The Horrors of the Oriental Space and Language in H.P. Lovecraft’s "The Shadow over Innsmouth"

Steffen Wöll ( SFB 1199)

Publication Date

November 2020


Boston,Berlin: DeGruyter Verlag






Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik - A Quarterly of Language, Literature and Culture






pp. 233- 249

Additional Information


In H.P. Lovecraft’s horror novella “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (1936), the incursions of ‘exotic’ cultural and religious practices result in an isolated New England community’s moral and genetic degeneration. This article traces the story’s depictions of Orientalized Others and hybrid identities to themes of spatial transgressions as well as distortions of language and western rationality. In colonial times, when it functioned mainly as an outlet for accumulated domestic issues and tabooed fantasies, the Orient appeared as a safe space that could be conjured or ignored at will. Accelerating industrialization, globalizing trade, imperialism, and the advent of modernity diminished the epistemic and spatial distance needed to uphold these fantasies. This abating distance, the article suggests, is where Lovecraftian themes of the monstrous take hold by establishing an American variant of Orientalism that perforates the boundaries between whiteness and Otherness through the lens of nonwhite immigration during the first decades of the twentieth century.

Biographical Note

Dr. Steffen Adrian Wöll ( SFB 1199 )

Employed at SFB 1199 since October 2016, I’ve contributed my American Studies background to a sub project, finishing with a dissertation titled “The West and the Word: Imagining, Formatting, and Ordering the American West in Nineteenth-Century Cultural Discourse.” Starting in 2020, I’m employed as a postdoctoral researcher in the follow-up project that involves the study of US transoceanic expansion between 1880-1940 and its representation and construction in literature and other cultural texts. These studies bring to the fore discursive dynamics and intersections between spatial imaginations of the transpacific and circum-caribbean spaces, as well as their connections at geo-strategic junctions such as the Panama Canal. Next to the analysis of spatial imaginations, formats, and orders, I’m interested in representations of agency, race, and otherness in US literature and culture. Articles about these and other subjects have appeared in several journals and volumes.