Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Lovecraft in Quebec: Transcultural Fertilization and Esther Rochon's Reevaluation of the Powers of Horror

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Lovecraft in Quebec: Transcultural Fertilization and Esther Rochon's Reevaluation of the Powers of Horror

Article excerpt

In such a place every vista is an avenue of tradition and wonder, and every corner an antechamber of thrilling memory and stirring surprise.

(H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, Jan. 26, 1924)

Or il nous connaissait, nous du Quebec.

(Thus, he knew us, we Quebecois.)

(Esther Rochon, "La Ville lovecraftienne")

Although H. P. Lovecraft's three brief trips to Quebec add up to just over a week when combined, his writing about the province reveals a genuine understanding of its sites of memory. Reciprocally, many Quebecois developed a deep-seated appreciation of Lovecraft (HPL), seen not only in obvious venues like special issues of genre magazines but also in the fiction of sf and fantasy writers like Daniel Sernine or Yves Meynard. This transcultural fertilization extends even to the province's best-known mainstream writer, Michel Tremblay. Lovecraft's "cosmic horror" (Weinstock vii) has offered thousands of Quebecois a vehicle to travel through time and space, but the author whose work most patently bears the stamp of his influence is Esther Rochon. In her works which focus explicitly on HPL--five essays, a short story, and a novel--Rochon nonetheless proposes a revisionist critique of his horror. As his readers know, Lovecraft stages brilliant scenes of the Self horrified by the abjection of the Other usually depicted as a hybrid monster, an abortion of cosmic miscegenation, or an amorphous body dissolving before the protagonist's very eyes. In contrast, Rochon's fiction redeems the abject by privileging an openness to alterity and by embracing the ambiguity that comes from crossed boundaries; her work achieves acceptance where HPL's only rejects. This essay first briefly traces HPL's path to Quebec and then surveys his influence on four Quebecois writers. Finally, it demonstrates how the last of these, Esther Rochon, revises the subject's reaction to the abjection of the Other found in Lovecraftian horror.

Quebec for Lovecraft

Perhaps the brevity of his time in Quebec justifies scholars' lack of interest in this aspect of Lovecraft's work, and while not entirely absent, French-Canadian themes and characters are rare in his fiction (e.g., "Ibid"; "The Call of Cthulhu" 89). And yet, those few days on foreign soil, accumulated during rail excursions made in early September of 1930, 1932, and 1933, left an indelible impression on the writer. "One of the most exhaustively self-chronicled individuals of his century" (Joshi, "Introduction" vii), Lovecraft's published correspondence to Donald A. Wandrei, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and others (2) includes at least seventy letters or post cards with references to Quebec. These range from passing mention of a projected voyage or a brief comparison of Quebec to other cities, to several descriptive pages praising its landscape, architecture, and traditional lifestyle. In a letter to Alfred Galpin, Lovecraft enthusiastically described the Francophone province's capital as "the most interesting & exquisite town on the North-American continent" (HPL, Galpin 161). (3)

Not satisfied with anticipating and describing his three trips across his vast correspondence, Lovecraft composed "A Description of the Town of Quebeck," which remained unpublished until L. Sprague de Camp edited the posthumous To Quebec and to the Stars (1976), a collection of Lovecraft's more obscure non-fiction material. This literary curiosity, begun almost immediately after his first trip in 1930, represents a virtual appropriation of this beloved territory. A ludic text, it allows Lovecraft to pose as an eighteenth-century English gentleman, peppering his discourse with exclamations like "God save the King!" (HPL, "Description" 166, 176, 179, passim) and archaic spellings far in excess of his usual wont. He references his circle of friends and their developing mythos, describing Wisconsin as "the Galpinian country west of Green Bay" (127), for example. …

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