Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lovecraft 101 - Sweet Ermangarde

Sweet Ermengarde
And now for something completely about Lovecraft writing a parody of romantic melodramas. That's right, it's time to look at Lovecraft's often over looked comedic novelette (I'm serious...this is real).
I actually found it quite difficult to find much information on this odd little story. Even the date in which it was written is up for discussion. Odds are it falls rather early in HPL’s writing career, probably somewhere between 1919-21, well before Lovecraft found his voice and was just throwing around ideas in hopes of getting noticed. But strangely enough, little is even mentioned of this story in the thousands of letters that Lovecraft wrote to various people (the main source for Lovecraft fiction background info). There is a letter from 1914, in which Lovecraft mentions his desire to write a story for the people complaining they can't get enough of Fred Jackson's writing. This is possibly the earliest mention of his work on this story, but does give some background to possible dates and inspiration for the work. But because the work also mentions the inactment of Prohibition, we know it must have been written sometime around 1919 or later. If the idea for a play on romantic literature came from his own romantic feelings, the writing date could lean closer to 1921 when HPL met and soon began courting Sonia Haft Greene, who would later become his wife.
This story is about as far away from what we expect from Lovecraft. But it is a rather enjoyable read. With the twists and turns one would expect from the genre, Sweet Ermengarde is a ridiculous tale of romance. Lovecraft takes the implausable plotlines of Jackson's work and pushes them to their limit. I actually feel guilty how much I enjoy the silliness of this story.
Illustration by Jeff Powers © 2013

Ermengarde Stubbs is the beautiful daughter of a poor farmer. She claims to be sixteen despite numerous rumors that she is almost thirty. As is oft to happen in these tales, she is being courted by two very different men (both with hilarious names). But who shall have her hand? Squire Hardman, the rich banker threatening to foreclose on their farm, or Jack Manly, the Ermengarde's childhood friend. Hardman and Manly. Sounds like an MST3k sketch. The game is really changed with yet a third suitor is found. The story continues, filled with blackmail, romantic intrigue, and even a man being thrown from a moving train. Without the elegance of a Dickensian novel, this story plays out like the best of dime-store romances of the Edwardian era. And the ending is like something Dicken's would have come up with in his serialized novels. It certainly isn't horrifying. It certainly isn't something ground-breaking or defining. But it is rather fun, and a pleasant little break from all the doom and gloom we are about to dive into.

If you want to read something utterly un-Lovecraftian you can check out the full text here: HPL's Sweet Ermengarde

Next time: Hypnos

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