Date of Graduation

12-2020

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

English

Advisor

Sean Dempsey

Committee Member

Lisa Ann Hinrichsen

Second Committee Member

Dorothy Stephens

Keywords

American Literature, Ecocriticism, H. P. Lovecraft, Horror Literature, Modern Literature, Weird Fiction

Abstract

S. T. Joshi, the preeminent scholar of weird fiction, considers H. P. Lovecraft a “topographical realist,” noting that, in his later fiction, Lovecraft creates realistic and painstakingly detailed settings. In “Providence Lost: Natural and Urban Landscapes in H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction,” I explore the significance of Lovecraft’s topographical realism and trace its evolution through Lovecraft’s career. I argue that Lovecraft’s early fiction, the tales, that is, that he wrote from 1917 to 1924 under the influence of Edgar Allan Poe and Lord Dunsany, pays little attention to the natural landscape, though Lovecraft does, in story after story, allude to fabulous, semi-mythical cities. His method changed, quite suddenly, in 1925 when Lovecraft, impoverished, unemployed, and alone in New York City, started to hate his new home. Painfully aware of his surroundings and the sense of alienation they inspired, Lovecraft wrote three stories about the city, “The Horror at Red Hook,” “He,” and “Cool Air,” all of which feature settings far more detailed than his earlier efforts at landscape description. After he returned to Providence, the city of his birth, Lovecraft ceased describing Dunsanian cityscapes. Instead, he began to write about nightmarish cities located beneath the sea or on alien planets. Lovecraft’s approach to the natural landscape also began to change, resulting in a series of passionate descriptions that would seem to disrupt the mood he was trying to establish. From this, one might be tempted to conclude that Lovecraft’s fiction evolved in a linear direction, becoming increasingly antagonistic to the urban landscape, but his last work of original fiction, “The Haunter of the Dark,” returns to Providence, which it describes in loving terms. Having examined the evolution of Lovecraft’s approach to natural and urban landscapes, I argue that these passages, far from being gratuitous descriptions, change how we think of Lovecraft as a person, how we interpret his fiction, and how we understand his philosophical beliefs.

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