Compendium of Horror, Fear, and the Grotesque

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Supernatural Horror in Literature

[A summary of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1973).]

  1. Introduction - Lovecraft lays out his definition of fear and distinguishes between "mere physical fear" or the "mundanely gruesome" and what he calls the "true weird tale."

  2. The Dawn of the Horror Tale -  Horror has been part of human consciousness as far back as we can remember. He cites examples of lore and ancient rimes that prefigure the birth of the horror genre. He notes that the "impulse and atmosphere are as old as man, but the typical weird tale of standard literature is a child of the eighteenth century."

  3. The Early Gothic Novel - Shows how horror fiction burgeoned in the 18th century culminating in the more sophisticated works of Anne Radcliffe in England and Charles Brockton Brown in America.

  4. The Apex of the Gothic Romance - Begins with the works of Matthew G. Lewis; especially The Monk. Talks about the appearance of gothic romantic works in England and Germany. And ends with a note about the superior style of Charles Robert Maturin.

  5. The Aftermath of Gothic Fiction - This section deals with the gothic tradition's influence by Eastern literature. Lovecraft distinguishes this influence from the "Walpolean" tradition. He covers the development of Mary Shelley, Bulwer-Lytton, Sir Walter Scott and then goes into what he describes as a "semi-Gothic, quasi-moral tradition." He praises Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights as a terror novel that stands alone in its superior effect.

  6. Spectral Literature on the Continent - Horror fiction excelled in German and French works. Lovecraft credits Jewish and Cabbalist interest in the field for influencing continental works.

  7. Edgar Allan Poe - Poe was Lovecraft's literary hero. He felt fortunate that Poe was responsible for what Lovecraft called a "literary dawn."

  8. The Weird Tradition in America - The American tradition includes a look at the influence of Calvinism and native beliefs that helped develop the genre as peculiarly American.

  9. The Weird Tradition in the British Isles - This section describes the weird tradition in British literature.

  10. The Modern Masters - The final section gives an excellent synopsis of how Lovecraft viewed the works of his contemporaries.