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The 2021 Exhibit: Hapless Children Drawings from Mr. Gorey’s Neighborhood

Hapless Children Drawings from Mr. Gorey’s Neighborhood

“I’ve been murdering children in my books for years.”
                                   EG (Conversations with Writers, Robert Dahlin 1977)


As an artist, Edward Gorey isn’t attached to a movement or school, to a decade or even a century, for that matter. Based in both New York and Cape Cod for almost fifty years, Gorey created works that embrace a broad swath of Western arts & literature to include Nonsense, Symbolism, Dadaism, and Surrealism, while also reflecting influences of Eastern arts, literature and philosophy. Rich with the aesthetics of 19th Century engraving techniques, cadences of Agatha Christie novels, and visual dynamics of silent film, his work seems to look backward into the past yet remains—twenty-one years after his death—several steps ahead of us.

Hapless Children Drawings from Mr. Gorey’s Neighborhood

“I write about everyday life.”
                                             EG (to Stephen Schiff, The New Yorker 1992)


A warning: Hapless Children is populated with a menagerie of youngsters who come to bad ends, and for that reason it’s suggested that you avoid establishing any emotional attachment to them—empathy is not to be served at this meal. In the surreal universe assembled from Gorey’s 116 books and miscellaneous illustrations published from 1953 until his death in 2000, children rarely fare well. Likewise, the families from which these children emerge consistently rate low on the functionality scale. Your standard-issue Gorey family is riddled with secrets, amnesia, vanishings, and death, and if a nourishing family is encountered in one of his books, it’s a safe bet that disaster lies a page away. Gorey is not interested in heroes or transformative ascendancies nor happy endings. He likes victims, and while almost everyone in Gorey’s books ends up a victim, we tend to remember the children most. Nothing dispenses with decorum faster than the involvement of a child. Dickens certainly played this card, and he wasn’t alone in doing so. Drawing from a broad and well-established tradition of 19th Century penny-dreadful publications and children’s cautionary tales, Gorey rarely hesitates to use children to bring home a poignant message in his taut little tales.

Hapless Children Drawings from Mr. Gorey’s Neighborhood


Before proceeding, remember that Gorey was also a much in-demand illustrator for other children’s book authors, particularly through the 1960s. He taught classes on children’s book design at the School for Visual Arts (SVA) in New York for three years, and many of his illustrated children’s works (collaborations with Peter Neumeyer, Florence Parry Heide, and John Ciardi among them) remain in print decades later. Gorey was adept at rendering an author’s characters with a feigned naive style that, while not looking child-like, seemed to evoke a child’s voice. It’s worth keeping that in mind while viewing Gorey’s drawings in this exhibit. While not completely palatable, the plights that follow become more understandable when viewed as coming from the voice of a child—a child patiently describing the ways of a very brutal adult world.

Childhood here is depicted as a barren and harsh landscape where dark sedans glide out of frame—an unsavory underworld where monstrous villains (and the occasional benevolent monster) lurk. Abductions, hailstorms, axes from heaven, and other tricks of fate lie in waiting, and every so often, a large-winged creature arrives to carry you off. These are the streets where one’s tender years unfold—in other words, welcome to Mr. Gorey’s neighborhood.

“A lot of my books were intended as children’s books.”
-Edward Gorey

The illustrator Maurice Sendak once remarked “Ted Gorey is perfect for children, and that’s the saddest thing of all, that [Gorey’s books] weren’t allowed to be published that way.” Both Sendak and Gorey are examples of authors who create great childrens books not so much for children as by children. While not generally identified as a children’s book author per se, it’s useful to remember that Gorey nonetheless considered much of what he created to be Children’s Literature—literature that was generally marketed away from children by publishers. But while the bulk of his work never found its way into the children’s section of libraries (yet), Gorey nonetheless addressed his works to children. Considering the voice addressing these children to be that of another child further layers these stories. Truly, the voice in Gorey’s books is that of an observant child peering out from behind furs, beards and jewelry—a child who has been around the block—patiently explaining to any child who listens the ways of this hostile and unpredictable adult world. While it might be said that Gorey never fully inhabited the innocent world of a child—it is equally true that he never quite entirely left it.


Hapless Children runs at the Edward Gorey House from April 8th to December 31st 2021. Appointments are highly recommended (by emailing or by calling the House at 508-362-3909).


Spring Hours:
Thursday, April 8th to Sunday, July 4th          
Thurs-Sat, 11am to 4pm; Sun, Noon to 4pm     

(Appointments may be made for 11am (except Sun), Noon, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm.)


Summer Hours:
Wednesday, July 7 th to Sunday, Oct 10 th
Wed-Sat, 11am to 4pm; Sun, Noon to 4pm       

(Appointments may be made for 11am (except Sun), Noon, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm.)


Fall/Winter Hours:

Friday, Oct 15 th to Dec 31st
Fri & Sat, 11am to 4pm; Sun, Noon to 4pm.  

(Appointments may be made for 11am (except Sun), Noon, 1pm, 2pm, and 3pm.)

Updates From Our Blog

“Ted Gorey is perfect for children, and that’s the saddest thing of all, that [his books] weren’t allowed to be published that way.” -Maurice Sendak

Current Exhibition

Gorey Etchings

Limited Edition Prints
View Etchings >>