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Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey (edition 2009)

by Karen Wilkin

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9713124,414 (4.3)2
Member:literarysarah
Title:Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey
Authors:Karen Wilkin
Info:Pomegranate Communications (2009), Hardcover, 124 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey by Karen Wilkin

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Delightful catalog book that accompanied the traveling exhibition of Gorey's work. It gives a lot of insight into what inspired him and how he viewed his drawings and stories. The art included pages from many stories I'm already familiar with, and others I've had yet to read. ( )
  BrookeAshley | May 23, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
How Gory is Gorey?

The answer of course, depends entirely on you. How gory or bloody is your imagination? What's the worst your imagination can feed you? There's your answer. You see, Edward Gorey's work; full of dangerous death-dealing villains, scheming faultlessly in full Victorian garb and their helpless victims; includes a brief summation of the unfortunate events, but his actual work does not depict the actual event. He merely pokes and somewhat prods our imagination into the right direction-- how evil and dark the event becomes in the end is, quite entirely, up to you.

Being a longtime collector of Gorey's delightfully tenebrous work, it has often been a cause of much amusement for me over the years to hear the reasons why some viewers of his work find it to be "offensive" in nature. A particular incident comes to mind, so I will share it here with you. There were many remarks made like this from various co-workers about the Gashlycrumb Tinies images from the Edward Gorey calendar I had hanging up at my old job. When asked why they found it to be "offensive" in nature, they responded they thought the subject of Death and the children to be too violent.

I would respond to their statement with questions of my own regarding their interests. Did they ever watch the News, read the Newspaper headlines, watch TV in general, movies, or use the internet? Generally, they would answer in affirmative to one (if not all) of these activities. Did they derive any sort of entertainment from these programs? Were any of them amusing or beneficial at all in some part? Yes, they answered; mostly with a vaguely confused look on their faces. I would then point out my line of reasoning, which follows thus: Somehow, it was not so clear to them that watching or reading about Death and violence on TV, the movies or the Internet was in any way similar to the matter at hand...i.e. How could one be offended by Edward Gorey's ironic and charmingly droll stories-- which do not actually show the actual Death of any of the characters-- and NOT be offended by the very real descriptions, pictures and images which daily confront them in the Newspaper, on the Internet, the TV screen or in the movies? Something to think about, eh?

Although admittedly some of the topics of Gorey's stories can seem a bit disturbing at first glance (''A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B is for Basil assaulted by Bears"), the more careful observer will perhaps find that they are merely "mildly unsettling", as Gorey himself put it in an interview. 'When asked if he ever thought about the effect of his work on his readers''. On page 26 of Elegant Enigmas, the author Karen Wilkin articulately goes on to describe the je ne sais quoi of the attraction, response and appreciation of Gorey-philes and his work,

"When Gorey's people venture outside, through their wrought-iron gates of their slightly creepy dwellings, they don enormous hats with veils and ankle-length fur coats...Cats and indescribable creatures behave like humans or lurk in corners. These... drawings are not simply illustrations but achieved works of art in their own right, extraordinarily various and unexpected in their imagery, and deeply evocative".

As both a friend of the late Mr. Gorey, who sadly passed away in 2000, and the author of Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey On Edward Gorey, Karen Wilkin can indeed be considered a "Gorey Expert" as the inside book flap suggests. As both friend and critic, Wilkin peels away the subtle layers of the opulent and characteristically ambiguous catalog of works by Gorey, and even offers us a rare glimpse into the mind and workings of the man himself. His influences that drove his work (Louis Feuillarde's silent films, the choreography of George Balanchine), his reading habits and the books and objects he collected in his home ""The Elephant House"":obscure English novels, complete sets of obsolete children's series, tattered issues of Punch, studies of Asian ceramics, compendiums of party games, and a volume on napkin folding" (11); to the artists he admired most (Paul Klee, Rene Magritte, Odilon Redon and Balthus).

However, even with these treasured clues as to the associations and allusions that are made known to us through Wilkin's efforts, there will always be the mysteriously unreachable precipice where all the meanings lie... Just at the edge of your imagination, where all the "mildly unsettling" take place, naturally.

This book therefore, is not to be recommended to those who are "un-initiated" or not already familiar with Gorey's work. (Start with Amphigorey) This is for those readers whose literary and artistic palate already savours and delights in the dark but brilliantly wry flair of All Things Gorey. It will deepen your appreciation for the man, his work, and his gently decadent panache.

Definitely a book to be treasured, including some previously unpublished material.

4.5 stars out of 5. ( )
2 vote PandorasRequiem | Jun 10, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Not the best introduction to Edward Gorey's wonderfully weird world, but an excellent work for those of us who already love him. This beautiful coffee table book contains many rare Gorey masterpieces, including the doodles he included on letters to his mother. Well worth having. ( )
  cabridges | Oct 14, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
http://www.steelypips.org/weblog/2009/09/wilkin_gorey.php

I received a copy of Elegant Engimas: The Art of Edward Gorey through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, a shamefully long time ago, and was very pleasantly surprised when I received it to discover it was basically a hardcover exhibition catalog, in other words, much nicer than I was vaguely expecting.

As that may suggest, there are two significant parts to this book, an introductory essay and then a large number of reproduced images. The essay is by Karen Wilkin and is titled 'Mildly Unsettling.' I think this gives you a reasonable way of calibrating your tastes against hers: as I've said before, I find Gorey's art considerably more than mildly unsettling, so a lot of the ways Wilkin's essay was useful to me was crystallizing the ways I didn't agree with her, that is, didn't have the same reactions. But it did a very good job of pointing out some characteristics of Gorey's art that I would not have consciously identified and describing the breadth of Gorey's work and some of his influences.

Between the essay and the images, I now have a short list of Gorey works that I want to see in their entirety:

* The Raging Tide; or, The Black Doll's Imbroglio, which features 'battered stuffed toys' in 'ambiguous settings, simultaneously indoors and out,' and whose captions are things like: 'No. 18. There's no going to town in a bathtub. If you want to get back to the story, turn to 16. If you would like to tour the Villa Amnesia, turn to 23,' where of course the pages in question have nothing obvious to do with the text;

* [The Untitled Book], 'in which a fierce battle between real and invented creatures is elucidated by such captions as 'Ipsifendus' and 'Quoggenzocker,' ending with an enigmatic 'Hip, hop, hoo'; and

* The Haunted Tea-Cosy, a parody of A Christmas Carol in which 'Scrooge becomes a generic parsimonious recluse, confronted by a multilimbed insect, the Bahhum Bug, whose role is 'to diffuse the interests of didacticism.''

The plates include some unpublished images, alternate covers and studies for later drawings; drawings that Gorey did for other authors; theater designs; and really cool illustrated envelopes he sent to his mother (never before printed). Oddly, nothing from The Curious Sofa is included, though it's mentioned in the essay and presumably they would have had access (since other works also reprinted in Amphigorey are included). I can only assume that the exhibition didn't want the controversy of displaying 'pornographic' works, though they're nothing of the sort.

This would be particularly good for library collections, but those who like Gorey's work should definitely take a look.
  knepveu | Sep 19, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Every Goreyphile I know is rabid about owning his work. I think this volume was beautifully assembled. While a lot of it is already in my collection, I was transfixed by the decorated envelopes that he created before sending his letters. Absolute treasure. ( )
  GirlMisanthrope | Aug 18, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0764948040, Hardcover)

The delightful tales and quick-witted drawings of Edward Gorey (American, 1925-2000) reflect a special kind of genius that resides in the effect of what is left unwritten and unseen. In Gorey's vaguely Victorian world of well-tended gardens and opulent estates, smoke-belching factories and fog-shrouded streets, nothing seems certain or quite as it should be. Chaos lurks just beneath life's tidy surface, occasionally erupting in surprising events with unexpected, often horrific consequences. But when tragedy befalls Gorey's quirky cast of characters--hapless waifs, dusty dowagers, scheming tycoons, and unhinged maidens--somehow we can't keep from laughing. Far from being morbid, Gorey reminds us to contemplate mortality with a smile.

In Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey, more than 175 reproductions offer a rich review of his work, including samples from Gorey's books, illustrations produced for other writers, theatrical sets and costume designs, and a wealth of individual pieces, many never before published. Sketches, typewritten manuscripts, doodles, and musings join the generous selection of finished works, which include his trademark finely detailed ink drawings and watercolors.

The text by Karen Wilkin, an expert on Gorey and a friend of the artist, offers an intimate review of his career, with insights that provide a fresh understanding of Gorey's life and work.

Published on the occasion of the first major traveling exhibition of Edward Gorey's work, organized by the Brandywine River Museum, Elegant Enigmas is a long-overdue tribute to a master artist and writer, who with sharp intellect and devastatingly wry humor created a body of work singular in its brilliance and charm.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:33 -0400)

From the Publisher: The delightful tales and theatrical drawings of Edward Gorey (American, 1925-2000) reflect a special kind of genius for what is left unwritten and unseen. In Gorey's vaguely Victorian world of well-tended gardens and opulent estates, smoke-belching factories and fog-shrouded streets, nothing seems certain or quite as it should be. Chaos lurks just beneath life's tidy surface, occasionally erupting in surprising events with unexpected, often horrific consequences. But when tragedy befalls Gorey's quirky cast of characters-hapless waifs, dusty dowagers, scheming tycoons, and unhinged maidens-somehow we can't keep from laughing. Far from casting us into the abyss, Gorey reminds us to contemplate mortality with a smile. In Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey, more than 175 reproductions include samples from Gorey's books, illustrations produced for other writers, theatrical sets and costume designs, and a wealth of individual pieces, many never before published. Sketches, typewritten manuscripts, doodles, and musings join the generous selection of finished works. Published on the occasion of the first retrospective of Edward Gorey's work, at the Brandywine River Museum, Elegant Enigmas is a tribute to a master artist and writer, who with murderously dry humor created a body of work singular in its brilliance and charm.… (more)

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