H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West

The Lovecraft series continues with a long look at a title S. T. Joshi still considers one of his most important works on Lovecraft.

For those who want something else of mine touching on some of the themes of this book, check out my review of Lovecraft’s Letters to James Morton.

Raw Feed (2005): H. P. Lovecraft:  The Decline of the West, S. T. Joshi, 1990.H P Lovecraft

This was a fascinating, illuminating book.

It is not that Lovecraft’s individual ethics, philosophical notions of materialism, politics, and notions of aesthetics were that unique. It is the combination that was somewhat unique and, most importantly — as Joshi convincingly shows — how those views consistently show up in his fiction.

In the first half of the book, Joshi documents (mostly through Lovecraft’s voluminous correspondence) the development of Lovecraft’s philosophy and how it was influenced by others — philosophers ancient and modern and science.

Lovecraft, descendant of a wealthy New England family that, in his childhood, fell on hard times, was a lifelong aristocrat. Always suspicious of democracy, Joshi shows how he moved from notions of an aristocracy of birth to (with relapses expressed in his letters and often involving race) an aristocracy of intellect. Thus he moved from a sentimental “royalist” (of course America has no official royalty but Anglophiliac Lovecraft earlier expressed, in his associated love for 18th Century England and Colonial America, a love of English royalty — or, at least, Queen Anne) and Republican to an advocate of “fascistic socialism” and voter for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Continue reading

Lovecraft’s Letters

I haven’t read all of Arkham House series of H. P. Lovecraft’s letters, but here is a retro review, from October 28, 2011, of the first one. These are not always reprints of complete letters and, since Lovecraft rarely saved letters, one side of the conversation.

In the last several years, Hippocampus Press has been publishing complete letters, organized by correspondents, of Lovecraft’s. I reviewed his letters to James. F. Morton elsewhere.

Review: Selected Letters I. 1911 – 1924, H. P. Lovecraft and edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, 1965.Selected Letters

For some years now, S. T. Joshi has been pushing the idea that Lovecraft may end up being more famous for the letters he spun out, perhaps more than a 100,000, than his poems (his first field of artistic endeavor) or stories. While he was temperamentally attached to Providence, Rhode Island, there were few there who shared his wide ranging interests, so these letters were long, extended conversations with his many correspondents. They range from politics and movies to model trains and the business of ghostwriting, philosophy and aesthetics to cats. Here is Lovecraft’s engaging blend of stoicism and silliness, irritation and wonder. Often tens of pages long in a close, handwritten script, they are an engaging look at an eccentric New England gentleman at the beginning of his career, of a man confronting a bleak, purposeless universe and taking comfort in his friends, the beauty of art, and the truth of science.

Wandrei and Derleth’s introduction is a good, concise introduction to their friend and his life up to 1924. The table of contents helpfully lists each letter’s correspondent, the date, and the topic of the letter.

Those intrigued by the excerpts of Lovecraft’s letters in Joshi’s Lovecraft: A Life or in Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters will definitely want to seek this book out. But really anyone with an interest in Lovecraft or just a modern stoic confronting life will enjoy these letters.


Reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.