The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Disinterment of Venus: then and now

In 2007, I think, Ryan Harvey wrote this:

The Disinterment of Venus
First published in Weird Tales, July 1934
This brief tale about the monks of Perigon (yes, them again) exhuming a lewd statue of Venus misses a number of opportunities for lusty, erotic satire, but Smith cannot take the blame for it: more explicit material would never have made it into print in the 1930s. That still cannot keep the reader from wondering what Smith could have done with the lustier elements if he had written them today, in the age of Anne Rice. The concept of an austere monastery falling into lecherous debauchery because of an erotic statue conjures up comic and horrific possibilities, but Smith can realize none of them under the publishing restraints of the time. A few of the monks spend a night drinking in a tavern, and that marks the limits of their carousing. Smith also plays briefly with the notion that the uncovered Venus represents not the classical goddess, but her earthier ‘chthonic’ form — the darker and bawdier part of Greek religion that rarely gets taught in high school.

This is interesting to me, a decade later, having just read the Nightshade Press edition, by Scott Connors and Ron Hilger [ed. 1:40 PM, the fourth volume, of five]. Because in there is lusty, erotic satire galore; I cannot see where Smith missed any opportunity to tweak (his straw-monk of) Christian mores.

Nightshade has also given us endnotes; Harvey's instincts, it seems, were correct. The edition which Weird Tales published was bowdlerised. According to Connors and Hilger, Smith had plotted out the original in 1931 and finished it in July 1932. It took four revisions before the magazine would finally run it. Weird Tales may as well not have bothered.

In Smith's original typescript, I rate "Venus" as solid. It is not as good as "Colossus"; but few stories are, even Conan stories. It is better than "The Holiness of Azédarac". I set it with "Gargoyles" and "Beast". A commenter Jim Rockhill observed it was close to Prosper Merimee's "The Venus of Ille" (1837) - too close, for him. I note the editors considered it for Penguin's Smith collection, but decided at the last to oust it in favour of the later "Mother of Toads".

posted by Zimri on 10:52 | link | 3 comments

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