I love it when treasures return. Recently, New York Review Children's Collection has reissued the classic THREE LADIES BESIDE THE SEA written by Rhoda Levine and illustrated by one of my personal illustrator heroes, Edward Gorey.
Do you remember Masterpiece Theatre? The lady with her feet tied up, who with her free hands dramatically lamented, "Oh! Oh!"
I ran around doing that a lot as a kid, so have long been a fan of Edward Gorey's artwork.
Well, one of his classics is being re-released. THREE LADIES BESIDE THE SEA written by Rhoda Levine and illustrated by Edward Gorey was originally published in 1960. However, it reads with a whimsical romanticism more akin to the Victorian era (suggested as well by the illustrations).
Two friends have a third who insists on staying in a tree. Why?
I adored the story with its lyrical and quirky rhyme. Although Mr. Gorey is no longer with us, I jumped at the chance to interview the talented and successful Ms. Rhoda Levine...
Q. Ms. Levine, you have had an amazing career as an accomplished opera-director and choreographer and are currently on the faculty of some of the finest music schools in the country. What inspired you to write children's books?
A. I have no idea what inspired me to write children’s books, although I have always been an avid reader. (I have over 5000 books in my small apartment!) My first story was written in my head on the way to the dentist’s. I clearly did not want to go to the appointment, so I escaped by creating a story. I told it to my friend Sandy Wilson who wrote the Musical THE BOYFRIEND. He said he loved the story and would be delighted to illustrate it, and that he would bring it to a publisher in London. The publisher accepted it!! And that was the beginning of my creating books for children.
Q. THREE LADIES BESIDE THE SEA was first published in 1960, and yet the story is still relevant fifty years later. Why do you think that is?
A. The story doesn’t depend on any particular time period, and the drawings, by Edward Gorey are both witty, beautiful and everlasting.
Q. Was there a particular reason the story of THREE LADIES BESIDE THE SEA came to you? What was your inspiration?
A. I have no idea what my inspiration was, I just made it up.
Q. As an illustrator, I've been a long time fan of Edward Gorey, but will sadly never get to meet him (he passed in 2000). He illustrated two of your books. Did you know him, and if so, can you share any stories?
A. Yes, indeed, I knew Mr. Gorey. I would be happy to talk with you about our friendship, but these written responses are the best I can do at the moment.
My initial reactions when I first saw his illustrations were that they were so profoundly “accurate” in terms of what the stories were dealing with. As you know, Mr. Gorey was a great admirer of the works of George Balanchine, and he did think about Three Ladies in a choreographic way. Since I, myself, was a dancer and choreographer, his response to the characters seemed absolutely fitting.
His wonderful choice of the breed of dog (Old English Sheepdog) for He Was There From The Day We Moved In was perfect for a dog who has been sitting in a garden for many a long day.
Q. Finally, I am thrilled THREE LADIES BESIDE THE SEA is now available to a new generation. How has it been to see new life breathed into your creation?
A. I am so delighted to see our book resurrected by the New York Review of Books. I feel so lucky. I am only sorry that Ted is not around to enjoy its reappearance.
I yearn to see He Was There From The Day We Moved In republished. I have had so many children respond to the original publication of the book that it seems sad to have it unavailable to a whole new generation of young people.
Thanks so much for your interest in the book and in Ted’s work.