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The Unstrung Harp

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,508 ratings  ·  137 reviews
On November 18th of alternate years Mr. Earbrass begins writing his new novel. Weeks ago he chose its title at random from a list of them he keeps in a little green note-book. It being tea-time of the 17th, he is alarmed not to have thought of a plot to which The Unstrung Harp might apply, but his mind will keep reverting to the last biscuit on the plate. So begins what th ...more
Hardcover, 64 pages
Published 2000 by Bloomsbury (first published 1953)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mr. Clavius Frederick Earbrass, writer, goes to a literary party.

”The talk deals with disappointing sales, inadequate publicity, worse than inadequate royalties, idiotic or criminal reviews, others’ declining talent, and the unspeakable horror of the literary life.”

 photo Gorey20Literary20Party_zpsdehbcfzv.jpg

This party of dissatisfied writers may be like holding a mirror up to his own face, but it is still a diversion away from the manuscript which hangs around his neck like a soiled napkin.

”Not only is it repulsive to the eye and
...more
Calista
The more of Edward's books I read, the more I love the Gorey. This is from the 50s and it is so different. Thank heavens his work is still around.

This little book is about breathing life into an idea to make it become a story. It looks like a laborious process. There is much humor here. I simply love the fact that he keeps a list of titles and every 2 years on November 18th, he picks a title and begins to write the book. It's like clockwork. Thank you to all the artists who go through this.

The d
...more
Emm C²
"Even more harrowing than the first chapters of a novel are the last, for Mr. Earbrass anyway. The characters have one and all become thoroughly tiresome, as though he had been trapped at the same party with them since the day before; neglected sections of the plot loom on every hand, waiting to be disposed of; his verbs seem to have withered away and his adjectives to be proliferating past control."

As writers, our beloved craft is often the catalyst of our madness. Our novels drive us crazy. If
...more
Kaethe Douglas
So as part of my ongoing Gorey-related nonfiction I am also going back and reading the books in the order they come up for discussion in Born to Be Posthumous, every time Dery talks about the influences on Gorey I fall down yet another rabbit hole. There are authors I wasn't familiar with, such as Firbank, I've requested something of his by ILL.
Then there's authors I only had a passing familiarity with such as Ivy Compton-Burnett (the name was familiar, but that's all) and Alison Lurie (a write
...more
Betsy Robinson
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Betsy by: Jeffrey Keeten
The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel by Edward Gorey

Mr. Earbrass is a hammer-headed writer with a beak for a nose and shell-shocked eyes. Mr. Earbrass ponders, writes, publishes, talks about, and runs away from his new novel.

Before writing this review, I (a far-less successful writer of novels than Earbrass) had a cup of coffee, thought about writing something hilarious with not a clue what it would say, therefore to procrastinate, I hugged my dog so hard she slunk into the couch co
...more
Jim
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, 2016, 2015, re-read, 2017
"Mr Earbrass stands on the terrace at twilight. It is bleak; it is cold; and the virtue has gone out of everything. Words drift through his mind: anguish turnips conjunctions illness defeat string parties no parties urns desuetude disaffection claws loss Trebizond napkins shame stones distance fever Antipodes mush glaciers incoherence labels miasma amputation tides deceit mourning else wards…" God I love this fucking book.

The Unstrung Harp has the subtitle "or, Mr Earbrass writes a novel" and b
...more
Amy (Other Amy)
Mr. Earbrass stands on the terrace at twilight. It is bleak; it is cold; and the virtue has gone out of everything. Words drift through his mind: anguish turnips conjunctions illness defeat string parties no parties urns desuetude disaffection claws loss Trebizond napkins shame stones distance fever Antipodes mush glaciers incoherence labels miasma amputation tides deceit mourning elsewards...

I really cannot explain this. I don't know why this is the most charming, delightful book upon books I h
...more
Gerry
Sep 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
The trials and tribulations of Mr Earbrass as he writes a new novel, 'The Unstrung Harp' (what use is that?!!), having already completed and had published three others including the unusually titled 'A Moral Dustbin'. He eventually has his new novel 'done up in pink butcher's paper' for delivery to his publisher as he goes perplexingly on his way. ...more
Brian Tucker
Feb 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Self - indulgent drivel for those who like to write and FUN as well.
Jason
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
Have you ever wondered what an author goes through when creating a novel? The beginnings of an idea, creating characters which start to become more and more real, the insecurities, self doubt, beginnings of madness, figuring out how to end the book, the book taking over your dreams, rewrites, publishers, reviews, friends opinions and eventually trying to get away from it all. You really have to ask why they put themselves through it.

This is an interesting attempt to get all those feelings and ex
...more
Callie *Fights Censorship*
Oct 28, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: picture-books
I pretty much hated this book. I don't get the humor, I know that it is supposed to be funny, but I just thought it was stupid. Who is this book for? Certainly not children, I would classify this as a picture book for adults. This story goes on and on and on and on and on. So boring. To me it is very self-indulgent to write about the torments of writing.

I visualize the fans of this book as self-proclaimed 'writers', as they read they chuckle with a wink and a nod, "ha ha, I get this book because
...more
Nate D
Dec 08, 2010 added it
Edward Gorey's first published book, and one of the finest. I think it may also have more text than any of the others that followed, a full paragraph for each illustration. Not that the illustrations don't stand alone in all his work, but his sharp, amusing commentary on the creative process would be difficult to convey in image alone. ...more
lethe
I read that this was Gorey's first independent work, so it's probably rather fitting that it should deal with an author's struggles with the Muse. Not being a writer, or generally very creative, I did not feel much empathy, but I did find it amusing.

Gorey's trademark strange creatures were already there in several of the illustrations, and I enjoyed Mr Earbrass's visiting such illustrious places as Collapsed Pudding, Something Awful, and especially Lying-in-the-Way. Very English-countryside.
...more
Jesse
Oct 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Mr. Earbrass - surrounded by comforts that make him visibly uncomfortable - is the most perfectly realized and sympathetic character who would ever emerge from Gorey's pen. Second place probably goes to the doubtful guest of The Doubtful Guest. ...more
Ksenia Anske
Oct 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
If you're a writer, you must read this. It will take you 20 minutes and you will choke on your own laughter. And die. ...more
Zedsdead
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who love words.
Edward Gorey writes a book about a man writing a book.

In high school I wrote a sonnet about writing a sonnet. Great minds, etc.
Beth Cato
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary, 2019, writing
This simple, short book written and illustrated by Edward Gorey is probably the most accurate depiction of the novel-writing process that I have come across. It's funny how technology has changed but the process, the agony of it, has not. Gorey's artwork features author Mr. Earbrass with constant wide, fearful eyes, which makes it even more perfect. Really, this book is a charmer, and one I think most writers could well appreciate. ...more
Kthxbai!
May 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
For the names alone this book gets three stars. Scuffle and Dustcough. The West Mortshire Impassioned Amateurs of Melpomene. Col. Knout, M.F.H. of the Blathering Hunt. The fourth star is for Gorey's illustrations, the classic pen & ink scratchings which never fail to capture the absurd pathos of poor Mr. C(lavius) F(rederick) Earbrass, the well-known novelist, struggling with his latest literary effort. The story itself is sketchy, but by no means negligible, and amply augmented by the images of ...more
aconeyisland
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On November 18th of alternate years Mr Earbrass begins writing "his new novel". Weeks ago he chose its title at random from a list of them he keeps in a little green note-book. It being tea-time of the 17th, he is alarmed not to have thought of a plot to which The Unstrung Harp might apply, but his mind will keep reverting to the last biscuit on the plate.

Un anno sì e uno no, il 18 novembre, Mr Earbrass pone mano al suo "nuovo romanzo". In questo caso il titolo è già pronto da qualche settimana
...more
Mary Bird
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
You can actually find this online in PDF form, and if you've ever tried to write (or do, really) anything, then take a look at this. It's accurate and also hilarious in how overblown and dramatic people can get (*cough*definitelynotme*cough*) when trying to put together a creative piece. There's work and self doubt, along with a hefty dose of humor and preoccupation (and names like Hobbies Odd), and it's just fun satire with too much truth in it.

Now I want a backwards athletic shirt...
...more
Eddie Watkins
Aug 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: visual-art
Must be the longest book Gorey ever wrote, in that you actually have to pause in between turning pages to completely read the text. It also contains some of his most highly wrought illustrations. It's a droll story about a man attempting to write a novel and all the obstacles, uncertainties, drippy literary chit-chat, and plush scarves attendant upon him in the process. ...more
Sara
Sep 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Read as part of Amphigorey.
Shannon
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
Wonderful art and a fantastically short and darkly funny story about the tortured life of a writer. Really loved this one.
Mark Wheaton
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Most accurate assessment of the writing life ever put to print
Catherine Mason
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully captures the trials and tribulations of novel writing. Is it really all worth it?
Kellie Wilson
Dec 31, 2017 rated it liked it
J. K. Simmons looks like Mr. Earbrass. I liked the ending.
Rhys Livingstone
Feb 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Edward Gorey's loveliest quality was that he explored ideas without slapping a Capital 'M' Message on them like a big fat rubber stamp. His world-- one of atmosphere, humor, contrast, and wordplay-- was designed to stay with you and be visited multiple times. Gorey's works, short as they are, have serious mileage.

Unfortunately they can suffer without context, which brings us to The Unstrung Harp. This begins as a self-deprecating roast of writers, with attendant mockery of their quirks, foibles
...more
Christopher
Jul 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
THE UNSTRUNG HARP was Edward Gorey's first novel, published in 1953. Although full of the droll humour that makes all of his efforts true pleasures to read, it is a little different from later, typical Gorey. There is more text with each illustration, and the characters involved are not as realistic as later, although these illustrations are still pen and ink drawings set in Edwardian times.

The story concerns C. F. Earbrass, the "well-known novelist". Earbrass is at work on a new book, and each
...more
Amanda - Go Book Yourself
May 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
I adored the droll humour and beautiful pen and ink drawings in The Unstrung Harp. I smiled while reading this but then a growing sense of unease crept in as I felt a wave of familiarity with this story.

Mr Earbass is the voice in your that tells you to just type one more sentence, to just paint one more stroke or to just finish this chapter. Then you raise your head and realise that, that was 4 hours ago.

He is the niggling voice that reminds you of something long ago that you cannot quite rememb
...more
Max
Sep 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
My personal favorite of Edward Gorey's books. I couldn't get into it the first time I read it - but it grew on me after a few more readings. It became an "acquired taste". As a writer AND publisher, I can certainly relate to Mr. Earbrass and his tribulations in writing his novel. In fact, I'm probably more like Mr. Earbrass than I realize; his challenges and stumbling as he goes along is something that many writers out there can resonate with.

From a technical standpoint, Edward Gorey's pen-and-i
...more
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Born in Chicago, Gorey came from a colourful family; his parents, Helen Dunham Garvey and Edward Lee Gorey, divorced in 1936 when he was 11, then remarried in 1952 when he was 27. One of his step-mothers was Corinna Mura, a cabaret singer who had a brief role in the classic film Casablanca. His father was briefly a journalist. Gorey's maternal great-grandmother, Helen St. John Garvey, was a popula ...more

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“On November 18 of alternate years Mr Earbrass begins writing 'his new novel'. Weeks ago he chose its title at random from a list of them he keeps in a little green note-book. It being tea-time of the 17th, he is alarmed not to have thought of a plot to which The Unstrung Harp might apply.” 16 likes
“Mr. Earbrass has rashly been skimming through the early chapters, which he had not looked at for months, and now sees TUH for what it is. Dreadful, dreadful, DREADFUL. He must be mad to go on enduring the unexquisite agony of writing when it all turns out drivel. Mad. Why did n't he become a spy? How does one become one? He will burn the MS. Why is there no fire? Why are n't there the makings of one? How did he get in the unused room on the third floor?” 7 likes
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