edith, who had a lovely home, but nobody to live with her. She finds a family when two bears, Mr. Bear and his son, appear in her garden.

I found the story a bit creepy, as Edith gets in trouble for dressing up and writing "Mr. Bear is a silly old thing" in lipstick on the mirror, an
...more
Katie
Dec 11, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Anyone that knew of her books and likes biographies
Man, apparently I'm the only one who didn't like this book. This rating is not to discredit the life or works of Dare, because I think she was obviously a very talented, beautiful, mystical, yet tortured woman (and that's why I bumped it to two stars), but to say that I just didn't enjoy reading this book at all.

First, I want to give some HUGE credit to Jean Nathan for her research on Dare Wright. As she wrote, there was very little prior info. on Ms. Wright available other than a few public in
...more
Holly
Sep 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing

i really liked this book. it could be bundled up with the "grey gardens" documentary in a care package addressed to britney spears.
Maritess
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY

One of the most original books I've ever read. Really sick and amazing.
Stephanie
Oct 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people with Venus envy
Stumbling across this biography triggered a distant but happy memory of Dare Wright 's Lonely Doll books. Those stories were so precious to me. Not knowing what had become of Wright, I automatically snapped it up. It proved one of the best impulse buys I've ever made. Dare Wright led a fascinating life as an artist, photographer, and writer. Her demise was tragic but not shocking, given the fact she was virtually all alone toward the end of her life.

My favorite part of this book is the beautiful
...more
Trish
Oct 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
This isn't my usual reading fare. I guess I can see why it might be interesting. Frankly, I felt a voyeur and found myself wondering how I got here. I felt sad for this beautiful, stylish, and artistically talented young woman who appeared to lack the instinct to live and love. The corrosive influence of a domineering mother may have kept Dare Wright from sexually maturing. I got the impression that Dare had only an inkling of how sex makes the world revolve on its axis. She knew sex was importa ...more
Graham P
May 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After reading this, I'm lost in a world where 'Grey Gardens' and 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?' rub shoulders with Lewis Carroll and Liberace. This biography of photographer and children's book author, Dare Wright, is a detailed history of an eccentric who was sheltered in her own idyllic fantasy world by her dolls (and her mother), and then faced with utter despair and addiction as the losses in life became unbearable to maintain. What a story about the safety net that art provides, how fami ...more
Louise
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I first saw the Lonely Doll books as an adult and marveled at the technical aspects of the photography, the creative posing of the toys and the stories that would touch children more than any other books of their time. I wondered about the woman who created them in the 1950's. From her photo she appeared to be a NYC sophisticate. Now that I have read Jean Nathan's bio I understand both more and less about the author, Dare Wright.

The book is riveting, not only for the story of Dare Wright, but al
...more
Jessica
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
emilie
Jul 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Dare Wright truly deserved to be written about posthumously. A virgin seductress model photographer who created elaborate scenes with dolls and made them into children's stories. This book is very well written and interesting from start to finish.
Robin
Aug 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I had been haunted by The Lonely Doll book as a child. This background story was the perfect closure.
Kimberly Karalius
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lovely-facts
Read this all in one day! So much hard work went into piecing together the enigmatic life of Dare Wright - Jean Nathan accomplished such a Herculean task to create the most vivid picture of Dare’s life. I was late to THE LONELY DOLL.

My first Dare book was LONA, and I’ve been obsessed with that story since I was little. I was thrilled that Nathan had found out so much about Dare’s process in creating LONA, including behind the scenes photos. A-mazing. Magical.
Marna
Apr 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I didn't expect this to be so incredibly sad. I don't know what it is about lately.
Katie
This story was absolutely incredible, but for some reason I found myself drifting at times, which I'll get into in a minute.

Last year one of my students brought in "The Lonely Doll," the really weird children's book from the 60s. The parent even warned the teacher, "It's, uh, weird." Ha! I was struck that the illustrations were these detailed photographs, and also that, of course, it was so weird. I mean, creepy, for realz. Recently I looked it up to show a friend, and I saw this biography of th
...more
Zoe
Jan 04, 2014 rated it really liked it

I’d never heard of The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright until I received this book as gift. The Lonely Doll is a children’s book from 1957 about a little lonely doll named Edith who is all by herself with no one to play with. That is, until she is found by Mr. Bear and Little Bear. Then she gets into mischief with Little Bear, and Mr. Bear disciplines her before promising they will never ever leave. That’s the extremely watered down version. The full book features a swanky dress up scene, controversia
...more
Ashley
Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Working in the children's department of a book store, it didn't take long for me to encounter the classic The Lonely Doll . The book was not part of my childhood; in fact, I'd never even heard of it until a year or so ago. The reviews were so mixed, so controversial, that I knew I had to check it out. I ordered myself a copy and was instantly transfixed upon reading it. The gorgeous black-and-white photographs accompanied by the story of a yielding doll create a somehow gentle yet haunting sto ...more
Paul
Feb 27, 2008 rated it liked it
I suppose it's very hard to write a biography about a person who nobody ever got to know. The only thing to do is to stock it full of minute details in lieu of actual warmth, and that's mostly what this book is about. If you want to really know Dare Wright as a person, the only true method is to read this book in conjunction with the books Dare herself wrote. This book serves mostly as footnotes explaining the meaning behind Dare's creepy (and for me, now even creepier) children's books.

Still,
...more
Cindy
Mar 13, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One upon a time there was a girl who never grew up, kind of a female Peter Pan. She lived with her controlling, wildly egocentric mother and later as a young woman, discovered her older brother, equally damaged. This girl, Dare, was ethereally beautiful and artistically talented. She eventually wrote a children's book that became an almost-instant success, The Lonely Doll.

This was a deeply disturbing account of the life of Dare Wright, a woman-child who never broke free from her mother, a talen
...more
Emi Bevacqua
Jean Nathan is a great writer/investigative journalist. Egomaniacal artist mom and alcoholic dad who's lost his ambition split up; she keeps daughter Dare and he keeps son Blaine. Children are traumatized, and spend their whole lives mired in a mental childhood.

This is the biography of Daughter Dare who was so completely incapacitated by her fears of abandonment that she sacrificed her own future to appease Edie, her domineering mother. Living in a fantasy land, in makeup and costume, with prop
...more
Cortney
Dec 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
A mail-gift from Rockstar, as a companion to the Lonely Doll...

Fabulous and trashy, with gorgeous photos of Ms. Dare Wright herself that made me feel like a voyeur. When Nathan writes that everyone who met Dare was completely captivated, she's absolutely right. I'm smitten and entranced and horrified and amazed. I want to live in a stage set of my own design as a perpetual virgin who holds cocktail parties with photographs of the dead and play dress up for a living. Or not, but I sure did love r
...more
Tracy O
Jun 25, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Those Who Appreciate the Truly Strange
Recommended to Tracy O by: Liz gave this to me, but that is highly uncharacteristic
This book is so creepy it is like Night Gallery times 100. I loved the Lonely Doll when I was little (which is why Liz gave it to me), but this story of the author's life is really disturbing. I'm going to give this to Debbie B tonight because I think she can appreciate the weirdness of it without getting melancholy as I did when she reads it. Full disclosure: I didn't read every page - I sort of ended up skimming the second half of it because it so gosh darn BLEAK.

And, another aside, if you can
...more
Catherine
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography


I feel like I should have a lot to say after finishing this book, but I am still struggling to come to terms with the final chapter which is almost unbearably sad. But this is a fascinating examination of an artist who chose to live inside a world of her own creation. Nathan does a fine job of describing this world without judgement or really too much interpretation or over-analysis. Freud would have had a field day with Dare Wright, but Nathan is sympathetic in her treatment of her subject. As
...more
Katherine
Mar 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
Ick.

I cannot separate my feelings for this book from my general distaste for the original Lonely Doll books, which I found creepy even as a child.

Though the author has done a thorough job, I found her writing to be a distant and uninvolving. The book is full of all sorts of appalling material (and nude photos of the subject--wish I'd know that before I started reading it in a train station!), but it started to feel like a laundry list--"and then Edie made Dare do this, and then Dare took her clo
...more
Sarah J. Walker
Jun 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: if you liked the doc Grey Gardens
Oh dear God this book is awesome. It's about Dare Wright, who wrote and illustrated these children's books in the 1950s- they featured a doll, of course, and photos taken by Dare of the creepy doll in various (some pretty risque) poses, i.e. the doll tied to a tree, being spanked, etc. So she was a lonely never married recluse (at the end of her life) that lived in a massive Manhattan apartment. She lived with her mother for years and they had a really strange almost incestual relationship. Ditt ...more
Colleen
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
I had never read "The Lonely Doll" as a child, nor had I any other reference for Dare Wright. I ordered the children's book after seeing a gallery with her photos and subsequently this book (basically, the author's bio) on impulse. What a fantastic read about a a delicate, creative, emotional soul. I felt both endeared and incredibly sad for her and her sheltered, imaginary life. I loved Ms. Nathan's style, but even moreso, I fell in love with Dare Wright. Recommended for fans of children's book ...more
Suede
Dec 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I'm not so sure if this book really deserves 5 stars, but it was just SO CREEPY that I threw an extra star in there. I mean, Dare looks exactly like Edith, the Lonely Doll. And the Lonley Doll is named after her MOTHER. The mother that she slept beside when she was an adult, after an all day session of playing dress up. And she was in love (as in, I wanna marry you love) with her brother - and i can see why, HOTTIE! And she was raped by a hobo. Tragic, true, but you can't make this stuff up.
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“… a choker they made with a star charm hung from a black grosgrain ribbon - admiring herself in a heart-shaped Venetian mirror, wielding a golden tube of lipstick in her right hand and holding a bottle of perfume in her left.” 0 likes
“… ‘chaise lounge’ days, when, too tired to lift even a paintbrush, she would lie about nibbling candied rose leaves.” 0 likes
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