Thursday, July 20, 2006

Edward Gorey's The Curious Sofa

One of Edward Gorey best works is The Curious Sofa. Gorey's books are tiny, strange illustrated books that look like relics of the nineteenth century. The cover of The Curious Sofa calls it "a pornographic work by Ogdred Weary," a name that is an anagram of Edward Gorey. The pseudonym suggests the work must be pornographic -- the author is not using his real name. But the word Weary doesn't seem quite right for an author of erotica. It's not exactly "Lance Goodthrust." Each page of The Curious Sofa has a simple stiffly drawn image and a caption. The story is odd but apparently simple: a girl, Alice, is seduced into a world of debauched bisexual/animal orgies until she is taken to a room with a "curious sofa" and something unclear but unspeakable happens; the end.

What is interesting is how the story leads you to its weird conclusion. None of the images in the book show anything remotely pornographic. Every image has a caption, and almost every caption suggests something sexual without going into any detail -- at all. “Lady Celia led Alice to her boudoir, where she suggested the girl to perform a rather surprising service” captions a picture of the feet of Lady Celia on the far left, and Alice, presumably nude, behind a screen. Of course you never find out what the "very surprising service" is; the next page just suggests another similarly vague sexual act. At the end of the book the sofa is suddenly introduced:

The end. What makes that ending so insane, so disturbing but so cold, so interesting but so silent, is that -- like a big plot twist a la The Sixth Sense -- it makes you go back and reevaluate everything you have read. You thought you knew what was going on in the previous pages: everyone was having sex of some sort. -- But were they? Actually the book was never specific at all, about anything. For the length of the story you read between the lines and as the story ends you fall into the space provided with nothing at all to ground you; you have caught yourself in the trap the book sets up. It is a cunning and very dark parable on the power of the sexual imagination, and striking proof of that old Cosmo cliche that the brain is the biggest sexual organ of all.

"Weary" indeed.


Anonymous said...

wow! i had forgotten about this story! i'm gonna go back and get it right now.

i always associate gorey and roald dahl together. i guess beacause of there twisted take on children. have you ever read "my uncle oswald?" if not, i highly suggest it.

the question remains, however: what does that sofa do?!

Anonymous said...

just another note on the pseudonym: ogdred has the word "dread" in it. Perhaps a clever bit of foreshadowing.

Geoff Klock said...

Saradani: very good, I should have noticed that myself.

jennifert72 said...

great entry! it's fascinating when artists exploit the nature of the space between what is written and what is imagined. "weary" never makes a specific sexual comment (even though "well endowed" is often used to describe a sexual attribute, it could easily apply otherwise), but that is exactly where the mind goes.

and yes, my uncle oswald is pretty fucking hysterical.

Geoff Klock said...

I will have to find it. Thanks.

jennifert72 said...

i have it... you can borrow