Lovecraft's America

Discussion in 'H P Lovecraft' started by Extollager, Nov 24, 2010.

  1.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    Here's a book I'd be interested in: if it exists. Can anyone help me out?

    I am interested in a social history of America in the 1920s-30s that would be a rich source for a sense of how people lived. It would not be dry reading about Movements, Currents, etc. but would evoke the felt life of many persons.

    What I am looking for, if this helps, is a book that would do for the States what Juliet Gardiner (The Thirties; Wartime; and now The Blitz) and David Kynaston (Austerity Britain 1945-1951 and, I assume, Family Britain, which I have not yet read) have recently done for Britain during the time that Tolkien was writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, C. S. Lewis was writing Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, and Charles Williams was writing All Hallows' Eve, etc.
  2.  
    Richard--W

    Richard--W writer-director-editor

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    You want to put Lovecraft's life in the larger context of his times? Excellent question. There are many histories of the USA in the 1920s, prohibition histories, jazz age histories, stock market crash histories, and so on. Histories that focus on New England in general and the state of Rhode Island in particular would serve you best. I would email The Rhode Island Historical Society, which is a library as well as a museum and archive of geneology and public records. Ask them which books cover the period and the place. They'd know. Their website is under their name, rihs . org

    Amazon is an endlessly useful resource. I'm not allowed to post links yet but if you search amazon.com under Rhode Island history you'll get many answers.


    Richard
  3.  
    J Riff

    J Riff The Ants are my friends..

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    Man. Think poverty, no refrigerators, no movies. Most people... maybe had an icebox. Shoes were made to last for decades.
  4.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    In Lovecraft's case, poverty definitely; his life was a constant slide into less and less. There were some refrigerators, however, though (like telephones) not that many people had them. Movies, of course, they had... and HPL was -- originally, at least -- quite a follower of them; later he became a bit more choosy, but he always had those he thought highly of, and a few of them influenced him (such as Berkeley Square, which played a part in the development of "The Shadow Out of Time"). (He was a fan of Charlie Chaplin's work, for instance; as well as that of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.; was mightily impressed by the Lon Chaney/Rupert Julian Phantom of the Opera -- the latter half, at least, though he fell asleep during the first part; and very eloquent in his praise of the William Dieterle/Max Reinhardt Midsummer Night's Dream....) Shoes... interesting you should mention that, as he has several passages discussing that point and their durability in his letters to his aunt Lillian in Letters from New York.....

    Dale: I wish I knew enough about various histories of the period to suggest something but, unfortunately, I don't. I should become aware of that, however, as it would be useful for my own work concerning the man....
  5.  
    Richard--W

    Richard--W writer-director-editor

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    Poverty, yes, and the hopelessness, despair, hunger, hardship, the doing without, and the sense of rejection and alienation that comes with it. Something Poe and Lovecraft had in common. Writing and publishing must have seemed like a trivial thing to be doing under the oppression of poverty. There was no help in those days -- no food-stamps, no welfare checks, no unemployment benefits. Life was hard in the 1920s and 1930s before President Roosevelt saved the country with the New Deal.

    Lovecraft must have heard and shared in the sentiment of the 1854 lament by early American songsmith Stephen C. Foster, which surged in popularity after the stock market crash of '29 which plunged so many Americans into poverty, and which became an anthem during the 1930s depression, and was recently revived by Bob Dylan:

    HARD TIMES

    Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears
    While we all sup sorrow with the poor.
    There's a song that will linger forever in our ears,
    Oh, hard times, come again no more.
    'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary.
    Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
    Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door.
    Oh, hard times, come again no more.

    While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay.
    There are frail forms fainting at the door.
    Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say.
    Oh, hard times, come again no more.
    'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary.
    Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
    Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door.
    Oh, hard times, come again no more.

    There's pale drooping maiden who foils her life away
    With a worn out heart, whose better days are o'er.
    Though her voice it would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day,
    Oh, hard times, come again no more.
    'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary.
    Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
    Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door.
    Oh, hard times, come again no more.

    'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary.
    Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
    Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door.
    Oh, hard times, come again no more.

    Home Page | Bob Dylan


    Richard
  6.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    The Bob Dylan version of "Hard Times" (Good As I Been To You album) is pretty great. And I think we may be headed, as a nation, for some hard times.

    I'm interested in a good readable social history for the whole country (1920s-30s) and not specifically for Lovecraft's region (although that too could be interesting). This was the period not only of HPL's major work but was important for the development of science fiction (cf. the anthology edited by Asimov called Before the Golden Age, or Damon Knight's SF of the Thirties, etc.) as a characteristically American form. Some of the "archetypal" sf and fantasy movies (The Lost World, Frankenstein, Things to Come, King Kong, etc.) belong to the period.

    Speaking of movies -- does anyone know if Lovecraft liked the immortal Buster Keaton as well as the magnificent Charlie Chaplin? I would be delighted to learn that he did.
  7.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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  8.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't recall coming across any references to Keaton in HPL's letters; which is a pity. I, too, would like to have known his opinion. As for my own... at least in his best moments (too often he was hobbled by having to follow someone else's vision, especially after the Talmadge affair went so badly) I think, on a strictly artistic level, he could surpass Chaplin....

    Yes, a good, thorough, but readable history of that period would be helpful... though, for my own purposes, it should cover at least the 1880s or 1890s through the beginning of World War II....
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    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    How about Lang's Metropolis? Did HPL know that? I don't find the storyline wholly compelling, but the visuals are often pretty great.
  10.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    And one more query. Did HPL know the work of Harold Lloyd? I won't say he's in the Keaton-Chaplin league, but his films can be great fun, e.g. Safety Last...
  11.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Lloyd he knew about, as he mentions him somewhere in the Selected Letters, I believe; and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he had seen a good bit of his work. I would agree he isn't quite on the Chaplin/Keaton level, but he doesn't miss by much, a fair amount of the time. However, I don't know what HPL thought of him, other than the bare mention of his name.

    As for Metropolis... two things: the new, restored version, from my understanding, may go a long way in rectifying the problems with plot, as that was apparently the first thing to get the axe when the American purchaser for the rights got their hands on it in 1926; and Lovecraft does mention it, having been prompted by both Derleth and Wandrei to see it, but this was at a point where he was going to the cinema very infrequently (in fact, he notes the last film he had seen was the Fairbanks Thief of Bagdad, two years before); but he never mentions it in his still-extant correspondence between them, nor is any mention made in the SL volumes (I haven't gone through all the rest, but I don't recall anything there, either). So chances are he never got to see this one, which is a pity, as I think he would have found much of it imaginatively stimulating, however much he would have balked at the message.
  12.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    Thanks for that information, JDW. I think it's worthwhile from time to time to jolt our (my, anyway) habitual ways of situating authors. You could get the impression from the remarks of some Tolkien fans that that only thing he did, when he wasn't writing or teaching, was drink beer in pubs with C. S. Lewis, and the only things he thought about were his writings and his scholarship. But he was a newspaper reader, if I'm not misremembering, and probably had an opinion on things such as the Cutteslowe Walls. He dug up, or had dug up, a tennis court in his back yard in order to plant vegetables and had a strikingly modern-sounding opinion about what we'd call a locavore diet... and so on. Similarly with HPL. He was a contemporary not only of Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith but of these great comic geniuses, whose work he may well have relished just as the cleaning lady at the five and dime did.
  13.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    PS There's an interesting essay, mostly on Hank Williams, who comes, of course, many years after the Twenties-Thirties, by John Derbyshire, called "The Old Weird America." (The phrase is attributed to Bob Dylan. Derbyshire [and Dylan?] see Williams as kind of a late example of a musician connected to the old weird America.) I think "The Picture in the House," "The Terrible Old Man," and some other HPL stories could connect with that. It isn't so very hard to imagine their plots being turned into verses. Dylan's album World Gone Wrong has two good examples of "old weird America" songs, particularly as he performs them -- "Love Henry" and "Stack a Lee." Is the story of "The Picture" so very unlike these?

    But indeed, there are almost elements of Lovecraft's biography (including his parents' histories) that could connect with the old weird America....
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2010
  14.  
    Richard--W

    Richard--W writer-director-editor

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    You'll find more of "the old weird America" in Dylan's 1967 album with The Band, called The Basement Tapes. Greil Marcus, of Rolling Stone Magazine notoriety, wrote an award-winning analysis of this album and the larger recording sessions out of which it was drawn, its influences and its impact, called ... let me think now ... The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (NYC: Picador Press, 2001):

    Amazon.com: The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (9780312420437): Greil Marcus: Books

    The subject is of course the strains in American folk music rather than narrative fiction, but there is much that correlates.

    Richard
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    Richard--W

    Richard--W writer-director-editor

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    Extoller, as an aside, have you heard Skip James? Specifically a 1964 Vanguard album that remakes his 1930 recording sessions, called The Devil Got My Woman, and the title song of that name. Skip James sang in a voice like a ghost. He's a spooky presence coming out of the stereo speakers. His lyrics came out of the 19th century rural south deep in the heart of the old weird America.

    Charlie Patton is perhaps the very definition of the old weird America insofar as music is concerned. Some of these early delta bluesmen invested their murder ballads and love songs with a dark mystical dimension that curdles the blood today. And of course they learned their craft from the 19th century generation that came before them.

    Not the sort of thing HPL and his contemporaries would have been exposed to, although I'm sure they'd have felt sympatico if they had. I just thought I'd mention it.


    Richard
  16.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    Love the Basement Tapes (both the Columbia release and the more complete recordings that a friend gave me); but don't those two 1990s albums, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong home in more on the old weird America?

    I hope some folk will feel like looking up Derbyshire's essay and seeing if they feel any Lovecraftian connection. I like to refer to this article when I teach Hawthorne's superb story "Roger Malvin's Burial."

    The Old Weird America - John Derbyshire - National Review Online
  17.  
    Richard--W

    Richard--W writer-director-editor

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    Perhaps, in the sense that Dylan covers traditional folk songs some of which are a hundred years old or more, as opposed to composing new ones as he did on The Basement Tapes. However, some of the songs on the 1990s albums hail originally from Ireland ("Jack-A-Roe") and Australia ("Arthur McBride"), so any connection to the old weird America is tenuous at best.

    Thanks for the link. That's a dead-to-rights appraisal of Hank Williams and his world. I'm quite a fan of Hank. I got all the stuff. I had the WJSN radio transcriptions on CD-R's twelve years before they finally got released.

    But I don't feel a Lovecraftian connection, I'm afraid. Hank and HPL are divided by distance (HPL in New England, Hank in the south) and by a generation in time. I just don't see it. For a Lovecraftian connection you'd have to find music from HPL's specific region and from his lifetime. Hank came later.

    Richard
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2010
  18.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    Richard -- W, I must look up Skip James -- all I have is a Newport Folk Festival: Best of the Blues 1959-68 set with a couple of selections.



    This is the set with Robert Pete Williams singing "Levee Camp Blues" and you begin to hear a siren and a dog barking in the distance. Whew
  19.  
    J Riff

    J Riff The Ants are my friends..

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    I wouldn't look to Dylan for anything other than folky 60s rehash- but Patton was the real stuff. Look to R. Crumb for great illustrated histories of the early blues and country musicians. Patton wasn't recorded until way late in his life, but the stories tend to agree that he was the greatest of his time. Of course, he was probably in a few knife fights and slept outside a lot and thus didn't have time to become a teenage rock star.:rolleyes:
  20.  
    Extollager

    Extollager Active Member

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    Richard -- W, I didn't mean that Williams and Lovecraft were connected. It was Derbyshire's piece on Williams, though, that seems to have introduced me to the phrase; a phrase that has helped me get an angle on Lovecraft that is away from the simple pulp weird fiction category, and helped me to consider whether one can think of him in connection with a bygone, unfamiliar-yet-familiar, strange America -- a way that might yield more interesting insights than the well-mined themes of "cosmicism" and so on. Perhaps that's why, a while back, I threw out something about Lovecraft and the great Joseph Mitchell (Up in the Old Hotel). I like (so to speak) to put two or more authors side by side and see if they "talk" to one another. Even if their "conversation" might not last very long, it might be a more interesting one for an old hand (40 years) like me than the more familiar "conversation" "between" or about HPL and Blackwood et al. At the very least, when I associate Lovecraft stories such as "The Picture in the House" with some of the old songs, I feel like that helps me appreciate it a little more.

    Irrelevant aside, but Dylan's "Arthur McBride" performance is something I have a special fondness for. I'm a conservative, but I feel very far from the flag-waving shouting-from-the-bleachers kind of right wing. Whoever wrote "Arthur McBride" may have been a conservative I could talk to with enjoyment!

    My thanks to any Lovecraftians who are patiently enduring all this about Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, etc. I haven't even brought up Flannery O'Connor. But since I just did, I wonder what she'd have thought of "Picture in the House"? She too had loved her Poe, I believe....

    And Poe was, surely, a Southern writer, not a New England writer, and he was HPL's "god of fiction." And I find myself wondering whether it would be worthwhile for a few moments, if more knowledgeable folk than I wanted to, to pick up HPL as in some ways arguably a Southerner-in-spirit.... For sure, if he hadn't been so attached to Providence, one thinks that, with his sensitivity to cold, he could have been a lot more comfortable in the South.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2010

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