recess radio program

02/25/05
The Afterlife of Edward Gorey
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

Edward Gorey confessed that he was afraid of being remembered only as a morbid Charles Adams type. In life, Gorey was much more than that - a voracious reader who could speak with authority on any number of obscure topics. But he could not control how he was perceived and he felt often misunderstood, such as the time when his ribald adult picture book, The Curious Sofa, was mistakenly released as a children's title - causing great confusion to all concerned.

Less alarming were the books he intended for children, that college students began buying up in great heaps. How he will be remembered then, and what he has left in his curious wake are well curious.

There are, for example, his fur coats. Like his characters, Gorey was known to lurk about in old bookstores bedecked in giant antique full-length raccoon-coats. A few years ago, he gave up wearing them and left them in his will to a charitable trust for animal rights. In life, Gorey kept the yard of his fourteen-room Victorian on Cape Cod in, as he called it "a natural state". The effect was that of an abandoned haunted house. Today, the yard has been cleared, and there is some talk of creating a museum there. Inside, the executors of his estate have spent nearly a year cataloging more than 25,000 books, a massive collection of peculiar nick-nacks, drawers stuffed with original artwork and stacks of unpublished manuscripts.

In time, the public can expect plenty of posthumous offerings. At his death, Gorey had nearly completed his fourth anthology, titled Amphigorey Again. And he had finished nearly sixty pages of his own twist on Hillair Belloc's Cautionary Tales. He left a few things at Jack's Outback where Gorey ate two meals a day, often chatting with customers and joking around with the owner, Jack Smith. Gorey was in the habit of stepping up to the register and ringing up his own order - often incorrectly, and Smith now has a framed collection of Gorey's mistakes - one of them, a fruit cup and juice totaling $14,000 dollars. And Gorey's favorite booth is still there; adorned by a plaque with the name he gave it, Boothanasia.

In his will, Gorey left Smith his white sneakers - which along with the fur-coats were made famous in his books. Gorey's legacy can be found in all these places, but exactly how he will be remembered will be left to the ages to decide. One could guess though, that perhaps, he will be understood as possessing the same qualities as his books... weird and wonderful.

Copyright 2005 Kevin Shortsleeve

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Tuesday, 01-Feb-2005 10:18:07 EST


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."