01 Jan The Life and Times of Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Howard phillips lovecraft
The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind. Quote from Lovecraft
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in his family home on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island. The only son to Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susan Phillips (later Lovecraft). Born into a family of substantial means, Howard’s mother, Susan, was the daughter of Whipple Van Buren Phillips, a recognized successful businessman renowned for his many ventures.
Winfield Scott Lovecraft found herself eventually hospitalized in Butler Hospital in Providence in April 1893. He had been exhibiting odd behavior weeks before, ultimately leading to a psychotic episode in a Chicago hotel. Medical records suggest his uncommon behavior included “saying strange things at times” for a long time before being institutionalized. Lovecraft’s father spent five years in Butler Hospital before dying in 1898. The cause of death is described as late-stage syphilis, referred to as general paresis.
Howard and his mother then relocated to his mother’s family home. Here he resided with his maternal aunts Lilian and Anne. His grandparents Whipple and Robie, played a significant role in Howards’ life. Particularly Whipple would frequently correspond with his grandson and encouraged young Howard to practice reading and writing. Howard had displayed proficiency at the activity by the agreement of three, and his Grandfather would promote the action with great gusto.
Whipple would introduce young Howard to classical literature and English poetry. Later in life, Whipple would help bring up your Howard and educate him with classical literature and other weird tales. While it is unknown which these strange tales are referred to, a gothic tale was cited. Around this time, Howard has gifted The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, one thousand and One nights, Age of Fable, and Metamorphoses; these works would become part of Lovecraft’s works’ earliest influences.
Howard grew up overly protected by his mother, as she smothered him with attention, especially after the death of his father. His Grandfather also became a compelling figure in Lovecraft’s life, becoming Howards’ father figure. Though it is unknown how familiar or close Lovecraft became to his grandmother when she passed, her death brought about depression in the household. Lovecraft has stated that after his grandmother’s death, his mother and aunts would frequently wear black mourning dresses. These traditional garments scarred and even terrified the young Howard, and he took to referring to them as “night-gaunt.” These figures mirrored Dore’s Illustration, and the models would create a sense of the sickening rate of speed. These figures would later appear in Lovecraft’s writing as cosmic bats that fly through space.
At the age of seven, Lovecraft began his earliest words with poems referring to the Odyssey and other loved mythical stories he would rework. Howard claimed great love for the Roman pantheon of gods, even accepting them as true divinity casting aside the more traditional Christian upbringing presented in his home. He showed a particular love for the sciences; the disciplines of astronomy and chemistry particularly caught his interest. Lovecraft also studied anatomy from the books found in his family’s library. When he learned of human reproduction, the subject matter did not interest him since the literary form had killed his interest in it.
His love for astronomy became a primary leading force in Howard’s life; He began writing for the Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy. There are a reported 69 issues that survive to date. During this stage in life, young Howard would ingress and exit school institutions missing time due to health concerns. His peers have described him as shy yet open enough to converse with anyone he felt shared a common interest. Some claim he was more than generous to share his prized telescope with anyone that wished to gaze at the sky with him. His lost time at school would be made up at home with private touters, and though he missed much time in school, Lovecraft claimed that he enjoyed his time there.
Howard’s family started to suffer an economic downturn by the year 1900. His Grandfather’s various businesses began to suffer, and Whipple found himself forced to let his family’s servants go. This left Howard, his mother, and his Grandfather living alone in the large family home. The year 1904 brought about the hardest hit yet, with Whipples largest venture collapsing into failure, a short time after Howard’s Grandfather died from a stroke at the age of 70. Howard’s mother, Susie, was left alone and unable to support the costs of keeping the large family home on what remained of the Phillips’ heritage. Susie and Howard moved to a small duplex. Lovecraft has referred to this time in his life as one of the darkest, and he mentioned in a later in 1934 he saw no point in living anymore. He started publishing in the Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy once again and included the Scientific Gazette as another potential publisher. During this time, Lovecraft would write his first stories dealing with Fiction titled “The Beast in the Cave” and his next novel “The Alchemist.”
Though unclear if Lovecraft was unable to graduate from school due to any sickness, he did mention that he was attending Brown University after he finished school. Something he never did. It was reported that Howard did suffer from “terrible ticks” and at times just suddenly up and jumped from his seat, or frequently interrupts the class. Lovecraft later in his letters acknowledged that he suffered from bouts of chorea as a child. These were attributed to worsen Howard’s delicate state of mind and contribute to his breakdown in 1908. In a letter, Howard expresses how he could hardly see or speak to anyone and shut the world out by pulling down the dark shades and using only artificial light.
There is little information provided for Howard and his mother Susie from the years 1908 to 1913. There is information that suggests that Susie’s’ fortune still dwindled after her uncle’s failed business venture that cost her part of her wealth. Clara Hess visited the home from time to time and reported that Susie would call Howard “so hideous that he hid from everyone and did not like to walk upon the streets where people could gaze on him.” While Clara refuted Susie’s claim to her monster child, this did not deter Howard from referring to his mother and a positive marvel.
During this time, Howard found the will to pull through one of his most problematic bouts of depression and revived his scientific periodical interest. He dedicated himself to chemistry; his mother encouraged his interest by buying expensive chemistry sets. Though impassioned by the activity, Howard found the mathematics involved in the study of chemistry to be too complicated and tedious; these long bouts would cause him headaches that could last him days. These times saw the first of Howard’s works that were not self-published in a local newspaper in 1912—titled Providence in 200 A.D. This racist tirade of literature saw an America where immigrants and Jews displaced the natives. His hate work also included poetry titled New-England Fallen” and “On the Creation of Niggers”.
Lovecraft’s letters to editors began showing up in pulp and magazines, featured most notably in Argosy. From 1911 and 1913, notes critical of Argosy would change Howard’s life. The essential letters sparked a yearlong feud, where Lovecraft critical of the stories referring to them as “trivial, effeminate and, in places, coarse.” The character’s emotions are referred to as negro or anthropoid apes in attempts to dehumanize the feelings.
Terrible racism aside, the writing rivalry between the magazine and Lovecraft produced recognition from Edward F. Daas, head editor of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA). Dass invited John Russell, the writer who answered Lovecraft’s critical letters to the magazine, and Howard himself to participate in the organization. Both agreed and joined the publication. Howard submerged himself in the world of amateur journalism for almost ten years. He became a ferocious advocate for amateurism vs. commercialism. Howard considered commercial journalism any pay per publication while he held himself to a professional publication standard where he would only publish what he considered respectable.
Howard found himself appointed chairman of the Department of Public Criticism in late 1914. He used this post to promote his insistence on superior English language usage, which most writers now found dated and some found archaic. This stance showcased his xenophobic and anglophile opinions, where he criticized other authors for the use of slang in their works. Lovecraft truly hated the bastardization of English and the added lexicon that was brought by immigration.
As the world entered the first world war, Howard found himself promoted to the first vice-president of the UAPA, then a short while later elected and appointed as president by the other board members of the UAPA that supported his racist’s views. Howard also heavily criticized the U.S Government’s reluctance to join the war to protect England; he viewed England as a relation to the U.S and such should be protected.
It was thanks to W. Paul Cook in 1916 that Lovecraft stepped away from his usual racist tirade and published his short story “The Alchemist” in the prominent UAPA journal. Cook would become a lifelong friend and push Howard to post more of his Fiction. Soon titles like the Tomb or Dagon saw the light. These stories showcased Lovecraft’s love and influence of Edgar Alan Poe. Lovecraft’s term as president of UAPA finished in 1918. He returned to his post in the Department of Public Criticism. In 1917 he tried to join the army, though staunch opposition from his mother ruined his options since she forced him to reveal all of his ailments to the recruiters.
His mother started to show symptoms of a nervous breakdown and decided to live with her elder sister Lillian. It is unknown what sort of illness Susie suffered. It was stated by their neighbor Clara Hess that Susie described a “weird and fantastic creature that rushed from behind the building.” Eventually, Susie was committed to the Butler Hospital, much like her late husband. Howard’s reaction to this event sent him into depression, writing to his friend Kleiner that his “existence seemed of little value” and indicated suicidal thoughts. Howard visited Susie and walked the ground with her, but his mother would not see the release from their care after a medical assessment.
In 1919 a change sprung in Howard. Following a long period of isolation, he started joining his fellow writers on trips and gathers. The first of his trips resulted in meeting his personal hero Lord Dunsany, a man who would greatly influence his writing. In 1920 he traveled to meet Frank Belknap Long, who eventually became a lifelong friend. The encounter with Dunsany inspired Howard, and a steady output of work later called Lovecraft Dream Cycle. It contained the stories of “The White Ship”, “The Doom that Came to Sarnath,” and “The Statement of Randolph Carter” Soom soon followed in 1920 by “The Cats of Ulthar” and “Celephaïs”.
In 1920, the termed Cthulhu Mythos coined by August Derleth became prevalent, and Lovecraft’s signature uncaring universe style of writing comes to life. The stories of Nyarlathotep and other tales of outer gods in realistic settings become contextualized. There are stories done in a collaboration that extends the universe. The stories titled “The Crawling Chaos” done with Winifred Virginia Jackson and the novels “The Nameless City” fall under the Mythos Cycle.
Susie died in Butler Hospital from complications with a gall bladder surgery. Howard’s reaction was of extreme shock. It seemed to have had terrible emotional damage, and Howard sometimes suggested that he had no desire to keep on living. Though tried and distraught by his mother’s death, he still attended conventions that brought the chance encounter with Sonia Greene, the woman who would eventually marry Howard Philips Lovecraft.
New York Life
On March 3, 1924, Lovecraft and Green married and relocated to her Brooklyn apartment, 793 Flatbush Avenue. Howard’s family disapproved of their engagement and marriage, so Green felt it would be better if they left Providence. Green agreed to support him financially and was determined to have a happy marriage; this would be her second after her divorce.
Once moved to New York, he joined the informally named Kalem Club, where he acquired a group of fellow intellectuals and writers, which urged him to keep at his work and submit these to Weird Tales Magazine. Many of his stories found publication by the editor Edwin Baird and titled the Dream Cycle of Lovecraft. These were received with mixed enthusiasm from the readers. Many came to consider these tales too strange even by Lovecraft standers. Thanks to the Kalem club composed by novelist Henry Everest McNiel, poet Reinhardt Kleiner and James Fedinand Morton Jr, these tales saw publishing light.
In 1925 Sonia Green moved to Cleaveland for a job, and Lovecraft left Flatbush apt for a small first-floor apartment on 169 Clinton Street. This place was adjacent to “Red Hook” this location troubled him much as the neighborhood residents were made up mostly of immigrants. While a renowned nationalist, Howard eventually became friends with Samuel Loveman, a new Kalem Club member. Loveman was a Jewish poet, writer, and critic. Love craft also brought along his protégé Frank Belknap Long, George Willard Kirk.
Unfortunately, not long after their marriage, Green lost most of her assets in a bank failure. She also became quite sick. Howard struggled to find employment to maintain his home. The lack of work experience and any real work skill found him ill-prepared for most jobs. He tried his hand as a clerk, and that did not go well. The publishers at Weird tales wanted to employ him, but Howard declined the work invitation. He did not wish to relocate to Chicago. This rejection would close the door to him once Braid was let go, and Farnsworth Wright, who was not a fan of Lovecraft’s writing and who had previously rejected the various submission by Howards, was hired to run the magazine.
The unfortunate situation of Howard’s position was only made worse by his apartment in Red Hook being burgled. August 1925 saw the publication of the story “The Horror at Red Hook” and “He”. The story of “He” stands out since Howard writes the protagonist in a nightmarish situation where he eventually mentions, “Coming to New York has been a mistake”. The horrible situation made Lovecraft feel a change was needed with his wife’s small allowance; he moved to Brooklyn Heights. At the new address, his health suffered some as his large 200 plus frame slimmed down by the loss of 40 to 45 pounds by the date of 1926 he picked up and left and returned to Providence.
It was around the time from Red Hook to Brooklyn Heights that The Call of Cthulhu saw print. The themes of insignificance and existential dread prevalent.
Howard moved to a large brown Victorian wooden house located at 10 Barnes Street until 1933. This saw the most productive period in Howard’s life. The stories The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, At the Mountains of Madness, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. He also ghostly wrote various other stories for authors that sought to help his situation. Winged Death, The Diary of Alonzo Typer were just some of the titles published for others. Harry Houdini, both a client and a fan, tried his best to help Lovecraft using his connection at various newspapers. Unfortunately, the death of the world-famous magician saw the stop of this plan since Howard’s social skills were a problem for many of the potential investors.
Weird Tales much appreciated Howard’s works at this point in his career; the publisher snapped up The Dunwich Horror, which proved very popular with readers. Unfortunately, he also produced a large amount of work that did not please his audience. Swift criticism of his works weighed heavily on him, and once rejected, Howard would not try to sell the story again. This lifestyle affected both his livelihood and physical well-being. To the surprise of many, Howard Philips Lovecraft was a man of sensitive emotions, and the harsh words of critics affected him greatly. This made him prone to solitude and withdrawal. When publisher concerning already existing tales of adventure, Howard would frequently not even reply considering the already once rejected work not worthy of print.
Once a few years after his move to Providence, he and his wife Sonia Greene, feeling like strangers at this point, decided to proceed with an amicable divorce. His now ex-wife moved to California in 1933 and then remarried in 1936. Despite claims to the contrary, Howard never did sign the divorce documents.
Howard’s life was a frugal one. He was never making enough money to exist comfortably off his written works and the ghostwriting done for others. He lived off his inheritance and his low earnings. So limited were his founds he would often have to decide whether to have a meal or pay postage for his frequent letter writing. Late in life and as a result of the Great Depression, Howard started to favor the socialist movement turning his back to his support of more fascist governments. He became a victorious proponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New deal though he considered the project somewhat lacking towards the social projects presented.
Howard suffered the final blows to his fiction writing career around 1936. The publication of Shadow over Innsmouth as a paperback contained many printing errors and brought about his displeasure. Its slow and low sales only saw around 200 copies sold. The remaining copies were destroyed once the publisher closed its doors and went out of business. He stated that the cold reception of At the Mountains of Madness. “more than anything to end my effective fictional career”. This dark time in Lovecraft’s life became even more turbulent as the loss of his dear friend Robert E. Howard on June 11 weighed on him even further, adding to his already deteriorating emotional and physical state.
Lovecraft was diagnosed with cancer of the small intestine only a month before his death. His notorious fear of doctors kept him from seeking help until it was too late. He was hospitalized until he passed on March 15, 1937, in Providence. Buried in Swan Point Cemetery under a handsome headstone adorned with the phrase “I AM PROVIDENCE”. A famous line from his letters.