Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Unstrung Harp

Edward Gorey’s first published book, both written and illustrated by him, was The Unstrung Harp. Published in 1953, this book is the starting point for any serious book collection of Edward Gorey volumes.

Printed by Duell, Sloan and Pearce, Little Brown and Company, New York/Boston, the book is hard cover with an illustrated dust jacket. In the photo below, you will see three copies of this title: my signed first printing, a German language edition and an early reprint. This title has had several reprints and also appears in Amphigorey.

The Unstrung Harp has the distinction of being virtually the only Gorey book where the written word is as lengthy as the illustrations are detailed. It is said that you should write about that which is familiar to you, and Mr. Gorey did just that in this book.

The tale is of an author struggling to find the right story to fit a title plucked at random from a list of hopeful book titles (a practice Gorey indulged in). It goes on to detail all the attendant difficulties involved in writing a novel. Because Gorey is still developing his signature style, the illustrations for this title are wonderfully complex while still exhibiting a looseness of line that is not present in later works.

The title character, Mr. Earbrass, has a profile similar to that of a basset hound. This is Gorey's earliest style of drawing people and he soon shortened his figure's profiles to a more realistic shape. I am especially fond of the wacky plot twists (even though much of the story takes place in Mr. Earbrass' home) and unusual names for places and characters. These devises all have a ring of truth behind them and I can easily picture Mr. Gorey, like Mr. Earbrass, rattling around his home distractedly while working out plot developments.

My first edition of this title is signed by Edward Gorey on the title page and was exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in "Gorey Stories, Books and Drawings by Edward Gorey" from October 26, 1984 through March 17, 1985.

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