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An Edward Gorey Biography

Updated on February 24, 2013

There was a young curate whose brain

Was deranged from the use of cocaine;

He lured a small child

To a copse dark and wild,

Where he beat it to death with his cane.

-- Edward Gorey


Edward Gorey is a Harvard-educated cartoonist known for his black sense of humor which he chose to apply to children's book style drawings. His two most popular cult classics are works in storybook format -- The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an alphabet book about a group of children who meet horrible fates, and The Doubtful Guest, about an uninvited penguin who shows up on a Victorian family's doorstep one winter.

“Books, Cats, Life is Good.” Edward Gorey

Besides his few friends and fans, Gorey was a loner in real life and in the art world. His unique art was never associated with any particular group or movement. Gorey was tall, lanky, and hard to picture without his white beard. Reportedly an asexual, Beardsley lived alone for most of his life except for a herd of cats at his cottage in Cape Cod, making him a sort of cat man. His friends described him as "shy" and "melancholic." When he wasn't working he was either reading or at the movies.

“I really think I write about everyday life. I don't think I'm quite as odd as others say I am. Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that's what makes it so boring.” -- Edward Gorey

Gorey's Career

He was born in Chicago and attended Harvard where he got a degree in French. Gorey actually recieved very little art training before embarking on his career, but is considered an excellent pen and ink draftsman. At the age of 28, he moved to New York City where he illustrated for Doubleday Anchor, creating book covers for Bram Stoker's Dracula and The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.

The same year he moved to New York he began working on his own projects, producing one or two a year until his death. Many were printed in the same style as Dr. Seuss books with hardbound brightly colored covers and many included rhyming couplets and alliteration. Gorey's meticulous drawings clearly show the influence of 19th century ink drawings. Gorey has stated that he was specifically influenced by Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, and Edward Lear who made books of nonsense rhymes, as well as the satirical British magazine Punch.

Selected Works of Edward Gorey

1. The Doubtful Guest (1957)

2. The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963)

3. The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Tale by Ogdred Weary (1961)

4. The Evil Garden (1966)

5. The Epiplectic Bicycle (1969)

6. Amphigorey (1972)

7. The Insect God (1963)

8. The Unstrung Harp (1953)

“My mission in life is to make everybody as uneasy as possible. I think we should all be as uneasy as possible, because that's what the world is like.” -- Edward Gorey


Later notable works include The Evil Garden (1966), in which a family meets their ends on a tour of a garden full of monstrous plants and The Epiplectic Bicycle (1969). Many short stories are included in a compilation of his work called Amphigorey along with a collection of his sinister limericks. Amphigorey includes The Doubtful Guest (although I prefer the nice hardbound version), The Curious Sofa, which is another of his best works, The Bug Book, which is hilarious, The Unstrung Harp, the story of the frustrating life of a writer, and The Insect God, a seemingly deep and weird tale.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

A strain of satire runs through many of his works like The Bug Book and The Curious Sofa. He seems to echo Oscar Wilde's opinion that "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation," when he says:

“There are so many things we've been brought up to believe that it takes you an awfully long time to realize that they aren't you.” --Edward Gorey

“To take my work seriously would be the height of folly.” -- Edward Gorey


Legacy

Gorey died at age 75 in the year 2000. His works have since been compiled into four anthologies, but the storybook versions really do his work justice. His yellow Cape Cod cottage has been turned into a museum with rotating exhibitions and there was even a play made of the Doubtful Guest and talk of a movie version. His devoted fans sometimes turn his work into tattoos and Mark Romanek intended his music video for "The Perfect Drug" by Nine Inch Nails to look like an Edward Gorey book. Gorey left his estate to a charity that benefits bats and insects.

NIN - The Perfect Drug

“It's well we cannot hear the screams we make in other people's dreams.” -- Edward Gorey

What is your favorite Edward Gorey book?

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