One-man fin de siecle

NOTES AND COMMENTS

April 29, 2000|By John O'Ren

WHY IN the late 1900s wasn't there a degeneracy school in literature and the arts, akin to that of the 1890s? One answer is Edward Gorey. A one-man fin de siecle, he drew and wrote well enough to dominate the genre

In one after another of Mr. Gorey's small, pen-illustrated books, you met grown-ups or children, some rather blank, others very strange, whose Victorian or Edwardian lives would go unaccountably awry; or end, badly. "Across from the churchyard, Alberta Stipple returned home to find the wallpaper in the drawing room gone." In Willowdale, Edna, Harry and Sam board a handcar and ride the rails past Chutney Falls, Gristleburg, Stovepipe City. In the Iron Hills, they enter a tunnel and (typical finish) did not come out the other end.

Mr. Gorey published 82 such books. His artwork graced others' books, magazines, entire stage sets, plus the familiar lead-in to public television's "Mystery!" How compete with a style so distinctive that the artist's work was instantly recognizable?

He lived on Cape Cod, sometimes turning up at Manhattan's Gotham Book Mart. His license plate read, Ogdred. He was tall, bearded, keen on ballet. Edward Gorey was 75 when, the other day, his heart stopped.

Collectors, discerning public, the novelist C.F. Earbrass hope that Gorey was ahead of Fantod, his publisher. Even one more Gorey title will help, amid the savagery at the start of the century.

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