The Whole, Gorey Story


Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey by Mark Dery (Little, Brown) is the comprehensive biography that has been missing from the works about the renowned writer and illustrator. Best known for his genre-defying small illustrated books like The Gashleycrumb Tinies, the classic opening credits for Masterpiece Theatre, and for set-designing Dracula on Broadway, Gorey’s work is iconic, with its Victorian-Edwardian style, gothic themes and dense crosshatching. Dery’s book dutifully traces Gorey’s life from childhood in Chicago, to college at Harvard, through to New York and his years in Cape Cod, managing to provide insight even in difficult circumstances: Gorey was notably reluctant to give out personal information, even to friends, and details of his young life are scarce. Dery interviews friends and family and provides enough social context to fill in the gaps. Throughout, Dery analyzes Gorey’s body of work and charts his growth as a writer, illustrator and dramaturge. However, in an otherwise useful and competent biography, Dery spends too much time trying to “solve” the question of Gorey’s sexual orientation. Throughout his life, Gorey dodged the question of the nature of his sexuality, but in one interview he identified as asexual, and his actions throughout his life align with someone who is asexual. Gorey was also romantically attracted to men. To Dery, this means Gorey must be gay, despite the fact that he cannot reconcile his argument for homosexuality with the evidence of asexuality. This is like Gorey identifying with and practicing vegetarianism, and Dery spending a lot of time puzzling over the fact that Gorey doesn’t seem to eat meat. Sexual and romantic orientations are, of course, a spectrum, ones that Dery doesn’t seem to have spent any time trying to understand, as he is dismissive of asexuality throughout the book. Dery’s willful misunderstanding of Gorey ruined this book for me.

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Kelsea O’Connor is contributing editor to Geist. She lives in New Westminster.


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