Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family: The Complete Lovecraftian#22

As titles go, ‘Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.‘ is laborious, and fails to even give the slightest of inclines as to what the tale is about. Even for Lovecraft, a writer knows for his occasionally vague titles, ‘Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.’ stands out as both the longest and one of the vaguest titles he ever penned. Indeed, it sounds like a court reporter’s miss placed journalism before his editor got a hold of him and told him how to write a headline… Which probably was the reason ‘Wierd Tales‘ republished it in 1924 with the title ‘The White Ape’, (three years after it first appeared in ‘The Wolverine‘ under its more onerous original title.)

wt1924-04-whiteape-240

Old tentacle hugger H.P. was less than pleased when ‘Wierd Tales‘ did this, reputably his response was to say, “If I ever entitled a story ‘The White Ape‘, there would be no ape in it”.  While it didn’t lead to him falling out with ‘Wierd Tales.’ relationships were a tad fraught over the matter. Later reprints shortened the title to ‘Arthur Jermyn’ as late as 1986 until the full name was restored in a collection entitled ‘Dagon and Other Macabre Tales‘ all of which goes to show that an author will get his own way in the end, even if he happens to have been dead for fifty years when his title finally gets restored…

Interesting though all that is to me as a collector of trivialities, laborious is a word that many might ascribe to more than just the title of this Lovecraft story, spanning as it does several generations of the Jermyn family as there rather odd genealogy. I, however, am not among these detractors. While this may not be Lovecraft’s finest work, there is a lot quirks about this tale that I really enjoy. Indeed, did I not know better, I would swear old H.P. was trying his hand at writing comedy. Tragic, rather depressing comedy, but comic all the same. Take for example the mildly bizarre Jermyn family tree.

The family tree starts with Sir Wade Jermyn, an explorer of Africa’s dark interior, in particular, the upper reaches of the Congo (because its always the Congo…) and the odd wife he brings back with him after one of his longer trips. His wife is described in the tale as being the daughter of a Portuguese trader, though not long into the tale you start to realise that this may not be entirely true… Which accounts for the oddities of the family tree from there on, and this is a family much enamoured of trees. She is however kept in the house, and Sir Wade brings all her meals to her himself. Not long after the pair produces an heir, they return to Africa and are promptly never seen again.

Sir Wade’s son. Philip, despite his noble background, becomes of all things a sailor, and not the kind that stands on the poop deck, barking out orders, but the kind who run up and down the rigging for a living, before marrying a gypsy girl, fathering a son, then disappearing into the Congo one night when he jumps ship…

Sir Philip’s son, Robert, married a viscount’s daughter and became a scientist, a far more respectable profession for the progeny of a noble house. He fathers three sons and then goes off to explore Africa himself. Somewhere along the way, he meets another explore called Seaton who tells him of “a grey city of white apes ruled by a white god” much like the one described in his grandfather’s journals. Then he kills Seaton and goes on a bloody rampage killing all three of his sons before being locked up in an asylum.

Nevil Jermyn, Sir Robert’s middle son, father a child call Alfred with a dancer who is never named, and it is this child who becomes Sir Alfred, father of the Arthur of the title. Alfred grows to manhood and ends up marrying a music-hall singer and fathering Arthur. Then he runs off and joins the circus as an animal trainer with a strange unexplained passion for a gorilla of ‘lighter colour than usual’. Then after a few years pass he suddenly goes into a rage and attacks the gorilla who kills him.

Which leaves us with Arthur who inherits the title, the family pile in the country, and takes up poetry. Presumably, he writes a lot of bad poetry about trees… and is described as looking a little odd, like most of his family line since good old Sir Wade came back from Africa with his reclusive wife.

Then a Belgian explore sends word of a strange discovery of a mummy in the Congo and links to Sir Wade. Sir Wade it seems for all his professed fame as an explorer was a bit of a laughing stock after claiming he had discovered a city of white apes in the interior of the Congo. This has been a bit of a bugbear of the families history ever since, quite apart from the mad, murderous Sir Philip going totally batshit crazy when it last surfaced as a rumour…

As noble lineages go the Jermyn’s take some beating as a comic progression of inbred oddity. Though Lovecraft does not lend himself to the comic as a rule. The implication throughout this tale is that Sir Wade’s wife was not human herself, but a White Ape, worshipped as a goddess by the strange tribe of white apes who built the strange city in the Congo.

Some commentators point to all this as evidence of Lovecraft’s obsession with his own lineage, in-breeding, mental issues and the issues of coming from a rather ‘close’ family tree himself. His own parents both ended their lives in mental institutions. Certainly, it is not the only time Lovecraft draws from this particular well, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth.‘ and other tales are full of such themes. But for me, this seems like Lovecraft laughing at the idea and playing with it for comic relief as much as anything. With the subtlety of ‘Carry On Screaming...’ (the best carry on film ever made). Indeed, this reads like ‘Carry on Lovecraft‘. And in the film version, Syd James would play Sir Wade no doubt…

carry on

So there you go. Ridiculous, and probably not actually written for humour but it makes me laugh, so it’s four slightly rubbery and clearly fake tentacles for this one. A tale to be read with a certain degree of mirth in mind. It’s a dry kind of wit… Arid even. But it amuses me if no one else…

4out 6

Further Lovecraftian witterings 

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One Response to Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family: The Complete Lovecraftian#22

  1. Hahaha tentacle hugger. Love that. And “as a comic progression of inbred oddity.” It shouldn’t make me laugh either but it does. I need to read this to see if the wife ape implication is apparent.

    Liked by 1 person

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