Monday, January 14, 2008

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll

The Search for Dare Wright

by Jean Nathan

Trashy and compelling. Does anybody remember The Lonely Doll or any of the other books from the series? Apparently it is wildly popular in certain circles: library copies worn to pieces, used copies on eBay spurring frantic bidding wars, used booksellers with long lists of people willing to pay high prices.

I myself do not really remember these books, although I think maybe I might have seen one when I was little. If I did, I didn't like it. These are books told as a series of captioned photographs, and this has a static, creepy feeling to it that is just not to my taste. Looking at some of the photos from the children's books in this biography of their creator, I have to be impressed with how life-like she has made them, and to admire the details she has crammed into the frame, but I still don't like them as a children's story. But that's just me.

This biography looks at the life of their author and photographer, a reclusive artist of apparently unlimited creativity and weirdness. (Now there's a combination you hardly ever see. Really.) There is some attribution to written sources such as letters, but mostly it seems to rely on word of mouth from family friends. It's pretty heavily slanted. Dare Wright spent most of her life in an what appears to be a very unhealthy relationship with her mother, who the book depicts in a most unflattering light. And of course, it is titillating in a coy kind of way, implying but never saying that there was an incestuous aspect to it all. I suppose the main reason I actually read the whole thing is that it is short and to the point, and in not particularly trying to be balanced, manages to be fairly concise. Certainly Dare Wright was an interesting woman, and the photographs scattered throughout the book (almost every other page, it seems) are really something.

This book has been staring at me from the New shelf in the library for more than a year (and how is it still new in that case?) so I finally just gave in and read it. If you liked Dare Wright's books as a child, you might like to read it, too. Or if you're interested in artists with unhealthy personal lives. Or if you like photography. Or you might just want to find something more instructive and wholesome, like a biography of, oh I don't know, Queen Elizabeth.



Blogger zelda said...

I don't remember, "The Lonely Doll" from childhood but I do know it from seeing the compelling cover and title at the library with the kids. I believe the doll's name is Edith, right? That made it even more interesting to me.

This bio looks right on the money for me. I'm drowning in stuff to read though. But thanks for the tip.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

That's right, the doll's name is Edith. And Dare Wright's mother's name was Edie. Dare got the doll as a young girl, during a time when (so the book says) her mother was neglecting her outrageously to pursue her own painting career.

And it just gets more Freudian from there.

3:37 PM  

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