Still Excavating Dare Wright

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.

Dare Wright dressing up for the camera

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.

A scene from The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright

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.

Scene from Edith and Big Bad Bill by Dare Wright

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.



  • This post is rich and I love that you incorporated so many evocative images. Perhaps include a link to the NYTimes article you reference and the books? Start blogging like you know the web! The “out-linking” will help you.

  • Shannon Race wrote:

    I really like the direction you’ve taken your blog! It’s incredibly interesting and insanely original (have you looked to see if anyone else blogs about dolls similarly?) Your posts are also incredibly intuitive and fascinating to read, especially for someone like me who has never even thought to consider the presence of dolls in the art world and at times their provocative nature! Thanks for keeping me well-rounded :).

  • Your new niche is really refreshing! A path that no one has stamped on(as far as I know) . I’m highly intrigued by this mystic woman,Dare Wright,at the sight of her photos I knew she would make an amazing photograher. You should continue writing about this! Would love to see you publish a book on doll in art someday. Maybe not faraway~

  • I’m a huge fan of Dare Wright and her messed up and amazing life.I would love to make a movie about her. In fact, I think her books influenced me so deeply that it eventually lead me to make Of Dolls and Murder.

  • linda ruskoski wrote:

    Dare Wright was a dear friend of mine. In Edith and the Duckling, Edith is wearing a sweater which I had someone knit for her. I used to visit Dare, Edith, and the bears frequently in New York City. I think that you are reading too much into her stories. Just enjoy them. We had great conversations about her creations. She gave me her books, photographs, and lovely letters which I will always treasure.
    Jean Nason phoned me when she was writing her book because she had found my name on some correspondence. Dare was a very unique and interesting woman. I will never forget her.

  • Mary Mcgregor wrote:

    Yes i agree we shouldnt read too much into it just enjoy edith and her bears the way i did as a child now i am readi.g the same childhood book to my grandchildren and am transported each time to how i felt when my grandmother was reading to me
    The story is timeless , delightful and cherished.

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