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“A peek inside Edward Gorey’s modern Gothic world”
Ernest Hilbert, The Washington Post

No illustrator could have been better suited to make T. S. Eliot’s idiosyncratic Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats look “sinister-slash-cozy.” That’s how Edward Gorey (1925–2000) described his style: his dense hatching and spooky aesthetic echo the lithograph and evoke the Victorian, Edwardian, and Jazz Ages all at once. Dressing-gowned men, flappers, and “tots”—not to mention the top-hatted Eliotic cats—mope in theaters and strike improbable poses, inspired by Gorey’s love for classic film and Balanchine-era ballet. Gorey’s books (The Gashlycrumb Tinies, notably, help children learn their ABCs through the untimely deaths of young’uns like themselves) and designs (his biggest break: Dracula on Broadway) earned him considerable fame: “bits of me all over the place,” he said. But Gorey was also private and elusive, preferring to stay in the shadows at dance halls and movie theaters. Born to Be Posthumous, the first full biography of the artist, reveals the man who became a formative influence on the “new Gothic age” of Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman. Ernest Hilbert reviews for The Washington Post.

“Mistaken identity: new discovery means there is only one known photograph of Vincent van Gogh”
Martin Bailey, The Art Newspaper

Vincent van Gogh was skeptical of photography: he abhorred having his picture taken so much that, until recently, there were only two known photographs of him. So he would likely be pleased with the discovery that one of these is not even of himself, but of his younger brother Theo. The picture in question was long thought to be of a thirteen-year-old Vincent in Brussels, but experts at the Van Gogh Museum and at the University of Amsterdam have recently confirmed that he never visited that city as a young man. But Theo did, and besides, the younger Van Gogh was known for those striking light eyes. Vincent’s only surviving photograph, of himself at age nineteen, was taken around the same time as Theo’s, perhaps as a birthday present for their father in 1873. But Van Gogh seems to have regretted the gift: he later claimed that he found photographs “frightful” and didn’t “like to have any, especially not of people whom I know and love.” Paint a picture, Van Gogh would have said: it’ll last longer. And in his case, he was right.

“Just Oscar”
Kate Hext, Times Literary Supplement

For a man who purportedly declared “I have nothing to declare but my own genius” on his arrival to the United States for his 1882–83 grand tour, Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) has been declared to be many different sorts of genius by many different people. First, he was the rebellious aesthete who was marred by moral scandal and who met an ignominious end three years after his stint in prison. Later, he became a “gay martyr,” as Kate Hext puts it, with biographies and studies dedicated to the downfall of the “effortlessly tragic genius.” Now, Wilde seems to have settled into a reputation as an anti-hero, a charming, yet troubling character who keeps Victorian literature Ph.D.s and literary biographers in business. Hext reviews three new Wilde books: Matthew Sturgis’s Oscar: A Life attempts to create a more empathetic Wilde by focusing on his failures and uncertainties, but smooths over the influence of his sexuality on his life and career. Michèle Mendelssohn’s Making Oscar Wilde recasts Wilde’s American tour as a spectacle not of Wilde’s genius, but of exploitation by his tour managers and mockery from the media and his audiences. And the giant of Wilde studies, Nicholas Frankel, has compiled The Annotated Prison Writings of Oscar Wilde, including the “Ballad of Reading Gaol,” “De Profundis,” and the letters protesting the prison system from the world-famous writer and celebrity who, by the end of his life, signed his work “Prisoner C.3.3.”

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