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The Osbick Bird: Edward Gorey’s Tender and Surprising Vintage Illustrated Allegory About the Meaning of True Love

A subversive Victorian-tinted infusion of romantic realism.

The Osbick Bird: Edward Gorey’s Tender and Surprising Vintage Illustrated Allegory About the Meaning of True Love

Great loves, like great works of art, live at the crossing point of the improbable and the inevitable. That, at least, has been my experience, both as a scholar of history and as a private participant in the lives of the heart. Such loves come unbidden, without warning or presentiment, and that is their supreme insurance against the projectionist fantasy that so frequently disguises not-love — infatuation, obsession, jealousy, longing — as love. But when they do come, with all the delirium of the improbable, they enter the house of the heart as if they have always lived there, instantly at home; they enter like light bending at a certain angle to reveal, without fuss or fanfare, some corner of the universe for the very first time — but the corner has always been there, dusty and dim, and the light has always been ambient, unlensed and unbent into illumination. For great love, as the Nobel-winning Polish poet Wisława Szymborska observed in her splendid meditation on its mystery, is “never justified” but is rather “like the little tree that springs up in some inexplicable fashion on the side of a cliff: where are its roots, what does it feed on, what miracle produces those green leaves?”

That improbable and inexplicable miracle is what Edward Gorey (February 22, 1925–April 15, 2000) celebrates with his signature faux-terse tenderness and soulful oddness in the vintage gem The Osbick Bird (public library).

Written in 1969 — several years after Gorey created his now-iconic Gashlycrumb Tinies, but well before his work for PBS and his fantastical reimagining of Dracula made him a household name — it was originally published under Gorey’s own Fantod Press, whose author list included such venerated names as Ogdred Weary, Madame Groeda Weyrd, O. Müde, Mrs. Regera Dowdy, Raddory Gewe, Garrod Weedy, and the Oprah-like first-name-only Om — Gorey’s delightful menagerie of pseudonyms.

Edward Gorey by Richard Avedon (Richard Avedon Foundation)

This tiny treasure of a book, itself improbable and inevitable given its subject and its creator’s nature, lay dormant and forgotten for decades, until Pomegranate Press, heroic stewards of Gorey’s legacy, resurrected it twelve years after he became the posthumous author he had always lived as.

In spare lines and spare verses, Gorey tells the singsong story of the osbick bird — a creature of his wild and wondrous imagination — who alights one day to lonely, dignified Emblus Figby’s bowler hat, out of the blue, or rather, out of the sky-implying negative space of Gorey’s minimalist, consummately cross-hatched black-and-white worldscapes.

And then, just like that, Emblus Figby and the osbick bird commence a life together — as if life was always meant to be lived in this particular tandem; as if each of the two was written into being just to complete the other’s rhyme.

This charmingly eccentric shared life unspools in Gorey’s playful verses, evocative of Victorian nursery rhymes, and when the spool runs out, Gorey’s romantic realism takes over — the osbick bird flits out of the frame just like it had flitted into it, by that miraculous consonance of the improbable and the inevitable.

“There is grandeur in this view of life,” Darwin had written a century earlier in the final passage of On the Origin of Species — in the view that death is the very mechanism ensuring the unstoppable ongoingness of life, the fulcrum by which ever shifts into after. There is grandeur, too, in Gorey’s subversive ending. There is beauty and bravery in its counterpoint to our incomplete happily-ever-after cultural mythos and its deep-seated denial of death as an integral part of life, and therefore of love; beauty and bravery in the reminder that the measure of a great love — as of a great life — is not in the happy ending, for all endings followed to the ultimate finality are the same, but in all the happy durings.

Complement The Osbick Bird with Shell Silverstein’s tender line-drawn allegory for the simple secret of true love, then revisit Hannah Arendt on love and how to live with the fundamental fear of its loss and W.H. Auden on what it means to be the more loving one.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust courtesy of Pomegranate Press. Photographs by Maria Popova.


The Betrayed Confidence: Edward Gorey’s Weird and Whimsical Vintage Illustrated Postcards

Neglected murderesses, imaginary elixirs, cryptic objects, and other darkly delightful treats from Gorey’s singular creative chest.

Edward Gorey (February 22, 1925–April 15, 2000) is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary — in every sense of the word — illustrators of the past century. From his quirky children’s books to his naughty treats for grown-ups to his covers for literary classics, he injected his singular blend of darkly delightful weirdness and whimsy into his various masterpieces, created under his many pseudonyms. But Gorey had an especially enchanting soft spot for the old-fashioned charisma of postcards, in addition to the magnificent illustrated envelopes he mailed to his editor. Now comes The Betrayed Confidence Revisited (public library) — an infinitely delightful collection of ten of Gorey’s postcard series, including three never previously published, ranging from the grimly humorous Neglected Murderesses to the cryptic Menaced Objects to the disarmingly adorable Dogear Wryde Interpretive Series to the purposely puzzling Q.R.V. Here’s but a small taste of the enormous delight.

From Dogear Wryde Interpretive Series (“Dogear Wryde” being, as you may have noticed, one of Gorey’s anagrammatic pseudonyms), originally created in 1980:

From Neglected Murderesses, also published in 1980:

From Menaced Objects, released in 1989:

From Q.R.V., Gorey’s final postcard series, created in 1996 and named after a mysterious imaginary elixir that Gorey first introduced in the 1989 miniature book The Universal Solvent:

From Alms for Oblivion, part of the Dogear Wryde series:

The Betrayed Confidence Revisited is an absolute treat in its entirety. Complement it with Gorey’s classic scandalous alphabet book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, and his fantastic vintage illustrations for T.S. Eliot’s cat verses.

Illustrations © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust courtesy of Pomegranate. All rights reserved.


The Pious Infant: Edward Gorey’s Rare Illustrated Allegory about the Dangers of Dogmatism

A darkly delightful allegory about what happens when we take our convictions to an extreme.

Beloved mid-century illustrator Edward Gorey used a variety of anagrammatic pseudonyms, formed by remixing the letter of his real name, for his prolific and diverse creative output, spanning irreverent children’s books, paperback covers for literary classics, naughty delights for grownups, and illustrated envelopes. Among Gorey’s multiple female pseudonyms was Mrs. Regera Dowdy, an imaginary 19th-century persona, under which he penned the rare and wonderful gem The Pious Infant (public library), included in the altogether fantastic collection Amphigorey Too (public library) — the characteristically dark story of obsessively devout Little Henry Clump, illustrating the absurdity of religious dogmatism, the perils of self-righteousness, and the notion that any ideology or set of rigid beliefs taken to an extreme is likely to backfire into self-destructiveness.

I was fortunate enough to track down a surviving copy — a signed one, at that — digitized and preserved here for our shared delight:

Although long out of print, used copies of The Pious Infant can still be found online and at some public libraries, and Amphigorey Too, which includes this one and fourteen other Gorey treasures, is still in print. Complement it with The Green Beads and consider supporting the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust with a donation to the Edward Gorey House.


Anatomy of Anagrammatic Pseudonyms: The Many Incarnations of Edward Gorey

An infant poet, a postcard-writer, a movie reviewer, a girl detective, and a spirit control walk into a bar…

A master of the subversive and the darkly delightful, Edward Gorey is among the most celebrated illustrators of the past century. His creations, ranging from irreverent children’s books to paperback covers for literary classics to naughty delights for grownups to his illustrated envelopes, are as singularly distinctive as they are timelessly enchanting. But Gorey, himself a darkly enigmatic character, was himself a curious creation — so much so that people have regularly questioned his very name. While many were surprised to know it was real, Gorey did indeed have a number of pseudonyms. In Who’s Writing This?: Notations on the Authorial I with Self-Portraits (public library) — the same fantastic 1996 volume that gave us famous authors’ illustrated self-portraits — Gorey draws his self-portrait and tells the story of his name and his pseudonyms.

What’s particularly interesting is that while the question of whether Gorey was gay has been the subject of much speculation — speculation he gladly played into by stating, “I’m neither one thing nor the other particularly… I’ve never said that I was gay and I’ve never said that I wasn’t.” — most of his imaginary pen-name personae are female:

About the time the first book was published over forty years ago I found my name lent itself to an edifying number of anagrams, some of which I’ve used as pen names, as imaginary authors, and as characters in their or my books. A selection of examples follows.

Ogded Weary has written The Curious Sofa, a porno-graphic work, and The Beastly Baby, a book no one wanted to publish.

Mrs. Regera Dowdy, who lived in the nineteenth century, is the author of The Pious Infant and such unwritten works as The Rivulets of Gore and Nets to Subdue the Deranged; she also translated The Evil Garden by Eduard Blutig, the pictures for which were drawn by O. Müde.

Madame Groeda Weyrd devised the Fantod Pack of fortune-telling cards.

Miss D. Awdrey-Gore was a celebrated and prolific mystery writer. . . . Her detective is Waredo Dyrge, whose favorite reading is the Dreary Rwedgo Series for Intrepid Young Ladies. . . .

Dogear Wryde’s work appears only on postcards.

Addée Gorrwy is known as the Postcard Poetess.

Wardore Edgy wrote movie reviews for a few months.

Wee Graddory was an Infant Poet of an earlier century.

Dora Greydew, Girl Detective, is the heroine of a series (The Creaking Knot, The Curse on the Sagwood Estate, etc.) by Edgar E. Wordy.

Garrod Weedy is the author of The Pointless Book.

Agowy Erderd is a spirit control.

However, I am still taken aback whenever someone asks me if that indeed is my real name.

Edward Gorey

You can see, and support, more of Gorey’s work and legacy at Edward Gorey House. Meanwhile, Who’s Writing This?, which features contributions from such beloved authors as John Updike, Susan Sontag, Mark Helprin, Diane Ackerman, Edward Albee, Arthur Miller, and Margaret Atwood, remains well worth the full read.


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