H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Barlow

Toby Frost

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Jan 22, 2008
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#1
I thought this was an interesting article. It concerns a young writer called Robert Barlow, who became a friend of Lovecraft's, and largely wrote "The Night Ocean", a story that Lovecraft revised, and which is one of the most cryptic stories that I've read with which Lovecraft was connected.

It also raises the question of whether Lovecraft was gay. I'm suspicious: it does seem that sooner or later, anyone who didn't like a fecund life, surrounded by wife and children like a Dickens hero, is alleged to have been gay, as if this answers everything. It strikes me as a bit too easy an answer, especially when dealing with people like Lovecraft who were definitely complicated and probably very neurotic, no matter what.

Anyway, it's worth a look.

The Complicated Friendship of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Barlow, One of His Biggest Fans
 

Extollager

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Aug 21, 2010
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#2
Well said, Toby, and thanks for passing on the article.

I think it is our own time that is abnormal, in that we chatter constantly about sexual activity, speculate about it, politicize it, etc. Of course sexuality is central to humanness, but our way, since Freud, of focusing on it is, from an historical perspective, eccentric. Our understanding of times different from ours is often impaired.

It would be worthwhile to try to see Lovecraft from, say, an eighteenth-century perspective, to mention the period in English history that HPL himself was attracted to -- let's say the time of Pope and Johnson.

They would see a single man with very little money, with almost no social credentials -- he didn't graduate from high school, didn't establish himself in the business world. He was not a good-looking person. I have the impression that his voice wasn't pleasing. And so on. There would be no wonder, then, about the matter that he didn't court women, and there is nothing to suggest that Lovecraft collected art or literary works indicating an erotic interest in boys or men. The 18th-century observer would be impressed by Lovecraft's imagination, his facility for knocking out witty couplets, his capacity for literary conversation and letter writing, and might feel that he could make a living of sorts on the edges of journalism (understood in 1n 18th-century sense as including much more than reporting, but topical verse, essays, fables, biography, etc.).

I don't mean that Lovecraft would have been "normal" in the age of Pope and Johnson, but that they might be in some ways better equipped to size him up justly than we are in the early 21st century, with our peculiar obsessions. Of course, there's one important element that we know about and they didn't, the pulp magazines. I can't imagine Lovecraft without the pulp magazines; it would be like trying to imagine Mary Tyler Moore without television. I'm quite proud of myself for linking HPL and MTM.

 

Toby Frost

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Jan 22, 2008
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#4
Yes, I agree. I think the obsession with viewing everything through sexuality - more importantly, through our definitions of sexuality - probably reflects our society as much as Lovecraft's. In an alternate history, would we wonder if he was secretly bourgeois, Protestant or insufficiently Nordic? This reminds me slightly of the "Was Lincoln gay?" argument that comes up every so often. While it is no longer anywhere near as much a social stigma to be gay in the democratic/Western/you-know-what-I-mean world, it probably still is an admission of failure for a middle-aged man like Lovecraft to be lonely.

While I'm firmly of the view that a person's sex life is very much their own business, I am not convinced that knowing their sexuality is necessarily a key to understanding them. My suspicion is that people compartmentalise their lives to greatly differing degrees, and that the fact a writer ticks (or doesn't tick) a certain box could have a huge to negligible influence on their work. If anything, over the last 20 years, we have as a society become more willing to suggest that what a person does behind closed doors could be quite unusual, and wouldn't necessarily make them a raging sex-fiend (see the otherwise dull characters in 50 Shades of Grey!). On the other hand, stories about people's sex lives sell.
 

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