True Style

I refuse to be taken in by the goddamn bunk of this aera just as totally as I refused to fall for the pompous, polite bull of Victorianism—and one of the chief fallacies of the present is that smoothness, even when involving no sacrifice of directness, is a defect. The best prose is vigorous, direct, unadorn’d, and closely related (as is the best verse) to the language of actual discourse; but it has its natural rhythms and smoothness just as good oral speech has. There has never been any prose as good as that of the early eighteenth century, and anyone who thinks he can improve upon Swift, Steele, and Addison is a blockhead.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Maurice W. Moe, Lovecraft defends eighteenth-century prose against contemporary critics.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Maurice W. Moe.” 26 Mar. 1932. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 31-3.

Gifted Browning

Thy lyrics, gifted Browning, charm the ear,
And ev’ry mark of classic polish bear.
With subtle raptures they enchain the heart;
To soul and mind a mystic thrill impart:
Yet would their rhythmic magic be more keen,
If we could but discover what they mean!


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “On Robert Browning,” Lovecraft praises the poet for his verse while simultaneously lamenting its obscurity.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “On Robert Browning.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 203.

The Romantic, Semi-Gothic Tradition

The romantic, semi-Gothic, quasi-moral tradition here represented was carried far down the nineteenth century by such authors as Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, Thomas Preskett Prest with his famous Varney, the Vampyre (1847), Wilkie Collins, the late Sir H. Rider Haggard (whose She is really remarkably good), Sir A. Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson—the latter of whom, despite an atrocious tendency toward jaunty mannerisms, created permanent classics in “Markheim”, “The Body-Snatcher”, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Indeed, we may say that this school still survives; for to it clearly belong such of our contemporary horror-tales as specialise in events rather than atmospheric details, address the intellect rather than the impressionistic imagination, cultivate a luminous glamour rather than a malign tensity or psychological verisimilitude, and take a definite stand in sympathy with mankind and its welfare. It has its undeniable strength, and because of its “human element” commands a wider audience than does the sheer artistic nightmare. If not quite so potent as the latter, it is because a diluted product can never achieve the intensity of a concentrated essence.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” Lovecraft praises Robert Louis Stevenson’s contributions to weird fiction while simultaneously denigrating them for their “jaunty” style.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2000.

Romanticism

The one form of literary appeal which I consider absolutely unsound, charlatanic, and valueless—frivolous, insincere, irrelevant, and meaningless—is that mode of handling human events and values and motivations known as romanticism. Dumas, Scott, Stevenson—my gawd! Here is sheer puerility—the concoction of false glamours and enthusiasms and events out of an addled and distorted background which has no relation to anything in the genuine thoughts, feelings, and experiences of evolved and adult mankind. Its very essence is that one unforgivable disparity which forms the supreme crux of all cheapness and commonness—the investing of things and events with wholly disproportioned and inappropriate emotions. Heroic tales are not unsound so long as they adhere to the actual essentials of life and the human spirit; but when some sentimental poseur adopts their tone for artificial and trivial unrealities, the result is too nauseating and wearisome for words.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft derides romanticism, claiming that it is inherently unrealistic and inauthentic.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 17 Oct. 1930. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 210-13.