I’ve never really understood why some people have a tendency to fall into despair when someone they never even knew (Kurt Cobain, Princess Di…) passes into the Great Beyond. But two days ago I found out that Edward Gorey had died. And though I didn’t personally know the man, I’ve been a big fan of his work for a long time. And I’m really, really sad that he’s gone.
I have to admit that I find some of the “obituaries" that I’ve read online to be pretty amusing. They seem to be written by people who weren’t really familiar with Edward Gorey’s work, and who didn’t know quite what to make of it. On the CNN website it said:
“One of his best-known books was ‘The Gashlycrumb Tinies’, an A-to-Z catalog of children dying in strange ways, starting with ‘A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs’."
The “children dying in strange ways” bit makes him sound like a real nutcase, and I can only imagine that people who don’t know Gorey’s work are reading these articles and thinking, “Good riddance!”.
But I know Gorey’s work. It’s been delighting me for years now. I have not one, but two Edward Gorey calendars for the year 2000 so I can get a double dose of the man’s work every single day. I like to watch Mystery! on PBS just to see the opening credits. And every time I hear a squealing, squelching infant, I think of the exploding “Beastly Baby” and I just have to snicker.
I’ve said it before , but I’ll say it again: Edward Gorey’s work is brilliant. I love the swooning women, the wan children, the dapper, monocled men. I love the melodrama and theatricality of his characters. In Gorey’s world, no one just dies; they “perish" or “languish" or “waste away” in a most civilized fashion. I love the overstuffed furniture that occupies the drawing rooms, I love the unidentifiable creatures that inhabit the hallways. I love the indefinable air of foreboding that looms over everything. I love the sinister elegance and wry humour that infuses his unique and amazing work.
Edward Gorey was one of my favorite writers/illustrators, and when Jeremy broke the news of Gorey’s death to me the other night, I just felt…stricken. Surprised and sad. There was no gnashing of teeth or tearing of hair. I didn’t swoon theatrically. But a little tear welled in my eye, and I clutched my “365 Days of Edward Gorey” calendar to my chest, and I thought, “No. No. That’s just not fair.”
It’s not fair. And I’m sad. I’m more sad than I feel like I rationally should be.
I mean, unless you know them personally, celebrities (authors, artists, movie stars) are never really “alive" for you (the common person) in the first place. They are just a face on a screen, a voice on an album, a name on a page. In “real life,” they could be anyone. Or no one. For years, I had no idea who Edward Gorey actually was, where he was from, or whether or not he was still alive - so, for all intents and purposes, he as a human being did not exist for me. The only thing that existed for me was his work.
Nothing changed when I finally found out who Edward Gorey was, and that he was, in fact, still alive. I didn’t get anything more out of his writing. I didn’t look at his illustrations in a whole new light. It didn’t change the way I felt about his books. I never knew the man personally, so the only way he had any effect on me whatsoever was through his work.
I guess in this respect, nothing has really changed now that Edward Gorey has shuffled off this mortal coil.
But something has changed. Though I haven’t lost anything personally, I still feel a real sense of loss knowing that Edward Gorey as a living human being has departed this planet. The world has lost something. A little light has been snuffed out. A little room (with overstuffed furniture) has just been vacated. A little door has just been shut.
There is only one consolation. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: Edward Gorey will live on through his own work. The Gashlycrumb Tinies will continue to die grisly deaths, the Doubtful Guest will continue to be a nuisance, the Beastly Baby will continue to explode, and Edward Gorey will continue to make me laugh - even from beyond the grave.
I suppose that’s quite fitting, really.