A Guide to Hodgson Criticism


Sometimes I am asked what is the ‘best’ scholarly work on Hodgson to read?  Usually this comes from people who have read Hodgson’s writings and want to learn more about the man and his work.  Happily (or unhappily), unlike Lovecraft, there has not been so much work done on Hodgson as to be overwhelming.  Indeed, there is much yet to be done but, like everything, there is a beginning.  This list contains comments regarding the items which are purely my own opinion.

We must first divide this list into two parts: Biographical and Critical.  Although some contain elements of both, most fall firmly into one camp or the other.

Biographical

There have been several significant biographical pieces on Hodgson.  It is due to them that we have what little information that we do today.

evertsThe earliest came from R. Alain Everts 1974’s, William Hope Hodgson: THE NIGHT PIRATE, Volume 2 .  This was the result of much individual research by Everts and interviews with Hodgson’s then surviving siblings.

Sam Moskowitz provided the longest and most detailed analysis with his essay which first appeared in three issues of Weird Tales in 1973 when he was that magazine’s editor.  These installments were combined into one article which served as the introduction to the important collection, Out of the Storm (Grant, 1975).

Both Everts and Moskowitz deserve reading.  However, they often disagree on various points.  Moskowitz, for example, claims that WHH had a good relationship with his parents while Everts refutes this.  Because much of this information is apocryphal, it cannot be independently verified at this point.  My belief is that much of the information both scholars quoted was gained from interviews they conducted with WHH family.  As such, we must adjust for faulty memories or the more typical tendency to ‘revise’ history to make it appear more palpable.  Read with an open mind.

PamperoMoskowitz would go on to pen two more forewords to the other two WHH collections from Grant that he edited.  Much useful information is contained in both.  In The Haunted Pampero (1991), Moskowitz describes the efforts of Hodgson’s widow to keep his work alive until her death in 1943.  In Terrors of the Sea (1996), Moskowitz’s introduction picks up after the death of Hodgson’s widow when the literary estate reverted to Hodgson’s sister, Lissie.  This essay is particularly interesting in that it describes how Lissie often did more harm than good albeit unintentionally as she did not understand publishing and contracts.

The next major biographical step would come with Jane Frank’s The Wandering Soul.  After Moskowitz’s death in 1997, Frank and her husband purchased Moskowitz’s Hodgson collection which Jane Frank used to put together this anthology of WHH’s non-fiction and essays.

In addition to an excellent essay covering Hodgson’s life and career, Frank presents several unpublished WHH items that have significant impact on our knowledge of Hodgson’s life.  These include the lectures “A Sailor and His Camera” and “Ship’s Log”.  Recently, Frank has mentioned that she still has some unpublished items from Moskowitz’s files and is searching for a publisher for them.

Criticism

One of the earliest examples of Hodgson Criticism is H. P. Lovecraft’s essay, “The Weird Work of William Hope Hodgson”.  This was originally published in The Phantagraph in 1937 and then later in H. C. Koenig’s amateur magazine, The Reader and Collector (1944).  This essay was reprinted in full on this blog here.  Lovecraft had taken the portions on Hodgson that he had included in his revised essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature, and expanded them in this article.

That issue of The Reader and Collector marked the first time that serious critical attention had been focused on Hodgson.  Through the kind generosity of Koenig’s son-in-law, Gene Biancheri, we have reprinted that issue in it’s entirety on this blog.  The issue included essays by Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Koenig, E. A. Edkins and Ellery Queen.

Arkham House, 1946.

Arkham House, 1946.

In 1947, Koenig provided the introduction to Arkham House’s edition of House on the Borderland which was the first time many readers had read anything about Hodgson.

For the next several decades, the bulk of Hodgson Criticism would primarily be contained in introductions to various reprints of his work.  Many library encyclopedias and indexes would appear in the 1970s and 80s which would include sections on Hodgson but would be priced beyond the means of most readers.

In 1987, Hodgson enthusiast Ian Bell would self publish William Hope Hodgson: Voyages and Visions which would collect many significant essays on Hodgson.  It was the most significant gathering of scholarly articles on Hodgson since 1944’s Reader and Collector.

Recently, academic scholars have taken up the Hodgson banner.  Writers such as Emily Alder and Kelly Hurley have placed articles in volumes published by Cambridge University Press and others.

I would be remiss if I did not at least mention my own article, Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson”, which was first published in 1992.  In it, I provided evidence that Hodgson’s novels were published in the reverse order of publication which changes many conceptions about Hodgson and his work.  I reprinted the essay on this blog here.

These are, to my mind, the primary sources that one should read for a basic understanding of Hodgson Criticism.  In an earlier post, I provided a more detailed listing of what was published and when which can be read here.

There is a great deal more work left to be done on Hodgson.  To date, he has not even received a book length analysis of his life and work.  In many ways, the field of Hodgson Criticism is as unexplored as many of the locales in his stories.  This needs to be corrected.–Sam Gafford

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