The Gorey Groan: A Study in Authorship and Artistic Identity

Thomas Cuschieri

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


In Jorge Luis Borges’ short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (1939), a twentieth-century French writer endeavours to reproduce Cervantes’ seventeenth-century masterpiece Don Quixote – not by memorising the original, but by so fully inhabiting Cervantes’ life and persona that he is able to recreate the work anew, from scratch. Borges’ wry reflection on the nature of authorship, artistic identity and the appropriation of style and voice is the inspiration for The Gorey Groan, which seeks to explore similar concerns at the heart of illustration.

Through a stratagem similar to that used by Borges’ eponymous, fictional Menard, this project seeks to gain insight into the work of two twentieth-century artists intimately connected with the gothic tradition: the American writer, illustrator, and designer Edward Gorey (1925 – 2000) and the English writer and illustrator Mervyn Peake (1911 – 1968). The project involves a detailed study of Gorey’s visual language, style and approach, and includes the production of a series of illustrations “by Gorey” (in the Borgesian sense) of Mervyn Peake’s gothic novel Titus Groan, as a means of engaging meaningfully with both artists’ oeuvres.

Gorey did not illustrate Titus Groan in his lifetime, and the focus here is not the replication of an existing body of work, but rather the means by which artists create their voice, through conscious borrowing and subconscious influences. The notion of a “pastiche with no original” – a phrase coined by the illustrator and educator George Hardie – is relevant here, and several of Hardie’s works will be analysed for their own unique brand of post-modern artistic appropriation.

Besides Gorey and Peake there is, of course, a third voice in this project – my own – and, unlike Menard, I aim to scrutinise my role in the shaping of Gorey’s authentic “voice” as I seek to experience Peake’s text through a particular artistic vision.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusIn preparation - 2017


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