I am providence the life.., p.142

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 142


I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES)

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  If Lovecraft’s racism has been the one aspect of his thought that has been subject to the greatest censure, then within that aspect it is his qualified support of Hitler and his corresponding suspicion of Jewish influence in America that has—again justifiably—caused even greater outrage. He argued the matter at length with J. Vernon Shea in the early 1930s, and the late date of this discussion emphatically refutes the claims of many of Lovecraft’s apologists (among whom, surprisingly, can be numbered L. Sprague de Camp, who otherwise has been criticised for so openly displaying Lovecraft’s racialist comments, especially during his New York period) that he somehow “reformed” at the end of his life and shed many of the beliefs he had spouted so carelessly in his earlier years. Some of his comments are acutely embarrassing:

  [Hitler’s] vision is of course romantic & immature, & coloured with a fact-ignoring emotionalism. . . . There surely is an actual Hitler peril—yet that cannot blind us to the honest rightness of the man’s basic urge. . . . I repeat that there is a great & pressing need behind every one of the major planks of Hitlerism—racial-cultural continuity, conservative cultural ideals, & an escape from the absurdities of Versailles. The crazy thing is not what Adolf wants, but the way he sees it & starts out to get it. I know he’s a clown, but by God, I like the boy![93]

  These points are elaborated at great length in this and other letters. According to Lovecraft, Hitler is right to suppress Jewish influence in German culture, since “no settled & homogeneous nation ought (a) to admit enough of a decidedly alien race-stock to bring about an actual alteration in the dominant ethnic composition, or (b) tolerate the dilution of the culture-stream with emotional & intellectual elements alien to the original cultural impulse.” Hitler is, according to Lovecraft, wrong in the extremism of his hostility toward anyone with even a small amount of Jewish blood, since it is culture rather than blood that should be the determining criterion. It is remarkable and distressing to hear Lovecraft praising Hitler’s “conservative cultural ideals,” since—in spite of his vociferous protests that his brand of fascistic socialism would assure complete freedom of thought, opinion, and art—this reference must allude to Hitler’s philistine objections to and suppression of what he deemed “degenerate” art. Admittedly, much of this art was of that modernist school that Lovecraft despised, although even so one cannot imagine him wishing to censor it; and it is quite likely that his own weird fiction might have come under such a ban if it had been written in Germany.

  The whole question of American and British support for Hitler is one that has received surprisingly little scholarly study. Certainly, Lovecraft was not alone among the intellectual classes prior to 1937 in expressing some approbation of Hitler; and just as certainly, Lovecraft cannot possibly be considered of the same stripe as the American pro-Nazi groups in this country (which, as we have already seen, he scorned and repudiated), much less such organisations as the Friends of the New Germany or the German-American Bund, who largely attracted a small number of disaffected German-Americans and were even operated for the most part by German Nazis. It is true that the German-American Bund, established in 1936 as the successor to the Friends of the New Germany, published much literature that warned in foreboding terms of Jewish control of American government and culture, in tones that (as we shall see presently) are not entirely dissimilar to Lovecraft’s; but this literature began appearing years after Lovecraft’s views on the matter were already solidified. Lovecraft cannot even be lumped indiscriminately with the common run of American anti-Semites of the 1930s, most of whom were extreme political conservatives who sought to equate Jewishness with Bolshevism.[94] My feeling is that Lovecraft came by his overall economic and political views, as well as his racial stance, by independent thought on the state of the nation and the world. His beliefs are so clearly and integrally an outgrowth of his previous thinking on these issues that the search for some single intellectual influence seems misguided.

  Harry Brobst provides some evidence of Lovecraft’s awareness of the horrors of Hitler’s Germany toward the very end of his life. He recalls that a Mrs Sheppard (the downstairs neighbour of Lovecraft and Annie Gamwell at 66 College) was a German native and wished to return permanently to Germany. She did so, but (in Brobst’s words) “it was at that time that Nazism was beginning to flower, and she saw the Jews beaten, and she was so horrified, upset, distraught that she just left Germany and came back to Providence. And she told Mrs. Gamwell and Lovecraft about her experiences, and they were both very incensed about this.”[95]

  Lovecraft indeed took note of the departure of Mrs Alice Sheppard in late July 1936, observing that she dumped upon Lovecraft some very welcome volumes from her library. He stated, however, that she was planning to settle in Germany for three years, then return to live out her life in Newport, Rhode Island.[96] I find, however, no mention in any letters of her abrupt return, nor any expression of horror at any revelations she may have conveyed. But references to Hitler do indeed drop off radically in the last year of Lovecraft’s life, so it is conceivable that Lovecraft, having heard accounts from Mrs Sheppard, simply clammed up about the matter in the realisation that he had been wrong. It would be a comforting thought.

  Lovecraft’s point about Jewish domination of German culture leads directly to his assessment of what he felt was happening in this country, specifically in its literary and publishing capital, New York:

  As for New York—there is no question but that its overwhelming Semitism has totally removed it from the American stream. Regarding its influence on literary & dramatic expression—it is not so much that the country is flooded directly with Jewish authors, as that Jewish publishers determine just which of our Aryan writers shall achieve print & position. That means that those of us who least express our own people have the preference. Taste is insidiously moulded along non-Aryan lines—so that, no matter how intrinsically good the resulting body of literature may be, it is a special, rootless literature which does not represent us.[97]

  Lovecraft went on to mention Sherwood Anderson and William Faulkner as writers who, “delving in certain restricted strata, seldom touch on any chord to which the reader personally responds.” If this is not a case of generalising from personal experience, I don’t know what is! I have trouble believing that Lovecraft was actually serious on this point, but the frequency with which he spoke of it must mean that he was. Newspaper reporting in New York also angered him:

  . . . not a paper in New York dares to call its soul its own in dealing with the Jews & with social & political questions affecting them. The whole press is absolutely enslaved in that direction, so that on the whole length & breadth of the city it is impossible to secure any public American utterance—any frank expression of the typical mind & opinions of the actual American people—on a fairly wide & potentially important range of topics. . . . Gawd knows I have no wish to injure any race under the sun, but I do think that something ought to be done to free American expression from the control of any element which seeks to curtail it, distort it, or remodel it in any direction other than its natural course.[98]

  But what is the “natural course” of American expression? And why did Lovecraft axiomatically believe that he and people like him were the “actual American people” (which means that others who did not share his views were necessarily “un-American”)? Lovecraft is again being haunted by the spectre of change: Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson don’t write the way the more conservative novelists write or used to write, so they are deemed “unnatural” or unrepresentative.

  The degree to which matters of race were central to Lovecraft’s own sense of “placement” and comfort is made clear in a late letter:

  In my opinion the paramount things of existence are those whose mental and imaginative landmarks—language, culture, traditions, perspectives, instinctive responses to environmental stimuli, etc.—which gives to mankind the illusion of significance and direction in the cosmic drift. Race and civilisation are more important, accordin
g to this point of view, than concrete political or economic status; so that the weakening of any racial culture by political division is to be regarded as an unqualified evil . . .[99]

  I am inclined to think that Lovecraft exaggerated the actual “racial” aspect of this sentiment—as similarly when he stated, as late as 1930, “I am hitched on to the cosmos not as an isolated unit, but as a Teuton-Celt”[100]—but in any case it was his view. What he wanted was simply familiarity—the familiarity of the milieu in a racially and culturally homogeneous Providence that he had experienced in youth. In stating that even art must satisfy our “homesickness . . . for the things we have known” (“Heritage or Modernism”), Lovecraft was testifying to the homesickness he himself felt when, as an “unassimilated alien”[101] in New York or even in latter-day Providence, he witnessed the increasing urbanisation and racial heterogeneity of his region and his country. Racialism was for him a bulwark against acknowledging that his ideal of a purely Anglo-Saxon America no longer had any relevance and could never be recaptured.

  More generally, the increasing racial and cultural heterogeneity of his society was for Lovecraft the chief symbol of change—change that was happening too fast for him to accept. The frequency with which, in his later years, he harps on this subject—“change is intrinsically undesirable”;[102] “Change is the enemy of everything really worth cherishing”[103]—speaks eloquently of Lovecraft’s frantic desire for social stability and his quite sincere belief (one, indeed, that has something to recommend it) that such stability is a necessary precondition of a vital and profound culture.

  Lovecraft’s final years were characterised both by much hardship (painful rejections of his best tales and concomitant depression over the merit of his work; increasing poverty; and, toward the very end, the onset of his terminal illness) and by moments of joy (travels all along the eastern seaboard; the intellectual stimulus of correspondence with a variety of distinctive colleagues; increasing adulation in the tiny worlds of amateur journalism and fantasy fandom). But to the end, Lovecraft continued to wrestle, mostly in letters, with the fundamental issues of politics, economics, society, and culture, with a breadth of learning, acuity of logic, and a deep humanity born of wide observation and experience that could not have been conceived by the “eccentric recluse” who had so timidly emerged from self-imposed hermitry in 1914. That his largely private discussions did not have any influence on the intellectual temper of the age is unfortunate; but his unceasing intellectual vigour, even as he was descending into the final stages of cancer, is as poignant a testimonial to his courage and to his devotion to the life of the mind as anyone could wish. Lovecraft himself, at any rate, did not think the effort wasted.

  24. Close to the Bread-Line


  For the time being “The Shadow out of Time” remained in manuscript; Lovecraft was so unsure of its quality that he didn’t know whether to type it up or tear it up. Finally, in a kind of despair, he sent the notebook containing the handwritten draft to August Derleth at the end of February 1935—as if he no longer wished to look at it. Derleth sat on it for months without, evidently, making even the attempt to read it.

  Meanwhile the fifth proposal by a publisher to issue a collection of Lovecraft’s stories emerged in mid-February—this time through the intercession of Derleth. He had importuned his own publishers, Loring & Mussey (who issued both his Judge Peck detective novels and his Place of Hawks) to consider a volume of Lovecraft’s tales. Already by early March Derleth was suggesting to Lovecraft that he write an introduction to the collection, even though Lovecraft had not even sent to Loring & Mussey any actual stories but only a list of them. The publishers took their time making a decision. Things didn’t look good by the end of May: “Mussey is indecisive; his wife (who is in the business) doesn’t like the stories & wants to turn them down; & Loring hasn’t read them.”[1] A definite rejection came in the middle of July. Lovecraft’s response was typical: “This about finishes me with writing. No more submissions to publishers.”[2]

  Lovecraft meant what he said. He had already announced to Derleth at the beginning of 1935, “I send nothing to W T now”;[3] so that when E. Hoffmann Price, to whom the idea of not submitting a finished story must have appeared a species of lunacy, continually badgered Lovecraft to send in “The Thing on the Doorstep” (still unsubmitted anywhere) to Weird Tales, Lovecraft was not much inclined to listen. As early as February 1934 Price said he would himself send the story to Farnsworth Wright, but clearly he never did. In August 1935 Price again urged Lovecraft to collaborate, the proceeds to go to a trip to California where he could see Clark Ashton Smith and other Pacific coast associates; but of course Lovecraft declined.

  Meanwhile, in the tiny world of fandom, the humble little Fantasy Fan ceased publication after the February 1935 issue, to the lamentations of all parties. It really was a very useful forum for the expression of readers’ views on weird and fantasy fiction, and the work it published—fiction, poetry, and articles—was on the whole substantially better than what followed it. The loss was doubly unfortunate for Lovecraft, for not only did it cause the suspension of the serialisation of “Supernatural Horror in Literature” in midstream but it also prevented the appearance of a biographical article on Lovecraft written by F. Lee Baldwin.

  This item was, however, transferred to Julius Schwartz’s Fantasy Magazine, where it appeared in April 1935 as “H. P. Lovecraft: A Biographical Sketch”. Much of the content of the article was drawn quite directly from Lovecraft’s letters to Baldwin, although Lovecraft also noted that Baldwin had sent him a questionnaire to answer.[4] It was the first of what would be many articles in the fan magazines appearing just before and just after Lovecraft’s death. It also featured a fine linoleum cut of Lovecraft by Duane W. Rimel.

  William L. Crawford had a wild idea of reviving the Fantasy Fan and installing Lovecraft as editor; Lovecraft actually tentatively accepted the offer, but he was pretty certain that Crawford could never pull off the project. In the spring of 1935 Crawford proposed a variety of book ideas to Lovecraft—the issuance of At the Mountains of Madness or “The Shadow over Innsmouth” as a booklet, or both together in one volume. This undertaking, however, took a long time to reach fruition.

  In March 1935 Lovecraft heard from Lloyd Arthur Eshbach (1910–2003), the editor of an amateur magazine called the Galleon. Although Eshbach published a good many science fiction stories in the pulps in the 1930s, he specifically conceived the Galleon as a general magazine that would not focus on the weird or on science fiction. Lovecraft did not think he had anything that Eshbach would want, but in the end two pieces of his were published in the magazine: the poem “Background” (sonnet XXX of Fungi from Yuggoth) in the May–June 1935 issue, and the story “The Quest of Iranon” in the July–August 1935 issue. Later in the year it was decided that the magazine would become purely a regional Pennsylvania enterprise, and Esbach resigned as editor, returning another Fungi sonnet, “Harbour Whistles,” that had been accepted. Eshbach later went on to do more work in the fantasy and science fiction fields as author and editor.

  In August Duane W. Rimel proposed editing and publishing a fan magazine entitled, of all things, the Fantaisiste’s Mirror that would resume the serialisation of “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” Rimel was teaming up with Emil Petaja (1915–2000), a Montana fan with whom Lovecraft had come in touch at the end of 1934. They presumably corresponded to the end of Lovecraft’s life, although not many of Lovecraft’s letters to him have come to light. Petaja went on to become a minor writer in the science fiction field. The Rimel-Petaja magazine was never published.

  Lovecraft continued to be the hub of an increasingly wide network of fans and writers in both the amateur and weird fiction fields. One name very little known until recently, precisely because his prime concern was not the weird, is Lee McBride White (1915–1989). Although born in Monroe, North Carolina, White spent most of his life in Alabama. He had written to Lovecraf
t through Weird Tales as early as 1932, while he was a senior in high school; but, after a three-year silence during which he attended Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, White seemed to lose his interest in the weird and became devoted to general literature, mostly in a modernist vein. He worked on several college literary publications, and in later life was a journalist. He wrote one book, The American Revolution in Notes, Quotes, and Anecdotes (1975).

  Because of White’s literary orientation, he did not associate much with other members of Lovecraft’s correspondence circle, even though Lovecraft himself occasionally tried to put White in touch with potentially congenial individuals. The letters to White are full of Lovecraft’s opinions on contemporary mainstream literature, and toward the end there emerges a very interesting discussion of John Donne and the Metaphysical poets (then experiencing a revival thanks to their seeming anticipation of many modernist tendencies). Lovecraft revised an untitled poem White wrote about Donne, although commenting that he was “an anti-Donnite” who believed that Donne was “not primarily a poet—but rather a thinker & minute analyser of human nature”—exactly the same criticism he had levelled at T. S. Eliot, who, not surprisingly, was a leading advocate of the Metaphysical poets.

  William Frederick Anger (1920–1997) was a more typical late correspondent of Lovecraft’s. A devotee of weird fiction (and, apparently, little else), he came in touch with Lovecraft in the summer of 1934. A Californian who later became one of the few fans or writers to visit Clark Ashton Smith in person, Anger and his colleague Louis C. Smith (about whom almost nothing is known) had ambitious plans that in the end came to nothing. First they proposed an index to Weird Tales—a prophetic idea, anticipating T. G. L. Cockcroft’s index by almost thirty years—but never completed it; in any case, it appeared to be not so much an index as a simple listing of the tables of contents of every issue. Then, in the summer of 1935, they conceived the notion of producing a mimeographed edition of Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth. Although this project too ran aground very quickly, it gains importance for one feature that I shall explore a little later. The only thing Anger and Smith seem actually to have accomplished is a brief article on E. Hoffmann Price (whom Lovecraft had put in touch with them) in the Fantasy Fan for December 1934. Lovecraft’s correspondence with Anger exclusively concerns weird fiction and the fantasy fan circuit, and if nothing shows how gentlemanly he could be to anyone who wrote to him: the correspondence continued to the very end of his life.

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