Synopses & 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 journalist Jean Nathan one afternoon, she went in search of the book and ultimately its author. Nathan found Dare Wright living out her last days in a decrepit public hospital in Queens, New York.
Over the next five years, Nathan pieced together a glamorous life. Blond, beautiful Wright had begun her career as an actress and model and then turned to fashion photography before stumbling upon her role as bestselling author. But there was a dark side to the story: a brother lost in childhood, ill-fated marriage plans, a complicated, controlling mother. Edith Stevenson Wright, herself a successful portrait painter, played such a dominant role in her daughter's life that Dare was never able to find her way into the adult world. Only through her work could she speak for herself: in her books she created the happy family she'd always yearned for, while her self-portraits betrayed an unresolved tension between sexuality and innocence, a desire to belong and painful isolation.
Illustrated with stunning photographs, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll tells the unforgettable story of a woman who, imprisoned by her childhood, sought to set herself free through art.
"In 1957, The Lonely Doll made model/actress turned author/photographer Dare Wright famous. The children's book told the story of Edith, a lonely doll until two teddy bears a father and son come to live with her. This dark and painfully poignant biography, tells the story of the beautiful and creative Dare (1914 2001), who was separated from her own father and brother when she was three. Alone with her strong-willed, manipulative mother, Edie, Dare strove to please her, Nathan writes, 'playing handmaiden to Edie's queen as Edie created their own private universe' of dressup and pretend. Their closeness becomes increasingly disturbing, keeping Dare a child even as she matures into womanhood. There's a suggestion by some who knew them of a sexual element in the relationship, but Nathan is careful not to speculate. With Edie's death near the end of the book the story loses some of its clarity, because despite having many friends, Dare doesn't know how to live without her mother; the downward spiral of her final years is horrifying yet incomprehensible. But this is a quibble, and doesn't detract from the fascinating and elusive girl/woman at the center of this story. Photos. Agent, Amanda Urban. (Sept. 2) FYI: The Lonely Doll and two of its sequels have been reissued by Houghton Mifflin." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Most artists lead idiosyncratic existences, but few are stranger than that of Dare Wright, a beautiful and poignantly lost soul. With painstaking resolve, Jean Nathan has captured this elusive creature and, with compassion and empathy, brought her back to life. Her biography of Wright is a haunting tale, skillfully told." Mark Singer, author of Somewhere in America and staff writer for the New Yorker
"Jean Nathan has given us a haunting portrait of a haunted and heartbreaking creative life. Here is proof, if ever any was needed, that the children's books that last are those born not of lovely thoughts but of childhood's innermost necessities." Leonard S. Marcus, author of Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon
"Jean Nathan's biography of The Lonely Doll author Dare Wright is thoroughly engrossing, and fans of the series will want to read her terrific and terrifically disturbing life story." David Kipen, San Francisco Chronicle
"A beguiling piece of detective work, which itself makes for a kind of fairy tale." Stacy Schiff, author of Vera
"An evocative, amazing biography." Jacki Lyden, author of Daughter of the Queen of Sheba
"Reads like a novel, and a Gothic one at that, full of outsized characters, an evocatively drawn backdrop, and with a strange and compelling mystery at its heart." Meg Wolitzer, author of The Wife
"Although I never read The Lonely Doll as a child or saw Dare Wright's photographs, it's as if somehow I did. Nathan has done an amazing job to capture Wright's life on the page and to bring us into the household of one of the saddest dysfunctional families ever." Cindy Sherman
"Although I never read The Lonely Doll
as a child or saw Dare Wrights photographs, its as if I somehow did. Nathan has done an amazing job to capture Wright's life on the page and to bring us into the household of one of the saddest dysfunctional families ever." --Cindy Sherman
"Splendid...Nathan's detective work is admirable as is the care with which she traces Wright's psychic decay. Even readers who never felt Ediths spell will be captivated—and perhaps, unsettled--by this modern gothic tale." --Michelle Green, People (4 stars)
"Compelling psychological biography...Nathan's meticulously researched, well-documented biography...illuminates Wrights tangled and tragic life, work and times." --Neal Wyatt, Library Journal
"[Nathan's] sympathetic, graceful style seems appropriate for this private, elusive figure who kept such porous boundaries between her real and imaginary worlds." --Joy Press, The Village Voice
"Thoroughly engrossing, and fans of The Lonely Doll series will want to read her terrific—and terrifically disturbing—life story...Readers of this dark and haunting biography will never be able to look at The Lonely Doll books, or their author, in quite the same way again." --Rebecca Maksel, San Francisco Chronicle
"A probing and profound new biography...in Ms. Nathan's sensitive hands, Wright's fate takes on a certain fluttering romance--an indignant poetry." --Alexandra Fuller, The New York Observer
"Nathan's dexterous writing sees around the corners of Dare Wrights life to show that behind 0her perhaps perverse books was a childlike effort at life that was both futile and bold." --Benjamin Lyntal, The New York Sun
"Sensational though Nathans subject matter is...she never descends into exploitation. Her deft handling of these horrors recalls David and Albert Maysles 1976 documentary Grey Gardens." --L D Beghtol, Time Out (New York)
In 1957, a childrens 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 journalist Jean Nathan one afternoon, she went in search of the book--and ultimately its author. Nathan found Dare Wright living out her last days in a decrepit public hospital in Queens, New York. Over the next five years, Nathan pieced together Dare Wrights bizarre life of glamour and painful isolation to create this mesmerizing biography of a woman who struggled to escape the imprisonment of her childhood through her art.
About the Author
Jean Nathan was educated at Williams College and the Columbia School of Journalism. She was a staff writer for The New York Observer and a senior editor at Connoisseur magazine. She has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Travel & Leisure, Vogue, ARTNews, and other publications. She lives in New York City.