Elephant House – The Home of Edward Gorey by Kevin McDermott

I came across this book in Whitby not long ago and picked it up out of curiosity and because I like Edward Gorey a lot.

It’s an odd project in many ways – the author took a series of photographs of Gorey’s house only a week after he had died, cataloguing his things and the space in which he lived before his death and the subsequent renovation of the house.

Now although there was something vaguely opportunistic and voyeuristic in the set-up – who gave permission for the photographing to take place? Certainly not Gorey himself – that left me ever so slightly uneasy, leaving this slight ethical misapprehension aside, there is no doubt the book provides an undeniably fascinating and intimate portrait of the late illustrator’s life.

Alongside the beautiful photographs of his home there’s a wealth of incidental detail concerning the running of the house, much of it endearingly comical, creating a picture of a creative eccentric whose grasp on the practicalities of life was occasionally a little inadequate  – his collection of over 95,000 books caused the floor of his library to sag and the exterior decorator he hired disappeared without trace after Gorey naively paid him the full fee (a hefty $12,000) in advance.

As well as these tales are photos and stories of the vast collections Gorey amassed – stones kept in bowls of water so they preserved the colour that first attracted Gorey to them on the beach; a closet packed with old soft toys and vintage crime novels; bottles of blue glass in a window sill, all presided over by Gorey’s beloved cats, who reduced his sofa – an heirloom of his family – to tattered shreds.

It’s a beautiful book to browse through. What emerges most strongly is a sense that Gorey lived and breathed according to his own unique vision of life. He was a true eccentric whose artistic work was not the product of a cultivated style developed and honed purely for commercial purpose, adopted as part of an image of himself he wanted to sell, but a mere side effect of his existence as a creative and endlessly curious person. It got me thinking about the nature of creativity – whether we develop it or whether it develops us. When viewed in the context of his home it becomes apparent just how organically Gorey’s work must have come into being – as just one result of his preoccupation with the imaginative side of life. It was as natural and as organic a consequence of his existence as the haphazard craziness of the home he put together.

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6 thoughts on “Elephant House – The Home of Edward Gorey by Kevin McDermott”

  1. I love Edward Gorey’s work! I was given a beutiful edition of the Treehorn Trilogy which is hilarious. But who can’t love a man who thinks up books like, ‘The Haunted Tea Cosy’ and The Pointless Book’? Lots of people assumed he was British…

    1. I have vivid memories of reading ‘The Shrinking of Treehorn’ when I was quite little. Isn’t there another one about a tree that grows money? He does have quite a British aesthetic I think, I can see why people would think that.

      1. The tree that grwos money is one of the Treehorn stories. It’s excellent because he just goes out and buys a load of comics and sweets and stores them and of course his parents just cannot see it. Subtle and hilarious. It reminded me of ‘Not Now Bernard’.

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