The Lonely Doll is the first of a series of picture books created by writer/photographer Dare Wright and published between 1957 and 1981. The series follows the adventures of Edith, the titular Lonely Doll, who lives by herself in what appears to be a well-appointed human-sized highrise apartment. In spite of her luxurious surroundings, Edith longs for a friend and is overwhelmed with gratitude when two anthropomorphic teddy bears—mischievous Little Bear and his stern papa Mr. Bear—come to live with her. Edith ended up going on many adventures with Little Bear over the course of ten slim books.
The stories themselves are told with minimal text and evocative black-and-white photos of Edith, the author's real childhood doll, carefully posed to give the impression of a doll come to life as she interacts with a world made for humans. The books have gained a reputation over the years for being more sinister than they seem on the surface, as the climax of many of Edith's adventures is her anxiety over whether she will again be abandoned after angering Mr. Bear, or if she will find herself lost forever, unable to return home. The black-and-white photography (plus the ever-so-slightly Creepy Doll) only contributes to the eeriness.
Edith's appearance was deliberately modeled on that of her author, Dare Wright, with a high blonde ponytail, side-glancing blue eyes, and trademark gold hoop earrings. It's suspected a great deal of Edith's adventures (and her anxieties) are likewise a reflection of the life of her glamorous, multi-talented, but troubled creator. A major motion picture of the life of Dare Wright, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll (based on the biography of the same name), is currently in pre-production and is slated to star Naomi Watts as Wright and Jessica Lange as her mother Edith.
The Lonely Doll Girl trope (in which a lonely human turns to dolls for companionship) is unrelated to the Lonely Doll series (in which the doll herself is lonely).
The Lonely Doll books
- The Lonely Doll (1957)
- Holiday for Edith and the Bears (1958)
- The Doll and the Kitten (1960)
- The Lonely Doll Learns a Lesson (1961)
- Edith and Mr. Bear (1964)
- A Gift from the Lonely Doll (1966)
- Edith and Big Bad Billnote (1968)
- Edith and Little Bear Lend a Hand (1972)
- Edith and Midnight (1978)
- Edith and the Duckling (1981)
The Lonely Doll series contains examples of the following tropes:
- Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal: Mr. Bear wears nothing but a tie.
- All Girls Like Ponies: While on a trip to a ranch in Edith and Midnight, Edith becomes horse-obsessed and eventually befriends a wild pony.
- Artifact Title: After the first book, Edith is no longer lonely and in fact goes on to make more friends, yet the series is referred to as the Lonely Doll series, and she's called The Lonely Doll in the titles of several future installments. This appears to be a publisher's decision; the author referred to the series as the "Edith and the Bears" books.
- Beary Friendly: The bears are very happy to become Edith's new family; in fact, they're the ones who come to her and ask if they can be friends.
- Big, Stupid Doodoo-Head: While Little Bear and Edith originally get into trouble for making a mess, the last straw comes when they write "Mr. Bear is Just a Silly Old Thing" on a mirror in lipstick.
- Big Applesauce: Though never explicitly stated, it's pretty obvious that Edith and the Bears live in New York City.
- Bratty Half-Pint: Little Bear comes off as this initially, and while Edith's sweet nature rubs off on him eventually, he still has his moments.
- Corporal Punishment: When Edith and Little Bear make a mess of the apartment, Mr. Bear gives them a spanking. They get another in The Lonely Doll Learns A Lesson when, in their enthusiasm to surprise Mr. Bear by cooking dinner, they forget they're not allowed to touch matches.
- Christmas Episode: A Gift From the Lonely Doll.
- Creepy Doll: While in personality and action she's harmless as can be, the way Edith is posed and photographed can come across this way.
- Demoted to Extra: Mr. Bear gradually drifts into the background as the series progresses, usually appearing only at the very end of the story to welcome Edith and Little Bear home. (This is partly a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, as Mr. Bear's poseable joints gradually wore out, making him more difficult and delicate to pose for the photographs.)
- Free-Range Children: In Edith and Mr Bear, Mr Bear leaves Edith and Little Bear alone and unsupervised at home while he goes out of town on a business trip. We only get to see them waiting for him to return, but it's strongly implied that they've been on their own for at least an entire day. In other adventures, Edith and Little Bear are allowed to explore freely without adult supervision (with predictable results). Both Edith and Little Bear are roughly the equivalent of seven-year-olds, mind.
- Freudian Trio: Mischievous scamp Little Bear is the Id, stern authoritarian Mr. Bear is the Superego, while Edith, who can be both prudent and compassionate, serves as the Ego.
- Friend to All Living Things: Later books show Edith interacting with many real-life, full-sized animals, all of whom she befriends and helps in one way or another.
- Gilded Cage: Edith's apartment before the Bears come.
- Green Aesop: Edith And Little Bear Lend a Hand. Disgusted with pollution and litter, Mr. Bear threatens to move the family to the country, leading Edith and Little Bear to attempt to single-handedly clean up New York City. The Aesop comes when Mr. Bear begrudgingly admits that leaving pollution behind will not make it go away and that it's better to pitch in to solve it.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Edith has a long golden ponytail, and is generally sweet-natured. Once she overcomes her abandonment issues in later books, she's even proactive in her desire to help others.
- Hates Being Alone: Edith's primary anxiety.
- Interspecies Friendship: Edith and the Bears.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In Edith and the Duckling, Edith discovers an orphaned duckling and is allowed to keep it in a kiddie pool until it's big enough to live on its own. By that time, Edith has grown very attached to it and wants it to be part of their family forever, but Mr. Bear gently reminds her the duckling will never truly be happy unless it can fly free. Valuing her friend's happiness over her own, she lets it go.
- Living Toys: Zigzagged. While she's always described as "a doll," exactly how alive Edith is is never brought up. Is she really moving? Can other people see her? Does anyone own her? How does she go shopping? The most popular explanation is that her adventures represent the life imbued to a beloved toy by a child's imagination.
- Lonely Rich Kid: What Edith appears to be when we meet her. Though she lives in a sumptuous apartment and appears to be well-cared for, she doesn't seem to have an owner.
- Morality Chain: Frequently Edith to Little Bear, and Mr. Bear to both.
- Naïve Newcomer: Though she's the protagonist and the first character we meet, Edith is largely this, having never left her apartment. The Bears seem to have much more experience in the world than she does.
- Panty Shot: Edith is fond of wearing skirts with petticoats and huge white ruffled knickers, which are frequently displayed in the many scenes where she climbs, falls, or (due to her construction) sits down with her legs straight. Considered more acceptable and innocent in the 1950s, the trope is noticeably absent in later books.
- Plucky Girl: What Edith later becomes.
- Shrinking Violet: Edith is so afraid of driving her new friends away that she sometimes behaves as a shrinking violet to placate them (particularly Mr. Bear, whose grumpiness frightens her).
- Tagalong Kid: Edith in the original book and the next few thereafter. Though Little Bear is much smaller and apparently younger than Edith, he tends to be the leader—often with disastrous results. Eventually Edith becomes the leader and Little Bear the tagalong.
- There Are No Adults: There are no humans! Edith and the Bears seem to be the sole occupants of a completely empty world. Occasionally they run into live animals, but never human beings or even, oddly enough, other dolls. The closest is when Edith meets Mr. Bear's cousin, Big Bad Bill.
- Uptight Loves Wild: Little Bear and Edith are devoted best friends, even though Edith is cautious and conservative while Little Bear is mischievous and devil-may-care. Likewise, Mr. Bear is stern and uptight, but often relents in the company of his two playful young charges.