Sunday, September 26, 2010
Lovecraft Letter to Eddy (5 Spet 1923)
Seen at L W Currey:
Lovecraft, H[oward] P[hillips].
AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED (ALS).
4 pages, dated 5 September 1923, to "My dear Mrs. [Muriel G.] Eddy", signed "very sincerely yours, H. P. Lovecraft."
Written on two sheets of 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper with Hotel Statler Detroit letterhead, from 598 Angell Street, Providence, R.I.
Clifford and Muriel Eddy were the only other devotees of the weird tale, both as readers and writers, whom Lovecraft knew in Providence. Accounts differ on the question of when the friendship began, but the most reliable evidence would put it near the time of this letter, in the fall of 1923. As one of the earliest letters in their correspondence, this was written under circumstances that make it particularly interesting for the student of Lovecraft and weird tales today.
He knew of their strong interest in this subject, so he felt free to delve into it. He didn't know them very well, so he felt obliged to introduce himself, but in an economical manner, since any letter much longer than this would seem to presume on their interest. And the newness of the relationship, the absence of familiarity, meant he could not retreat into that bantering, cynical tone so often found in letters to old friends. The result, in the two middle pages of this letter, is as good an explanation of his literary style as one could find.
Even to those who have read dozens of such apologiae pro suis litteris in his letters, this one may bring out a new glint or two on the subject. The focus here is on his authorial voice, that curious blend of professorial calm and preternatural alarm, lulling regular rhythms and jarringly esoteric diction, cozy antiquarianism and cosmic alienation, that has come to be known as "Lovecraftian."
It is not an authentic Georgian style, or course -- if Sam Johnson or Alexander Pope could read one of HPL's stories, it would suggest the sly mania of a bedlamite -- but a Georgian style as refracted through the amber of modern nostalgia. "It was the old style which I venerated in youth, & with which I became so saturated that it grew to be my instinctive utterance."
If he tried to write with the clipped precision of moderns such as Sherwood Anderson and Ben Hecht, "… I should be floundering about as clumsily & artificially as if I were using a half-foreign dialect." Because Lovecraft is so connected in people's minds with the pulp magazines that sprang up after World War I, that watershed between the Victorian and modern ears, it is hard to remember sometimes that Lovecraft spent his formative years (24 of them) in a Victorian world.
He disavowed any sympathy for the Victorian, but the question of which bygone aesthetic he yearned for is secondary to the fact that it was a lost world, as lost as his childhood and youth. "And the ironic part of it is, that I have a very keen intellectual appreciation of what the moderns are doing, so that (as in the Conservative I sent you) I am often forced to defend them against the reactionaries whom I myself resemble in my actual use of language. Truly, a grotesque cleavage between theory & practice!".
Unpublished. Letter has faint mailing creases, but is in fine condition. (#109137)
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