“Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey” by Mark Very— A Remarkable Biography

Dery, Mark. “Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey”,  Little Brown and Company, 2018.

A Remarkable Biography

Amos Lassen

Mark Dery gives us the “definitive biography of the eccentric master of macabre nonsense.” Edward Gorey’s books have influenced our culture in innumerable ways. He is often referred to as the Grandfather of Goth. He was mysterious, and we have never known much about him until now. Gorey

lived with over twenty thousand books and six cats, Frank O’Hara and he roomed together at Harvard. In the late 1940s, Gorey walked around in full-length fur coats, clanking bracelets, and an Edwardian beard.  He was “an eccentric, a gregarious recluse, an enigmatic auteur of whimsically morbid masterpieces” yet who was the real Edward Gorey?

He published over a hundred books and illustrated works by Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, Edward Lear, John Updike, Charles Dickens, Hilaire Belloc, Muriel Spark, Bram Stoker, Gilbert & Sullivan, and others. At the same time, he was a deeply complicated and conflicted individual, a man whose art was a reflection of his obsessions with the disquieting and the darkly hilarious.

This book is based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui. We see his eccentric genius and mysterious life.

We now see that Gorey has been a critically neglected genius. He was a voracious reader. He took a book with him everywhere so that any time he found himself waiting in line or stuck in a boring situation he could pull out his book and take himself elsewhere. He had over 21,000 books in his library at his death. He watched over 1,000 movies a year. And was a huge fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, cats, and, Balanchine’s ballet performances. To list all the things he enjoyed would maybe be contained in a scroll ten feet long if one wrote them in small, spidery script. 

Gorey considered himself as asexual. He did not want to be pigeonholed as anything really. He was fussy about just being considered an artist when he really saw himself as a writer first. He was flamboyant in his appearance with wearing floor length fur coats year-round and wore sporting rings on every finger. Supposedly, there was a lot of gay coding into his artwork for book covers that he designed for writers. It seems that every crush that Gorey had throughout his life was some form of unrequited love for a member of the same sex. Gorey’s books were dominated by infanticides thus causing parents to be uneasy and making it hard for booksellers to categorize his work. The awkward size of his books was also difficult and forced many publishers to design counter displays for his books at the register.
Gorey’s interests were wide and varied. He was a Renaissance man, not only in talent but also in the way he found the world so fascinating. Mark Dery takes us on a journey into the development of a creative mind and introduce us to a man who figured out a way to live his life in the way he wanted to

Dery did amazing research and we see the man who really was, and wanted to be, an enigma. There is some pop-psychoanalyzing and some application of various social theories, but they are minimal and don’t really detract from the book. Dery does spend much time reviewing particular works of Gorey’s in relation to the period of life he was in and I can see how this could be frustrating. Gorey was a man devoted to his interests and obsessions, so in addition to a biography of Gorey, this book is also very much a biography of things, the things with Gorey loved or at least that held his attention.

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