Rudimentary bibliography suggestions from The Hive - Poe and Lovecraft
November 4, 2010 6:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing my Masters thesis next year on madness and occult knowledge in the work of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.

An important part of the research will be investigating the backdrop of Puritanism as part of the social climate of the time. I will probably briefly look at some other similar authors—Nathaniel Hawthorne, Arthur Machen, Washinton Irving, Charlotte Perkins Gillman.

The meat of the research will explore the different ways in which Lovecraft and Poe approached Puritanical paranoia and anxiety through the use of supernatural themes and imagery. I'm building a rudimentary source list, and would be keen to hear from anyone who would like to recommend texts they think might be useful.

While my knowledge of Lovecraft is not exhaustive, it's well-rounded; Poe is the fella I'm really getting to grips with here for the first time. Good sources for the history of New England and colonial Puritanism also welcome, as are suggestions for biographies that have stood the test of time.
posted by New England Cultist to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Try 'Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance' by Kenneth Silverman -- I teach some Poe, and that's my favorite of the many bios. The most modern and entertainingly speculating (not like Quinn, who's so anxious to kill myth about Poe that he, I think, over-sanctifies him).

As a Southerner, and a Romantic, I don't know that Poe has that spectre of Puritanism hanging over him the way that Hawthorne does. I tend to think of his bugging out in a more Thomas DeQuincey vein than a Jonathan Edwards vein.
posted by LucretiusJones at 6:53 PM on November 4, 2010

Sometimes I feel like I recommend John Irwin's The Mystery to a Solution: Poe, Borges, and the Analytic Detective Story to people twice a day. Required, though wonderfully eccentric, reading for any topic to do with Poe and the theory of knowledge.

Not that you asked, but the way you used the phrase "the social climate of the time" really trips my student-work-reading spidey-sense for handwavey historical vagueness, especially when you seem to be talking about Puritanism in the mid-to-late 19th century (!). As you refine how you present your planned project, you might want to make a point of being more specific than this about exactly what time, and what society, you're discussing.
posted by RogerB at 7:12 PM on November 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

I don't much about this Edgar Allan Poe society, but in general authors' societies do okay jobs of suggesting important, foundational works. In this case, they have a couple of suggestions of Poe biographies that are probably worth a read.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:15 PM on November 4, 2010

I did a search on the MLA Bibliography (let me know if you don't know what I mean) for "poe and lovecraft," and got 23 hits, which is a perfectly reasonable number of hits to browse.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:19 PM on November 4, 2010

Response by poster: bluedaisy - yup, already hit the MLA.

RogerB - yes, someone else mentioned this to me as well. I'll give the short and long answer:

1800 - 1950

I kept the post brief because my parameters are not yet that tightly focused. This is my honeymoon period, where I get to read and assimilate. Things will no doubt change.

HPL and his New England settings sure seem to be the more Puritanically influenced... What I find interesting in terms of comparing the two (as examples of different settings) is that Poe's sense of madness seems to come from an internalised perspective, induced by the individual's own mind. Lovecraft on the other hand, induces madness in his characters by imposing upon them his unknowable cosmic forces. It's that contrast that I find interesting, and this is where the religious aspect comes in; the influence and effect it exerted on Poe and HPL individually, and how it affected their writing.
posted by New England Cultist at 7:31 PM on November 4, 2010

If you haven't already, you might check with the librarians at your school. There may even be a subject specialist in literature who can point you toward relevant books/articles for this topic.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:35 PM on November 4, 2010

I've erased this answer five times now, but hell, let me try it out, it doesn't really relate too much to Poe, I think, but it's interesting maybe in terms of Lovecraft. Roger Shattuck's Forbidden Knowledge deals with our uncontrollable urge to learn that thing that will destroy us, whether that be turning ourselves into sadists through our reading, or risking nuclear annihilation for the sake of technological progress...but he explores it by taking you on a romp through literature, covering Paradise Lost, Frankenstein, Faust, and many other books which ask the same question: For our own safety, should there be a limit to what we know? It's strange to think that the question has been posed so many times before we really had ways of destroying ourselves so utterly. For all that Lovecraft's doomed characters seem to be unable to stop knowing too much, it's interesting that you can't draw much of a moral from that...there would be no story, nothing interesting, if the characters said wait, no, that's creepy, I'm putting down the book. The drive to know is too ingrained.

Like I said, I'm not sure how useful that is with Poe, mostly because I've only read the stories everyone has read, and in those, it seems like he is more concerned with the action that pushes the character out of the bounds of humanity, rather than the knowledge.
posted by mittens at 7:49 PM on November 4, 2010

I'm sure you already know this, and RogerB has already touched on it, but it's very unclear whether you're using the word "Puritan" in the historical sense, to mean the 17th century religious movement, or the popular sense, to mean prudery, or more specifically a sort of New England-y bourgeois capitalist prudery which may or may not have anything at all to do with actual Puritans.
posted by Sara C. at 7:58 PM on November 4, 2010

Response by poster: but it's very unclear whether you're using the word "Puritan" in the historical sense....

Historical, particularly in HPL's case.
posted by New England Cultist at 8:02 PM on November 4, 2010

Lovecraft was writing 200 years after Puritanism was a thing. With several religious movements in between them that were influential both in a larger sense and also on Lovecraft specifically. You might want to check out the Second Great Awakening, for instance.
posted by Sara C. at 8:09 PM on November 4, 2010

whoops. Make that 300. I might know my religious history, but I sure as fuck don't know how to do math...
posted by Sara C. at 8:12 PM on November 4, 2010

Oh, and on the subject of your actual question, if you are intending to focus on the Puritans, you might want to check out Alexis de Toqueville and Max Weber, who are largely responsible for all the mythologizing of The Puritan Spirit.
posted by Sara C. at 8:18 PM on November 4, 2010

Is this WorldCat search at all helpful?
posted by bluedaisy at 8:23 PM on November 4, 2010

The H.P. Lovecraft Archive
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:23 PM on November 4, 2010

Please, do read Poe's _The Tell-Tale Heart_ as well as _The Black Cat_, as I believe they rather fits in with your purpose of researching paranoia.
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:38 PM on November 4, 2010

Peter Levenda's Sinister Forces trilogy, in particular the first volume, deals interestingly with the intersection of the occult and America's founding. Tons of great footnotes and anecdotes.

I honestly don't remember if Poe and Lovecraft are namechecked personally, but I don't think they're a million miles away from what you're researching.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:19 PM on November 4, 2010

If you are thinking Hawthorne, then "Young Goodman Brown" might be the very prototype of Puritanical paranoia. I would assume you have read it, but if you haven't, do so immediately.

You'll probably want to hit the Salem Witch Trials, just as background material, to get a feel for where that kind of paranoia can end outside of fiction. A driving force in that paranoia might be the search for signs of grace; whether or not you buy into the "visible saint" concept, the idea that you must constantly examine the minutiae, coincidences, and tiny traumas of day-to-day life for some kind of manifestation of God's continued merciful suspension of your pitiful, unworthy soul over The Pit ... just imagine how that relentless awareness and scanning for meaning where none might be could so easily transform into paranoia. So, at least include "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in your references.

Poe's paranoia tended to be local, sensory, and consequential, versus the Lovecraftian cosmic, rational, and existential. Lovecraft had some internalization, though. Not a few of his narrators discovered that their unwholesome ancestral origins might well damn them, although damnation is too personal of a concept for Howie. Perhaps "cursed" or "doomed" might be more apt.
posted by adipocere at 9:27 PM on November 4, 2010

Allen Tate discusses your internality externality distinction re: Poe in his essay "Our Cousin, Mr. Poe", recently reprinted in The Southern Critics: an Anthology edited by Glenn Arbery (ISI Books: Wilmington, DE, 2010).
posted by Jahaza at 9:33 PM on November 4, 2010

Nothing to do with colonial Puritanism, but if you are researching themes of madness/occult knowledge in gothic & supernatural literature, you absolutely must read Todorov's The Fantastic:

Also for background on the supernatural in literature as a reaction to the rationalism of the 'age of reason' (which I realize is not your question, but I think it's interesting for background anyway!) - have a look at Rosemary Jackson's Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (Jackson) and The Literary Fantastic. They all talk about Poe.
posted by MisterCoffeeWithAnAutomaticDrip at 9:37 PM on November 4, 2010

If you're dealing with Lovecraft and Puritanism, you have to at least glance at Roger Williams, the dissenting Puritan who founded Rhode Island. I don't know about any recent biographies, but Ola Elizabeth Winslow wrote one, Master Roger Williams. You should also check out the other Puritan founders of Rhode Island. For a short, very readable introduction, there's Sarah Vowell's Wordy Shipmates (completely non-scholarly... but is that a bad thing?).
posted by Kattullus at 4:03 AM on November 5, 2010

Lovecraft's Letters are a good place to start. He traveled around New England quite a lot (if you ever make it to Salem, MA I can give you a tour) and often wrote to his circle about what he saw, did, and imagined*.

Try to touch base with David Schultz - he's been working with HPL's letters for years and is a really helpful guy.

Definitely look to Cotton Mather (particularly his Magnalia) who HPL read frequently read and references.

From a letter to Clark Ashton Smith (June 11, 1930 - should be in Selected Letters III, I think): Only in New England do I feel that odd undercurrent of sinister & unholy life in the brooding fields & woods, & the little huddled farmhouses. Elsewhere I find antiquity, but never concealed terror. Terror is the legacy of a long Puritan heritage with its unnatural philosophy—the heritage of Salem, Endicott, & the Mathers—& only those visible symbols connected with this system possess the terror-element to a complete degree. It is significant that I find this macabre atmosphere infinitely stronger in Massachusetts than in the comparatively non-Puritan Rhode Island.

*He imagined seeing a colonial house full of hanging corpses around the corner from my house. I take a different street home late at night.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:08 AM on November 5, 2010

Of course, despite the quoted passage above, I get the sense that HPL was more anachronistic than anything else. He was an admitted anglophile (his letters are interspersed with frequent God Save The Kings!) and was always a little put out that he wasn't born into some sort of idealized past landed gentry. He disliked the modern, urban world in favor of the past. So his latching on to and promotion of colonial/Puritan New England was really him trying to connect with the oldest stuff about. If he could have afforded the trip to England, I'm sure we'd have stories akin to Ivanhoe-Meets-Cthulhu.

He certainly used Puritan stories and old New England legends as a tool and inspiration. His story The Unnameable is based on Salem ghost story, but with a shoggoth thrown in as a topper (again, if you make it to Salem I can take you to the graveyard where it's set). He talks about talking with locals on his tours of Salem and picking up local stories from them in his letters.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:25 AM on November 5, 2010

Apologies if this is too far afield, but "Food for the Dead: On the Trail of New England's Vampires" has some interesting bits about belief in the occult and how it overlapped with Puritan-based New England mores.
posted by JoanArkham at 7:09 AM on November 5, 2010

Not sure if this is helpful to you or not, but I went to the Poe Museum in Richmond, VA this year. They have some resources on their website, including books talking about his life in Richmond.
posted by CathyG at 7:29 AM on November 5, 2010

I just want to say that sounds like an awesome thesis. Good luck with it.
posted by gonzo_ID at 8:13 AM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. So many great suggestions of titles I'd not stumbled upon yet. You're all fairly awesome.
posted by New England Cultist at 1:56 PM on November 5, 2010

Here's a basic bibliography on Puritanism, melancholy, madness and horror:

John F. Sena, 'Melancholic Madness and the Puritans', Harvard Theological Review, 66 (1973). (JSTOR link.)

John Stachniewski, The Persecutory Imagination: English Puritanism and the Literature of Religious Despair (1991).

Michael MacDonald and Terence R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England (1990).

Michael MacDonald, 'The Fearefull Estate of Francis Spira: Narrative, Identity and Emotion in Early Modern England', Journal of British Studies, 31 (1992). (JSTOR link.)

Edward J. Ingebretsen, Maps of Heaven, Maps of Hell: Religious Terror as Memory from the Puritans to Stephen King (1996).

Angus Gowland, The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy: Robert Burton in Context (2006). (Good on the medical background.)

Jeremy Schmidt, Melancholy and the Care of the Soul: Religion, Moral Philosophy and Madness in Early Modern England (2007).

Peter J. Thuesen, Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine (2009). (Good overview of Calvinist theology.)

The books by Stachniewski and Ingebretsen are of most direct relevance to your research. You should also have a look at Joyce Carol Oates's review article, The King of Weird, which traces the connections between New England Puritanism and the writings of Poe and Lovecraft.
posted by verstegan at 4:02 PM on November 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

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