To judge or not to judge?

27 Aug

Quite frequently, I see posts about how HP Lovecraft was a racist and whether we should stop reading his stories. Although the question of how to react to the work of someone whose opinions we disagree with is a fascinating one, I do tend to find these posts rather irritating as they mostly seem to approach it as if this is a new discovery. Even though we cannot necessary take what a writer puts into a story as an indication of what they believe (it’s called fiction for a reason), it is unlikely that any reader of Lovecraft has failed to notice that he often references issues of race and other topics that are not considered PC and had to decide how to react to it. For those interested in his life, it hardly takes any effort to discover that he did indeed hold such unpalatable views (although a little more research will reveal that he did modify his views over time and married a Jewish woman, making him, like most people, a complicated and often contradictory figure to judge).

Given that I’ve just published a booklet of poetry and fiction celebrating the 125th anniversary of his birth, I certainly don’t fall into the camp that feels the work of Lovecraft should be shunned. I am not ashamed to enjoy his writing, nor to add to the Mythos he helped birth. But, I have no illusions that he was anything but a flawed human being. Had we met, I don’t know how well we would have got on (I don’t think we would have approved of me), but I’ve managed to enjoy (and publish) the work of writers I do not particularly like as people, so however such a theoretical meeting might have progressed has nothing to do with my ability to appreciate his work on its own merits.

How to react to a writer’s personal life or political views is entirely a personal decision. It is, of course, complicated in the case of living writers when the money they make from their writing may be used to support causes you disagree with. We may be able to detach the writer from his work in terms of its artistic merit, but if buying that work will have a real world effect, should we buy it? (Of course, on that basis, we should be investigating every step in the production of every product we buy in order to ensure the money made from us is spent in what we consider an ethical manner. Those who actually do that have my admiration!)

With a dead, especially out of copyright, writer, such as Lovecraft, the choice is easier – he’s not going to use your money to fund an organisation you disagree with, after all, or buy hate-filled books or anything else you disapprove of. Enjoying his work doesn’t involve any indirect endorsement of anything.

Perhaps the simplest thing to do is try to avoid learning too much about your favourite authors lest you become disillusioned with their work and only read fiction that contains nothing that offends you…

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