“Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family“


“Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family“
   Short story (3,720 words); probably written in the fall of 1920. First published in the Wolverine (March and June 1921); rpt. WT(April 1924) and WT(May 1935); first collected in O;corrected text in D;annotated version in CC
   Sir Arthur Jermyn was of a venerable but eccentric family. In the eighteenth century, Sir Wade Jermyn “was one of the earliest explorers of the Congo region,” but was placed in a madhouse after speaking wildly of “a prehistoric white Congolese civilisation.” He had brought back from the Congo a wife—reportedly the daughter of a Portuguese trader—who was never seen. The offspring of the union were very peculiar in both physiognomy and mentality. In the middle of the nineteenth century, a Sir Robert Jermyn killed nearly his entire family as well as a fellow African explorer who had brought back strange tales (and perhaps other things) from the area of Sir Wade’s explorations. Arthur Jermyn seeks to redeem the family name by continuing Sir Wade’s researches and perhaps vindicating him. Pursuing reports of a white ape who became a goddess in the prehistoric African civilization, he comes upon the remains of the site in 1912 but finds little confirmation of the story of the white ape. This confirmation is supplied by a Belgian explorer who ships the object to Jermyn House. The hideous rotting thing is found to be wearing a locket containing the Jermyn coat of arms; what remains of its face bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Arthur Jermyn. When he sees this object, Jermyn douses himself in oil and sets himself aflame.
   The story is somewhat more complex than it appears on the surface. We are apparently to believe that there is more going on than merely a single case of miscegenation. The narrator’s opening comment (“Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world”), in particular the clause “if separate species we be,” is a generalized statement that does not logically follow if we are to assume that it is only the Jermyn line that has been tainted by a white ape in its ancestry; instead, the implication appears to be that the Congolese city discovered by Sir Wade Jermyn is the source for all white civilization. To a racist like HPL, this would have been the acme of horror.
   HPL makes a suggestive comment on the literary source for the tale:
   [The] origin [of “Arthur Jermyn”] is rather curious—and far removed from the atmosphere it suggests. Somebody had been harassing me into reading some work of the iconoclastic moderns— these young chaps why pry behind exteriors and unveil nasty hidden motives and secret stigmata— and I had nearly fallen asleep over the tame backstairs gossip of Andersen’s Winesburg, Ohio . The sainted Sherwood, as you know, laid bare the dark area which many whited village lives concealed, and it occurred to me that I, in my weirder medium, could probably devise some secret behind a man’s ancestry which would make the worst of Andersen’s disclosures sound like the annual report of a Sabbath school. Hence Arthur Jermyn. (HPL to Edwin Baird, [c. October 1923]; WT,March 1924) In its first WTappearance the story appeared under the title “The White Ape,” much to HPL’s disgust. Later appearances use the title “Arthur Jermyn”; HPL’s original and full title (used in the Wolverineappearance) was not restored until the corrected edition of 1986.
   Alfred Galpin, writing under the house name Zoilus, remarked of the tale: “It is perfect in execution, restrained in manner, complete, and marked by Mr. Lovecraft’s uniquely effective handling of introductory and concluding portions. The legend is not so powerful as many of Mr. Lovecraft’s dreamings have been, but it is unquestionably original and does not derive from Poe, Dunsany, or any other of Mr. Lovecraft’s favorites and predecessors” ( Wolverine, November 1921). Samuel Loveman also discusses the story at length in the column “Official Criticism: Bureau of Critics,” National Amateur44, No. 2 (November 1921): 29, 33.
   See S.T.Joshi, “What Happens in ‘Arthur Jermyn’?” Crypt No. 75 (Michaelmas 1990): 27–28; Bennett Lovett-Graff, “‘Life Is a Hideous Thing’: Primate-Geniture in H.P.Lovecraft’s ‘Arthur Jermyn,’” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts8, No. 3 (1997): 370–88.

An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. .

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