Thursday, 3 September 2009

286: Gorey Goes Gay 1

This is the American cover for the 1959 Anchor edition of the novel “A Room in Chelsea Square”. The novel was published anonymously in England in 1958. Eventually the author was revealed to be Michael Nelson. How then do we know that the slightly effete, foppish chaps on the cover are gay, and not just standard Gorey men? Easy. Because the characters in the novel are gay. “A Room in Chelsea Square” is a kind of homosexual fantasia about the main figures responsible for the wartime literary magazine “Horizon”. The publisher, Peter Watson, fabulous margarine heir, was gay, while Cyril Connolly and Stephen Spender ran the bisexual gamut at different times in their lives. So here, slightly more realistically rendered than usual, are two of Gorey’s ambiguous men. I think the hands are a bit more splayed and expressive then his usual manner. The one man stretched out is the picture dictionary definition of languorous, while the other with his unusual stance, drinks from a large glass of champagne. Is there something in the way their heads are turned to each other? Apparently, the illustration wraps around the back, and has a male nude statue. So even without reading the book, there are enough hints in this cover to alert those who may be attuned properly to suspect that this may be a book to somehow satisfy certain personal interests. Which given that this 1959 is about as much as one can hope for. As per this illustration by Ronald Searle a few years earlier.

Usually I like to point out if the creator of whatever I’m posting is gay. In Gorey’s case it’s a little more awkward. In interviews Gorey would make assorted self-deprecatory remarks about his underpowered and inchoate sexuality. His art and personal interests are almost the epitome of a certain type of camp. And it is the perverse sense of sexual inexplicability and complementary artistic inclinations, high culture and pop (before there even was a fetishising of pop culture) which underlies the few negative reviews he has received over the years, and likewise is the base of much of his appeal to a worshipful fan base. His personal artistic acquaintances are almost all drawn from a certain type of New York gay intellectual. Indeed the circles he moved in can be traced in a book like “The Crimson Letter: Harvard, Homosexuality, and the Shaping of American Culture” by Douglass Shand (if only to demonstrate that a tradition of overeducated aesthetic university pooves isn’t solely the province of Oxbridge nancy-types). If you like Gorey then you’ll probably want to track down his friend Frank O’Hara’s book of little plays, “Amorous Nightmares of Delay”. And if you’ve heard ever Gorey speak, then he’s undoubtedly possessed of what I always think of as the authentic voice of the Classic American Homo. I’m in no way prepared to speak for what the man did with his genitals, and neither should you. But gossip is fun, isn’t it? Actually, rereading the Searle/Gorer piece, doesn’t some of that sound rather descriptive of the balletomane Gorey to you?

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