Actually, even by the standards of his day, he was a pretty horrible racist. Try reading his letters, not just his fiction.
To be clear, when saying that he wasn’t hiding racist attitudes, I was not implying that he wasn’t exhibiting any!
Perhaps I will sometime. I have never read any of his letters. They might give my armchair psychoanalysis a kick in the pants.
For Lovecraft, “degenerate” pretty much meant “not properly Anglo-Saxon.” In Call of Cthulhu, the “cultists” are all pretty explicitly described as various kinds of not-white.
You can read a selection of juicy quotes in “The ‘N’ Word Through The Ages- The ‘Madness’ of H.P.Lovecraft”.
Wow. Thanks for that link…if people defending him read it, I think any argument is over. I realized he was a racist, but I will revise my earlier “in some ways he was more racist than most people” to “his racism would make the KKK blush”.
Still a genius, but damn.
Not entirely on topic of eugenics, but sort of on the broader topic of ‘exploring the racist elements of Lovecraft’s work in different ways’ is “The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys, a novelette at http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/05/the-litany-of-earth-ruthanna-emrys that sort of takes the idea that Innsmouth was a raid by overreacting gov’t freaking out at the notion of the Mythos and not able to distinguish the more-or-less peaceful people for whom it’s just part of their culture/religion and the crazies who might use it to try to destroy the world, and a Deep One descendant of that raid trying to decide whether to accept an offer to work for the government and build bridges and combat the real threats. I thought it was worth a read.
I was about to post that link. It’s well worth reading. Lovecraft’s explicit racism always nagged at me; as it turns out, he was worse in “real life” than he was in his fiction.
I think the reason I could bear to read Lovecraft was that his protagonists were generally flawed human beings with the narrowly defined conventional world-views of their time and place; it was fairly easy to take their racism as part of the package. The racism of the omniscient narration stuck rather more.
I was about to post something very similar!
As a person of mixed-race myself, I find Lovecraft’s racial views to be gutsplittingly hilarious in both their neurotic small-mindedness, as well as their charged, baroque delivery.
Yeah, I agree. Now I kinda want to resurrect his corpse, dress him in a nice suit, and introduce him to Cornel West, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Clarence Thomas, and Barack Obama, and watch his squamous head explode in a shower of ichor and short-circuited grey matter.
“Gawd knows what they are – … – a bastard mess of stewing mongrel
flesh without intellect, repellent to the eye, nose, and imagination
would to heaven a kindly gust of cyanogen could asphyxiate the whole
gigantic abortion, end the misery, and clean out the place.”
If you’d be willing to talk about it here I’d love to hear something about how the HPL fan world has reacted to your book. I’ve seen some remarkably foul responses to anything criticizing Lovecraft, including a leading Lovecraft novelty maker publicly attacking a Kickstarter for the slightest hint that the book addressed HPLs racism.
True, that quote springs from repellent racism, but I’m still tempted to clip and save it for future use. I’d snip out “mongrel” but otherwise I can think of a few organizations worthy of such invective.
The Lovecraft fan world per se has been pretty quiet on the subject of Eutopia. One reason for that might of course be that the book isn’t explicitly Lovecraftian; rather, it’s an attempt to address Lovecraftian themes, and it borrows a little of the aesthetic. So it’s not a direct challenge to the Cthulhu mythos. But I have to admit that I had hoped the book would become a part of the conversation about race, religion and politics in the Lovecraftian fannish circles; was pleased to the small extent that it has; and felt a little dismayed, frankly, that it’s a conversation the broader fan community doesn’t seem to want to have very much. I wrote about that–a little sulkily, in retrospect–in the blog post that Cory linked to in the review.
But aside from having failed in its ambitions to become the To Kill A Mockingbird of the Mythos set, Eutopia has had a fairly smooth run of it. A lot of readers seem to have connected with it just as a novel, which is what you hope for as an author. And those readers who dislike it don’t generally feel that way because of its critique of their favourite author, or at least they don’t say so on Goodreads. I honestly got more grief from that blog post and even that was pretty mild.
So, since you’re here, can you talk a little bit about the sort of research you did for this book - other than reading Lovecraft. Were you reading up on the eugenics movement more generally? Who specifically were you reading from that time? Did you read lots of secondary sources or did you just focus on the primary sources and draw your own conclusions?
I’m always kind of interested in how fiction writers employ primary sources in their work…
My main resource was War Against The Weak by Edwin Black. It is a phenomenally good, in-depth history of the American eugenics movement, and it really let me into that world. I didn’t do a lot of in-depth primary source research, but the biblography of War… sent me to a lot of places. I did a fair bit of research on period medicine, mostly from secondary sources but also running some of the ideas past medical professionals. There was a fair bit of brain-picking going on throughout the process. I took an interest in parasitology, aided by my friend Peter Watts–who was doing a post-doc on the subject at the University of Toronto during the writing and editing. For period and geography, I went back to the books, drawing a great deal from the Oxford History of the American West. I spoke with my father, who was a landscape painter that spent a lot of time in logging country, looking at old sawmills and such, to get the sense of how a mill town might look and feel (for how one operated, I was reduced to historical pieces online and other sources I didn’t keep good track of). I read some bits of The Virginian, to absorb the romanticism of the West, which was an important theme of the book. And I have to admit, I re-watched a lot of Deadwood to keep my aesthetic compass-needle pointed in the historical-horror-sf-equivalent direction of due north…
Cool- thanks for sharing! I know the process of writing history and writing novels are pretty different, but I think that of all the humanities, history is the most story based discipline, even when it’s deeply analytical. And I like to use stories and novels when I teach and I’ve even used a lovercraft short story in class once or twice.
I’m looking forward to reading this. It’s not my topic/time period, but I’m kind of fascinated by this period in US history more generally. I have a friend whose work tangentially deals with eugenics and medicine of this time period, so I forwarded the link on to her, too.
Yeah, Deadwood was an amazing show. The setting was a character in itself almost, I thought.
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