H.P. Lovecraft’s tale “The Shunned House” asserts the Gothic conventions by utilizing landscape to induce an atmosphere of horror and terror providing the audience with unexplained supernatural and a sense of legacy and lineage.
The titular house itself is unconventional with a cellar is part of the street rather than underneath it. It’s insides are infested with molds, fungi and other things that make it impossible to rent. That entire groups of people have died here leads to a legacy that infuses the house with a sense of terror –something is very much responsible for the deaths of the family — and of horror — no true explanation was ever found. Having a cellar above ground that still manages to grow below-ground plant life gives it an otherworldly aura even without the horrors simply because cellars are meant to be underground. It’s the entire point of their existence.
Lovecraft plays with the idea of the unexplained supernatural in “The Shunned House.” His story is full of theories as to why people have died in the house. The most obvious and rational explanation is that it’s a house full of mold, fungi, carbon dioxide, spores and a thousands other natural phenomenon designed to make living things die. Speaking French can be classified as mistakes or knowledge gaps ( perhaps Mrs. Harris did know French as did some of the immigrant renters) that have trickled down to become part of the legend. The vampire and werewolf theories are just that theories, made to come up with an explanation or make for a better tale–certainly better than death by fungus. The protagonists even comes up with his own scientifically worded vampire explanation. At the same time the supernatural is all only given as theory: victims were told of dreaming of or exhibiting vampiric behavior the Roulet’s were hinted to be connected with the occult and werewolves. Uncle Whipple melts into a pile of goo and the protagonist uncovers a giant’s elbow with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. These images invoke a sense of horror even if there isn’t a sense of physical terror because there is no answer and when the mind has no answer it is forced to populate it with the imagery of melting souls and giant bones. Of nameless things.
Legacy and lineage also plays a huge role in “The Shunned House.” Lovecraft devotes an entire chapter to the genealogy that owned the house. The legacy of the Roulet is said to have been the source of all the trouble. The protagonist and his uncle are the one who decide to hunt down the answer. By providing these Lovecraft gives the Shunned House a family lineage. The people and the names have changed yet the House links itself to a part of each member of that family. This adds to the idea of psychological horror that the house is now inexorably a part of that family. The protagonist even says he will miss it when it is gone even after having lay the evil to rest .
Note: Also of interest is the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast; two guys who like talking about Lovecraft from a sort of literary point of view. Since they focus more on why they love the works, the listener gets a good overview of what there is to love or hate about the story presented. For example they think The Shunned House is bad story, only getting good around chapter four. Their reviews are fun and pose some interesting questions like “ Why would you not put pirates in your story when the real explanation has pirates built-in?” ( regarding the real death of the real Capt. Harris) and ” Is it me or does anyone else hear the voice of Speedy Gonzales’s cousin Slowpoke when they read this?” ( about the landlady’s accent in “Cool Air”. ) I recommend them because they make me hate Lovecraft a little less and appreciate him more.