Sunday, February 18, 2007

E.G. Deadworry and The Toastrack Enigma

One of my part-time jobs at the University of Pittsburgh's Hillman Library is in a room that's considerably colder than much of the rest of the library. As I found my hands growing increasingly and unpleasantly colder, I decided the solution would be to wrap my hands around a nice, hot espresso. Conveniently, there is within the library a little coffee shop serving Starbucks products. When I ventured back to The Cup & Chaucer, though, I found there were six people in line ahead of me, so I'd need to wait a few minutes.

Waiting in line is always improved by some light reading, of course. Fortunately, the room that includes the coffee shop also houses the Alldred Collection, the library's principal selection of "contemporary fiction and popular non-fiction." Even from where I was standing in line, I could browse a decent number of titles, but most of them were thick novels of no interest to me. And then I noticed a little volume by Edward Gorey, The Haunted Tea-Cosy : A Dispirited And Distasteful Diversion For Christmas. This did the trick nicely. I noticed something that surprised me, though.

The edition I picked up showed a copyright date of 1997. "That's odd," I thought. "I had no idea Gorey was alive in 1997. From the little I've seen of his work, he's always struck me as having a perspective, however bizarre, that's stuck in about 1912. I'd imagined he lived from 1887 to 1964 or something." Naturally, when I returned to my desk, I looked on Wikipedia to see what it showed of his actual lifetime. It says he actually lived from 1925 to 2000. That's mighty interesting to me, especially considering that a guy I thought produced most of his work before the advent of television was apparently a big fan of Cheers and The X-Files.

Also of interest are some interesting points Wikipedia raises about Gorey's fondness for pseudonyms. "Gorey was very fond of word games," it says, "particularly anagrams. He wrote many of his books under pseudonyms that were usually anagrams of his own name (most famously "Ogdred Weary")." It goes on to list several of the anagrammatic pseudonyms he used, along with the works they accompanied. My favorite has to be "E. G. Deadworry," the author of The Awdrey-Gore Legacy. which is followed in the Wikipedia entry's list by "D. Awdrey-Gore" as another Gorey pseudonym, associated with the titles The Toastrack Enigma, The Blancmange Tragedy, The Postcard Mystery, The Pincushion Affair, The Toothpaste Murder, The Dustwrapper Secret. This is charmingly followed by the clarification "Note: These books, although attributed to Awdrey-Gore in Gorey's book, The Awdrey-Gore Legacy, were not really written."

That's brilliant. The Dustwrapper Secret and The Toothpaste Murder were imaginary books that Gorey pretended were written by his imaginary persona D. Awdrey-Gore in a book that he wrote under the pretend identity of the magnificently named E.G. Deadworry. I love it. This is so clever the author must have confused himself.

Further, the titles of the books he actually did write are often at least as cool as the ones he just wrote about his pretend self fictionally having written. I very much look forward to reading The Sopping Thursday, The Fatal Lozenge, The Deranged Cousins, and The Glorious Nosebleed. I am a bit concerned, though, that the actual works may be unable to quite live up to the high expectation set by such terrific titles.