The Lovecraft That Dare Not Speak Its Name — Part 2

Michael O. Varhola

The Lovecraft That Dare Not Speak Its Name — Part 1

There are usually two knee jerk responses from Lovecraft devotees to questions about the author's sexuality, and both of these are predicated on the a priori assumption that he simply could not have been gay.

One of these typical responses is to deny that the author could have been gay on the basis that he was married, and a good example of this is provided by Donovan K. Loucks, administrator of The H.P. Lovecraft Archive, a comprehensive online resource. 

"The facts that Lovecraft had little success with women and had many male friends have led people to believe that he was a homosexual. However, it must be remembered that he was married (briefly) and his wife [Sonia Greene] described him as an 'adequately excellent lover,'” Loucks insists. "Some of Lovecraft’s friends and acquaintances (most notably, Robert H. Barlow, Samuel Loveman, and Hart Crane) were homosexuals, but Lovecraft apparently didn’t even realize this."

As we all know, however, it is certainly possible for a homosexual man to both be married and maintain the pretense of being straight for a considerable period of time or even indefinitely — and this does not even address the possibility of bisexuality. And the insistence that he had many friends who were homosexuals but was not aware of this seems somewhat disingenuous and irrelevant. On the one hand, it probably is simply not true, and on the other it implies that straight people cannot be friends with people who are gay, or that awareness of someone else's homosexuality might somehow be contagious, attitudes that are fallacious and socially regressive.

Loucks goes on to press his case by providing statements from Lovecraft condemning homosexuality but, frankly, these do not even bear citing or being taken into consideration as evidence one way or another. How many Congressmen who have pushed for anti-gay legislation over recent years, or clergymen who have preached against homosexuality from the pulpit, have turned out to themselves been not just closeted but actually active homosexuals? What someone says explicitly about homosexuality thus, ironically, cannot not be given much weight when it comes to considering their own sexual orientation, and many gay authors have made a point of denying their sexuality and, conveniently, had a platform for doing so.

While Loucks rather unrealistically dismisses any possibility that Lovecraft might be gay, he does make a good point that bears mentioning when considering the subject in question:

"But, this is not to say that his heterosexual inclinations were especially strong, either," Loucks says. "Lovecraft, like many intellectuals, focused his attentions and efforts on mental, rather than physical, pursuits, and simply didn’t have very strong sexual interests at all." Most of us have known any number of people who were, in fact, essentially asexual, a condition often leads to someone being incorrectly labeled as being homosexual, and this could have indeed been the case with Lovecraft. And, of course, no one living today can definitively say whether or not Lovecraft really was straight, gay, something in between, or neither, just make postulations based on the available evidence.

The other main response to suggestions that Lovecraft might be gay is to deny that his sexuality is relevant. Some nihilist or other will periodically suggest that literature should be studied in a vacuum and not within its particular context and, as amusing an intellectual exercise this might be, it is also a preposterous one that cannot ultimately reveal much about a given work. Those of us who really want to understand authors and their works know that all the facts of their life are relevant in analyzing what they have written — e.g., historical era, professional background, socioeconomic status — and this includes their sexual orientation. To suggest that Ernest Hemingway's overt and self-conscious heterosexuality is unimportant in understanding his works, for example, or that Alice Walker being black is irrelevant to her writing, would be absurd. It would be just as foolish to pretend that the sexual orientation of Lovecraft or any other author might not be salient to an analysis of their work.

And, as I have suggested here, the sexual orientation of an author can have a significant impact on what they choose to write about and how they present it. If whether or not an author is homosexual can be gleaned from a reading of his work, then it has clearly affected and perhaps even shaped that work in notable ways. So, while it is my personal belief that in day-to-day life the sexual orientation of any particular person is generally not salient to third parties and that the application of "gaydar" is offensive, irrelevant, and less accurate than a coin toss, I do not believe that laissez faire attitude can be extended to authors. 

Parts 3 and 4 of "The Lovecraft That Dare Not Speak Its Name" will follow in turn every three or four days and both be hotlinked here and appear on the d-Infinity homepage. 

The Lovecraft That Dare Not Speak Its Name — Part 3

The Lovecraft That Dare Not Speak Its Name — Part 4

H.P. Lovecraft and wife Sonia Greene