A well-considered biography of Edward Gorey (1925-2000).
Cultural critic Dery (I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-By Essays on American Dread, American Dreams, 2012, etc.) constructs a nimble framework to fully appreciate the gothic artist and designer’s contributions to high art and queer culture, developments that mirror the popularization of art and literature after World War II as well as the campy “hiding-in-plain-sight” nature of the pre-Stonewall gay experience. The author probes his subject’s close, unconsummated relationships with school friends, an Army librarian during the war, and, later, picture-book collaborator Peter Neumeyer to prove no exception to Gorey’s official line that he was “reasonably undersexed or something.” Comparisons to Edwardian throwback novelists Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett place Gorey’s macabre rightfully at the heights of aestheticism and the surrealist vanguard, only he aimed his “revolt through style” at the gloomy British past. Dery’s puzzling subject, the son of a prominent Chicago publicist, shines brightest in the early years. He caught the art bug early in his youth, under private school teacher Malcolm Hackett, and he later jousted at Harvard with verse prodigies like John Ashbery and Gorey’s freshman roommate, Frank O’Hara. Following a Cambridge connection with publisher Jason Epstein, Gorey settled in New York to illustrate a famous run of Anchor paperback covers. Soon after, he was designing his first books, darker than Dr. Seuss and as visionary as Maurice Sendak. When he became a “cottage industry” in the 1970s, through merchandise at Gotham Book Mart and his design of the smash-hit Dracula on Broadway, Gorey was able to transcend the pop culture he also actively consumed, discussing the X-Files with fans later in his Cape Cod retirement.
The reclusive author and designer of such ghoulish gems as The Doubtful Guest and the animated introduction to the PBS series Mystery! comes fully alive, fur-coated and bejeweled, as an unlikely icon of the counterculture.