How do you deal with the knowledge that one of your favorite artists, writers or philosophers was anti-Semitic? I am a longtime fan of Howard Philips Lovecraft. Little known in his day, but greatly respected soon after, he became the 20th century’s most powerful voice of “weird fiction”, the predecessor to some forms of modern day horror and science-fiction.
According to Joyce Carol Oates, Lovecraft – as with Edgar Allan Poe in the 19th century – has exerted “an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction”. Stephen King called Lovecraft “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale, and his influence today would take an entire encyclopedia article to fill.
As great as his literary talents were, he also was a racist and anti-Semitic, although mostly in private letter writing. When he met people of different races he was friendly – and in the end, he ended up marrying a Jewish woman. As he got older, he gradually lessened his racism towards many people, but not towards black people, who today are still – understandably – offended by his writings.
He is in the news this week, (11/15) as it was announced that the World Fantasy Award trophy would no longer be modeled on H. P. Lovecraft. (there has been a subsequent controversy within the fantasy and science fiction community.)
As a Jewish American, I feel ashamed when I read the racist and anti-Semitic statements in his correspondence. But I still feel awed by his mastery of his art, especially given the unfortunate circumstance in which he was raised – and effectively neglected. I can’t see myself removing any of his volumes from my home.
Do you have any favorite artists, writers or philosophers who turned out to be anti-Semitic? How do you deal with this issue?
A valuable resource on this topic is What Did They Think of the Jews? Allan Gould (Jason Aronson Inc) ISBN 10: 0876687516 / ISBN 13: 9780876687512
Throughout history, the Jewish people and their religious traditions have been viewed in different ways by their contemporaries. Reactions from their non-Jewish neighbors expose a broad spectrum of emotions: honest respect, genuine acceptance, begrudging tolerance, subtle dislike, and vicious hatred. In “What Did They Think of the Jews?” Allan Gould has gathered over two hundred documents, written by well-known men and women from ancient times through today, that reflect the writers’ personal views of the Jewish people and their societies’ general attitudes and beliefs.
This anthology includes the works of philosophers and poets, politicians and novelists, inventors and world leaders. The documents are by and about diverse personalities. Cicero, Saint Augustine, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Thomas Hobbes are among the writers whose works document the perception of Jews from Ancient Greece and Rome through the Renaissance. How Americans have viewed the Jews throughout United States history is portrayed in the writings of figures such as Benjamin Franklin, William Cullen Bryant, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Herman Melville, Theodore Roosevelt, John Steinbeck, and Charles Lindbergh. The works of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Charles Dickens, Emile Zola, Joseph Conrad, and others exemplify European and British viewpoints.
There are also reflections on the Holocaust and the State of Israel by personalities such as Carl Sandburg, Charles DeGaulle, and Frank Capra. And the virulent hatred of the Jewish people by Communist, Fascist, and Nazi ideologies is tragically demonstrated in the documents of those eras.
While some of the material in this volume bears witness to the slanders and slurs the Jewish people have encountered, What Did They Think of the Jews? also contains a large portion of powerfully moving and affirmative documents. Readers can take great pleasure in the inspiring essays, letters, quotations, and anecdotes of Henrik Ibsen, James Joyce, Harry Truman, and others whose visions allowed them to see past the walls of prejudice. What Did They Think of the Jews? is a truly unique and comprehensive resource. These documents present a balanced and insightful perspective on the Jewish experience.
The Unlikely Reanimation of H.P. Lovecraft: 125 years after his birth, the author known for his eerie tales—and his racist beliefs—has had one of the biggest comebacks in Western literature. Philip Eil, The Atlantic, Aug 20, 2015
The World Fantasy Awards, established in 1975, are presented annually at the World Fantasy Convention. The World Fantasy Award has been described as one of the three most prestigious speculative fiction awards, along with the Hugo (voted on by fans and professionals) and the Nebula Awards (voted on members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) …The award statue was formerly a caricature bust of H. P. Lovecraft … In 2015, the old award statue was retired because of protests over Lovecraft’s racism.