|Born||Edward St. John Gorey
February 22, 1925
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||April 15, 2000
Cape Cod Hospital, Hyannis, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Education||Mainly self-taught; briefly: The School of The Art Institute of Chicago|
|Known for||Writer, Illustrator, Poet|
|Notable work(s)||The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Doubtful Guest, Animation introducing Mystery! on PBS|
|Movement||Literary nonsense, Surrealism|
|Awards||Tony Award (costume design); Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (writing)|
Edward St. John Gorey (February 22, 1925 – April 15, 2000) was an American writer and artist noted for his illustrated books. His characteristic pen-and-ink drawings often depict vaguely unsettling narrative scenes in Victorian and Edwardian settings.
Edward St. John Gorey was born in Chicago. His parents, Helen Dunham (née Garvey) and Edward Lee Gorey, divorced in 1936 when he was 11, then remarried in 1952 when he was 27. One of his stepmothers was Corinna Mura (1909–1965), a cabaret singer who had a small role in the classic film Casablanca as the woman playing the guitar while singing "La Marseillaise" at Rick's Café Américain. His father was briefly a journalist. Gorey's maternal great-grandmother, Helen St. John Garvey, was a popular nineteenth-century greeting card writer and artist, from whom he claimed to have inherited his talents.
Gorey attended a variety of local grade schools and then the Francis W. Parker School. He spent 1944 to 1946 in the Army at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and then attended Harvard University, beginning in 1946 and graduating in the class of 1950, where he studied French and roomed with poet Frank O'Hara.
In the early 1950s, Gorey, with a group of recent Harvard alumni including Alison Lurie (1947), John Ashbery (1949), Donald Hall (1951), and Frank O'Hara, amongst others, founded the Poets' Theatre in Cambridge, which was supported by Harvard faculty members John Ciardi and Thornton Wilder.
He frequently stated that his formal art training was "negligible"; Gorey studied art for one semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943.
From 1953 to 1960, he lived in New York City and worked for the Art Department of Doubleday Anchor, illustrating book covers and in some cases, adding illustrations to the text. He illustrated works as diverse as Dracula by Bram Stoker, The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, and Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. In later years he produced cover illustrations and interior artwork for many children's books by John Bellairs, as well as books begun by Bellairs and continued by Brad Strickland after Bellairs' death.
His first independent work, The Unstrung Harp, was published in 1953. He also published under pen names that were anagrams of his first and last names, such as Ogdred Weary, Dogear Wryde, Ms. Regera Dowdy, and dozens more. His books also feature the names Eduard Blutig ("Edward Gory"), a German language pun on his own name, and O. Müde (German for O. Weary).
The New York Times credits bookstore owner Andreas Brown and his store, the Gotham Book Mart, with launching Gorey's career: "it became the central clearing house for Mr. Gorey, presenting exhibitions of his work in the store's gallery and eventually turning him into an international celebrity."
Gorey's illustrated (and sometimes wordless) books, with their vaguely ominous air and ostensibly Victorian and Edwardian settings, have long had a cult following. Gorey became particularly well-known through his animated introduction to the PBS series Mystery! in 1980, as well as his designs for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula, for which he won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design. He also was nominated for Best Scenic Design. In the introduction of each episode of Mystery!, Vincent Price would welcome viewers to "Gorey Mansion".
Because of the settings and style of Gorey's work, many people have assumed he was British; in fact, he only left the U.S. once, for a visit to the Scottish Hebrides. In later years, he lived year-round in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, where he wrote and directed numerous evening-length entertainments, often featuring his own papier-mâché puppets, an ensemble known as Le Theatricule Stoique. The first of these productions, Lost Shoelaces, premiered in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on August 13, 1987. The last was The White Canoe: an Opera Seria for Hand Puppets, for which Gorey wrote the libretto, with a score by the composer Daniel James Wolf. Based on Thomas Moore's poem The Lake of the Dismal Swamp, the opera was staged after Gorey's death and directed by his friend, neighbor, and longtime collaborator Carol Verburg, with a puppet stage made by his friends and neighbors, the noted set designers Herbert Senn and Helen Pond. In the early 1970s, Gorey wrote an unproduced screenplay for a silent film, The Black Doll.
Gorey was noted for his fondness for ballet (for many years, he religiously attended all performances of the New York City Ballet), fur coats, tennis shoes, and cats, of which he had many. All figure prominently in his work. His knowledge of literature and films was unusually extensive, and in his interviews, he named Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Francis Bacon, George Balanchine, Balthus, Louis Feuillade, Ronald Firbank, Lady Murasaki Shikibu, Robert Musil, Yasujirō Ozu, Anthony Trollope, and Johannes Vermeer as some of his favorite artists. Gorey was also an unashamed pop-culture junkie, avidly following soap operas and television comedies such as Petticoat Junction and Cheers, and he had particular affection for dark genre series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Batman: The Animated Series, and The X-Files; he once told an interviewer that he so enjoyed the Batman series that it was influencing the visual style of one of his upcoming books. Gorey treated television commercials as an art form in themselves, even taping his favorites for later study. Gorey was especially fond of movies, and for a time he wrote regular reviews for the Soho Weekly under the pseudonym Wardore Edgy.
After Gorey's death, one of his executors, Andreas Brown, turned up a large cache of unpublished work, some completed, some incomplete. Brown described the find as "Ample material for many future books and for plays based on his work."
Although Gorey's books were popular with children, he did not associate with children much and had no particular fondness for them. Gorey never married, professed to have little interest in romance, and never discussed any specific romantic relationships in interviews. In the book The Strange Case of Edward Gorey, published after Gorey's death, his friend Alexander Theroux reported that when Gorey was pressed on the matter of his sexual orientation, he said that even he was not sure whether he was gay or straight. When asked what his sexual orientation was in an interview, he said,
I'm neither one thing nor the other particularly. I am fortunate in that I am apparently reasonably undersexed or something ... I've never said that I was gay and I've never said that I wasn't ... what I'm trying to say is that I am a person before I am anything else ...
From 1995 to his death in April 2000, the normally reclusive artist was the subject of a cinema-verite style documentary directed by Christopher Seufert. (As of 2014, the film has been screened as a work-in-progress; the finished film and accompanying book have yet to be released.) He was interviewed on Tribute To Edward Gorey, an hour-long community, public-access television cable show produced by artist and friend, Joyce Kenney. He contributed his videos and personal thoughts. Edward served as a judge at Yarmouth art shows and enjoyed activities at the local cable station, studying computer art and serving as cameraman on many Yarmouth shows. His Cape Cod house is called Elephant House and is the subject of a photography book entitled, Elephant House: Or, the Home of Edward Gorey, with photographs and text by Kevin McDermott. The house is now the Edward Gorey House Museum.
Gorey left the bulk of his estate to a charitable trust benefiting cats and dogs, as well as other species, including bats and insects.
Gorey is typically described as an illustrator. His books may be found in the humor and cartoon sections of major bookstores, but books such as The Object Lesson have earned serious critical respect as works of surrealist art. His experimentation – creating books that were wordless, books that were literally matchbox-sized, pop-up books, books entirely populated by inanimate objects – complicates matters still further. As Gorey told Richard Dyer of The Boston Globe, "Ideally, if anything were any good, it would be indescribable." Gorey classified his own work as literary nonsense, the genre made most famous by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.
In response to being called gothic, he stated, "If you're doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there'd be no point. I'm trying to think if there's sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children – oh, how boring, boring, boring. As Schubert said, there is no happy music. And that's true, there really isn't. And there's probably no happy nonsense, either."
Gorey wrote more than 100 books, including the following:
Many of Gorey's works were published obscurely and are difficult to find (and priced accordingly), however, the following four omnibus editions collect much of his material. Because his original books are rather short, these editions may contain 15 or more in each volume.
- Amphigorey, 1972 (ISBN 0-399-50433-8) – contains The Unstrung Harp, The Listing Attic, The Doubtful Guest, The Object-Lesson, The Bug Book, The Fatal Lozenge, The Hapless Child, The Curious Sofa, The Willowdale Handcar, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Insect God, The West Wing, The Wuggly Ump, The Sinking Spell, and The Remembered Visit
- Amphigorey Too, 1975 (ISBN 0-399-50420-6) – contains The Beastly Baby, The Nursery Frieze, The Pious Infant, The Evil Garden, The Inanimate Tragedy, The Gilded Bat, The Iron Tonic, The Osbick Bird, The Chinese Obelisks (bis), The Deranged Cousins, The Eleventh Episode, [The Untitled Book], The Lavender Leotard, The Disrespectful Summons, The Abandoned Sock, The Lost Lions, Story for Sara [by Alphonse Allais], The Salt Herring [by Charles Cros], Leaves from a Mislaid Album, and A Limerick
- Amphigorey Also, 1983 (ISBN 0-15-605672-0) – contains The Utter Zoo, The Blue Aspic, The Epiplectic Bicycle, The Sopping Thursday, The Grand Passion, Les Passementeries Horribles, The Eclectic Abecedarium, L'Heure bleue, The Broken Spoke, The Awdrey-Gore Legacy, The Glorious Nosebleed, The Loathsome Couple, The Green Beads, Les Urnes Utiles, The Stupid Joke, The Prune People, and The Tuning Fork
- Amphigorey Again, 2006 (ISBN 0-15-101107-9) – contains The Galoshes of Remorse, Signs of Spring, Seasonal Confusion, Random Walk, Category, The Other Statue, 10 Impossible Objects (abridged), The Universal Solvent (abridged), Scenes de Ballet, Verse Advice, The Deadly Blotter, Creativity, The Retrieved Locket, The Water Flowers, The Haunted Tea-Cosy, Christmas Wrap-Up, The Headless Bust, The Just Dessert, The Admonitory Hippopotamus, Neglected Murderesses, Tragedies Topiares, The Raging Tide, The Unknown Vegetable, Another Random Walk, Serious Life: A Cruise, Figbash Acrobate, La Malle Saignante, and The Izzard Book
He also illustrated more than 50 works by other authors, including Samuel Beckett, Edward Lear, John Bellairs, H. G. Wells, Alain-Fournier, Charles Dickens, T. S. Eliot, Hilaire Belloc (where new illustrations to Cautionary Tales for Children were published posthumously, Muriel Spark, Florence Parry Heide, John Updike, John Ciardi, and Felicia Lamport.
Gorey was very fond of word games, particularly anagrams. He wrote many of his books under pseudonyms that usually were anagrams of his own name (most famously Ogdred Weary). Some of these are listed below, with the corresponding book title(s). Eduard Blutig is also a word game: "Blutig" is German (the language from which these two books purportedly were translated) for "bloody" or "gory".
- Ogdred Weary – The Curious Sofa, The Beastly Baby
- Mrs. Regera Dowdy – The Pious Infant, The Izzard Book
- Eduard Blutig – The Evil Garden (translated from Der Böse Garten by Mrs. Regera Dowdy), The Tuning Fork (translated from Der Zeitirrthum by Mrs. Regera Dowdy)
- Raddory Gewe – The Eleventh Episode
- Dogear Wryde – The Broken Spoke/Cycling Cards
- E. G. Deadworry – The Awdrey-Gore Legacy
- D. Awdrey-Gore – The Toastrack Enigma, The Blancmange Tragedy, The Postcard Mystery, The Pincushion Affair, The Toothpaste Murder, The Dustwrapper Secret (Note: These books, although attributed to Awdrey-Gore in Gorey's book The Awdrey-Gore Legacy, were not really written)
- Edward Pig – The Untitled Book
- Wardore Edgy
- Madame Groeda Weyrd – The Fantod Deck
- Dewda Yorger – "The Deary Rewdgo Series for Intrepid Young Ladies (D.R. on the Great Divide, D.R. in the Yukon, D.R. at Baffin Bay, etc.)"
Gorey has become an iconic figure in the Goth subculture. Events themed on his works and decorated in his characteristic style are common in the more Victorian-styled elements of the subculture, notably the Edwardian costume balls held annually in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which include performances based on his works. The "Edwardian" in this case refers less to the Edwardian period of history rather than to Gorey, whose characters are depicted as wearing fashion styles ranging from those of the mid-nineteenth century to the 1930s.
Director Mark Romanek's music video for the Nine Inch Nails song "The Perfect Drug" was designed specifically to resemble a Gorey book, with familiar Gorey elements including oversized urns, topiary plants, and glum, pale characters in full Edwardian costume. Also, Caitlín R. Kiernan has published a short story entitled "A Story for Edward Gorey" (Tales of Pain and Wonder, 2000), which features Gorey's black doll.
A more direct link to Gorey's influence on the music world is evident in The Gorey End, an album recorded in 2003 by The Tiger Lillies and the Kronos Quartet. This album was a collaboration with Gorey, who liked previous work by The Tiger Lillies so much that he sent them a large box of his unpublished works, which were then adapted and turned into songs. Gorey died before hearing the finished album.
In 1976, jazz composer Michael Mantler recorded an album called The Hapless Child (Watt/ECM) with Robert Wyatt, Terje Rypdal, Carla Bley, and Jack DeJohnette. It contains musical adaptations of The Sinking Spell, The Object Lesson, The Insect God, The Doubtful Guest, The Remembered Visit, and The Hapless Child. The last three songs also have been published on his 1987 Live album with Jack Bruce, Rick Fenn, and Nick Mason.
In the last few decades of his life, Gorey merchandise became quite popular, with stuffed dolls, cups, stickers, posters, and other items available at malls around the United States.
In 2007, the Jim Henson Company announced plans to produce a feature film based on The Doubtful Guest to be directed by Brad Peyton. No release date was given and there has been no further information since the announcement.
- Kelley, Tina (April 16, 2000). "Edward Gorey, Eerie Illustrator And Writer, 75". The New York Times.
- Ancestry of Edward Gorey
- Lumenello, Susan, "Edward Gorey: Brief life of an artful author: 1925–2000", Harvard Magazine, March–April 2007
- Sayre, Nora, "The Poets' Theatre: A Memoir of the Fifties", Grand Street, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Spring, 1984), pp. 92–105. Published by: Ben Sonnenberg
- "Open Book: Obsessed at Harvard", Harvard Magazine, January–February 2002
- Gussow, Mel (April 17, 2000). "Edward Gorey, Artist and Author Who Turned the Macabre into a Career, Dies at 75". The New York Times.
- "The Data File: Gorey Discoveries", Locus, December 2000, p.11.
- Gorey, Edward (2002), Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey, Harvest Books, ISBN 978-0-15-601291-1
- McDermott, Kevin. Elephant House: Or, the Home of Edward Gorey. Pomegranate Communications (2003). ISBN 0-7649-2495-8 and ISBN 978-0-7649-2495-8
- Schiff, Stephen. "Edward Gorey and the Tao of Nonsense." The New Yorker, November 9, 1992: 84–94, p. 89.
- http://www.goreyography.com/west/articles/CTFCreview020916.html A review of third reprint of Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales for Children interpreted using 61 of Edward Gorey's spare pen-and-ink illustrations
- Amphigorey Also – Edward Gorey. Google Books. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
- Interview with Mark Romanek, in the currently unreleased documentary by Christopher Seufert.
- The Tiger Lillies' webpage for this album; EMI 7243 5 57513 2 4
- Further reading
- The World of Edward Gorey, Clifford Ross and Karen Wilkin, Henry N. Abrams Inc., 1996 (ISBN 0-8109-3988-6). Interview and monograph.
- The Strange Case of Edward Gorey, Alexander Theroux, Fantagraphics Books, 2000 (ISBN 1-56097-385-4). Biography and reminiscence by Theroux, a friend of Gorey.
- The Gorey Details. BBC Radio program compiled and presented by Philip Glassborow, including interviews with Andreas Brown of the Gotham Book Mart, actor Frank Langella (star of Gorey's Dracula on Broadway), Alison Lurie, Alex Hand, Jack Braginton Smith, Katherine Kellgren, and featuring David Suchet as the voice of Gorey.
- "All The Gorey Details", The Independent, by Philip Glassborow, May 2003.
- Media related to Edward Gorey at Wikimedia Commons
- Edward Gorey House Official Site of the Edward Gorey House and Gorey Trust
- Mystery! Edward Gorey interview from pbs.org
- Works by or about Edward Gorey in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Gorey interviewed at his kitchen table with cats on YouTube
- Edward Gorey in WorldCat Identities
- Edward Gorey documentary film
- Edward Gorey Doubleday Anchor paperbacks
- Edward Gorey at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database