Secret Passage through Poe: The Transatlantic Affinities of H. P. Lovecraft and Stefan Grabinski

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The paper focuses on intertextual relations between selected horror stories by H. P. Lovecraft and Polish writer Stefan Grabinski. Using a triadic concept of intertextuality derived by Michael Riffaterre from Peircean semiotics, this is to demonstrate that the interpretant connecting Lovecraft and Grabinski is "The tell-tale heart" by Edgar Allan Poe.

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In "Botany Bay", a bizarre short story by Annie Trumbull Slosson, included in her 1891 collection Seven dreamers, the protagonist, named Baalam Montmorency, develops an obsession that somewhere overseas lives "a weird, mysterious duplicate of himself" (Slosson [1890] 1969: 62), whose uncorroborated distant presence eventually brings him to suicide. Baalam, a Connecticut countryside herbalist and self-sentenced outcast of society, cannot live with the excruciating knowledge that the principle of individual uniqueness, rooted in the individuality of souls, has been inexplicably violated. Accusing God of an error of creating the same soul "twice", he explains in this genuine Southern New England dialect, "we aint't twins, we're each other, don't you see?" (Slosson 1969: 65). The only solution to this unbearable equation is elimination of one element to make room in the world for the other him by disappearing into nothingness.

Surely analogies are often misleading, but under the circumstances this Gothic preamble may not be amiss as an introduction to another pair of eccentric misfits who lived at the turn of the twentieth century as well, separated by the Atlantic ocean and most likely quite unaware of each other. One, Howard Philips Lovecraft, born August 20, 1890 in Providence, RI, where he also died March 15, 1937, is now considered one of the most outstanding weird fiction writers of the English language. The other, Stefan Grabinski, was born February 26, 1887 in a small town on the river Bug in the east of Poland and died November 12, 1936 not far away, in the city of Lvov, then Polish as well, where he worked as high school teacher and contributed to local literary magazines. Today his work remains virtually unknown outside the audience reading in his native tongue (a selection of his tales has been also published in the German Gothic series, Bibliothek des Hauses Usher [Hutnikiewicz 1980: 22])--had he been translated into English, however, he might find his legitimate place among the modern masters of the horror genre. In his lifetime, Grabinski published eight collections of stories and four novels, as well as a number of uncollected tales and essays on various literary matters. His three plays and another, unfinished, novel still remain unpublished in manuscript.

Characteristically, regardless of all the differences of background--in origin, culture, and language--both Lovecraft and Grabinski were not only practitioners of weird fiction, but also its theorists. The former wrote in 1925-27 an extended historical study on "Supernatural horror in literature", focusing on the genealogy of the Gothic and its development in Britain and the United States, the latter published in 1928 in a Lvov literary magazine an introduction to a never completed longer essay, "O tworczosci fantastycznej" ["On fantastic literature"], and, what is perhaps more significant in the present context, in 1931 an essay on Poe, called "Ksiaze fantastow" ["The prince of fantasists"]. In his account of the supernatural in fiction, the American writer singled out one specific figure--not surprisingly, Poe as well--to whose work he devoted a separate chapter. The Pole, too, had no doubt that in the history of the Gothic horror the author of "Ligeia" deserved the highest rank and appreciation. In the twentieth century, both of them considered themselves, independently though identically, followers of the "strong" master; his indirect disciples trying to use the trail blazed by the Tales of the grotesque and arabesque. …