To my mind this tale--written a decade ago--is too glibly mechanical in its climactic effect, & almost comic in the bombastic pomposity of the language. As I re-read it, I can hardly understand how I could have let myself be tangled up in such baroque & windy rhetoric as recently as ten years ago. It represents my literal though unconscious imitation of Poe at its very height.I haven't got the vaguest idea why August Derleth made it the title tale of his first HPL compendium, and I've got only condescending, insulting ideas why it seems to take such central place in Lovecraft criticism since. (Because it's a great, bloody obvious hook for various forms of cheap or downright meretricious psychoanalysis, is why, for starters.)
Lyrically, it's just bad Poe. J. Vernon Shea wrote that if discovered in an attic with no author's name "The Outsider" would "pass for a lost tale of Poe," to which I would add that there would be little doubt why Poe left it unsigned and put it in an attic. It's not that the lugubrious, purple style of the thing is bad, in and of itself -- Poe could, and did, churn out prose much like it, in really good stories. But in "The Outsider," it's just not in service to anything. Where Poe uses the warm fog of such language to create a psychological sensation linking the reader and narrator while exploring the narrator's inner life, Lovecraft's wordage is just larded on to extend the distance to the ending (which HPL lifted from Hawthorne).
HPL adds insult to injury by using an epigraph from Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes," which is as full of sex and life and genuine mystery as "The Outsider" isn't.
Amazingly enough, George Wetzel manages to say something actually interesting about the piece, so I'll rip him off. He casts "The Outsider" as one chapter in Lovecraft's evolving ghoul-cycle, pointing out that "The Outsider"'s combination of crypts, dreams, and a decayed corpse with fading (or ancient) human memory are all topoi of Lovecraft's ghouls. For Wetzel, the ghoul-cycle begins with the unnatural extension of life through cannibalism in "Picture in the House," continues with the twin themes of self-discovery and buried ancestral horror in "The Outsider" and "The Rats in the Walls," and emerges triumphantly in "Pickman's Model" and "Dream-Quest," where the full ouroborous pattern of the ghouls is revealed. Although it's dressing the corpse in borrowed cerements, I have to say this is almost a convincing reason to re-read "The Outsider."
NEXT: "Herbert West -- Reanimator"