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

Jean Nathan




Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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In 1957, a children's book called The Lonely Doll was published. With its distinctive pink-and-white checked cover and black-and-white photographs featuring a wide-eyed doll named Edith, it quickly captured the hearts of young girls all over the country and made the author, Dare Wright, a household name.

Forty years after its publication, the book was out of print but not forgotten. When the cover image unaccountably surfaced in journalist Jean Nathan's consciousness 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 New York City public hospital.

Piecing together interviews and documents, sifting through the thousands of photographs Wright has taken, Nathan uncovered a glamorous life. Blond, beautiful Dare 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-fate 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 a 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 more than fifty stunning photographs, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll tells the unforgettable story of a woman who, imprisoned by her childhood, sought to free herself through art.


Praise for The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll

"An exhaustively reported, gracefully written biography . . . This biography left me wanting to know more—about Jean Nathan."—The New York Times Book Review

"Hard to put down . . . This graceful biography elucidates and follows those emotions threads to create a read as compelling as Wright's photographs."—Chicago Tribune

"The unsettling story, gothic and glamorous, behind an enduring childern's book. Jean Nathan's The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll is a beguiling piece of detective work, which itself makes for a kind fairy tale."—Stacy Schiff, author of Véra

"Although I never read The Lonely Doll as a child or saw Dare Wright's photographs, it's 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 Edith's spell will be captivated—and perhaps, unsettled—by this modern gothic tale."—Michelle Green, People

"[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 Wright's life to show that behind her perhaps perverse books was a childlike effort at life that was both futile and bold."—Benjamin Lyntal, The New York Sun

"Sensational though Nathan's subject matter is . . . she never descends into exploitation. Her deft handling of these horrors recalls David and Albert Maysles's 1976 documentary Grey Gardens."—L. D. Beghtol, Time Out New York

"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

"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

"Nathan has crafted an astonishing complete portrait of an intensely private person . . . Nathan's revelation of her own personal, emotional connection with The Lonely Doll reaffirms the lasting power that books can have in the life of a child."—The Horn Book magazine

"Compelling psychological biography . . . Nathan's meticulously researched, well-documented biography . . . illuminates Wright’s tangled and tragic life, work and times."—Neal Wyatt, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



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Jean Nathan graduated from 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, and other publications. She lives in New York City.
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