Drawing on Maggie Kilgour’s dictum that the Gothic activates a dormant past with
the power to harm the present, this article explores the early modern histories
invoked by the Regnum Congo, a sixteenth-century account of
Africa featured in H. P. Lovecraft’s cannibal story ‘The Picture in the House’.
The Regnum Congo taps into Lovecraft’s racism, instantiating,
within and beyond the story, the racial and cultural convergence he dreaded. The
tale’s cannibal resembles the Africans depicted in the Regnum
Congo to a striking degree, even as his reverence for the book colours
his putative status as a puritan. Integrating the book itself into the analysis
enables a reading of the tale’s controversial cataclysmic ending as oneof
several exemplars of Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’s ‘Gothic thing-power’, which
disrupts subject/object boundaries. The multifarious histories summoned by
‘Picture’ reflect Lovecraft’s own ambivalence about the past, as well as the
possibilities of attention to Gothic pasts.