A picture can truly give you more than a thousand words, especially if it leads you towards reading an entire series of books. My history with Edward Gorey began long ago when I was very young and not reading much beyond an occasional comic book.
I was in Ohio visiting my Grandmother and she suggested I use my abundance of free time to explore the local library. I wasn’t particularly thrilled by this idea, but she was a hard woman to argue with, so off I went. In that small, one-story building, I ran my fingers along the spines of the books in the Young Adult section, looking for any titles that sprung out at me.
Nothing was hitting the mark, but then I came across a book that was facing outward and on the cover was a drawing of three people standing in front of an open crypt. The book was The Chessmen of Doom by John Bellairs and the artwork was none other than Edward Gorey. The mind-bending amount of lines, the precision of the pen and ink, and the eerie gloom I felt while looking at it made it impossible for me to leave without it. And so my affinity for his work began (along with Bellairs, whom Gorey would provide a great deal of work.)
Edward Gorey (1925-2000) was an artist with no equal. There are precious few, if any, examples in which someone could mistake his work for someone else’s or vice-versa. His illustrations were incredibly distinct in their detail and perception of the world. Through him you can always see the fright, the morbid realities and even the humor in fatalities. They were intense, morose, and yet playful and whimsical in the same moment.
Forgoing the modernization of the world around him, Gorey’s art stayed very much in the Victorian era, with many of his characters living in the high-brow, stuffy elite levels of society, which would make their fates even more ironic. He also pushed the envelope with his The Gashlycrumb Tinies, in which he created one panel for each letter of the alphabet and inside was a picture of a child (whose name started with the appropriate letter) dying in some odd fashion. To this day my favorite is, “N is for Neville who died of ennui.” (I had no idea what ennui meant at the time, but it stayed with me all the same.)
The Betrayed Confidence Revisited is a collection of ten series of postcards illustrated by the elusive artist. He was not a huge fan of long letters, but postcards were an absolute fascination for him. You can see evidence of that by the annual exclusive postcards he would create for National Postcard Week each year (example above.)
Gorey also was a master of vocabulary and seemed to enjoy playing with words and letters to a great extent. A large number of the sets were issued under the pseudonym Dogear Wryde, which is an anagram of his name. Reading through the captions and taking in the essay at the beginning of the book by Edward Bradford (the bibliographer of the Edward Gorey Trust) will undoubtedly increase your vocabulary.
In one series, titled What Ever Next? all you see are still life moments. Seemingly plain on their face, but it leaves you with a haunting illusion of what could possibly proceed it. In one of the more memorable ones for me all you see is a rope hanging in an otherwise empty frame. It’s abstract and impactful.
I could go through each series one by one glowing about their talent and effect, but as I showed the book to some of my friends, they all stopped on the same page, gasping at the same card. “Is that…I mean…really? Oh wow, it really is.” Included in a series called Tragedies Topiares, there is a postcard titled ‘le Viol’, which according to Google translates to ‘rape’.
Pictured is a woman on the ground, scrambling back from a shrubbery shaped like a man jumping on top of her. The detail of the garden-attacker is, how can I put this, anatomically correct. There’s really nowhere to go once you’ve talked about a woman being violated by a bush.
All in all, The Betrayed Confidence Revisited is a must-have for Gorey enthusiasts, like myself, but can also act as a beginner’s folio into the wealth of work waiting for them from this irregular and irreplaceable genius.