Tuesday, September 10, 2019

July: Hemingway and Lovecraft-Part Two

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) were hardly alike as writers and men, but if Leslie A. Fiedler was right to put them together in the mainstream of American literature (or to lead us in putting them together), then maybe they were more alike than what we think.

First, both had fathers who more or less abandoned them and who also ultimately destroyed themselves (thus setting a pattern for their sons' own self-destruction). Both also had overbearing, oppressive, or domineering mothers. If you're a Freudian, you might look for family dynamics like those to lead to psychosexual problems among the offspring, and in the case of these two men, you might find what you're looking for. Whereas there is reason to believe that Hemingway had latent homosexual tendencies, also tendencies towards a general kind of gender bending, there aren't any indications at all of that kind of thing in Lovecraft. If anything he suffered from a kind of asexuality.

Hemingway married four times and had three sons, one of whom thought in later life that he was a woman. Lovecraft married only once and died without issue. Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson, was eight years older than he, while Lovecraft's only wife, Sonia Greene, was seven years his senior. Again, if you're a Freudian, you might see some significance in those age differences, especially in regards to the relationships that these two men had with their mothers. In any case, Hemingway was married for most of his adult life and was doted upon by women. Lovecraft lived a scarce two years as a married man (his divorce was never finalized), but he, too, was looked after by the women with whom he shared a household.

Hemingway admired Mark Twain and helped to bring a new kind of prose style into American literature. Lovecraft had his own nineteenth-century American idol in Edgar Allan Poe. In terms of prose, he is not really thought of as an innovator. In fact, Lovecraft was a backward-looking author and was fond of archaic words, spellings, and pronunciations. Nonetheless, I detect elements of modernism in his work, specifically in "The Call of Cthulhu," with its nonlinear narrative, multiple viewpoints, and use of found sources, such as newspaper articles and diary accounts. Hemingway may have gone against all of that old-fashioned prose of the pre-World War I era, and Lovecraft may have written after those fashions, yet Lovecraft is still read with real pleasure by people of today. In fact there may be more Lovecraft fans than there are Hemingway fans among readers of the twenty-first century. It's not so simple to dismiss Lovecraft's prose, no matter its shortcomings, as an artifact of the early twentieth century. It still holds up, at least for his fans. Like Hemingway, he carefully labored over his writing, all for what he hoped would be maximum effect.

Hemingway famously nicknamed himself Papa. What's less well known is that he did this while he was still in his twenties. In calling himself Grandpa or Grandpa Theobald, Lovecraft also took on a nickname denoting age, wisdom, and authority. I don't know when he did this, but it seems to me that Lovecraft thought of himself as an old man even when he was quite young. Both men seemingly wanted to be looked up to and thought of as men of wisdom. Both were part of extensive literary circles.

Lovecraft is mentioned, but only by his last name, in Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie A. Fiedler (1960, 1966). Hemingway gets a little more coverage in those pages. Seemingly by Fiedler's estimation both are within the mainstream of American literature, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. In Hemingway's case, it's because of the author's obvious flight from women into the wilderness and into the company of men. Lovecraft fled from women, too, but he more nearly matches the other half of Fiedler's thesis, namely, that "the American novel is pre-eminently a novel of terror," (Delta/Dell, 1966, p. 26) and that "our classic literature is a literature of horror for boys." (p. 29)

Here is Fiedler on a quite different author, but in discussing Herman Melville, could he just as easily have been talking about Lovecraft?:
Everywhere the figure of the Stranger moves through Melville's work . . . . Snob, greenhorn, madman, schlemiel, god and exile: the Outsider has a score of forms in Melville's fiction, but he remains, in his various masquerades, always the artist, society's rejected son with his "splintered heart and maddened hand . . . turned against the wolfish world." Though Outsider, he is not alien; invariably a native white American in Melville, he remains so as Twain's Huck and Faulkner's Ike McCaslin and Hemingway's Nick Adams or Jake Barnes: lonelier and lonelier in a country overrun by other stocks; "Chinese and African and Aryan and Jew, all breed and spawn together until no man has time to say which one is which nor cares . . . ." (pp. 361-362)
Remember Lovecraft's story "The Outsider." Remember, too, Lovecraft's notorious nativism. I'm not sure that Lovecraft had the confidence in character--any character--that those other writers had, though.

I'll close by pointing out that Lovecraft was not really a sentimental author, whereas Hemingway very often was. I'm not sure that Hemingway was a believer, but he also doesn't seem to have worked out a philosophy of cosmicism as Lovecraft did. Okay, so humanity is saved and Cthulhu is returned to his crypt at the end of "The Call of Cthulhu," but that's only because the stars aren't quite right. They will be right one day, we can be sure of that, and when they are, well, it will be Katie, bar the door. And then there's this last thing: we should consider in all of this talk of maturity and immaturity the possibility that Lovecraft was a more mature person than was Hemingway.

Chew on that one for a while.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

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