Monday, October 30, 2023

Hodgson vs. Lovecraft (style)


So, recently I've been re-reading Lovecraft's THE DUNWICH HORROR, which reminded me of a post I made about this story a good decade or so back. My parody was a bit unfair, as parodies often are, but I think it makes a valid point: that Lovecraft suffers as a writer of horror because he's too easily frightened. Here's the link:


A particular feature that stands out for me this time is Lovecraft's prose style. Lovecraft criticizes Wm Hope Hodgson for his prose, while committing eccentricities of style himself.


Here's what Lovecraft had to say about Hodgson' prose style:


. . . seriously marred by painful verboseness, repetitiousness, artificial and nauseously sticky romantic sentimentality, and an attempt at archaic language even more grotesque and absurd [than in WHH's earlier book THE BOATS OF THE "GLEN CARRIG"].*


So let's compare Hodgson's invented dialect, which succeeds in distancing his tale into a late 17th through early 18th century framework


And surely I sped forever through the dreadful hours, and went neither to the right nor to the left, neither did I strive to hide in the bushes nor to evade aught, for I knew that the Maid died slowly in mine arms, and there to be no more gain in life, save by speed, that I have her swift to the Mighty Pyramid to the care of the Doctors. And a great and despairing madness grew ever within me **


with Lovecraft's painful attempt to capture yankee hillbilly dialect


Up that in the rudbeyont the glen, Mis' Corey -- they'ssuthin' ben thar! It smells like thunder, an all the bushes an' little trees is pushed back from the rud like they'd a haouse ben moved along it. An'that ain't the wust, nuther. They's prints in the rud, Mis' Corey -- great raound prints as big as barrel-heads, all sunk daown deep like an elephant had ben along, only they's a sight more nor four feet could make.  

[Kindle text]


Whatever these two texts' merits or otherwise in authenticity,*** I wd suggest that Hodgson's is far more readable. 

And then there's Lovecraft's fondness for a few obscure words, such as eldritch, which have achieved the status of self-parody.


--John R.

current reading: Stoker biography.






***Lovecraft did a much better job with the 18th century diction in THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD, the best of all his 'antiquarian' tales



Wurmbrand said...

I don't much care for Lovecraft and would rather read Hodgson. In Lovecraft's defense I'll mention that a far greater writer, Kipling, also wrote stories in "dialect," and this may discourage readers today from persevering with them. At the time Kipling and HPL were writing, readers evidently were much more tolerant of, even appreciative of, dialect. Probably the example of Walter Scott's novels and romances had much to do with this. It's our loss if we avoid Scott and Kipling on this score. For two quite different Kipling stories -- both magnificent -- that use "dialect," one could take up "On Greenhow Hill and "The Wish-House," the latter, as you probably know, having a striking adumbration of Charles Williams's concept of exchange and substitution.

Dale Nelson

Jaojao said...

Methinks it is a little unfair to compare Hodgson's attempts at archaism with Lovecraft's at 'eye dialect' (though certainly it is a sign of bad taste on his part). A more fruitful comparison might be the latter's 'antiquarian style', or his imitations of Dunsany (famously lambasted by Le Guin).

Paul W said...

Having just completed de Camp's biography of Lovecraft, I am inclined towards criticism of him. Though I think his essay on supernatural literature is a work of remarkable scholarship, especially consider the resources available. I've seen it compared to a Master's thesis and i agree, Lovecraft was self-taught but on this type of literature he achieved post-graduate degree levels of expertise. I found de Camp's criticism of the essay as a waste of time because it wasn't paying work to be an excellent example of de Camp's failure's as a biographer. But despite the learning expressed in the essay Lovecraft's opinions of individual writers and works are often wrong and this is a prime example. Hodgson is a remarkable writer, and he was excellent at many of the parts of writing that were weaknesses for Lovecraft, I think.

He also wrote what I consider the single most romantic sentence in English I've yet discovered:

“She and I; and nothing, save the silent, spacious void to see us; and only the quiet waters of the Sea of Sleep to hear us.”
William Hope Hodgson, _The House on the Borderlands_.

I can't think of any passage in Lovecraft that came close to moving me so much.