I discovered Dare Wright, the reclusive author of haunting and still provocative and popular children’s books like The Lonely Doll and Edith and Big Bad Bill while I was working in a library in Michigan. Like most of the books I have come to treasure, these books came to me, sitting alone on a table to be put away. In the moments to follow, an encompassing passion for the books ensued as well as an intense intrigue for the woman who penned them.
After reading them for years now, again and again, I finally wrote a formal paper about Dare and the books for a class I took at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) called “Lust & Aggression.” In this class, I made another discovery: the psychoanalytic work of Melanie Klein. What I was learning from Klein about play and aggression in children made some odd kind of sense in my thinking about Dare Wright and her books. the result was a paper called, “Lost Girl: A Case Study of Aggression and Reparation in The Lonely Doll and Edith and Big Bad Bill by Dare Wright.”
In this paper, I had the opportunity to see these intriguing books in a new way. I also had a new view of the fascinating woman who penned them, a woman who forever seemed to be grappling with her childhood abandonment finding solace in a doll, bears, and a camera.
The stories are odd to an adult who cannot avoid seeing a sexual overtone to scenes like the one where Mr. Bear spanks Edith while Little Bear covers his eyes. Imagery of bondage continue in Edith and Big Bad Bill as the photo from the book illustrates.
In a New York Times article from October 17, 2004, on the heels of the publication of Jean Nathan’s biography of Dare called The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll, women in the arts shared their feelings about the books. New York-based band, Sonic Youth’s bass player, Kim Gordon, discussed The Lonely Doll and her consideration to read it or not to her young daughter, Coco. She had read the book as a child but upon rereading it as a mother, she had a new way of looking at it. “Rereading it, I was struck by how creepy it is. I wanted to share it with her [Coco], but I found it too depressing. Yet there’s something about the images that haunted me, something so compelling.”
Haunting and compelling is for certain and a lot of that is the reality of them. Since they are not typical children’s books with cartoon-like illustrations, they are more real, immediate, spooky, and riveting. Dare was a fashion photographer before stumbling into the world of her lonely doll, Edith, so that medium seemed natural. The result are books with amazing staying power because of the stories’ constant reality through beautiful black and white photographs.
I will continue to excavate Dare Wright in the coming months here, ever intrigued and always aware of loneliness, abandonment, and a doll named Edith.