Perceived Timelessness

I usually try to pay particular attention to small details and I get really excited when I notice them, especially recurring ones. Gorey’s Amphigorey provided me with a plethora of these. One story with these subtle details is The Doubtful Guest.

To be honest, I did not notice this detail until the very end of the story. I did not know what kind of time period this story spanned until the very last image under which Gorey tells us that this story is 17 years long. After learning this, I flipped back through the story to look for evidence of this passage in time. I followed the guest and it didn’t seem to change with time. But then again, it is a creature that is unknown to us so maybe one of its characteristics is that it does not age. I then decided that the best way to follow the human characters was to count how many there were and see if they changed as the story progressed. I followed the four adults and they did not seem to change that much throughout the story. Then I paid attention to the little, fair haired boy and finally found evidence of this passage of time!

In the beginning, the boy is very young. Young enough to be clinging to, who I perceive to be, his mother’s hand and where a typical English boy’s outfit.

As the story goes on, the boy grows up a little and wears more grown up clothes and is a little more independent.

By the end of the story, he is so grown up that he is roughly the same height as the adults, and is dressed in very formal, grown up attire.

I think I did not notice the little boy at first because I was more interested in the creature and following all the peculiar things he did. I was also interested in the adults because they showed an active response to the creature, whereas the boy was just a passive observer in all these shenanigans. It is beautiful how Gorey incorporates very subtle details in his stories. They add more depth and nuances to the stories than the readers initially recognize when they read the stories for the first time.

2 Replies to “Perceived Timelessness”

  1. This is a great observation! I confess I never even considered the fact that many of the characters seemed timeless in his works–I only noted the fact that they were all drawn in a very similar manner. It’s very interesting that you should bring up the character of the small boy because the passage of time is something that’s never clearly articulated in Gorey’s stories. It’s ambiguous as to how much time has passed, be it a few days, weeks, or years and it’s very clever to try to designer from the characters in the illustrations. I agree, this definitely reveals the amount of detail and narrative contained in just the minute details of the illustrations; so many that we never see just because we’re caught up in the main narrative!


    1. Thanks! I am curious to know why Gorey chose to add this detail. It certainly seems like a deliberate choice by him. Maybe some knowledge about him and his history might reveal the answer to this and to many of the other things that he drew that intrigue us.

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