H.P. Lovecraft: A Life
At the Mountains of Madness & Other Novels
Dagon and Other Macabre Tales
Selected Letters Vol. I: 1911-1924
Selected Letters Vol. II: 1925-1929
Selected Letters Vol. III: 1929-1931
Selected Letters Vol. IV: 1932-1934
Selected Letters Vol. V: 1934-1937
“Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.”
—Herman Melville, Moby Dick
How mysterious, how unknowable and infinitely beyond their control must have seemed the vast wilderness of the New World to the seventeenth-century Puritan settlers! The inscrutable silence of Nature—the tragic ambiguity of human nature with its predilection for what Christians call “original sin,” inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve. When Nature is so vast, man’s need for control—for “settling” the wilderness—becomes obsessive. And how powerful the temptation to project mankind’s divided self onto the very silence of Nature.
It was the intention of those English Protestants known as Puritans to “purify” the Church of England by eradicating everything in the Church that seemed to have no Biblical justification. The more radical Puritans, “Separatists” and eventually “Pilgrims,” settled Plymouth, Massachusetts, in the 1620s; others who followed in subsequent years were less zealous about defining themselves as “Separatists.” Yet all were characterized by the intransigence of their faith; their fierce sense of moral rectitude and self-righteousness. The intolerant theology of the New England Puritans could not have failed to breed paranoia, if not madness, in the sensitive among them. Consider, for instance, the Covenant of Grace, which taught that only those men and women upon whom God sheds His grace are saved, because this allows them to believe in Christ; those excluded from God’s grace lack the power to believe in a Savior, thus are not only not saved, but damned. We never had a chance! those so excluded might cry out of the bowels of Hell. We were doomed from the start. The extreme gothic sensibility springs from such paradoxes: that the loving, paternal God and His son Jesus are nonetheless willful tyrants; “good” is inextricably bound up with the capacity to punish; one may wish to believe oneself free but in fact all human activities are determined, from the perspective of the deity, long before one’s birth.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the very titles of celebrated Puritan works of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries strike a chord of anxiety. The Spiritual Conflict, The Holy War, Day of Doom, Thirsty Sinner, Groans of the Damned, The Wonders of the Invisible World, Man Knows Not His Time, Repentant Sinners and Their Ministers, Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcraft and Possessions—these might be the titles of lurid works of gothic fiction, not didactic sermons, prose pieces, and poetry. The great Puritan poet Edward Taylor was also a minister; much of Taylor’s subtle, intricately wrought metaphysical verse dwells upon God’s love and terror, and man’s insignificance in the face of God’s omnipotence: “My will is your Design.” Here is the gothic predilection for investing all things, even the most seemingly innocuous (weather, insects), with cosmological meaning. Is there nothing in the gothic…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!
Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue – that’s 10 issues online plus six months of full archive access for just $10.