Saturday, November 3, 2012

Saint Melissa the Mottled

Saint Melissa the Mottled, a new book by Edward Gorey has just come out! Published by Bloomsbury USA, SMtM is available as an illustrated hardcover volume (no dust jacket).

Saint Melissa the Mottled was originally published in 1949 at Radcliffe College in a publication entitled Signature (scans of the original printing were provided by another collector). Radcliffe College, a woman's liberal arts college in Cambridge, MA founded in 1879, officially became part of Harvard University during World War II. After serving in the Army during World War II, Edward Gorey attended Harvard University from 1946 - 50.

Mr. Gorey's first published illustrations adorn the cover of the Harvard Advocate in 1950 and he published his first book, The Unstrung Harp, in 1953. It is of interest to note that SMtM may actually be Mr. Gorey's first published story, and may be his only story published as Edward St. John Gorey. This piece of writing predates his first book by three years and gives us an example of his earliest writing. One would need to have access to the Harvard/Radcliffe publication archives to find out if any other published writing by Mr. Gorey predates this story.

Compared to Mr. Gorey's later works, SMtM is text heavy in the same way that The Unstrung Harp is, which is unsurprising since this piece was a short story without illustrations. Both works share a love of language and humor that will become Mr. Gorey's trademark writing style. That SMtM is a less polished text than TUH is evident in the difficult to read final meandering sentence of the book, which awkwardly ties up the loose ends of the story.

The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, the publishers, and book designer John Candell have done a fantastic job making this volume look like a "Gorey book". Since the story was written by Mr. Gorey but never illustrated, they have chosen "appropriate images from the hand of the author" to accompany the text. The artwork is black and white and comes from a variety of well known and obscure sources. The printing quality of the illustrations varies from piece to piece, some of which are beautifully delicate while others are not reproduced at the same high quality. Like the recently published Edward Gorey's Ghosts, SMtM is a visual pop quiz for the Gorey enthusiast and a must-have volume for every Gorey collector.

1 comment:

Ben Wu said...

When I saw this book ,by chance, I ordered a copy immediately. Once in my hands I was quite disappointed. Perhaps it was that my mind wouldn't allow me to see the illustrations out of their original stories and in another( sometimes inexplicable) context. Just as St. Melissa was mottled, this volume feels muddled. It has the appearance of Gorey but none of his spirit. I would have rather it have presented as a pamphlet with one repurposed Gorey illustration-- leaving the main focus on this early Gorey text.