Lovecraft, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, and ... ?


Well-Known Member
Aug 21, 2010
J. D. Worthington quoted two passages by H. P. Lovecraft on Joseph Conrad:

My current reading is Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim", and I find it the most vital and important of any of the books on my immediate programme. I had previously read only the shorter and minor productions of Conrad, and was inclined to marvel at the depth and extent of his fame; but having read this volume I marvel no more, but join in the admiring chorus[....] Conrad is at heart supremely a poet, and though his narration is often very heavy and involved, he displays an infinitely potent command of the soul of men and things, reflecting the tides of affairs in an unrivalled procession of graphic pictures which burn their imagery indelibly upon the mind. He feels and expresses as few authors can the prodigious and inhuman tides of a blind, bland universe; at heart indifferent to mankind, but purposefully malignant if measured by the narrow and empirical standard of human teleology. Hardy, as I remarked recently, seems to me vastly overrated; being at bottom ordinary, trite, and a trifle theatrical. But Conrad's reputation is deserved -- he has the sense of ultimate nothingness and the evanescence of illusions which only a master and an aristocrat can have; and he mirrors it forth with that uniqueness and individuality which are genuine art. No other artist I have yet encountered has so keen an appreciation of the essential solitude of the high grade personality -- that solitude whose projected overtones form the mental world of each sensitively organised individual -- which intrusion is powerless to assail and assaltable[???] [sic] only to intensify; which is at once the prison and protection of the proved and complex non-animal soul. Yes -- Conrad is at least one idol of today which is not a "false alarm"; and I think posterity will single him out with a very few companions as one of the supreme voices of the age.
(Letters from New York pp. 136-7)

Naturally it is impossible in brief sketch to trace out all the classic modern uses of the terror element. The ingredient must of necessity enter into all work, both prose and verse, treating broadly of life; and we are therefore not surprised to find a share in such writers as the poet Browning, whose Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came is instinct with hideous menace, or the novelist Joseph Conrad, who often wrote of the dark secrets within the sea, and of the dæmoniac driving power of Fate as influencing the lives of lonely and maniacally resolute men.
(from “Supernatural Horror in Literature”)

Extollager comments:

The first passage in particular is impressive. Of course it is an unconscious (I suppose!) self-portrait. But it is saying several on-target things about Conrad, even though Lovecraft has tackled a perhaps excessively ingenious example of Conrad's art.

I like his remark about the "procession of graphic pictures" and wish we had some comment from HPL on Conrad's Secret Agent, which I suppose is my favorite of his works. (I haven't read all of Conrad by any means, but I suppose I've read the essential stories and novels.) What he says about the "pictures" evokes for me the murky impressionistic imagery of that book, e.g. the coach-horse.

I appreciated his comment on Hardy, too, without quite agreeing with it as a fair comment on the man's best work. Hardy does on occasion overdo it. I think of something on the third page of my old Penguin Classics edition of The Mayor of Casterbridge, in which even the poor bird has to be singing a trite song. Sorry, Tom, but that is just laying it on a bit too thickly. I came near flinging the book away! (But what an impression an earlier reading had made.)

Anyway, I thought it might be worthwhile to open a thread here for discussion of Lovecraft's comments on non-genre authors (authors who are not known primarily as writers of weird tales and fantasy) and, also, discussion of non-genre authors, whether remarked on by Lovecraft or not, who might seem to have affinities with his leading attitudes. With his comments on Conrad he has shown the way.

It might be best to restrict discussion to authors who had written by HPL's day, but I'll violate that and throw out, if it's worth anything, a comment on Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The Road as Lovecraftian weird tale? Yes, I think that might work, particularly if one considers the non-specificity of the catastrophe's origin. Are we quite sure it is the result of human warfare? Is it arguable, at least, that there is nothing in the story to preclude a cosmic origin for it? I don't think McCarthy holds to a Lovecraftian philosophy; it may even be that he holds to some form of broadly Christian understanding. But I think HPL would likely have been fascinated by this book. It is one of the most compelling exercises in weird narration that I have ever read.
I don't wish to take up too much time here, but I will throw out a couple of things: Lovecraft, once he got past his initial prejudice against French writers, became quite captivated with many of them, including Balzac, Gautier, Baudelaire, Huysmans, Flaubert, and Merrimee... and by no means just by their weird works. He was highly impressed by their analysis of human character and the power they gave to the universal symbolism of their presentations; even when (as with Huysmans) he felt that the work itself represented a narrower branch of human psychology, he felt that they had reached a remarkable achievement. He finally stated that, following his favorite English, American, and classical Latin writers, the French caught his admiration more than any other.

The other is Lovecraft's ability to appreciate artistic representations of views other than his own. While he did not much care for the more benevolent aspects of occultism or mysticism in Blackwood's work, he did feel that Blackwood was at the very pinnacle of presenting a truly mystical view of the world and the universe, and also found Machen's presentations in some of his works of great power. (I happen to somewhat disagree where Blackwood is concerned... I find a few, at least, of his "lighter" pieces to be as captivating in their own way.) His views on such things are often complex, as he could scorn the actual philosophy while praising the artistry of its handling, when merited....

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