Saturday, May 19, 2012

Lovecraft and the South

Reading Houellebecq on Lovecraft inspires more thoughts and questions about this belatedly emerging literary figure.   Lovecraft was atypical in many ways other than those most widely known.   In Something About Cats and Other Pieces, a collection of items by and about Lovecraft  which Arkham House published in 1949, Rheinhart Kleiner offers a sketch of Lovecraft as he was in 1916.   Visiting Lovecraft as a fellow amateur journalist, Kleiner notes that "On the wall near his desk were small pictures of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and one or two others."   This would seem to be a remarkable display on the wall of the home of a New England Yankee in 1916!

These pictures on the wall in 1916 may have reflected only an enthusiasm for the motion picture "The Birth of a Nation," which drew millions of viewers to the theatres in 1915.  As early as 1905, however, in his notorious poem "De Triumpho Naturae," Lovecraft was defending the traditionalist Southern viewpoint regarding race.    

In 1930, Lovecraft journeyed to South Carolina.  His assessment is also noteworthy:  " But what a place!  A real civilisation, with pure American people, a sense of leisure & repose, & a vast amount of opulent (tho' not antiquarian) beauty.  Why in Heaven's name does anybody   live in the North -- except from compulsion or from sentimental attachment? "  

The following is from L. Sprague de Camp's Lovecraft:  A Biography (1975):   " At the beginning of May, 1931, Lovecraft set out again for the South.  There he contrasted the 'mongrel bedlam' of New york with the Southern  " . . . civilisation of such depth & tenacity that one feels himself in a real nation -- as he can never feel in the industrialised, foreignised, & quickly-changing North. "

One is reminded of the difference today between the Obama nation and the " Real America " of which Sarah Palin spoke during the 2008 presidential campaign. 

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