Friday, May 14, 2010

No Horror At Columbia's Library Over This Gorey Collection

Edward Gorey's Cover Illustration For The Gashlycrumb Tinies, First Published In 1963 By Simon and Schuster.
(Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

He's best known for his hauntingly eerie, yet darkly humorous pen and ink illustrations. But Edward Gorey (1925-200o) always thought of himself as a writer first. He told reporter Phil Thomas of the Associated Press in 1984: "The drawings come from the writing. After I get an idea for a book, I will sit down and write out my text. Then, I will do the drawings needed to illustrate the text. I have to do it that way, because if I don’t the book doesn’t work out." Now scholars and readers will have a new opportunity to see just how well the nearly 100 books written and illustrated by Gorey worked out, thanks to the generosity of a devoted collector, Andrew Alpern.

An Edward Gorey Self-Portrait In Pen And Ink.
(Image Courtesy Of Columbia University Library.)

Mr Alpern has donated a collection of more than 700 items, including nearly every edition of every work published by Gorey, to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University. Also part of this amazing gift are numerous original drawings, magazine illustrations, etchings, posters, dust jackets, and ephemera produced by Gorey during his prolific, nearly fifty-year career in publishing.

Gorey's Cover Illustration For The Tunnel Calamity, G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1984.
(Image Courtesy Of Goreyana.)

Gorey was a lifelong book lover, who taught himself to read at age 3 1/2, according to theater critic Mel Gussow of The New York Times. By age 5 he had already read the two books that would most influence his career, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Bram Stoker's Dracula. By age 8 he was reading Victor Hugo, and as a adult he was a speed reader of everything from Victorian classics by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to Agatha Christie mysteries. His apartments and homes, in New York City and later in Cape Cod, were invariably filled with his two favorite things: books and cats.

An Image Of His Favorite Things, Licensed For Various Products By Gorey.
(Image Courtesy Of

Though he graduated from Harvard with a degree in French literature, (where his roommate was the poet Frank O'Hara), Gorey was almost entirely self-taught as an artist. His cross hatched, pen and ink drawings of macabre scenes featuring dark and stormy nights, accident-prone children in Edwardian garb, and forlorn, isolated landscapes are instantly identifiable. Though influenced by Goya, Daumier, and Matisse, Gorey's work is unmistakably his own.

An Original Drawing By Gorey, A Dull Afternoon.
(Image Courtesy of Goreyana.)

Upon moving to New York City in 1953, Gorey wrote to his friend, Pulitzer Prize winning author Alison Lurie: "All the brilliant thoughts and such which I had about New York seem to have vanished or shriveled by this time, and it's just another place with better bookstores..." Gorey and Lurie met at a bookstore in Cambridge, and the two formed a lasting friendship because they liked the same books. In the end, it was another bookstore friend, Andreas Brown, owner of New York's famed Gotham Book Mart, who became the biggest booster of Gorey's books.

Partial Image Of A Poster Created By Gorey For A Minnesota Library Exhibit In 1984-85.
(Image Courtesy Of Goreyana.)

In the early 1950's Gorey was working as a book jacket designer for Doubleday. (He was responsible for the design of Anchor Books, an early line of scholarly and classic mass market paperbacks.) But he stayed in his office through countless late nights to work on his own creations. These he eventually published under his own imprint, Fantod Press, due to a series of rejections from established art book publishers. Gorey sold his books directly to stores, and this led to his career-changing meeting with Andreas Brown. Under Brown's ownership, the Gotham Book Mart became a veritable clearing house for Gorey's work, and even kept an archive of many of his original drawings.

Another Section Of The Minnesota Library Exhibit Poster.
(Image Courtesy Of Goreyana.)

The dark content of Gorey's work, and the fact that he lived alone nearly all of his adult life, has inaccurately led to a perception of him as a lonely, depressed hermit. As Andreas Brown recalls: ''There was this false idea that he was a brooding, melancholic man. He was not a recluse. He was jovial and effervescent, and he loved to laugh.'' Brown's bookstore was the place where Andrew Alpern first became acquainted with Gorey and his work. And Mr. Alpern was more than a collector of "Goreyana." In 1980 he published a limited edition of Gorey ephemera, F.M.R.A.

ALPERN, Andrew. F.M.R.A, New York, 1980. This is the first limited and signed edition, of which only 400 were printed.
(Image Courtesy of Goreyana.)

Edward Gorey's fame grew exponentially throughout his career. In addition to his own voluminous output, he illustrated the work of at least 60 other authors, including Samuel Beckett, Edward Lear, and T.S. Eliot. He won a Tony Award for his costume designs in a 1977 Broadway version of Dracula, and in 1979 he created the famous animated film that provides the opening for the long-running PBS television series, Mystery! The internet is replete with Gorey websites, including a complete bibliography and an excellent blog, Goreyana. (One of this season's American Idol contestants, Siobhan Magus, even has a Gorey tattoo on her shoulder.) Apparently more and more fans are in agreement with a statement Gorey made to The New Yorker when asked why his work focused on the grotesquely Gothic: "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."

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