I must note, with a snort of disdain, that not one but two reviewers I read in preparation of this article mistake Tascela’s vampire craving for the life and youth of Valeria as a sexual attraction. (This is because we live in a culture, dear readers, as corrupt as that of the degenerates of Xuchotl.)
January 13, 2014 at 12:31 pm
To be fair, the notes at the back of my Del Rey edition (The Conquering Sword of Conan) argues that Howard was in fact exploring lesbianism in Red Nails.
It quotes letters to Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft in which Howard states explicitly that the story was intended to be “sexy,” to break “taboos” through an exploration of “Lesbianism” (his words). He saw sexual depravity as a symptom of the degeneration of civilization, and became morbidly obsessed with the subject during the last year or two of his life. For instance, he gave his girlfriend a pornographic book as a Christmas present in lieu of the history book she’d asked for, explaining that the degeneracy of our times is a sign of the impending collapse of civilization.
To me Howard’s outlook seems to have been that barbarism is the natural state of humanity and that civilization inevitably slides into degeneracy. I see his quasi-Aztec Xuchotl as a thought experiment: it represents a culture isolated through unnatural means (dinosaurs, and prickly pears, which are just as out of place in the Old World as tyrannosaurs) from the usual tide of invaders waiting at the gates, left to itself to eke out the last dregs of its old glory. Unlike Rome it has no Goths or Huns to keep it from running the full course of its decay.
Robert E. Howard was a troubled person. The ugly side of life was on full display in the boom town he grew up in, and it affected him. To me his last stories represent the triumph of despair, and while they are probably his best, and among my favorite, they’re also tied up with his tragic suicide. I hope that he has found peace at last.
John C Wright says:
January 14, 2014 at 10:42 am
Be that as it may, and despite the authority of the Del Rey edition, and despite whatever Mr Howard’s original intent for this story might have been, there is no depiction whatsoever of one woman being sexually attracted to another woman in this story. There is a line where the princess is staring with a lust of hunger at a woman whom she intends to drain of her vital essence. The word ‘lust’ is being used in its older and broader sense, to mean an overbearing passion or appetite.
So Raphael has a post about REH at:
but aside from that, I love his paintings, so I have to put him on my blogroll.