Instant Lives

Ever wondered what happens between the lines of biography? If the lights and lives remained on after you closed the book? Perfect for those who love literature too much to hold it too closely to actual facts, Instant Lives’s imagined encounters between literary figures and their real or imagined family members, friends, and bitter enemies is guaranteed to delight. These fractured and fabricated lives are recounted in the clipping pace of Howard Moss’s witty prose and rendered by Edward Gorey, in his iconic, spindly black-and-white Victorian style.

In Moss’s satirical voice and Gorey’s twenty-five deadpan illustrations, we see Jane Austen wielding artful passive aggression and Sense & Sensibility galleys, the Alcott girls sculpting fudge, the rise of Emily Dickinson’s ruthless witch hazel business, and (among other delights) the tiniest nun in Spain. Descend into literary chaos with Instant Lives—just add water (and a little vinegar), and suspend disbelief.

Howard Moss was the poetry editor of The New Yorker for almost forty years, a role that he used to promote the work of then-little-known poets like Anne Sexton, Richard Wilbur, and Sylvia Plath. Hugely influential on American poetry as we know it today, Moss was also a poet himself, as well as a literary critic and professor at Vassar.

Edward Gorey (1925-2000) began his career as a child prodigy, drawing at the age of two, reading by the age of three. At 17, he enrolled in courses at the Art Institute of Chicago before entering the U.S. Army. Later, he went on to study French literature at Harvard, where he lived with poet Frank O’Hara. He spent many years designing covers for Doubleday, and is best known for his spindly black-and-white Victorian illustrations, which may remind today’s readers of the animations of Tim Burton. He is the author and illustrator of many books, including The Unstrung Harp (1953), The Doubtful Guest (1957), The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963), and the Amphigorey collections (Amphigorey, Amphigorey Too, Amphigorey Again, Amphigorey Also). His house on Cape Cod is now a museum open to the public.