Brain Pickings

The Curious Sofa: A “Pornographic Horror Story” by Edward Gorey, 1961

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A naughty illustrated tale of mad mid-century matinees.

I have an epic soft spot for Edward Gorey, mid-century illustrator of stories about mischievous children, mean grown-ups, and curious creatures, whose work influenced generations of creators as diverse as Nine Inch Nails and Tim Burton, and who even eleven years after his death managed to delight us with one of the best children’s books of 2011. In 1961, using his anagram pen name, Gorey published The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary — a delightfully dark quasi-pornographic (that is, without actual nudity) quasi-horror (without actual blood and gore) “illustrated story about furniture.” Though none of the drawings are overtly sexual, plenty of innuendo and strategically placed tree branches, urns, room dividers, and other props ensure your imagination stays on the frisky side.

The story continues with charmingly naughty illustrated tales of Alice’s encounter with a “delightfully sympathetic” maid, a pool party of the unusual variety, a backseat reading from the Encyclopedia of Unimaginable Customs, some “remarkably well-set-up” young men from the nearby village, a terrace romp, and — it wouldn’t be Gorey otherwise — an out-of-the-blue, matter-of-factly death in between.

And then, of course, the “curious sofa” makes its much-anticipated cameo.

You’d have to read the rest to find out why Alice is so appalled and what happens next.

Wonderfully naughty in that nicely Goreyesque way, The Curious Sofa is like a children’s book for grown-ups — roguishly risqué grown-ups. And if this is the kind of thing that gets you creatively excited, don’t forget the charming Ancient Book of Sex and Science, a racy side project by four Pixar animators.

HT @MiaFarrow; cover photograph courtesy of VikingBanna

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