Unspeakable horror of HP Lovecraft

Missed this, it was originally posted on Lovecraft’s birthday:

“Race prejudice is a gift of nature, intended to preserve in purity the various divisions of mankind which the ages have evolved.”
- H. P. Lovecraft, Letters

“Now the trickiest catch in the Negro problem is the fact that it is really twofold. The Black is vastly inferior. There can be no question of this among contemporary and unsentimental biologists… But, it is also a fact that there would be a very grave and very legitimate problem even if the Negro were the White man’s equal.”
- H. P. Lovecraft, Letters

“Of course they can’t let Niggers use the beach at a Southern resort – can you imagine sensitive persons bathing near a pack of greasy chimpanzees? The only thing that makes life endurable where Blacks abound is the Jim Crow principle, and I wish they’d apply it in New York both to Niggers and to the more Asiatic types of puffy, rat-faced Jews!”
- H. P. Lovecraft, Letters

[...]

None of these texts are unpublished, or difficult to find, or unclear. H. P. Lovecraft was a racist. But his fame and influence is unaffected by his bigotry. This suggests that when someone is accused of bigotry this accusation may be an attack on that person, not on their ideas or behavior. Because others are given a free ride while being just as racist. Some are chosen to be branded a racist and are never forgiven. Others are forgiven. Amnesty doesn’t seem to be based on the actual ideas or behavior of the accused.

Full Story: OVO

There are several more instances at the link.

See also: What is the best HP Lovecraft collection?

16 Comments

  1. H.P. Lovecraft was a racist, but he was racist during a time period when most people were racist because racism was mainstream. He is a product of his times. His was the kind of casual, callous racism espoused by most people.

    Are we supposed to just ignore humanity’s racist past because we find it offensive today?

    It is what it is.

  2. Quoting OVO: “H. P. Lovecraft was a racist. But his fame and influence are unaffected by his bigotry.”

    When I first read Lovecraft, I also read _about_ Lovecraft, and being 14 years old, and a staunch anti-racist, I instantly detested HPL’s literary work. It took me years to understand that his racism is just a part of the extreme xenophobia of his own, but also of the age, (as Snork points out in the previous comment), from which his excellent horror prose derives.

    So I can’t really concur with the notion that HPL’s “fame and influence is unaffected by his bigotry”. It’s not — every biographer points it out, and as his racist views really are not “unpublished, or difficult to find, or unclear”, every reader of HPL will come across them sooner rather than later — and some _will_ turn away in disgust.

    He was just good enough a writer to make it big (posthumously, alas) _despite_ being a scaredy-pants racist. The silly-but-humanly-understandable fear of anything alien was what fed his creativity. HPL would not have been the HPL we know and revere, had he not been a racist.

  3. I’m no expert, but Lovecraft’s views seem extreme even for the time. They certainly go beyond “casual racism.”

    Wikipedia includes this quote:

    One of the foremost Lovecraft scholars, S. T. Joshi, notes ‘There is no denying the reality of Lovecraft’s racism, nor can it merely be passed off as ‘typical of his time, for it appears that Lovecraft expressed his views more pronouncedly (although usually not for publication) than many others of his era. It is also foolish to deny that racism enters into his fiction.”[16] In his book H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, Michel Houellebecq argues that “racial hatred” provided the emotional force and inspiration for much of Lovecraft’s greatest works.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hp_lovecraft

    Trevor – can you give us a comparable example of someone who was “branded as racist and never forgiven” from the period?

  4. Ezra Pound
    TS Eliot
    Dennis Wheatley

    To paraphrase Saul Bellow, When Africa produces Shakespeare, then I will read him………

  5. Klintron: people branded as racist and never forgiven from the period might include the names Roachboy listed. Sir Oswald Mosley is another.

  6. Is Lovecraft more forgiven than Pound and Eliot? And is Mosley, a political leader, really comparable to Lovecraft, a pulp writer?

  7. Bill Whitcomb

    April 3, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    For what it’s worth, Lovecraft deeply regretted these views by the end of his life. Not to say that he ever became comfortable in mixed company — mixed company being befined as anyone but him. Hmm. Let me take that back. HPL was exceptionally uncomfortable with himself AND everyone else. As Mark K pointed out, HPL wouldn’t have been HPL without fear of women, sex, foreigners, relativity, medernity…well…just about everything.

  8. Lovecraft lived during a period of Jim Crow segregation that followed a period of slavery based on manufactured, but persuasive to many, pseudo-science. Lovecraft was also part of the white aristocracy that created and perpetuated these racist institutions.

    The fallacy in Joshi’s reasoning arises from the fact that as an articulate, literary, artist, Lovecraft would naturally be inclined to express himself more pronouncedly on ANY topic than the average white aristocrat of his time. Thus, his pronouncements were probably expressly what others lacked the tools or initiative express; namely, their own irrational fear of persons of color.

    When I read Lovecraft, I just assumed his racism meant that he was a typical specimen.

    And as Whitcomb pointed out, he was afraid of everything. If one completely detaches racists fears from violent racist actions, they look completely ridiculous, and I often found myself chuckling at Lovecraftian characters’ horror (a horror derived from being born hermetically sealed into a life of sheltered New England privilege) in encountering someone who happened to be non-white.

  9. KF: “Is Lovecraft more forgiven than Pound and Eliot? And is Mosley, a political leader, really comparable to Lovecraft, a pulp writer?”

    Lovecraft was not put in prison for what he advocated in writing, like Pound was. This is perhaps one metric for forgiveness. My comparison of Mosley and Lovecraft is weak, agreed.

  10. Trevor – I wasn’t aware that Pound had been jailed. Anyway, perhaps Lovecraft was more forgiven in his time, but today Pound and Elliot are taught in public school with nary a mention of their views on race.

    Boyd Rice is a contemporary candidate for “unforgiven.”

    HL Mencken is an interesting case – he’s often quoted by people he would have despised, but with caveats.

  11. I believe Pound and Elliot are taught today because of their merit as writers. Their racism largely forgotten because they are not taught well.

    HPL is at best a good horror writer and so is not taught widely at the highschool level. Though logically this would be the best time to expose readers to him as his work resonates best with preteen and teen boys. An added bonus that racism also seems to resonate best with boys of the same age.

  12. what is a racist?

  13. Thomas Wideholm

    April 21, 2011 at 10:00 am

    H.P. Lovecraft was a highly gifted and talented artist with a clear, penetrating and probing intellect. His racism was an expression of his insights gained from thorough psychological observation combined with logic, and he is often right on the spot. Either one appreciates his observational skills – expressed in his many brilliant short-stories – or one does not. His discriminatory abilities were inevitable and natural for a man of his intelligence.

  14. Johnathon Giralt

    August 12, 2011 at 5:12 am

    The phrase “unspeakable horror” is subjective in this case. The world needs to wake up.

  15. The more I read and re-read Lovecraft’s works, the more I begin to realize that his racism is utterly and completely inseparable from his writing. I still enjoy his works, but when looked at his constant themes of degeneration, mindlessness of universe, and the growth in power of eldritch and unspeakable things, the more obvious it becomes that ultimately it was Lovecraft’s terror at the decline of anglo-saxons that fueled most of his horror.

    I am fervently anti-racist, and I’m not willing to give him a “pass” but I also find that he need not have one. He wrote fiction. He was neither a philosopher nor a public proponent of any particular creed or culture, and as such the racism inherent in his work is of the type that is unlikely to negatively affect the lives of anyone of any race. Enjoy the writing, condemn the man, and all that.

    Moreover, he did soften his views significantly towards the end of his life, and at times showed regret for things he had said and written.

    Full disclosure, I am a Russian Jew. A group of people that does not get spared the “ignorant, brutal savages” label in his fiction.

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