Meet Edith, the eponymous heroine of The Lonely Doll (1957) and its nine sequels (1958-81), beloved of a past generation of children and now considered by many modern parents to be one of the most disturbing of all children’s books.

I guess a lot of that sense of creepiness comes from Edith’s slightly sinister face, with its wide-set eyes and pinched mouth. But a lot of it also comes from the fact that Edith often gets spanked. And that’s something that, in the context of this site, either needs to be sedulously ignored or studiously thought about.

I think of the Lonely Doll books as fundamentally a variant of the ‘secret life of toys’ trope, best known nowadays from Toy Story. Edith lives by herself until two teddy bears come into her life and the three of them set up home together and have some gentle adventures.

And in the course of those adventures it is sometimes necessary for the senior bear to take stern measures.

Technically these aren’t human characters at all: Edith is not a child, she’s a doll, not a figure of any erotic interest but not a victim of any kind of abuse either; a doll who exists in her own distinct world with its own norms and practices. If I wanted to press the point, I’d draw your attention to her hoop earrings, which you certainly wouldn’t see being worn by a little girl – but which you will shortly see adorning someone else.

Both the popularity and the problem lie in the fact that this separate Edith world reflects or refracts aspects of our own: otherwise there’d be nothing for the books’ young readers to relate to, even though it’s a world rooted in and speaking to the attitudes and experiences of the children of 1957, which includes some things, such as spanking, that were once normal but are now widely considered to be wrong. But that’s not the whole story.

The books and their photographic illustrations were the work of Dare Wright (1914-2001), a striking Canadian who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Edith was originally one of her childhood playthings in the 1920s.

As well as a photographer and author, she was a fashion model and actress with a haunting, slightly stand-offish beauty.

And you may have noticed a certain similarity between her and Edith, including the doll’s blonde ponytailed hair and, yes, those hoop earrings. Here they are together in 1957, the year the first book came out.

And that puts a new twist on scenes like this:

Modern adult readers aren’t recoiling only from the way the books treat as normal a child discipline practice that is now outmoded, making them a cultural Trojan Horse from what we smugly think of as a less civilized past. They may also be picking up on a latent psychosexual dimension based on the implied identification between Dare Wright and her creation.

It’s true that there is something strange about these books, but it takes a big leap of reasoning to infer that their intermittent preoccupation with spanking reflects a possibly unconscious desire in Dare Wright herself, even if it weren’t a leap into an area that isn’t really any of our business. Some argue that it’s purely and simply a reflection of childhood as it then was, when most girls were spanked from time to time and spanked their dolls in turn, and when, very occasionally, the dolls came to life in stories and spanked them back:

And there must be a grain of truth in that view, since the first Lonely Doll spanking scene was originally inspired, at least in part, by a photo session Dare and Edith did in 1955 with a young friend, which included this impromptu moment:

But if that’s all there is to it, what are we to make of the way the subject of spanking keeps on coming up? (There are scenes in three of the ten books.)

For those whose attitude to spanking is partly irrational, whether it be enthusiasm or aversion, it simplifies matters to put it all back into childhood: we can treat it as just baggage of the dead past not to be handed over to our children, and certainly with nothing to appeal to or worry us in any sexual way. And yet that ‘decision to ignore’ itself ignores the edgy, powerful way the books cross boundaries and weirdly conflate the adult and the juvenile, the innocent and the erotic, without which I wouldn’t be writing about the subject to begin with.

In more recent times, a number of photographers have brought out this curious quality in their attempts to recreate the Lonely Doll spankings using models.

Well, yes, but also with this kind of model:

Here’s their take on the spanking scene:

And here’s a stunning alternative interpretation:


And for those modern adult readers who stress (and, boy, do they stress!) about how Edith is always showing her panties…

I have to say that I’d much rather see a picture in which the one being spanked was Dare Wright herself and not her plastic alter ego. But these modern versions are surely the next best thing!

4 thoughts on “Daring

  1. Scott Starr says:

    You brought back memories of a toy doll that was able to respond to two stimulus: Tickling and spanking. As the commercial ran on TV the script was “If you spank her she cries. If you tickle her, she laughs!” I also remember the box as having several pictures, and also remember two showed her panties down. That and the Robert Goulet-Carole Lawrence Kiss Me Kate spanking video would be two items I would be glad to see. Keep up the good work!


    • Harry says:

      I never present ‘little girl’ spankings and so I had to do a great deal of conceptual maneuvering to make this topic admissible here; therefore, I hope you will understand that I am not going to write about or show pictures of the 1960s doll you mention. It is easily found online, with photos of the different boxes. The doll is unambiguously represented as a little girl, since on the box illustrations she cries ‘Boo hoo mommy’.

      But I’m interested in your observation that one of the box illustrations shows her being spanked with her panties down. I’m sorry if it spoils your fantasies, but I think you are describing an optical illusion: what the drawing actually shows is tight panties with a prominent frill at the bottom, not lowered panties with a bare bottom above.

      The problem is that people tend to ‘decode’ ambiguous images by seeing what they want to see; more broadly, it’s the principle by which the Rorschach ink-blot test works, whereby you reveal your own predilections in the way you interpret what is actually just a random blob. Many spankos are obsessed with nudity, so in consequence they will see nudity where it wasn’t really intended. Of course, I myself much prefer spanking on the seat of the panties, so that may likewise influence the way I ‘decode’ ambiguities – although I’ll stress that I don’t have any sexual reaction to the 1960s doll illustration we’re talking about and don’t want to encourage anyone else to think about it in that way either.

      I can illustrate this with a couple risqué pictures where the ambiguity is simply too close to call. Here’s a souvenir postcard from Brussels showing the city’s most famous landmark, plus a spanking in the foreground:

      Is she being spanked on her panties, or is she wearing no panties at all? The issue is how to interpret the lines around her legs at the top of her thighs: are they stocking tops or panty legs? I’m inclined to think the latter, because she’s also wearing bobby sox, which would be odd with stockings, but there’s really no saying for sure.

      Moving more firmly into erotica, here’s a watercolor by Martin van Maele for a 1904 French translation of the English Victorian sex novel Frank and I:

      What is the girl being spanked wearing on her lower half? She could be wearing long-legged pink ‘directoire’ knickers, or she could be wearing stockings. In favor of the former is the coloring: the other figures’ faces allow you to judge flesh tones, and the spanked girl’s bottom and upper thighs are very unlike those flesh tones. But the presence of garters suggests the contrary, because she would hardly be wearing them without stockings! Maybe the answer is that actually she’s wearing both…

      But the point is that both these examples belong to a type of material where a bare bottom spanking wouldn’t be particularly surprising. Where it would be very, very surprising, I suggest, is in a mainstream product intended for purchase by a parent for a child, like the 1960s doll in question.

      One thing we do agree about: I too would love to see the 1968 Goulet/Lawrence production of Kiss Me Kate!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jimc says:

    Thanks for the memory. The little doll series was one I found at my school library and it became the first book I checked out and also on other occasions. I think I found it when I was in the second grade and that would have been about 1959. My first book report was on it too. As my review had the spanking mentioned I know I was interested in spanking by then and was always on the lookout for comics or books that featured the subject.

    I too remember the doll as a part of spanking as a norm because kids spanked their dolls and games of house where there were spankings were common as well and there were other spanking games that others seemed to know about. It was called Granny. There were 2 circles and one person in one circle was Granny and would call the children home and the response would be “I can’t hear you!” and then then Granny would say she whe send all sorts of things after them and the response would be the same “I can’t hear you!” and then when then granny had used up some time she would respond with “Then I shall send myself!” and with that would run after the children tn the other circle and those “granny” caught were spanked. I tried to hide my interest, but I always wanted to play that game esp. with the girls being caught as a watcher and as a spanker.

    I enjoy your artwork you found in your comment. I was living in Washington when the Carol Lawrence and Robert Goulet spanking in Kiss me Kate was and did get to see it on tv as a live performance this was before vcrs were common, but I do remember it quite well.

    Thanks for all the info you share in your articles your insight and resources are amazing. Thanks again and have a great day.



  3. starship50 says:

    Wow, what a pleasure to get such a detailed reply. Thanks so much for that and I appreciate the comments from Jim also. And I totally agree. That same thing happened to me with a newspaper ad when McLintock came out and it looked like John Wayne had torn her pantaloon open with his left hand to expose her bottom. I am sure now that was just a wrinkle in the news print. And I am glad about your approach to child spanking, as it is really walking the fine line. Keep up the great work. Hopefully a copy of the Goulet KMK shows up someday. I remember the sound was so real, as if she was wearing nothing under her dress, and her squirming and struggling was beautiful. In addition, the next scene showed her face down, oooing in pain as her maid applied the ice bag to her round behind.
    Regards, Scott


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