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Edward Gorey is My Boyfriend: The Original Goth Illustrator

edward-gorey-portrait-furMy god, do I love Edward Gorey. I get a lot of my book-related loves from my mom, and if there’d been such a thing as goth in the 50s and 60s, she would’ve been one.

Edward (I’ve decided we’re on a first name basis) is known for his goth Victorian and flapper pen-and-ink illustrations, but he also wrote the majority of his “adult picture books” (I don’t mean porn, I just mean you wouldn’t wanna read them to your kids ’cause they’d probably scar them). And though he was an illustrator, he actually attended Harvard from ’46-’50 where he studied French (and classical piano I believe) and roomed with Frank O’Hara. Yeah. I was unaware of this fact until one afternoon during my undergrad when my acting-for-singers teacher mentioned knowing him, and that she’d written one of the books he’d illustrated (*faint* obviously). He’s also one of the founding members of the Poets’ Theater in Cambridge along with O’Hara, John Ashbery, and Donald Hall – wtf. Here are some illustrations:


from The Doubtful Guest, a story in which this mute penguin-esque fellow invades a victorian home.

from The Doubtful Guest, a story in which this mute penguin-esque fellow invades a victorian home.

I've had a postcard of this hanging above my desk for 5 or 6 years.

I’ve had a postcard of this hanging above my desk for 5 or 6 years.


And then there’s The Curious Sofa, a story of delightful outdoor-air orgies, and a couch, that apparently has some sort of dildo etc. mechanisms attached to it! Weeeee!






And if your parents, like mine, were intent on making you a social outcast in elementary school, maybe you’ll recognize this opening sequence for Mystery on PBS.

Of course, he’s also well-known for his opera illustrations most notably in The Blue Aspic, a truly operatic tale…



I totally had this set of glasses from The Metropolitan Opera. They depicted voice types (e.g. soprano), as well as common tropes from opera, like the soprano “mad scene” in which the main soprano goes totes cray. This one is definitely Lucia di Lammermoor:


And the Tiger Lillies (crazy-ass band with a countertenor singer and accordion) and Kronos Quartet (fantastic new music, contemporary, classical quartet) got together and made an album of songs with Edward Gorey text as the lyrics. I died when I found this.

Here’s a video of The Tiger Lillies doing a new piece based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Yep, bitchin’:

I think the book of Gorey’s that most people know of, though, is The Gashlycrumb Tinies. It’s an illustrated dictionary of the way’s that various made-up children died:



And while this book is dark and humorous, it still always reminds me of the not-at-all funny song cycle by Gustav Mahler with poetry by Friedrich Rückert: Kindertotenlieder (songs of dead children). Here’s a video of Marylin Horne singing one of the pieces, and Thomas Hampson briefly talking about the cycle.

When your mother
steps into the doorway
and I turn my head
to see her,
my gaze does not alight
first on her face,
but on the place
nearer to the threshold;
there, where
your dear face would be
when you would step in
with bright joy,
as you used to, my little daughter.

When your mother steps
into the doorway
with the gleam of a candle,
it always seems to me as if
you came in as well,
slipping in behind her,
just as you used to come into the room!
O you, a father’s cell,
alas! too quickly
you extinguish the gleam of joy!

That’s all for now! Go forth and be gothy!


Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein received her MFA in poetry from The New School, and her BS in classical vocal performance and literature from Mannes Conservatory. She was selected by Matthea Harvey as The New School’s 2012 Chapbook Contest winner in poetry, and is the founding editor of SOUND, a daily literary magazine on contemporary musico-poetics. @Elkawildling


2 thoughts on “Edward Gorey is My Boyfriend: The Original Goth Illustrator

  1. Edward Gorey! He’s also one of my fav’s, beastly baby is part of my daily vocabulary, lolz I’m surprised more people haven’t heard of him. I still remember his illustrations from The House with a Clock in Its Walls. :)

    • I’m also always surprised by the amount of people who don’t know of him! Hence, the article. :)

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