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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Lonely Doll

A few days ago, I mentioned a biography of Dare Wright, who is best known from her children's books from the late 1950s until around 1980, particularly her "lonely doll" series. She was quite talented as a photographer, artistic talent (as well as less ideal psychological issues) natural being she was a daughter of a portrait painter. The bio is an impressive bit of research, involving a lot of interviews with people who knew Dare Wright, though the net effect is somewhat depressing. 

The psychological issues are suggested by a NYT article written a few years after the biography -- "The Unsettling Stories of Two Lonely Dolls." Also, the doll herself, Dare's own as a child, was named "Edith," which was her mother's name. The article notes how the books (she also wrote a few others with doll themes and some focusing on animals) have a strong affect on readers:
A common occurrence in her store, she said, is that a mother will show ''instant recognition'' upon spotting the book and want to buy it for her daughter. ''Then they'll start to read it, and you can just see their faces when they come to the spanking. Then it's like, 'Maybe I won't buy it for my daughter.' '' But, she said, those women may buy it for themselves. ''It's one of the books that has a strong, strong pull,'' she said.
The first book in the series suggests the concern.  We have Edith, who is all alone in a big house, quite lonely.  Where are her parents?   Eventually, she gains a family -- Mr. Bear and Little Bear* (boy bear; again, no mother figure) -- and is promised they would not go away.  When Mr. Bear is away, she and Little Bear play dress up, including with  makeup, though no female presence is apparent. They make and mess and (show of panties), she gets a spanking.  This upsets some people though in the 1950s, and even today, being spanked is not really atypical.  The spanking itself isn't the issue though -- looking through comments on Amazon, e.g., some see a certain strange dynamic going on of dominance and sexuality.
I don't know -- seems a bit of transference there -- but there does seem to be a powerful emotional undercurrent -- Edith is very worried that her being bad will mean she will be alone again though after she apologizes, all is forgiven. The link suggests she even liked the spanking a bit, perhaps since it showed someone cared for her enough to punish her for being bad (a reader again can suggest transference was involved here). This brings up real concerns of children that if they are bad, their parents won't love them any more or even that they will be alone.  Dare Wright's own parents divorced at an early age, her older brother being taken away; they only saw each other years later.  Children so also sometimes are quite lonely and a lonely doll can be relatable.

I found a Dare Wright book at the library -- a few are available, but only one for borrowing.  It is unfortunate (another library has her first book for borrowing -- might be able to get it eventually)  if the one book (a holiday special) is anything to judge.  It is a wonderful book, very cute with a charming message about homemade gifts.  The wonder really is that book, like all her books, are actually photographs of an actual doll and bears (she eventually found copies as stand-ins, but I think much of this involved just the originals) having various adventures.  Since this is in effect what many little girls do with their own dolls, along with the clear skill of the whole thing, one can start to understand the draw.

Really, I found the whole affair impressive and just too cute.  I just might try to find a copy for a Christmas present and do want to check out other books by the author.  Jean Nathan, the author of the bio, got the idea when she had a sudden image of the cover of the first book, which she had read as a child.  She eventually found the author, then in a long term care facility (her life after the final book was written was sad and it was really depressing to read about)  and in fact wrote her obit a few years later.  This started in the 1990s -- these days, it is not so hard to find her books, a few of them currently pretty cheap on Amazon.

One more thing.  The NYT article notes some like the books because Edith always has the same expression (she is after all a doll, literally) and unlike some more cartoonish children books, this brings a sense of realism and allows readers to transfer their own meanings to the doll.  Yes.  The thing is that when I was reading the book, it doesn't quite seem like she just had one expression. This underlines the skill of Dare Wright, who (using simple materials, not some expensive camera work or anything) also was known to make clothes and decorate her apartment in creative ways. She did not like to talk much about her "process" in interviews or in general, according to the biography, being shy.  It's a shame, since getting more insight about her thought processes would be interesting. 


* Dare obtained the bears when her brother bought one for her and the son of a friend.  She started photographing the three before the big one was given to the child, but afterwards felt incomplete without the whole "family" being together.  She was going to borrow the big bear, but her brother said that one does not borrow bears, so he bought her one instead.  Jean Nathan suggests in effect we have Dare as a child (Edith), her brother as a boy (who left her life at an early age) and a father figure (basically never around, even when her parents were married).