The Picture in the House
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Created: February 2017
| Updated: February 2017
The Picture in the House
Read this story in the library
"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:
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:
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 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."
Peter Cannon has pointed to parallels between "The Picture in the House" and Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches".
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.".