Edward Gorey’s lifelong experiments in the absurd & unsettling

Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark DeryLittle

Evan Kindley (excerpt): For an artist who specialized in the uncanny, Edward Gorey has become a little too familiar. Perhaps this is the inevitable fate of writers and artists distinctive enough to have an adjective named after them. The word “Goreyesque” immediately conjures a handful of images and tropes: crepuscular mansions, statuary urns, unquiet spirits, desolate moors, and small children meeting untimely ends. He drew this iconography from fin de siècle gothic horror, but the gothic, in Gorey’s work, is never played straight. It’s always mixed, in his biographer Mark Dery’s words, with “a shot of black comedy, a jigger of irony, and a dash of high camp.”

Gorey is widely acknowledged as the master, if not the in- ventor, of this mode. Even people who haven’t read The Doubtful Guest or The Gashlycrumb Tinies will likely recognize Gorey’s elegant, fastidiously crosshatched pen-and-ink drawings of waifish orphans and bald-headed, bearded men in long fur coats and tennis shoes. As Dery points out in *Born to Be Posthumous*—the first full-length biography of Gorey to appear since his death in 2000—he has exerted a durable influence on popular culture, as Young Adult novelists like Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Ransom Riggs have brought his arch aesthetic to a large and fervent audience. His own works, meanwhile—once available only in limited-edition volumes—now adorn coffee mugs, calendars, refrigerator magnets, iPhone cases, and even salad tongs.

One drawback of this popularization is that Gorey is too easily pegged as the peddler of a kind of twee-goth miniaturism: “Dr. Seuss for Tim Burton fans,” as Dery puts it. Even during his lifetime, he resisted being described as “macabre.” “It sort of annoys me to be stuck with that,” Gorey told a journalist in the late 1970s. “What I’m really doing is something else entirely.” The gothic, for Gorey, was one costume among many, and while it’s clearly one in which he felt especially comfortable, his work radiates a melancholy and an existential unease—as well as a formal inventiveness—that none of his imitators have matched, and that small samplings of his work don’t reveal.

It’s very hard, in fact, to put one’s finger on the Goreyesque—at least as Gorey himself practiced it. His aesthetic, Dery writes, is “an aesthetic of the inscrutable, the ambiguous, the evasive, the oblique, the insinuated, the understated, the unspoken.” It’s easy to forget how little happens in much of Gorey’s work, how essentially atmospheric it is, in both its horror and its humor. A creature of habit (with a habit of inventing creatures), Gorey was at least as attracted to the quotidian as he was to the bizarre. “Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time,” he told the writer Alexander Theroux late in his life. “At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that’s what makes it so boring.”

[...] Gorey’s reputation built gradually. From the start his works were prominently displayed at the counter in the Gotham Book Mart, a legendary independent bookstore in midtown Manhattan, which brought him to the attention of literary tastemakers. His first book, *The Unstrung Harp*, was published in 1953. It told the story of Mr. Clavius Frederick Earbrass, an author afflicted by writer’s block; Graham Greene called it “the best novel ever written about a novelist.” His small cult following expanded considerably when Edmund Wilson devoted a column to “the albums of edward gorey” in the pages of The New Yorker in 1959. In 1972, Amphigorey, a mass-market omnibus reprinting 15 of Gorey’s little books, became a surprise best-seller. Other milestones were the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula, starring Frank Langella, for which Gorey designed the sets and costumes, and the 1980 premiere of the PBS television series Mystery!, featuring an animated credit sequence based on images from Gorey’s books.

By the time he died in 2000, Gorey was a minor celebrity, much sought after both as a freelance illustrator and as a profile subject. He devoted his last years on Cape Cod, touchingly, to writing, designing, and directing avant-garde plays for a local theater troupe called Le Théatricule Stoïque....

MORE: https://newrepublic.com/article/152302/s...-ambitions
I've always loved those Mystery cartoons. Now I know why..

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