The Picture in the House
|"The Picture in the House"|
|Author||H. P. Lovecraft|
|Published in||The National Amateur|
|Media type||Print (Magazine)|
|Publication date||December, 1920|
"The Picture in the House" is a short story written by H. P. Lovecraft. It was written on December 12, 1920, and first published in the July 1919 issue of The National Amateur-- which actually was published in the summer of 1921.
"The Picture in the House" begins with something of a manifesto for the series of horror stories Lovecraft would write set in an imaginary New England countryside that would come to be known as Lovecraft Country:
- Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure of the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteem most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.
As Lovecraft critic Peter Cannon writes, "Here Lovecraft serves notice that he will rely less on stock Gothic trappings and more on his native region as a source for horror." Lovecraft's analysis of the psychological roots of New England horror is echoed in his discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature".
The story introduces two of Lovecraft Country's most famous elements:
- I had been travelling for some time amongst the people of the Miskatonic Valley in quest of certain genealogical data.... Now I found myself upon an apparently abandoned road which I had chosen as the shortest cut to Arkham.
Neither location is further developed in this tale, but Lovecraft had placed the foundations for one of the most enduring settings in weird fiction.
The book referred to in the story – Filippo Pigafetta's Regnum Congo – actually exists. According to S. T. Joshi, Lovecraft's knowledge of the work derives from Thomas Henry Huxley's Man's Place in Nature and Other Anthropological Essays. A number of Lovecraft's descriptions of the book are incorrect as he never saw the actual book.
The ending of the story, in which the narrator is saved by a thunderbolt that destroys the ancient house, may have been inspired by the similar ending of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher".
Critic Jason Eckhardt suggested that the dialect the unnaturally aged man uses in the story is derived from one used in James Russell Lowell's Biglow Papers (1848–62). Even in Lowell's time, the dialect was thought to be long extinct. Scott Connors has stated that "the use of an archaic dialect in "The Picture in the House"...represents an early example of (the notion of plunging through time), transforming what might otherwise be a mundane tale of cannibalism into a meditation on the paradoxes of time." 
The story is narrated by a lone traveler (a genealogist conducting research), riding on his bicycle in the Miskatonic Valley of rural New England, who seeks shelter from an approaching storm in a apparently abandoned house, only to find that it is occupied by a "loathsome old, white-bearded, and ragged man," speaking in "an extreme form of Yankee dialect...thought long extinct", whose face is "abnormally ruddy and less wrinkled than one might expect." The narrator notice that the house is full of antique books, exotic artifacts, and Victorian furniture. The old man is apparently harmless and ignorant, but shows a disquieting fascination for an engraving in a rare old book, the Regnum Congo, depicting in gruesome detail a butcher shop of the "cannibal Anziques" (from the historic Congo kingdom of Anziku), and admits to the narrator (who becomes increasingly nervous and frightened throughout the man's story) that it made him hunger "fer victuals I couldn't raise nor buy"- presumably human meat. It is suggested that the old man in the house was murdering men who stumbled upon the shack to satisfy his "craving" - and thus that the old man has extended his life preternaturally through cannibalism. The narrator realises the old man has been alive from at least the early eighteenth century to the year 1896 when the story takes place. The old man denies that he ever acted on his desire, but then a red drop of blood falls from the ceiling, clearly coming from the floor above, and splashes a page in the book. The narrator then looks up to see an spreading red stain on the ceiling; this belies the old man's statement. At that moment, a lightning bolt destroys the house, although the narrator manages to survive and tell his tale.
A phrase from the story's opening paragraph provided the title for An Epicure of the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays in Honor of H. P. Lovecraft, edited by S. T. Joshi.
Colin Wilson called the story "a nearly convincing sketch of sadism". In a 1986 discussion of Lovecraft's work, Joanna Russ dismissed "The Picture in the House" as "one of the flatter stories". Peter H. Cannon considers the story "rooted in authentic Puritan psychohistory."  and regards the climax, with the blood dripping from the ceiling above, as demonstrating "a finesse unknown to present-day horror writers who delight in graphic violence." For Cannon, the careful realism and subtle plot development leading up to the denouement involve a restraint which helps make the story "however conventional its cannibal theme, the strongest of Lovecraft's early New England tales."  Donald R. Burleson's 1983 study of Lovecraft's work adjudges "The Picture in the House" as demonstrating that "as early as 1920 Lovecraft was capable of weaving a powerful tale of horror - capable of evoking and sustaining mood through highly artful use of language, capable of exercising control of focus in handling his characters, and capable of using his native New England as a locale for horrors as potent as those to be entertained in more conventional settings.".
In September 2011, the Cape Cod-based Provincetown Theater Company announced that an adaptation of "The Picture In The House" would be performed live onstage at the November 2011 Fall Playwright's Festival in Provincetown, Massachusetts. This is believed to be the first such adaptation of this particular tale.
The podcast anthology series 19 Nocturne Boulevard produced a loose audio drama adaptation of the Picture in the House in 2009, as adapted by Julie Hoverson.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Lovecraft, Howard P. (1984) . "The Picture in the House". In S. T. Joshi and Peter Cannon (eds.). The Dunwich Horror and Others (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-037-8. Definitive version.
- Lovecraft, Howard P. (1999) . "The Picture in the House". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). More Annotated Lovecraft (1st ed.). New York City, NY: Dell. ISBN 0-440-50875-4. With explanatory footnotes.
- S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia.
- "Lovecraft's Fiction", The H. P. Lovecraft Archive.
- "H. P. Lovecraft's 'The Picture in the House'", The H. P. Lovecraft Archive.
- S. T. Joshi and Peter Cannon, More Annotated Lovecraft, p. 11.
- Peter Cannon, "Introduction", More Annotated Lovecraft, p. 2.
- Joshi and Schultz, p. 207.
- Pigafetta, Filippo, Duarte Lopes, Augustinus Cassiodorus, Johann Theodor de Bry, Johann Israel de Bry, and Johannes Saur, 1597: Regnum Congo, hoc est, Warhaffte und eigentliche Beschreibung dess Königreichs Congo in Africa und deren angrentzenden Länder. Durch Johan Saur in Verlegung Hans Dietherich vnd Hans Israel von Bry, Franckfort am Mayn.
- S. T. Joshi, "Lovecraft and the Regnum Congo", in The Horror of It All, Robert M. Price, ed., pp. 24-29.
- Joshi and Cannon, More Annotated Lovecraft, p. 24.
- Scott Connors, "Lovecraft's 'The Picture in the House'", The Explicator 59.3 (Spring 2001):p.140
- Peter Cannon, Lovecraft Studies No. 1 (Fall 1979); cited in Joshi and Schultz, p. 207.
- S.T. Joshi. A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft. San Bernardino CA: Borgo Press, second ed, revised and expanded, 1996, p. 62
- Colin Wilson, The Strength to Dream. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1962, p. 5
- Joanna Russ, "Lovecraft, H(oward) P(hilips), in Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers by Curtis C. Smith. St. James Press, 1986, ISBN 0-912289-27-9 (p.461-3).
- Peter H. Cannon. H.P. Lovecraft.(Twayne's United States Authors Series). Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989, p.38
- Peter H. Cannon. H.P. Lovecraft.(Twayne's United States Authors Series). Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989, p.39
- Donald R. Burleson, H.P. Lovecraft: A Critical Study. Westport CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1983, p. 46
- Audio of the story at the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast