“Literary Copernicus: The Cosmic Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft” is an online course this summer, from the Mythgard Institute. It runs 4th May – 24th July 2015. With a very cool teacher too, Amy H. Sturgis, though that’s balanced by the fact that the course costs $175 plus the cost of a copy of the Annotated Lovecraft. Presumably there are also student discussion forums and some written assignments, though that’s only my guess as there’s no mention of them.
Available now in paperback… my latest book collection of essays:
Lovecraft in Historical Context: fourth collection.
A book of essays is now an annual tradition with me, and this year’s volume weighs in at 304 pages, 76,000 words. Contains many expanded and footnoted versions of blog posts which first appeared here — for instance the essay “The terribly nice old ladies” zooms up to 12,000 words as I delve into the source landscape of “The Dunwich Horror”. Long-time Lovecraft researchers may be especially interested in 4,000 words of highly detailed scholarship which lays out the complete circus/theatrical and movie executive career of Arthur Leeds prior to the Kalem Club, accompanied by the first known photograph of him and a newly discovered Leeds short story that is an obvious inspiration for “Cool Air”.
PART ONE: General essays
1. Typhon as a source for Cthulhu.
2. Arthur Leeds : the early biography, photographic portraits, and a story.
3. The terribly nice old ladies : Miniter and Beebe at Wilbraham.
4. A source for Rev. Abijah Hoadley in “The Dunwich Horror”.
5. An unknown H.P. Lovecraft correspondent?
6. Shards from H.P. Lovecraft’s quarry.
7. Of Rats and Legions : H.P. Lovecraft in Northumbria.
8. Looking into the Shining Trapezohedron.
9. Notes made after reading R.E. Howard’s key ‘Lovecraftian’ stories.
10. H.P. Lovecraft’s cinema ticket booth job, circa 1930.
11. Garrett P. Serviss (1851—1929) : a major influence on H.P. Lovecraft.
12. John Howard Appleton (1844—1930).
13. Tsan-Chan in Tibet : Tibetan Bon devils and Lovecraft’s future empire.
14. The locations of Sonia’s two hat shops.
15. In the hollows of memory : H.P. Lovecraft’s Seekonk and Cat Swamp.
16. A note on “The Paxton”.
17. Rabid! A note on H.P. Lovecraft and the disease rabies.
18. Pictures of some members of the Providence Amateur Press Club.
19. H.P. Lovecraft and his Young Men’s Club.
20. A few additions for Anna Helen Crofts (1889-1975).
21. An annotated “The History of the Necronomicon”. — sample
PART TWO: Finding Lovecraft’s most elusive correspondents
1. Wesley and Stetson : Providence models for Wilcox in “Cthulhu”?
2. Geo. FitzPatrick of Sydney : the Australian correspondent.
3. A likely candidate for the H.P. Lovecraft correspondent C.L. Stuart.
4. Curtis F. Myers (1897-?)
5. Sounding the Bell : finding a long ‘lost’ Lovecraft correspondent.
6. The fannish activity of Louis C. Smith.
7. Fred Anger after H.P. Lovecraft.
8. Reds and pinks : the politics of Woodburn Prescott Harris.
9. A note on H.P. Lovecraft’s British correspondent, Arthur Harris.
10. On Poe : Horatio Elwin Smith (1886-1946).
11. Gardens of delight? Thomas Stuart Evans (1885-1940).
12. The Hatter : Dudley Charles Newton (1864-1954).
Thanks for the cover art to Cotton Valent and Apolonis Aphrodisia.
Last month Mark Bauerlein peeked into the padded cell of the contemporary university English Dept. His article, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, took a look at exactly what gets taught in first-year English classes…
The fundamentals of the tradition (Shakespeare, Milton, Romantic poets, modernist poets) are missing [from the basic introductory English courses in universities], and so are the fundamentals of literary reading (prosody, rhetoric, figurative language, structure, genre, etc.) Here we see the internal destruction of English as a field. […] Unlike other disciplines, English no longer distinguishes degrees of difficulty and significance. It turns an introductory course into something else — a hasty acquaintance with complex ideas such as différance [Derrida], a quick indoctrination in complex identity matters, a hip involvement with edgy novels — and most students who receive it, I would guess, discern the decadence of the enterprise.
I’ve noted in passing the strange insularity that this vanguardist approach seems to have caused in the Gothic Studies wing of English Literature. Wilum Pugmire wrassled a few days ago with the crude Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style pointing-and-screaming about race, which sometimes results from such courses…
I am searching this book of 468 pages [Lovecraft Remembered], which is made up mostly of memoirs of H.P. Lovecraft by people who knew him as personal friend or correspondent, for mention of his racism. I am grown tired of this new dreary fixation of commentary on Lovecraft that identifies him primarily as a racist writer. I find such emphasis misguided to the point of perversity. Lovecraft’s racism was grotesque and ignorant, and it echoes indeed throughout his fiction; but there is much more to Lovecraft’s genius that is far more vital and interesting. This new school of judgmental critics, who emphasis first and foremost that Lovecraft was racist, and then follow this up to explain why he was “a good bad writer,” shews the absurdity and ineffectiveness of much [mainstream academic] modern Lovecraft critique, critique that reveals far more ignorance regarding Lovecraft and his work than anything else.
In defence of mainstream academia, there is a steady flow of sound dissertations and theses each year (though only sometimes from straight Eng Lit departments, and then usually from outside America). And now a small crop of Lovecraft course module-documents are available online, mostly for one-semester courses being taught mostly in American universities. I occasionally come across these course documents while searching the Web, and they seem encouraging. Most seem well designed and at least minimally aware of the historical context (if only the context of the genre’s tradition). Though I’d imagine that more than a few of these are the products of enthusiastic hourly-paid visitor or adjunct lecturers, rather than cautious faculty. How well they play in the classroom I have no idea. I guess they encounter people lacking in a historical framework and fundamentally unequipped in actual techniques of doing in-depth historical scholarship, something that seems to me implicitly required to adequately study the political dimensions of historical texts and authors. If a student or even their teacher has no idea of the actual historical structures and trajectories of the racial categories and regrettable racisms of Lovecraft’s time, then the default politically-acceptable ‘year zero’ approach will be the only one available to them.
Seems to me that this is part of a wider erasure of history from the study and understanding of creativity — something evidenced by the shrinkage or closure of art history depts, and an increasing ‘the history doesn’t matter much’ approach in other departments teaching creative students. That’s bound to have a snowball effect, as graduates of these courses move up the career chain, being less likely to value the history side of teaching because they lack a real grounding in it themselves. And management doesn’t push history, because the students don’t like being asked to do historical essays and forcing them to do it increases the student drop-out and failure-rate in the department. The rise of joint Masters degrees (History and English, etc) may help somewhat, but some radical bunker-busting among the disciplines would probably be needed to help such courses make a useful combined impact on a student in the nine months available to a one-year Masters course.
These various factors make it highly unlikely that a young mainstream academic of today will invest the time and expense needed to even begin to become a fair Lovecraft scholar (several years of close reading, of books and journals that could cost $2,000 or more to amass). In a system dominated by career advancement and management strictures, mainstream academics tend to need ‘quick wins’ that ‘tick the boxes’ and add ‘impact’ to the key assessments on which departmental funding depends.
These and other barriers seem destined to further bifurcate the field into: i) long-standing independent Lovecraft scholars and philosophers, operating mostly outside the academy, and ii) mainstream academic ‘dabblers’ who dip into Lovecraft either to make a quick buck for their publisher or to make their slim young C.V. a little more hip — but who consequently get basic things wrong and thus are chuckled at and ignored or scourged by the Lovecraftians. That said, I recognise that I started as a ‘dabbler’ myself, and know that — if one keeps at it — then it can lead to better things.
What is to be done? In the age of the virtual classroom, video lectures and Skype, one wonders… could Lovecraft scholars start a self-funding online ‘Lovecraft University 101’ summer school, for say six weeks or so each year? Perhaps with the aid of the likes of the turn-key infrastructure on offer at Coursera or Udacity or edX. I’ll contribute a headmaster’s mortar-board for Robert Price.
I’m pleased to say that the print edition of my annual essays collection is now available for purchase!
Lovecraft in Historical Context: a third collection of essays and notes. 25,000 words, and many illustrations. 120 pages, as a 6″ x 9″ paperback. Buy it here.
Contains expanded, polished, and copiously footnoted/referenced versions of my recent draft essays and short notes. Plus new essays that are exclusive to the print edition.
1. Who was “Harley Warren”?
2. Who were the Blatschkas?
3. Lovecraft’s telescope.
4. Lovecraft’s camera.
5. Edison’s virtual ‘visit’ to Providence, 1896, a source for “Nyarlathotep”.
6. Missing : the Sentinel of Lovecraft’s Sentinel Hill.
7. Running down Danforth, at the Paterson Museum.
8. Neutaconkanut : Lovecraft’s last summer walk.
9. What could Lovecraft and his circle have known of Doctor John Dee?
10. Locating “The Mound”.
11. Some covers of The All-Story.
12. Mirrored : reflections on Lovecraft’s reflections.
13. Ten examples of tentacular propaganda, 1881-1910s.
14. A real horror : on the 1918 flu pandemic in Providence.
I hope to produced a hand-coded Kindle ebook edition at some point soon.
Now available as a paperback, for those who prefer to read in print rather than from a screen — my new book Lovecraft in Historical Context: further essays and notes. PayPal accepted.
CONTENTS: Story – “The Quest to Azathoth” (new 5,000 word short story). Essays and Historical Notes – 1. The Typewriter of H.P. Lovecraft; 2. Some Notes on the Origins of Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”; 3. Appendix: Quabbin and “The Colour Out of Space”; 4. Lovecraft, Houdini, and Egypt in Fantastic Literature; 5. What Does Danforth See At The End of Mountains?; 6. A Fainting Spell: Lovecraft and fainting; 7. Looking into Lovecraft’s Toilet; 8. Loveman as a Source for “Hypnos”. 9. The Mystery of “J.N.”; 10. A Note on the Pickwick Club Disaster; 11. On The Real Mammoth Cave and “The Beast in the Cave”; 12. The Winds of Insanity; 13. The Cats of H.P. Lovecraft; 14. Cats and the Fantastical (a bibliography); 15. A Note on the Elder Signs; 16. Secrecy and Secretions; 17. Postcards from the High House; 18. Two Postcards from the Providence Public Library; 19. An Alternate Ending: a fiction.
Illustrated with my own cover artwork. 31,000 words. 134 pages. July 2011. Perfect-bound paperback with colour covers. Buy it here.
My final creative assignment for the 2011 Lovecraft Summer School. It’s a 5,000 word short story based on a combination of the entries in Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book and newly written for the Summer School. For your reading pleasure, “The Quest to Azathoth” is available in print, fronting in my new book of essays Lovecraft in Historical Context: further essays and notes. PayPal accepted.
Assignment Nine, Vacation Necronomicon School: “From Beyond”.
Your brief writing assignment is to relate some aspect of today’s reading to another Lovecraft story “From Beyond”
Looking into Lovecraft’s toilet
The early story “From Beyond” (1920) is generally regarded as one of Lovecraft’s most flushable stories, and indeed it was not published until it saw light in The Fantasy Fan (June 1934, Vol. 1, No. 10). This essay suggests linkages between some of the story’s motifs, the house Lovecraft then occupied, and the villain Tillinghast.
First, who might Tillinghast be likely to have been based on? There was a “Tillinghast Supply Machine Company, Boston” in 1919. (Abstract of the Certificates of Corporations, Massachusetts Office of the Secretary of State, 1920). Although incorporated in Boston, the company was prominently based in Providence, and supplied plumbing materials and fittings at both retail and wholesale…
L.H. Tillinghast Supply Co., 162 to 168 Dorrance Street, Providence.
‘A Complete Stock of Everything pertaining to Plumbing. For thirty-seven years we have been manufacturers of and dealers in high grade plumbers’ supplies.’ — Year-book of the Rhode Island Chapter, American Institute of Architects, 1911.
Dorrance Street was the main road that led to the Providence railway station, and Lovecraft must have known it well. L.H. Tillinghast advertised in The Providence Directory of 1920, and Lovecraft may have seen their adverts for new toilets and sinks in the newspapers. Their president, at the time Lovecraft wrote his story, was the deliciously-named Lodorick Hoxie Tillinghast, a prominent Providence businessman and local worthy.
One wonders if Tillinghast was then a leading company installing domestic flushing toilet (then also called a “water closet” or “lavatory”) in Providence, as the city suburbs and towns of New England switched from chamber pots and outside privies to inside toilets? Certainly, Dorrance Street was obviously a major commercial street and not some poky little back street, and the long-established nature of the firm seems to suggest it had a wide range and reach. Tillinghast is of course a common local name, but one even wonders if the Tillinghast name may have been imprinted on Lovecraft’s toilet bowl at 598 Angell Street, or on some associated element?
At that time, toilets were perhaps not quite as advanced as the modern ones, and were a lot noisier and possibly more smelly…
‘an antique water closet, essentially an indoor outhouse. They were decorative, like furniture, until the owner lifted the lid or inhaled the bouquet.’ — Citro, Curious New England, 2004.
I think there is some very interesting evidence in the text of the story “From Beyond” to suggest a strong linkage between it and the everyday experience of visiting the toilet. I think I can show that “From Beyond” could be a potent fusion of high philosophy and the low odours arising from the experience of the indoor toilet — and thus from the cultural and personal cloud of anxieties that then surrounded that dreadfully liminal domestic space.
First let me remind readers of Lovecraft’s domestic circumstances in 1920. Since 1904 Lovecraft had shared a rented residence at 598 Angell Street, Providence. Donald Tyson describes this as…
‘a five-room apartment that made up the first floor of a somewhat smaller house [than the family had been used to previously]’ — The Dream World of H. P. Lovecraft, 2010.
This sounds rather cramped, although S.T. Joshi suggests that the boy Lovecraft also had access to (officially or unofficially) the attic — which incidentally is where the action in “From Beyond” takes place…
I looked about the immense attic room with the sloping south wall, dimly lit by rays which the every-day eye cannot see. The far corners were all shadows, and the whole place took on a hazy unreality which obscured its nature and invited the imagination to symbolism and phantasm.
This vision-space is later referred to as an “incredible temple” and “temple-like”, which brings to mind the colloquial description of the domestic toilet as a ‘throne’.
Given the shared nature of the house was it possible that Lovecraft was sharing a toilet with more people than just his female relatives? Sadly, no-one appears to have yet looked into the matter of Lovecraft’s toilet.
There had certainly been anxieties expressed on the subject of shared toilets in New England…
‘Modesty is hardly possible when from four to ten people of varying ages and both sexes live in from two to four rooms, some of them very small. Insufficient water-closet facilities also conduce to a low standard of morals.’ — The New England magazine, Volume 19, 1899.
Also, Chris Perridas has usefully uncovered a letter indicating the dreadful nature of the boys’ toilets in 1912, at the school Lovecraft attended…
‘At the Hope Street School the urinals are offensive, both in odor and appearance, and a positive menace to health. The toilet room is situated opposite the lunch room, and the caterer has spoken frequently of the noisome odors that permeate the basement. Teachers notice the odors as they pass the staircase on the floor above. Even pupils complain.’ — letter of 1912 from Charles E. Dennis, quoted by Chris Perridas in Dec 2010.
All this has obvious relevance to ‘body horror’, the nature of what is ‘beyond’ the u-bend, the emergence of slime into water, etc. But what might the evidence be in the story itself? In “From Beyond” the hero is taken to the attic laboratory (a word so curiously similar to lavatory, and in which he sees a toilet-bowl -like vision of… “a void, and nothing more”), where he enacts some of the key aspects of visiting the toilet to excrete. For instance, the machine which the hero sits near is “detestable” and connected with “chemicals”, rather like a toilet…
‘detestable electrical machine, glowing with a sickly, sinister, violet luminosity. It was connected with a powerful chemical battery’
The key evidence from the story is the descriptions of his sensations while engaged with the machine. These can easily be read as those of sitting on the toilet, passing wind, the holding of one’s breath, and then excreting, all the while feeling a cold draft around one’s uncovered nether regions…
Then, from the farthermost regions of remoteness, the sound softly glided into existence. It was infinitely faint, subtly vibrant, and unmistakably musical, but held a quality of surpassing wildness which made its impact feel like a delicate torture of my whole body. I felt sensations like those one feels when accidentally scratching ground glass. Simultaneously there developed something like a cold draught […] As I waited breathlessly I perceived that both sound and wind were increasing; the effect being to give me an odd notion of myself as tied to a pair of rails
This “pair of rails” could easily be interpreted as the two slats of a toilet seat, on which one waits for things that will glide “into existence” via “a delicate torture” of the body. In this respect then, the description of the horrors as “jellyish monstrosities” and “the things that float and flop” and as…
animate things brushing past me and occasionally walking or drifting through my supposedly solid body
My pets are not pretty, for they come out of places where aesthetic standards are — very different.
floating about with some malignant purpose
… are all very suggestive of seeing excretions in the toilet bowl.
Then there is the way in which the story’s attic space has the power to be communicative, in dreadful and damaging ways, with the rest of the house. This parallels the way in which a toilet inexorably conveys its sounds of splashing and flushing to the rest of a small apartment…
the wires picked up sympathetic vibrations. It must have been frightful — I could hear the screams up here in spite of all I was seeing and hearing from another direction […] it was rather awful to find those empty heaps of clothes around the house.
Here we can note the association of “vibrations” (as in the clanking and flushing of an old-fashioned toilet) with the later discover of empty (and possibly soiled) female clothing. Lovecraft, who had long been living with his female relatives, one possibly not sane, could have suffered similar experiences as an adolescent.
At the end of the story, the hero shoots the machine, revealing its fragile nature, for it seems a single bullet can smash it into a great many pieces, rather as if it were a ceramic toilet bowl…
the noxious machine which now lay hopelessly shattered on the laboratory floor
The villain Tillinghast again echoes the toilet in his wish to escape from the ‘daily motion’ undertaken on the domestic toilet, and the consequent ‘peering into the bottom’ of the pan, when he says that they will together…
without bodily motion peer to the bottom of creation
He might even be interpreted elsewhere as referring to the dreadful social “disintegration” that could be caused if one farted in a genteel sitting room, when Tillinghast warns…
Stirring, dear sir? I told you it was dangerous to move.
Finally, there is also an interesting historical association with the toilet and ‘reading in solitude’, although I can see no smear of it in the bowl of the story. But it is interesting to note that it used to be common to place entertaining ‘reading matter’ in the lavatory to pass the time while waiting for a bowel movement…
‘Reading during the ritual of the toilet […] has a long but mostly unrecorded history.’ — Holbrook Jackson, The Anatomy of Bibliomania, 2001.
This is indeed an ancient association, for the 12th century Life of Saint Gregory describes the toilet as…
a retiring place where tablets can be read without interruption.
Then there is the newspaper, which in ‘cut up’ form was once commonly used in toilets in place of the modern toilet paper, and thus was another means of reading even when books were not present in a toilet. Chapbooks were also commonly used as toilet paper in Colonial times in America (see Spufford, Small Books and Pleasant Histories, Cambridge University Press 1981, pp. 48-49).
Arthur Jean Cox (1964), “Lovecrap”, The Lovecraftsman, No.3 (Spring 1964). (On scatalogical references in Lovecraft)
Benidickson, Jamie (2007). The Culture of Flushing: a social and legal history of sewage. UBC Press, 2007.
Dawson, Jim (1998). Who Cut the Cheese? : A Cultural History of the Fart. Ten Speed Press, 1998.
Hodding Carter, W. (2007). Flushed : How the Plumber Saved Civilization. Atria, 2007.
Noren, Laura (2010). Toilet : Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing. NYU Press, 2010.
Horn, L. Julie (2000). The Porcelain God : A Social History of the Toilet. Citadel, 2000.
Ogle, Maureen (1996). All the Modern Conveniences : American household plumbing, 1840-1890. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
Wright, Lawrence (2005). Clean and Decent: The Fascinating History of the Bathroom and the Water-Closet. Penguin, 2005.
Thornton Williams, Marilyn (1991). Washing ‘The Great Unwashed’: Public Baths in Urban America, 1840-1920. Ohio State University Press, 1991 [Available online. Has much to say on the ‘germ theory’ that Lovecraft would have been raised with]
Assignment Eight, Vacation Necronomicon School: “Restless Nights” (Hypnos).
Your assignment today […] Knowing Lovecraft’s history [of childhood nightmares] it seems natural that he would make nightmares a recurrent theme in his work. Both of today’s selections […] concern the territory of sleep and dreams. Pick either reading assignment, then examine Lovecraft’s use of dreams as a theme, starting from the story you choose..
Loveman as a source for “Hypnos”
Hypnos was the Greek god of sleep, portrayed in the 19th century as a youth sleeping together with his older brother Thanatos (who is Death, but specifically the ‘good death’ of a quiet parting). Both were the sons of the goddess Nyx (Night). In literature, Forrest Reid’s Demophon (1927) gives a vivid updating of Hesiod’s original classical depiction of Hypnos…
Through the soundless twilight he could see into a cavern, where on a great throne of ebony, strewn with black feathers, Hypnos lay asleep. His pale limbs were relaxed, and on each side of him were empty dream shapes…
The cave is sometimes described (as by Ovid, Metamorphoses Book XI, ‘The House of Sleep’) as surrounded by opium poppies. Hypnos originally appears to have been described as winged, and as having black feathers, although later classical statuary of him seems conventionally human apart from cherub-like wings. This statuary is presumably why Reid can call him ‘pale’. His brother Death was originally white, although remnants of red feathers have recently been detected on one of his statues (classical statues were once heavily decorated and painted, and what we have now are mostly just the plain and pale marble with occasional flakes of paint).
Lovecraft’s extensive early reading on dreams and dream-lore, as well as on Greek and Roman mythology, no doubt meant that he was familiar with the name Hypnos from an early age. Perhaps Lovecraft was also aware of the portrayal of Hypnos in the visual arts. John William Waterhouse’s painting “Sleep and his Half-brother Death” (1874) is perhaps the most famous 19th century example of the portrayal of Hypnos and Thanatos, here shown as distinctly feather-less youths …
For now, just note the poppies in the hand of Hypnos. These feature as a potent grace-note at the end of Lovecraft’s story “Hypnos” and I will discuss them further later.
Lovecraft’s choice of Hypnos for the story now seems rather apt and timely, in relation to his own personal life…
Hypnos dwelled in the underworld with his mother. — Scott Littleton. Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology: Volume 1, p.709)
His home was in a cave […] Here it was always dark and misty — Michael Grant, Who’s Who in Classical Mythology, p.278.
At the time of writing the story Lovecraft was about to emerge from his dark reclusive hermitry of depression and the misty coast of Providence, and also from the shadow of his mother who had died less than a year before “Hypnos” was written. Also like Lovecraft, Hypnos was deemed to have “hundreds of sons” (in Lovecraft’s case, chastely surrogate ‘grandsons’ such as the gay Robert H. Barlow) involved in the inculcation of dreams — most prominent among these for Hypnos were the trio: Phantasos (animator of inanimate things in dreams); Morpheus (bringer of dreams, and animator of images of people in dreams); and Phobetor (bringer of nightmares, and animator of animals in dreams).
“Hypnos” was written around March 1922, just as Lovecraft was being enticed into his first-ever visit to the city of New York in April 1922. For the first time he would actually meet Samuel Loveman, his closest friend (by correspondence). The original dedication of “Hypnos” was to Samuel Loveman, although this dedication did not appear in either the May 1923 publication of the story in National Amateur, or in its appearance in the bumper 1924 May-June-July issue of Weird Tales.
Lovecraft then took the manuscript of “Hypnos” with him to New York in April 1922, met Loveman face-to-face for the first time, and read his new story to Loveman — who then told Lovecraft it was the best piece he had ever written. Lovecraft said the same about Loveman’s then-unpublished and uncompleted poem The Hermaphrodite. The two men shared an apartment during the stay, and Lovecraft’s letters state that these intimate works were read aloud, but not in the company of others. The Hermaphrodite would eventually be first published in 1926 in a limited run of 350 copies. As published, this has a section titled “Talent” which has a line in it strongly reflecting the theme of “Hypnos”…
I, who have neither hell nor paradise,
Breathe speech and beauty into hearts of stone.
One wonders if this was inserted after hearing Lovecraft read his “Hypnos”, a story about a sculptor who seems to breathe life into his own sculpture?
The story “Hypnos” would have appealed to Loveman on several levels, beyond the simple dedication. Loveman was a gay man who must have been acutely sensitive to art and literature with homoerotic undertows, and who was also deeply learned in the history of Ancient Greece and its poetry and myths. “Hypnos” is undeniably a story that depicts a deep and intimate and exclusive homosocial bond between two men, in which the beloved is (in the end) deemed to be ‘impossible’ in the eyes of English society even while society gazes upon his beauty — a conundrum not unlike the wider civilisational uses made of Ancient Greece while its attitudes to and practice of homosexuality were simultaneously denied. At the level of detail, the story also seems very open to speculation about the extent to which its several distinct touches of homoeroticism are ‘knowing’ or not.
One wonders if it was from Loveman that Lovecraft learned of the love of Hypnos for Endymion, a shepherd boy, since the story is clearly patterned on this version of the myth. Gay pioneer Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs had in 1879 pointed out that the Greek poet Licymnius of Chios…
‘suggests that it was the god Hypnos (Sleep) who loved [the shepherd boy] Endymion and lulled him to sleep with his eyes open so that the god might forever gaze into them.’ — GTBTQ Encylopaedia, “Endymion” (originally from Research on the Riddle of Man-Manly Love (1879) by Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs, and again in A Problem in Greek Ethics (1883) by John Addington Symonds.
‘But Hypnos much delighted
In the bright beams which shot from his eyes,
And lulled the youth [Endymion] to sleep with unclosed lids.’ — Licymnius, Athenaeus (1854), giving Licymnius, translated by C.D. Yonge who gives the poem together with a frank discussion of Greek homosexuality.
Clearly this source would then play into the fact that Lovecraft and Loveman were then about to ‘have sight’ of each other. In respect of Licymnius’s line “the bright beams which shot from his eyes” it is then very interesting that Lovecraft draws a special and foreshadowing attention to what he calls the “burning eyes” of Hypnos…
“wildly luminous black eyes”
“the black, liquid, and deep-sunken eyes open in terror”
In the later part of the story Lovecraft even has a beam of light shooting into the eyes of Hypnos…
“a shaft of horrible red-gold light — a shaft which bore with it no glow to disperse the darkness, but which streamed only upon the recumbent head of the troubled sleeper […] “I followed the memory-face’s mad stare along that cursed shaft of light to its source”
The red-gold nature of this light might be a further indication of Lovecraft’s knowledge of the Hypnos-Endymion myth, since…
‘This [Hypnos-Endymion] myth led to the association of sunset with Endymion, who was seen as the setting sun’ — Christopher Dewdney, Acquainted With the Night : excursions through the world after dark (2005).
‘the name ‘Endymion’ refers specially to the dying or setting sun’ — Hélène Adeline Guerber, Myths of Greece and Rome, 1938.
The setting sun does, of course, have a… “red-gold light” and cannot “disperse the darkness”. Once one knows this version of the myth and the origins of the name, then this part of the story would seem to be clearly inspired by the myth of Hypnos looking directly into eyes of Endymion, the beautiful boy who is symbolic of ‘the sunset’.
There is also the story’s notable but brief motif of poppies, also red like the sunset, which appears at the climax of the story…
‘young with the youth that is outside time, and with beauteous bearded face, curved, smiling lips, Olympian brow, and dense locks waving and poppy-crowned.’
… but poppies are also implicitly present throughout the story in the form of the drugs taken, since opiate drugs are derived from poppies. Poppies are found in connection with Hypnos at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in which there is apparently on display a certain carved sculpture of Hypnos, one of several there. Possibly Loveman may even have taken Lovecraft to see it, on that first visit to New York shortly after the writing of “Hypnos”. The carving features Hypnos holding a poppy over Endymion…
‘Hypnos, a bearded winged figure of ugly countenance, however, has been substituted for Night and holds a poppy over the sleeping Endymion. One [also] finds him on the other Endymion sarcophagus in the Metropolitan Museum…’ Millard Meissn, De Artibus Opuscula XL: essays in honor of Erwin Panofsky (1961).
One would love to know if the “ugly countenance” might bear any resemblance to Lovecraft himself, and if Loveman might have remarked on this resemblance in a letter? Sadly there only appears to be a picture of the other, more conventional, carving available online. Possibly the presence of the carving is just a co-incidence.
However that may be, all the other evidence in the text seems to indicate that Lovecraft’s attention had somehow been drawn to Licymnius’s queer version of the love of Hypnos and Endymion, rather than to some general non-queer account of Hypnos, and that he knew the subtler details of it. Given that Loveman was such a classical scholar and also a gay man, one has to assume that this somewhat obscure classical knowledge came from Loveman, and at some time shortly before Lovecraft’s visit to New York and their first actual meeting. If so, then Lovecraft may have been aware of the personal implication of such a revealing, and one then has to wonder if the story “Hypnos” was not partly his gently deflating and coded reply to Loveman’s timid and covert romantic overture? Loveman was then aged 34, and Lovecraft was 31.
Incidentally, Gavin Hallaghan writes that Lovecraft was a fan of at least one story by Ralph Adams Cram, an author who had written a “sometimes homoerotically-themed” 1895 horror story collection titled Spirits Black and White, the title referring to the brothers Hypnos and Death. Cram apparently was part of the Frederick Holland Day circle of homoerotic creative artists and writers, before he found Catholicism. But it appears that Lovecraft was not able to obtain a copy of the by-then very rare book.
Comte, Edward Le (1944). Endymion in England: the literary history of a Greek myth. King’s Crown Press, 1944.
Gross, Kenneth (1993). The Dream of the Moving Statue. Cornell University Press, 1993.
Hersey, George L. (2008). Falling in Love with Statues: Artificial Humans from Pygmalion to the Present. University of Chicago Press, 2008.
McInnis, John. (1990). “Father Images in Lovecraft’s ‘Hypnos'” Fantasy Commentator, 7.1, (Fall 1990), Vol.VII, No.1, pp.41-48. [Lovecraft Centennial Issue]
Stafford, E.J. (1993). “Aspects of Sleep in Hellenistic Culture”. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 38, pp.105–120.
Stoichita, Victor I (2008). The Pygmalion Effect: From Ovid to Hitchcock. University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Whitbread, Thomas B. (2005). “Samuel Loveman : Poet of Eros and Thanatos”, The Fossil, July 2005.