I am providence the life.., p.73

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 73


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

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  In any event, C. M. Eddy was already a professionally published author by this time. His first published story, “Sign of the Dragon,” appeared in Mystery Magazine for September 1, 1919, and he had other mystery and horror stories in other early pulp magazines. Although he had clearly met Lovecraft through the amateur journalism movement, he was very anxious to become an established professional writer; Muriel Eddy reports that her husband had long been acquainted with Edwin Baird and that both she and Clifford urged Lovecraft to submit to Weird Tales. She also gives a piquant account of Lovecraft’s reading them “The Rats in the Walls” one evening:

  He started to read this creepy yarn to us at midnight—and continued, placing special emphasis on certain words as he read, his facial expressions changing as he became so absorbed in what he was reading aloud that it seemed he was actually living the story, making it come alive. . . . I’ll never forget that night! Many houses in Providence were gas-lighted at that time, and Lovecraft’s face, as seen by the flickering rays of gaslight, while he read aloud his own ultra-fanciful creation, was truly something “out of this world”—ever to be remembered. I shuddered myself to sleep that night!

  In the meantime Eddy himself was working on stories for Weird Tales. Two of these—“Ashes” and “The Ghost-Eater”—had already been rejected, but Lovecraft “corrected”[52] them and Baird thereupon accepted them. “Ashes” (Weird Tales, March 1924) is perhaps the single worst tale among Lovecraft’s “revisions,” and no one would suspect his hand in it if he had not admitted it himself. This maudlin and conventional story about a mad scientist who has discovered a chemical compound that will reduce any substance to fine white ashes contains a nauseously fatuous romance element that must have made Lovecraft queasy: “The feel of her soft, yielding body held close to my own was the last straw. I cast prudence to the winds and crushed her tightly to my breast. Kiss after kiss I pressed upon her full red lips, until her eyes opened and I saw the lovelight reflected in them.” Shades of Fred Jackson!

  “The Ghost-Eater” (Weird Tales, April 1924) is a little better, although it is nothing but a stereotypical werewolf story. Lovecraft wrote to Muriel Eddy on October 20: “Here, at last, is the amended ‘Ghost-Eater’, whose appearance I trust Mr. Eddy will find satisfactory. I made two or three minor revisions in my own revised version, so that as it stands, it ought to be fairly acceptable to an editor.”[53] Here again I cannot detect much actual Lovecraft prose, unless he was deliberately altering his style to make it harmonise with Eddy’s more choppy, less prose-poetic idiom.

  Lovecraft reported in late October that Eddy was working on another story, entitled “The Loved Dead”;[54] Muriel Eddy refers to the original title as “The Beloved Dead.” There was, as with its two predecessors, in all likelihood a draft written by Eddy for this tale; but the published version (Weird Tales, May–June–July 1924) certainly reads as if Lovecraft had written the entire thing. Here there is the sort of adjective-choked prose we have seen in “The Hound” and other tales of this period—references to a “foetid hollow,” “poison-tongued gossips,” an “exotic elixir,” and other such things. The tale is, of course, about a necrophile, who works for one undertaking establishment after another so as to secure that intimacy with corpses he desires; some passages are remarkably explicit for their day: “One morning Mr. Gresham came much earlier than usual—came to find me stretched out upon a cold slab deep in ghoulish slumber, my arms wrapped about the stark, stiff, naked body of a foetid corpse! He roused me from my salacious dreams, his eyes filled with mingled detestation and pity.” The final paragraph presents the same sort of perfervid free-association that concludes “The Hound,” ending preposterously: “I—can—write—no—more. . . .” Muriel Eddy reports that Lovecraft, when visiting the Eddys on one occasion, was so “thoroughly delighted” with the tale as he had revised it that he read it to them aloud. What this suggests—as the tale itself does—is that “The Loved Dead” is a parody, both of itself and of this sort of lurid, sensationalist fiction. But, as we shall see, when it was published not everyone found it quite so amusing.

  The final story revised for Eddy, “Deaf, Dumb, and Blind” (Weird Tales, April 1925), is a curious piece of work. It appears to have been revised by Lovecraft around February 1924, just prior to his move to New York. This tale about a deaf, dumb, and blind man who senses strange presences in his lonely cottage and records them in a manuscript or diary he is typing on the typewriter develops a curiously compelling power in spite of its stilted prose. Eddy reports: “He [Lovecraft] was unhappy with my handling of the note found in the typewriter at the very end of the protagonist’s account of his eerie experiences, the final paragraph that seemed to have been typed by one of his persecutors. After several conferences over it, and an equal number of attempts on my part to do it justice, he finally agreed to rewrite the last paragraph.”[55] This seems to suggest—although perhaps not by design—that Lovecraft revised only the last paragraph; in truth, the entire tale was probably revised, although again Eddy very likely had prepared a draft.

  These four tales are among the earliest of Lovecraft’s revisions of weird fiction, as opposed to collaborations (such as those with Winifred Jackson). The distinction between revisions and collaborations—in terms of Lovecraft’s actual work on them—is perhaps not significant, for depending on the state of the original manuscript he would either merely touch it up or rewrite it wholesale. But there is some interest in ascertaining whether, and why, Lovecraft would affix his name to a work or not. In Eddy’s case, the situation was close to the type of professional revision he would do later for Adolphe de Castro, Zealia Bishop, Hazel Heald, and others; but since the Eddys were friends of a sort, Lovecraft may have felt awkward actually charging them a fee for revisory work, so he seems to have worked out an agreement whereby they would type his manuscripts as recompense. Lovecraft declares explicitly that Eddy typed “The Hound” (that is, the double-spaced version that Baird wanted for Weird Tales) in exchange for the revised “Ghost-Eater.”[56]

  Eddy and Lovecraft did more than team up on writing projects. On November 4 the two of them returned to the Chepachet area where Lovecraft had taken Morton a month and a half before; this time the goal was not Durfee Hill but something called Dark Swamp, of which Eddy had heard “sinister whispers from the rusticks.”[57] They encountered difficulty finding anyone who knew anything about the place or its precise location; even the town clerk, who had heard strange rumours of people entering the swamp but never coming out, did not know where it was. They looked up several other individuals, each of whom told them to consult some other person who would assuredly know where Dark Swamp was. Finally they found that the swamp was in the property of one Ernest Law, a farmer, but by this time it was too late to make the actual trip there; they vowed to return at some later date, but do not seem to have done so. Lovecraft and Eddy had covered an enormous amount of ground on this trip, and—although Lovecraft himself does not mention it in his two accounts of the adventure (in letters to Frank Belknap Long and Edwin Baird)—Muriel Eddy writes pungently: “. . . Mr. Eddy almost had to carry Lovecraft back from the rural excursion, at least a mile, to the trolley line, for, unaccustomed to such vigorous jaunts at that time, the writer of tales macabre soon became so exhausted he could hardly move one foot after the other.” This does not quite seem to harmonise with other accounts of Lovecraft’s tirelessness on foot; but perhaps in this case he did overexert himself. Lovecraft adds that on the trolley ride home Eddy, becoming inspired merely from the descriptions of Dark Swamp they had received from various natives, began a story called “Black Noon.” This story remained unfinished up to the time of his death and appeared only posthumously in Eddy’s collection Exit into Eternity (1973).

  Lovecraft said to Baird in late 1923: “I find Eddy rather a delight—I wish I had known him before”[58] (another indication that his relationship with the Eddys was of relatively recent origin). Eddy was a somewhat crude and rough-hewn individu
al, far inferior to Lovecraft in intelligence and literary skill; and Lovecraft could not help regarding him with a sort of genial condescension, although this did not prevent him from doing him several good turns in later years. He clearly found it refreshing to find someone, even of Eddy’s calibre, in Providence who shared his interest in weird fiction, but although he refers to him on one occasion as his “adopted son,”[59] Eddy never became as close a colleague as Long, Galpin, Loveman, and several others. Their friendship resumed upon Lovecraft’s return to Providence in 1926, but we hear less and less of Eddy as the years pass.

  In 1929 Lovecraft made the following evaluation of the progression of his aesthetic thought: “I can look back . . . at two distinct periods of opinion whose foundations I have successively come to distrust—a period before 1919 or so, when the weight of classic authority unduly influenced me, and another period from 1919 to about 1925, when I placed too high a value on the elements of revolt, florid colour, and emotional extravagance or intensity.”[60] Simply put, these two phases (which would then be followed by a third and final phase combining the best features of both the previous two, and which might best be called “cosmic regionalism”) are Classicism and Decadence. The classical phase I have treated already: Lovecraft’s early absorption of the Augustan poets and essayists and the Graeco-Roman classics (either in the original or in translations deriving from the Augustan age), and his curious sense of psychic union with the eighteenth century, fostered a classicism that simultaneously condemned his poetry to antiquarian irrelevance and made him violently opposed to the radical aesthetic movements emerging in the early part of the century.

  How, then, does an individual who professed himself, for the first thirty years of his life, more comfortable in the periwig and small-clothes of the eighteenth century suddenly adopt an attitude of “revolt, florid colour, and emotional extravagance or intensity”? How does someone who, in 1919, maintained that “The literary genius of Greece and Rome . . . may fairly be said to have completed the art and science of expression” (“The Case for Classicism”) come to write, in 1923: “What is art but a matter of impressions, of pictures, emotions, and symmetrical sensations? It must have poignancy and beauty, but nothing else counts. It may or may not have coherence”? [61] The shift may seem radical, but there are many points of contact between the older and the newer view; and in many ways the change of perspective occurring in Lovecraft’s mind was a mirror of the change occurring in Anglo-American aesthetics in general. Much as he might have found the idea surprising or even repellent, Lovecraft was becoming contemporary; he was starting to live, intellectually, in the twentieth, not the eighteenth, century.

  I do not wish to underestimate the extent and significance of the shift in Lovecraft’s aesthetic; clearly he himself thought that something revolutionary was occurring. No longer was he concerned with antiquated notions of “metrical regularity” or the “allowable rhyme”; broader, deeper questions were now involved. Specifically, Lovecraft was attempting to come to terms with certain findings in the sciences that might have grave effects upon artistic creation, in particular the work of Sigmund Freud. One of Lovecraft’s first references to Freud occurs only a week after his mother’s death:

  Dr. Sigmund Freud of Vienna, whose system of psycho-analysis I have begun to investigate, will probably prove the end of idealistic thought. In details, I think he has his limitations; and I am inclined to accept the modifications of Adler, who in placing the ego above the eros makes a scientific return to the position which Nietzsche assumed for wholly philosophical reasons.[62]

  All this is pretty nebulous, and it is not clear what work of Freud’s (if any) Lovecraft had actually read; it is, in fact, more likely that he had read various accounts of it in books or magazines. A somewhat more revealing statement occurs in “The Defence Reopens!” (January 1921):

  Certainly, they [Freud’s doctrines] reduce man’s boasted nobility to a hollowness woeful to contemplate. . . . we are forced to admit that the Freudians have in most respects excelled their predecessors, and that while many of Freud’s most important details may be erroneous—one should not be too hasty in substituting any single or simple instinct for the complex and dominant Wille zur Macht as the explanation of man’s motive force—he has nevertheless opened up a new path in psychology, devising a system whose doctrines more nearly approximate the real workings of the mind than any heretofore entertained. We may not like to accept Freud, but I fear we shall have to do so.

  Things now become a little clearer. Although Lovecraft rejects Freud’s central notion of the libido as the principal motivating factor in human psychology—something he would have found difficult to comprehend, since his own libido seems to have been so sluggish—he nevertheless accepts the view that many of our beliefs and mental processes are the result, not of disinterested rationalism, but aggression (Nietzsche’s will to power), ego-assertion, and in some cases pure irrationalism. Under the placid-seeming façade of civilised bourgeois life teem powerful emotional forces that social restraints are ill-equipped to control. The effect on art will necessarily be telling. Lovecraft expounds his view in “Lord Dunsany and His Work” (1922):

  Modern science has, in the end, proved an enemy to art and pleasure; for by revealing to us the whole sordid and prosaic basis of our thoughts, motives, and acts, it has stripped the world of glamour, wonder, and all those illusions of heroism, nobility, and sacrifice which used to sound so impressive when romantically treated. Indeed, it is not too much to say that psychological discovery, and chemical, physical, and physiological research, have largely destroyed the element of emotion among informed and sophisticated people by resolving it into its component parts—intellectual idea and animal impulse. The so-called “soul” with all its hectic and mawkish attributes of sentimentality, veneration, earnestness, devotion, and the like, has perished on analysis.

  This is an intensely interesting utterance. In spite of Lovecraft’s claim of intellectual independence from his time, it is clear that he had absorbed enough of the Victorian belief in “heroism, nobility, and sacrifice” to be shaken by the revelation, via Freud and Nietzsche, of their “sordid and prosaic basis.” For the moment he adopted a sort of aesthetic Decadence that might allow these illusions to be preserved after a fashion precisely by recognising their artificiality. He continues in “Lord Dunsany and His Work”:

  Art has been wrecked by a complete consciousness of the universe which shews that the world is to each man only a rubbish-heap limned by his individual perception. It will be saved, if at all, by the next and last step of disillusion; the realisation that complete consciousness and truth are themselves valueless, and that to acquire any genuine artistic titillation we must artificially invent limitations of consciousness and feign a pattern of life common to all mankind—most naturally the simple old pattern which ancient and groping tradition first gave us. When we see that the source of all joy and enthusiasm is wonder and ignorance, we shall be ready to play the old game of blindman’s buff with the mocking atoms and electrons of a purposeless infinity.

  We cannot regain that blissful ignorance of our triviality in the cosmic scheme of things and of the hollowness of our lofty ideals which allowed prior ages to create the illusion of significance in human affairs. What is the solution?

  It is then that we shall worship afresh the music and colour of divine language, and take an Epicurean delight in those combinations of ideas and fancies which we know to be artificial. Not that we can resume a serious attitude toward emotion—there is too much intellect abroad for that—but that we can revel in the Dresden-china Arcadia of an author who will play with the old ideas, atmospheres, types, situations, and lighting effects in a deft pictorial way; a way tinged with affectionate reminiscence as for fallen gods, yet never departing from a cosmic and gently satirical realisation of the true microscopic insignificance of the man-puppets and their petty relations to one another.

  It is seriously to be doubted whether this
is an accurate assessment of the foundations of Dunsany’s art, but it was at this moment convenient to Lovecraft’s purpose to maintain that it was; in any case, it is perfectly clear that he is speaking of himself and his own attempts to come to terms with the ethical and aesthetic implications (as he sees them) of modern science.

  The interesting thing is that Lovecraft’s new Decadent aesthetic fitted very well with a tendency he had long exhibited, and one that linked him significantly to the intelligentsia of his time: scorn of the nineteenth century. The little boy who had insensibly absorbed the prose and poetry of the Augustans and found only tedium in the great nineteenth-century authors (Dickens is despised for maudlin sentimentality, and Thackeray “induceth drowsiness”[63]) found himself entirely in sympathy with the repudiation of Victorianism that many of the poets and critics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were exhibiting. W. Jackson Bate, writing in 1970, speaks of

  the immense effort of the arts, including music, of the early and middle twentieth century to get the nineteenth century off their backs. So strenuous—at times single-minded—was the effort that, during the childhood and youth of those of us now middle-aged, many of us began to assume that the first requirement of the sophisticated poet, artist, or composer was to be as unlike his nineteenth-century predecessors as possible.[64]

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