Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (966.28 kB)

Genre games: Edward Gorey's play with generic form

Download (966.28 kB)
posted on 2021-11-15, 09:34 authored by Lackner, Eden Lee

This thesis examines Edward Gorey's play with form and content across five literary genres, how that play results in the style that has come to be known as the "Goreyesque" and how the Goreyesque has influenced later artists and writers. Gorey consistently places style ahead of thematic and moral considerations, removing the purpose of each genre to reveal what remains in its absence. In doing so, Gorey maps out the boundaries of each form, providing genre- and period-specific details that act as signposts to how his audience should approach each narrative. With these markers in place, Gorey's readers are thus made aware of which genre expectations rule each piece. These expectations, however, are undermined as Gorey removes the audience-understood literary endgame, so that the work appears in all respects to be an accurate representation of the chosen genre, yet is missing the central heart.  Gorey's melodramas present scenarios in which deep familial loss and suffering are at the forefront of each narrative, yet as a result of the distance that Gorey places between the text and his readers, these works ultimately lack sentimentality. His Dickensian narratives, while populated with virtuous orphans and embittered, isolated men, lack moral pronouncements and just rewards, resulting in exceptionally bleak, nihilistic endings that provide little or no social commentary. His children's literature, although full of mnemonic systems, rejects all pedagogical functions in favour of inviting in adult audiences to luxuriate in sound and linguistic form. His mystery and detective fiction, while containing secrets, crimes and criminals, ignores any pretence of decoding the central mysteries. His Gothic horror revels in supernatural excesses, yet engenders no fear. By tracing Gorey's play with genre, we can identify the aesthetic parameters of the Goreyesque, and examine how they manifest in the works of other artists and writers, notably Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman and Roman Dirge.  In manipulating genre expectations, Gorey does more than simply leave readers with the shell of narrative purpose. Instead, he draws attention to the absence and pushes beyond expectation to reinvention. He normalizes the strange and fantastic by removing the very things that make the ordinary extraordinary. He infuses his works with a distance that shifts their purpose from generating high emotion and strong reactions to encouraging minute attention to narrative detail. Gorey's fantasies therefore represent odd, underwhelming moments that are otherwise ignored in the search for the uncommon and unique. By underplaying the significance of the events in his stories, Gorey represents and refreshes our concepts of the fantastic, and highlights the strangeness in the overlooked.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

English Literature

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Jackson, Anna; Stafford, Jane