Was HPL really a racist?

  1. J-WO

    J-WO Author of The Scalpel (Feral Space Book 1)

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    There's a good mid-war Orwell essay, too, that attacks the English predilection for antisemitism. An underrated and hard to find piece. But one gets the feeling he was banging his head against a brick wall.

    Actually, could some of HPL's Jew-bashing have its roots in his famed Anglophilia? Shakespere, Marlowe, Dickens, Chesterton, Pound, Eliot et al could make antisemitism appear as vital to any educated gentleman as a pouch of rough tobacco.
     
    Jul 29, 2010
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  2. Connavar

    Connavar Well-Known Member

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    I dont really understand the defence of HPL not being racist. I have read many writers and read about many from his times and he is by far the one that screams racist. He can be anti-semite but not racist ?

    There are people from his days that wrote in the feelings of their times, the avreage prejudice of other races and then there is others that are much more. There is no defence for the real racist no matter how much you like his work.

    To me i dont care if he was a racist or if he wasnt, he is a writer from 80 years ago who writes fantastical stories. If he wrote his own Mein Kampf type book it would be another matter.

    You can be a fan of a writer but still not hide from the truth of the faults of the man behind the writer. This thread is full of fan POV of the writer and not the man.
     
    Jul 29, 2010
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  3. Tinsel

    Tinsel Science fiction fantasy

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    Houdini was trained to escape everything except his Jewish reputation. Now there was Lovecraft who survived many Jewish wars. I remember something about there being a story of his that he wrote after meeting Houdini. It is now missing. Surely Dagon took it.

    Come on now, H.P. Lovecraft was a good man. As the OP said, we read it out of context. Anyway, you can't escape like him; Houdini.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2010
    Jul 29, 2010
    #43
  4. mosaix

    mosaix Shropshire, U.K.

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    There were people 'of his time' that weren't racist, as J.D. has said and they were just as much a product 'of their times' as he was.
     
    Jul 29, 2010
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  5. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    Huh? "Jewish wars"?
     
    Jul 29, 2010
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  6. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    My sentiments exactly.

    Tinsel... what you are referring to is the story "Under the Pyramids" (a.k.a. "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs"), and the story was not lost; the typescript he had prepared for submission to Weird Tales was; he and Sonia spent their honeymoon retyping the thing as it was already behind deadline due to this, with HPL typing while Sonia read from his autograph mansuscript. But the story itself is widely available even today....

    And I'm sorry but, as much as I love HPL's work and admire the man in general, anyone who holds the position that calling his views racist is "taking things out of context" is simply speaking from a position of ignorance. The man did get vicious about it at times; that is an undeniable fact. It is one of the few true blemishes on his character, but it is as unavoidable as his atheism or the fact he wrote horror fiction and fantasy instead of romances. Those who claim HPL was a secret occultist are talking through their hats; the same is true with those who have read up on the subject and still deny how pervasive his racist views are, not only in his letters and even some of his essays, but his fiction as well. (E.g., "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "The Horror at Red Hook", etc. The first should really be read in conjunction with his early verse, "New England Fallen" to get the true impact of just how much these views are related to that tale of a decaying New England seaport....)
     
    Jul 29, 2010
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  7. Tinsel

    Tinsel Science fiction fantasy

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    I sir have read some of the stories in the first book of the Penguin edition. There are a few references to color but nothing too shocking to report. If H.P. Lovecraft was a racist than it must be apparent in his letters. I did not read any of those, although I did hear an excerpt where Howard talked openly with Lovecraft taken from Howard's Horror Stories. Beyond that I can't think of anything to base a discussion on the readers sensitivity where ethnicity is to blame.
     
    Jul 29, 2010
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  8. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    No offense was intended, but I must stand by my statement. Anyone claiming that HPL did not have strongly racist views either is reading him with blinders on or is ignorant of the facts (i.e., has not read enough of his work to be aware of them). These views are rife in such tales as "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "The Horror at Red Hook", "He", "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", "The Terrible Old Man", etc., and somewhat less obtrusive but still noticeable in such pieces as The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, "The Doom That Came to Sarnath", and even -- as several scholars and critics have shown -- At the Mountains of Madness (where one would, on the surface, least expect it). ("Innsmouth" is, as I indicated above, basically a weird story version of "New-England Fallen" with its warnings of the dangers of immigration and miscegenation.)

    His verse makes it even more obvious, with several of his political verses ("New-England Fallen", "On a New-England Village Seen by Moonlight", "To Gen. Pancho Villa", etc.) and satires... not to mention the infamous "On the Creation of Niggers", written early on. And, of course, his letters are peppered with such comments as the following, which I have quoted elsewhere:

    This is from a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, describing Lovecraft's trip to New York's East Side, dated 21 March 1924, and it is hardly the most vituperative such statement he made. His diatribes against the black poet and literary critic William Stanley Braithwaite is jaw-droppingly offensive, and was so even in his own day. Lovecraft's friends would indeed call him on such things (Kleiner did so as early as 1915 or 1916), and even his conservative, ethnophobic aunt was taken aback by some of his statements in letters to her he wrote while in New York.

    So there really is no way around it: Lovecraft was indeed a racist, even by the standards of his time. Pretending he wasn't in order to misguidedly support his memory or his writings does the man no service, as even the most partisan of Lovecraftian scholars are aware. This is evidenced by the fact that S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz have not toned down such passages in the collections of his letters which they have been editing for publication for the past two or three decades, but are confident that Lovecraft and his work are strong enough to stand the unflinching scrutiny of posterity, warts and all; a sentiment with which I most heartily agree.

    Plenty has been written on the subject, from Barry L. Bender's "Xenophobia in the Life and Writings of H. P. Lovecraft" (Lovecraft Studies issues 4-5), to Maurice Lévy's Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic (translated by S. T. Joshi), to (most recently) Michel Houellebecq's H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (trans. by Dorna Khazeni), and Robert H. Waugh's brilliant The Monster in the Mirror: Looking for H. P. Lovecraft (one of the most challenging and meaty books of literary criticism I have come across in some time).

    The time is long past when it was either necessary or desirable to ignore or deny such tendencies in a literary figure of such stature as H. P. Lovecraft. To do so at this point only prolongs the his ghettoization rather than acceptance in the same arena as other figures with such "warts" as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, H. G. Wells, John Buchan, Edgar Allan Poe, and the like....
     
    Jul 30, 2010
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  9. clovis-man

    clovis-man Prehistoric Irish Cynic

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    Interesting discussion. I just now stumbled across it. In the first half of the last century, nobody seemed to be bashful about making racist remarks. Consider Joseph Conrad and "The Nigger of the Narcissus". Abraham Merritt, a rough contemporary of HPL was fond of demonizing other ethnic groups. Shoot, W.C. Fields once remarked about suspecting there was "an Ethiopian in the fuel supply." And that's just the stuff that's out front.

    In high school, I was acquainted with a number of African American students whom I genuinely liked and admired. I'll be seeing some of them next week at my 50th reunion. I never believed (at the time) that there was any discrimination in "our fair city". One of my friends said to me: "Oh yeah? Just try to get a haircut in this town if you're me." Some things you just have to live through to become truly aware.
     
    Jul 30, 2010
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  10. Tinsel

    Tinsel Science fiction fantasy

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    Any racist terms are uncomfortable to some readers so they get rid of them by replacing them with less inflammatory language, but actual racism can not exist very easily because it typically relies on inequitable social, economic, and political factors, so all of this is not really very important because they can just change a few words or leave out one or two stories and the rest are good. These are very good stores, they are well written. It is worth reading them, based on book one of the Penguin Edition which is what I myself am using. I must read another story soon.
     
    Jul 30, 2010
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  11. dustinzgirl

    dustinzgirl Mod of Awesome

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    Ok so like ONE person

    :)

    I'm moreless making a commentary on the nature of society....people tend to dislike what they are told to dislike....we've only barely shifted that sentiment.

    PS: Dawkins, lol.

    @Tin--

    Racism can not exist because we are technically all one race. The use of the term racist by any pigment, heritage, or sociocultural history is only furthering the lie used to promote racism...that we are different races....race is a term only applied to humans and it only means that we have different indicator genotypes for physical features...in society race is used as racism to express disdain for what is believed to be a seperate subspecies---but we don't have subspecies (roll over, Darwin) we have DNA differences which are not possible to quanitify without actually looking at the genetic differences in a microscope.....we only know differences by the physical characteristics....

    We all came from Eden anyways, and that was where Sub-Sahara Africa is now. (I added that in there JUST for JD).
     
    Jul 30, 2010
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  12. Tinsel

    Tinsel Science fiction fantasy

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    Well if you want to go that far back into the argument than I would have to agree that we are all made from dust, be it the dust that the creator used or the star dust that formed as energy cooled off after Lovecraft threw down his pen.

    More can inserted into the text because it is a type of writing that contains answers for the introspective interpretation, which is easily racist. In which case racism has a private jurisdiction.
     
    Jul 30, 2010
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  13. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Actually, Dustie, Darwin raised the topic of different races and discussed it, only to come to the conclusion that there is no such thing, for that very reason: we are all evolutionary divisions of the same species: whatever adaptations there are, any criteria for truly separate "races" or species simply aren't met.

    Incidentally, this is why I tend to substitute the terms "ethnos" and "ethnocentrism" when referring to these things; but as "racism" is the term in general use and, more specifically, the subject of this thread, I have stuck with that label in this context.

    However, Tinsel, "racism", prejudice, or bigotry, even quite virulent types of these, can and do exist without any of the aspects you mention; and in literature it is a very common thing to encounter. And no, they can't just "change a few words", etc., because these sentiments are at the core of such stories. Lovecraft chose his words very carefully, painstakingly, almost to the point of obsession. If you read his work carefully in different editions, where there have been editorial changes or simple mistakes, you will find that changing even the least word tends to have important impact on shifting the reading (meaning or significance) of the story as a whole. This is not always true of modern writers, but with Lovecraft it was very much the case.

    And, as I indicated above, if you read his work critically, then the subject of ethnophobia is very much an integral part to his entire corpus; it isn't "a few stories", it is actually present in a significant number, often those which are his very best. He used his own fears, repulsions, dislikes, and concerns to inform his work (as any worthwhile artist will do), and, however much we may dislike admitting it, this is a major factor in why his stories work.
     
    Jul 30, 2010
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  14. nigourath

    nigourath Well-Known Member

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    Well,it really felt like my ...time to intervene,but i don"t feel HPL"s views ,about mankind and all its races and ethnic subgroups ,where any different, than the "supposedly ones", by Cthulhu and the star-spawn "old ones",which, pretty much, create a sense of equality and balance between them:A sentient bio-product -and that even by a mistake -wholly compromised, by the amount of its incapabilities and destined to extinct at some time...or exploited or even shaped ,by other, far more intelligent species,with no special preferences for a kind of predilection.
    Therefore ,i don"t see ,how -in the name of any planet-he could be a racist....
     
    Jul 30, 2010
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  15. Wolf873

    Wolf873 Well-Known Member

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    Well whatever he might have been, he was certainly a great writer and I have always appreciated him as such. I tend not to go beyond what he/she does professionally, if they do great work, it's fine by me.
     
    Jul 30, 2010
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  16. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Dustie: I meant to add this note earlier, but was running late in getting off to work: The reason I included that link to the Dawkins speech was that he was dealing with examples of what we are talking about here -- the shift in perception as to what is "racist" and what is not, what is morally acceptable in views of various ethnologies, and what is now considered in quite a different light; and he gives specific examples of very intelligent, even progressive, thinkers who held some views which we would call simply appalling. As I said, in partial support of your point, in fact.

    As for it being "one person"... in the context of this thread, as I have noted, several of HPL's acquaintances, friends, or relatives, called him on his views, so they were not infrequently extreme even given the period he lived. In part, they came from his early reading of such classical writers as Juvenal, in part from William Benjamin Smith's racist tract, The Color Line: A Brief in Behalf of the Unborn, which he read (apparently) shortly after it came out. (For anyone interested, I provide a link to this book below. We know that Lovecraft read this one, as he dedicated a poem, "De Triumpho Naturae: The Triumph of Nature Over Northern Ignorance", in which he took the position that blacks were better off as slaves and that by freeing them the North had condemned them to extinction, to Smith, citing him as the author of this piece.) And, in part, it came from his early adoption of the Aryan myth, which he held to to the end of his days.

    Which brings me to nigourath's point. No, his views were, when it comes to this, hardly as objective and cosmic as those of his Old Ones. He made it enormously plain throughout his letters that he viewed the white as the supreme evolutionary achievement when it came to humankind, and bluntly stated on more than one occasion that he saw the African negro and Australian aborigine as halted somewhere on the evolutionary ladder between apedom and humanity. His description of Buck Robinson, "The Harlem Smoke", in "Herbert West -- Reanimator", follows this view:

    And, while he was much gentler in his mention of "Old Asa and his stout wife Hannah" in Ward, nonetheless the best that can be said for this is that it is paternalistic rather than simply vitriolic. Ditto for the Italians in "The Haunter of the Dark", where, while they are a benevolent influence, they are nonetheless viewed as superstitious, ignorant, and little above the level of sensitive beasts, as opposed to, say, the protagonist Robert Blake, or the "charmed circle" of the Yankees in old Providence. Then there are the decidedly racist terms used throughout "The Call of Cthulhu", "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family", the descriptions of the men of Parg in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, the relationship between blacks and shoggoths, especially concerning the slaves' uprising, in At the Mountains of Madness... the list goes on and on.

    This is not a cosmic view at all, but a distinctly human one, and one which draws harshly invidious distinctions between the various ethnic categories of the species Homo sapiens. It is obvious that Lovecraft, whether using the voice of first-person or omniscient narrators, sympathizes with his old Yankee stock, and, more broadly, English, Nordic, or "Aryan" (by which he meant the classic Teutonic image so familiar to us all), over all the other subdivisions of humankind. Those which had the misfortune to be isolated and retrogress (like Joe Slater, the inhabitants of Dunwich, or the shanty-dwellers of "The Lurking Fear"), are viewed as "simple animals", only barely accorded the categorization of humanity, though not without a rather concescending sort of sympathy.

    And all this is in the fiction alone. When one includes his poetry, there are even stronger bigoted terms; ditto for some of his essays; and his letters fairly teem at times with things which would make him a total social outcast these days. His comments on Jews, blacks, Italians, Finns, French-Canadians (until he had traveled in Canada at least, at which point he gained a much higher respect and even a degree of liking for them), Mexicans, Indians (eastern, not Native Americans, for whom he did evince a -- again, condescending -- sympathy, interestingly enough), Poles, Slavs, and just about any other ethnic grouping one can name, ranged from amused to contemptuous to (at his worst) outright virulent hatred.

    He did not tend to put these views into action (save through supporting immigration restrictions), but he was very much outspoken, admitting -- somewhat proudly, in fact -- in an early letter that he had gained a reputation as an anti-Semite during his school years. And, even though he did indeed soften quite a bit toward his final years, he continued to rant and rail against various ethnic groups off and on, and frequently in extremely pejorative terms. I'm sorry, but that is anything but as removed and "godlike" a view as his alien entities might (with considerable justice) view the human race as a whole as little better than bacteria or upstart bipeds.

    I don't wish to bash HPL on this; I don't see any purpose in that. But I do think it is important to stop whitewashing him and pretending that these ethnophobic views, which were a very important part of his personality and which in fact in one way or another (and in conjunction with his views on evolution) drove no little of his creative output, were either not there or have been exaggerated by those with negative feelings toward the man. As I have made abundantly clear time and again, Lovecraft remains my favorite writer; in most ways I admire him as a human being as well; he was, generally speaking, truthful, kind, enormously generous, intelligent, as fast a friend as one could ask for, and simply, in the main, a good person. But he did have some very unpalatable views, and held to them like grim death, even in the face of evidence to the contrary -- this being about the only case in which he did so. It should also be said that, despite his views, if he were to see any member of these various ethnos in need, he would quite likely be among the first to render whatever aid he could. That may seem contradictory, but as history has shown us time and again, the human mind is more than capable of simultaneously holding many mutually contradictory ideas or impulses; Lovecraft, in this case, was no different.

    But I would urge those who qualify, deny, or ignore this aspect and then choose to argue that he didn't hold such views, to take off the blinders and actually read his works fresh, with open eyes. Once one has done that, such a position simply can't be held with any degree of justice whatsoever.

    And here is the link to Smith's treatise:

    http://www.archive.org/details/colorlinethe00smitrich
     
    Jul 30, 2010
    #56
  17. kiskadee

    kiskadee Member

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    HP lovecraft was not a racist. But in today's age of political correctness, people cringe at his work.
     
    Oct 20, 2010
    #57
  18. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Sorry, but Lovecraft was a racist. If you read his work -- especially his letters and essays -- with any attention, it is rather glaringly obvious. Hell, HPL himself said as much, noting his strong anti-Semitism, in a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner. As I have noted elsewhere, even S. T. Joshi stopped arguing against this position more than twenty years ago, and before that had come to use the term "racialist" for at least ten years.

    This view has nothing to do with political correctness, but it does have to do with an honest assessment of the man's strengths and faults. This was, sadly, very much one of his faults. And, as I've said before, denying things like this does HPL and his reputation no good; it simply points up the tendency to whitewash our hero rather than see him as the three-dimensional human being he was....
     
    Oct 20, 2010
    #58
  19. dask

    dask dark and stormy knight

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    Twice in "Herbert West --- Reanimator" HPL used terms I thought unusually harsh and if he really wasn't a racist he probably would have used a little more creativity (if not taste) in his choice of descriptions. But the period in which he lived, indeed, if not the history of this country up until fairly recent times is one where not being a racist was generally considered being politically incorrect.
     
    Oct 22, 2010
    #59
  20. kiskadee

    kiskadee Member

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    I still do not think HP was a racist.
    Also if you think about it we are all inherently racial, as it is often human's natural tendency to associate certain characteristics to various groups of people.

    He was simply an artist, freely writing without being too concerned what people may think. He let his imagination, his feelings all out.

    Also just a side note, people have accused the band Slayer of being anti Semitic for one of the band members collect items around the holacaust period.
    Also marilyn manson can be a racist because of his song Rock n Roll Nigger.

    All I'm saying is that the term racist can be quite subjective.

    But whatever it is, we certainly all enjoy HP Lovecraft's work.
     
    Oct 23, 2010
    #60
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