Edward Mordake


A spooky two-faced tale comes to us today, as the Wikiworm continues to burrow deeper into the weirder side of Wikipedia…

Edward Mordake was the name given to an apocryphal 19th century heir to an unspecified English peerage who was said to have suffered from a form of Diprosopus. According to sources, he had an extra face on the back of his head, which could neither eat nor speak out loudly, although it was described as being able to laugh and cry. Edward reportedly begged doctors to have his “demon face” removed, claiming that it whispered to him at night, but no doctor would attempt it. He committed suicide when he was merely 23 years old. The story has been disputed in the past and is likely mostly fictional. The 1896 text Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine mentions a version of the story, and since then Edward has been featured in many texts, plays and songs.

This is the story as told in Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine:

“One of the weirdest as well as most melancholy stories of human deformity is that of Edward Mordake, said to have been heir to one of the noblest peerages in England. He never claimed the title, however, and committed suicide in his twenty-third year. He lived in complete seclusion, refusing the visits even of the members of his own family. He was a young man of fine attainments, a profound scholar, and a musician of rare ability. His figure was remarkable for its grace, and his face — that is to say, his natural face — was that of an Antinous. But upon the back of his head was another face, that of a beautiful girl, ‘lovely as a dream, hideous as a devil’. The female face was a mere mask, ‘occupying only a small portion of the posterior part of the skull, yet exhibiting every sign of intelligence, of a malignant sort, however’. It would be been seen to smile and sneer while Mordake was weeping. The eyes would follow the movements of the spectator, and the lips ‘would gibber without ceasing’. No voice was audible, but Mordake avers that he was kept from his rest at night by the hateful whispers of his ‘devil twin’, as he called it, ‘which never sleeps, but talks to me forever of such things as they only speak of in Hell. No imagination can conceive the dreadful temptations it sets before me. For some unforgiven wickedness of my forefathers I am knit to this fiend — for a fiend it surely is. I beg and beseech you to crush it out of human semblance, even if I die for it.’ Such were the words of the hapless Mordake to Manvers and Treadwell, his physicians. In spite of careful watching, he managed to procure poison, whereof he died, leaving a letter requesting that the ‘demon face’ might be destroyed before his burial, ‘lest it continues its dreadful whisperings in my grave.’ At his own request he was interred in a waste place, without stone or legend to mark his grave.”

Tom Waits wrote a song about Edward Mordake titled “Poor Edward” for his album Alice.


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About Author Profile: Worm

In between dealing with all things technological in the Dabbler engine room, Worm writes the weekly Wikiworm column every Saturday and our monthly Book Club newsletters.

2 thoughts on “Edward Mordake

  1. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    March 15, 2014 at 08:53

    Although I’ve never seen the back of his head, we have a local butcher that suffers with this not-so-rare condition expressed, in his case, by an almost pathological inability to respond faithfully to any request. The result is that you might wander into his quaint boutique and ask for a couple of nice, tender, sirloin steaks, and when they arrive on your plate later that day, they bend forks and are fit only for trimming into shape, and sticking to the bottom of your shoes. He complains about the supermarkets ‘taking all my business’ but, being the Janus-face that he is, how could he ever expect to combat the inroads made by ‘big business’. Being the fool that I am, I continue to give him my ‘business’ from time to time, simply because I like to support my local sheriff. I am a fool.

  2. wormstir@gmail.com'
    March 15, 2014 at 09:47

    MM I too often have similar concerns with my local wine merchant

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