The Eccentric Life and Illustration of Edward Gorey

Today is Edward Gorey’s birthday. In honor of his life and work, this post is presented. From 1953 to 1960, Edward Gorey 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.

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.

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”.

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 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 …”

Edward Gorey agreed in an interview that the “sexlessness” of his works was a product of his asexuality.

Happy Birthday, the late Mr Gorey…

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