The curious sofa
Edward St. John Gorey was an American writer, well known for his illustrated books.
Born in Chicago on 22 February 1925, his parents divorced when he was 11 and then his father remarried in 1952.
Edward’ stepmother was Corinna Mura, a cabaret singer who had a small role in the classic film "Casablanca" as the woman playing the guitar while singing "La Marseillaise” at Rick's Café Américain.
His father was briefly a journalist, but Gorey claimed he had inherited his talents from his maternal great-grandmother, Helen St. John Garvey, who was a popular nineteenth-century greeting card artist.
Gorey attended a variety of local grade schools and then attended Harvard University as from 1946, graduating in the class of 1950, where he studied French and had poet Frank O’Hara as roommate.
As far as art was concerned, though, he frequently stated that his training was "negligible”, since he studied art for just one semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1943.
"The Curious Sofa" is a classic 1961 book of his, published under the anagram pen name Ogdred Weary. It is funny to note that, over the years, Gorey would come up with numerous anagrams based on the letters of his name and he managed to make up far more pen names than one would have believed to be possible combining just eleven letters.
According to the cover, the book is a "pornographic horror illustrated story", while according to reviews there is nothing overtly sexual in the illustrations, although innuendos abound.
It can be actually described as a dark almost-pornographic and almost-horror (without actual blood and monsters) "story about furniture" and each page of "The Curious Sofa" has a stiffly drawn image and a caption.
The story is odd, but apparently simple: a girl, Alice, is seduced into a world of debauched bisexual/animal orgies to then be taken to a room with a "curious sofa", where something unclear but unspeakable happens.
In the between the story tells about Alice's encounter with a "delightfully sympathetic" maid; a pool party of the unusual variety; a backseat reading from the Encyclopedia of Unimaginable Customs; some "remarkably well-set-up" young men from the nearby village; a terrace romp and - it wouldn't be the usual naughty Goreyesque way otherwise - an out-of-the-blue, matter-of-fact death.
"The curious sofa" is like a children's book for grown-ups, so tiny and strangely illustrated to look like a relic of the nineteenth century, but the best thing is how the story leads you to its weird conclusion.
As said, none of the images in the book shows anything remotely pornographic, but almost all of them suggests something sexual without going into any detail.
In one caption it reads “Lady Celia led Alice to her boudoir, where she suggested the girl to perform a rather surprising service” and it shows a picture of the feet of Lady Celia on the far left, with Alice, presumably nude, behind a screen.
Of course you never find out what the "very surprising service" is, as the next page just suggests another similarly vague sexual act.
The "curious sofa" finally makes its much-anticipated cameo by the end, being suddenly introduced.
What makes the ending so insane, so interesting but so cold, is that – like in M. Night Shyamalan’s "The Sixth Sense" - it makes you go back and re-evaluate everything you have read.
You thought you knew what was going on in the previous pages, everyone was having sex of some sort, but were they really?
For the whole length of the story you read between the lines, but you are actually supposed to read the book to find out why Alice is so appalled, what happens next and, mainly, if the sofa hides its own secret or if it is true that the brain is the biggest sexual organ of all.
By the way, if you also happen to discover how Gorey’s “Thumbfumble” game works, let us kindly know, thank you.