Comments on Arthur B's Dissecting Lovecraft Part 3: You Never Forget Your First Dunsany

Lovecraft's late-1910s run of short fiction saw his style and tastes evolving rapidly.

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Ichneumon at 23:45 on 2016-10-07
When Ligotti speaks of his fondness for earlier Lovecraft, I believe that he is referring primarily to his work from the early 1920s—"The Music of Erich Zann" and "The Festival" come up fairly often—although more broadly to his output from the first decade of his mature writing career, namely from "The Tomb" up through "The Call of Cthulhu". You can definitely see strong tonal similarities between Lovecraft's work from that period and Ligotti's own earlier work, albeit infused with a French Decadent sensibility that Lovecraft may have admired indirectly but mostly eschewed; his later work, though, has more in common with Bruno Schulz and even William S. Burroughs: "Metaphysica Morum" goes into full-on Naked Lunch territory at points.
Ashimbabbar at 14:41 on 2017-12-24
as to Arthur Jermyn, I feel you're focusing a bit too much on the racist element which I think is only a sideline of the story.

The most memorable line of the story is "If we knew what we are, we should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did; and Arthur Jermyn soaked himself in oil and set fire to his clothing one night."
Since not everybody has an ancestor a few generations removed who was a degenerate white ape, it follows that Arthur's Jermyn predicament is only a more extreme case of the general human situation - I think it's a materialist's version of original sin.

In my opinion, whereas a lot of his poetry had been about discovering horror hidden behind beauty in the world, this one is about the realization of horror hidden within our selves, which led him to such an extreme statement…
Arthur B at 16:55 on 2017-12-24
It isn't really a sideline though, is it? It's the immediacy of Jermyn's ape ancestry which takes it from being an intellectual theory to an immediate reality. And it's regularly emphasised that it's this ancestry which has blighted the fortune of his line ever since his forefather banged an African gorilla.
Ashimbabbar at 20:49 on 2017-12-24
You're right to point this out and "sideline" isn't the right word, just the one I came up with. What I meant is that it's a mean to an end.

Basically, HPL is saying "look at Arthur Jermyn*, his great-great-granny was a degenerate white ape from Africa, so he soaked himself in oil and burnt himself to a cinder. That was the right thing to do, wasn't it ? Well you're no better ! And I'm no better ! We all should go soak our clothes in oil and burn ! But you'll find it easier to pretend nothing ever happened and my story is a mere work of fiction ( and I'll manage to bear by writing this story )"

In short I believe this story documents a crisis in HPL's life. Had he been devoid of those racist notions, he would have expressed the same anguish through a different story.



* of course Arthur Jermyn is a painfully obvious stand-in for HPL himself, that's only one of the story's layers.
Arthur B at 22:38 on 2017-12-24
Oh, I definitely think he was working through some stuff there, though whether it was an immediate crisis or whether it was stuff he'd struggled with during his long bout of inactivity which he finally felt he had the writing chops to capture I'm less sure.

I am particularly put in mind of the way his mother would openly talk about him like he was a grotesque creature who only a mother could love. That plus the way his father went would have certainly given him a personal purity/body horror complex. It's just unfortunate that it cross-fertilised with the pervasive racism of American culture at the time.
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