Now that you’ve gathered your flock: why don’t you count them?

Decay it is.

I made the point in my last post that decay in Lovecraft is, via Lovecraft scholarship, a purely physical thing, and I couldn’t possibly argue that it is not. There are obvious points to be made on breaking physiognomies whenever human characters approach too closely the forces from without. This term comprises more ordinary occult forces – that is, you want to miscegenate a little, you don’t go deeply into copulations with whatever alien overlord may be near – it’s not that these old ones are datable just like that. In fact, you’ll have to use the right tools to summon him or her (hail Shub-Niggurath, and hail her 1.000 children, collectively, if you will, not individually). This is a selective and precise process, manageable to some extent: you have make an effort to go weird. The Whateley clan, via The Dunwich Horror, makes an example –

Lavinia Whateley had no known husband, but according to the custom of the region made no attempt to disavow the child; concerning the other side of whose ancestry the country folk might – and did – speculate as widely as they chose.

They speculate widely but they, the townsfolk, don’t actually intervene, most likely because they know that Lavinia is not humping around with just someone – and naturally she doesn’t make an effort to rid herself of the child by placing it in an orphanage or something like it. After all, young Whateley has a destiny to grow up on, a place well-defined in the world by his ancestry. In folk-tales of old you could see the devil inundating more or less susceptible females, in Lovecraft the inundators (?) are wearing tentacles in lieu of horns, but they are just as welcome or unwelcome. Up to that point Lovecraft’s miscenegation ride into decay is quite resemblant of folk tale superstition.

Lavinia, prior to her giving birth to, oh well, Wilbur, is not acting as any unsuspecting maiden in that context would – that is, unsuspecting and naive: there is no assumption of innocence for anyone, as decay is inevitably hereditary in Lovecraft’s stories, a fact variously noted before. Naturally, the following paragraph encodes parts of Lovecraft’s (in bold print) biography, though I don’t see that has any influence on the story or readings of it.

Lavinia was one who would be apt to mutter such things, for she was a lone creature given to wandering amidst thunderstorms in the hills and trying to read the great odorous books which her father had inherited through two centuries of Whateleys, and which were fast falling to pieces with age and wormholes. She had never been to school, but was filled with disjointed scraps of ancient lore that Old Whateley had taught her.

While decay is hereditary, it is also selective – it is obviously possible to be a Whateley without cultivating peculiar mannerisms –

Some of the Whateleys and Bishops still send their eldest sons to Harvard and Miskatonic, though those sons seldom return to the mouldering gambrel roofs under which they and their ancestors were born.

It is just as well they don’t return into a self-forsaken, god-forsaken, and rotting township. Lovecraft sometimes, though not always, goes ahead to doom whole communities to quaint morbidity, and Dunwich is a sorry and pathetic example (Innsmouth is the obvious other great example).

For a decade the annals of the Whateleys sink indistinguishably into the general life of a morbid community used to their queer ways and hardened to their May Eve and All-Hallows orgies.

They may establish a chorus to the Old Ones, or at least tolerate it when a family in their community plays hard to win the favors of alien beings (alien to New England, anyway, and probably to the rest of the world) – but they won’t just stand and watch the Whateley clan sacrificing all their cattle at an ever increasing rate. No, indeed!

There was talk of a complaint to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals but nothing ever came of it, since Dunwich folk are never anxious to call the outside world’s attention to themselves.

That must be one of the cutest passages in the whole of Lovecraft – imagine that seedy backwater community half-aware of the presence of the alien other and half-willing toward it – but when their cattle are at danger, noone will stand between them and justice… but themselves.

[to be continued]


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