PRINT December 2018


Charlie Fox

“What manner of man is this?” Jonathan Harker wonders when he sees Dracula creeping down his castle’s ramparts in the moonlight. Asking this question of the writer and illustrator who transformed precocious little oddballs into goths long before Jack Skellington or Marilyn Manson descended on suburbia, Mark Dery pens an eerie portrait of the artist, Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey (Little, Brown and Company), in which answers only conjure extra lashings of ambiguity—a very Gorey trick.

Was homosexuality the antic bat in Gorey’s belfry? “Everything I do, in a way, is parody,” he said, but does that include his life, too, for which he adopted a fur coat and sneakers as a permanent Halloween costume? (Yikes, perhaps all his work was parody, drawn from a singular mix of Victoriana, horror movies, and Japanese poetry, but of a kind that remains as weird and melancholy as a graveyard in November. Ha-ha-ha-haunting.) Was he bewitched by Surrealism, or hounded by specters that, as Dery writes, “make you want to scrub your mind with bleach?” The figures in his dollhouse world appear a ghoulish marriage of ballet and taxidermy. And don’t forget the sinister paradox of his black comedies, which seem as old as the crypt in Poe’s House of Usher but are elaborate forgeries goose-bumped by the very modern mischiefs of simulation, irony, and, of course, a creeping unease.

Dery tracks him like a master sleuth, knowing all the clues will never unravel a biographical mystery as dense as moorland fog. That’s how it is with uncanny creatures, boys and girls. Gorey once signed a letter to a pal “Ted (I think).” Whateverhe was, playing hide-and-seek with his ghost is so much wicked fun, like Twin Peaks: The Return for kids.

Charlie Fox is a writer who lives in London. He is the author of the essay collection This Young Monster (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017).