A Dreamer and a Visionary

A Dreamer and a Visionary: H P Lovecraft in His Time

S. T. JOSHI
Volume: 26
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vjhg7
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Dreamer and a Visionary
    Book Description:

    H. P. Lovecraft has come to be recognised as the leading author of supernatural fiction in the twentieth century. But how did a man who died in poverty, with no book of his stories published in his lifetime, become such an icon in horror literature? S. T. Joshi, the leading authority on Lovecraft, traces in detail the course of Lovecraft’s life and shows how Lovecraft was engaged in the political, economic, social and intellectual currents of his time.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-299-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Unmixed English Gentry
    (pp. 1-7)

    Only an intermittently diligent genealogist, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was able to discover little about the paternal side of his ancestry beyond the notes collected by his great-aunt Sarah Allgood. Subsequent genealogical research has failed to verify much of this information, especially regarding the Lovecrafts prior to their coming to America in the early nineteenth century. According to the Allgood notes, the Lovecraft or Lovecroft name does not appear any earlier than 1450, when various heraldic charts reveal Lovecrofts in Devonshire near the Teign. Lovecraft’s own direct line does not emerge until 1560, with John Lovecraft.

    The paternal line becomes of...

  5. CHAPTER TWO A Genuine Pagan (1890–97)
    (pp. 8-24)

    In April 1636 Roger Williams left the Massachusetts-Bay colony and headed south, settling first on the east bank of the Seekonk River and later, when Massachusetts asserted territorial rights to this region, on the west bank. He named this site Providence. Williams’s immediate reason for seeking new territory was, of course, religious freedom: his own Baptist beliefs did not sit well with the Puritan theocracy of the Massachusetts-Bay. The religious separatism present at the very birth of Rhode Island left a permanent legacy of political, economic, and social separatism in the state.

    Although Roger Williams had negotiated with the Indians...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Black Woods and Unfathomed Caves (1898–1902)
    (pp. 25-39)

    Lovecraft dates his first work of prose fiction to 1897,¹ and elsewhere identifies it as ‘The Noble Eavesdropper’, about which all we know is that it concerned ‘a boy who overheard some horrible conclave of subterranean beings in a cave’.² As the work does not survive, it would be idle to point to any literary sources for it; but the influence of theArabian Nights(the cave of Ali Baba and other stories involving caves) might be conjectured. A still more likely source, perhaps, would be his grandfather Whipple, the only member of his family who appears to have enjoyed...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR What of Unknown Africa? (1902–1908)
    (pp. 40-61)

    This remark, made around 1921, is a sufficient indication of the degree to which the discovery of astronomy affected Lovecraft’s entire world view. I shall pursue the philosophical ramifications of his astronomical studies later; here it is worth examining how he came upon the science and what immediate literary products it engendered. In the winter of 1902 Lovecraft was attending the Slater Avenue School, but his statements lead one to believe that he stumbled upon astronomy largely of his own accord. The majority of his astronomy volumes were inherited from his maternal grandmother Robie Phillips’s collection; some of these are...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Barbarian and Alien (1908–14)
    (pp. 62-76)

    Lovecraft is very reticent about the causes or sources of what we can only regard as a full-fledged nervous breakdown in the summer of 1908. Beyond the mere fact of its occurrence, we know little. Consider four statements, made from 1915 to 1935:

    In 1908 I should have entered Brown University, but the broken state of my health rendered the idea absurd. I was and am a prey to intense headaches, insomnia, and general nervous weakness which prevents my continuous application to any thing.¹

    In 1908 I was about to enter Brown University, when my health completely gave way—causing...

  9. CHAPTER SIX A Renewed Will to Live (1914–17)
    (pp. 77-106)

    The world of amateur journalism which Lovecraft entered in April 1914 with wide-eyed curiosity was a peculiar if rather fascinating institution. The papers produced by the members exhibited the widest possible range in content, format, style, and quality; in general they were quite inferior to the ‘little magazines’ of their day but considerably superior (both in typography and in actual literary content) to the science fiction and fantasy ‘fanzines’ of a later period, although few were so focused on a single topic as the fanzines were. Amateur journalism as a formal institution began around 1866, with a short-lived society being...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Feverish and Incessant Scribbling (1917–19)
    (pp. 107-124)

    W. Paul Cook (1881–1948) had long been a giant in the amateur world. Cook was unmistakably a New Englander: he had been born in Vermont; he was a direct descendant of the colonial governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire; and he resided for much of his adult life in Athol, Massachusetts. For years he was the head of the printing department of theAthol Transcript, and his access to printing equipment and his devotion to the amateur cause permitted him to be a remarkable philanthropist in printing amateur journals virtually at cost. He began printingThe Conservativein 1917....

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Cynical Materialist (1919–21)
    (pp. 125-142)

    The immediate effects of Susie’s absence from the household at 598 Angell Street were mixed: at times Lovecraft seemed incapable of doing anything because of ‘nerve strain’; at other times he found himself possessed of unwonted energy: ‘I wrote an entire March critical report [i.e., the ‘Department of Public Criticism’ for March 1919] one evening recently, & I am this morning able to write letters after having been up all night’.¹ In a sense, this turn of events—especially in light of Lovecraft’s repeated assurances, which he himself no doubt received from Susie’s doctors, that she was in no physical...

  12. CHAPTER NINE The High Tide of My Life (1921–22)
    (pp. 143-162)

    Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft died on 24 May 1921, at Butler Hospital. Her death, however, was not a result of her nervous breakdown but rather of a gall bladder operation from which she did not recover. Winfield Townley Scott, who had access to Susie’s now destroyed medical records, tells the story laconically: ‘She underwent a gall-bladder operation which was thought to be successful. Five days later her nurse noted that the patient expressed a wish to die because “I will only live to suffer.” She died the next day.’¹

    Lovecraft’s reaction was pretty much what one might expect: ‘The death...

  13. CHAPTER TEN For My Own Amusement (1923–24)
    (pp. 163-185)

    At just the time when Lovecraft’s activity in the UAPA seemed on the wane, his involvement with the NAPA took on a sudden and wholly unforeseen turn: it was nothing less than his appointment, on 30 November, as interim President to replace William J. Dowdell, who was forced to resign. It is not clear what led to Dowdell’s decision: Lovecraft later commented that Dowdell ‘ran off with a chorus girl in 1922’.¹

    Lovecraft made the first of five official reports (four ‘President’s Messages’ and a ‘President’s Annual Report’) for the issue of theNational Amateurdated November 1922–January 1923....

  14. CHAPTER ELEVEN Ball and Chain (1924)
    (pp. 186-210)

    New York in 1924 was an extraordinary place. Far and away the largest city in the country, its five boroughs totalled (in 1926) 5,924,138 in population, of which Manhattan had 1,752,018 and Brooklyn (then and now the largest of the boroughs both in size and in population) had 2,308,631. A remarkable 1,700,000 were of Jewish origin, while the nearly 250,000 blacks were already concentrating in Harlem (extending from 125th to 151st Streets on the west side and 96th Street northward on the east side of Manhattan) because of the severe prejudice that prevented their occupying many other areas of the...

  15. CHAPTER TWELVE Moriturus Te Saluto (1925–26)
    (pp. 211-232)

    Lovecraft found the first-floor apartment at 169 Clinton Street pleasing, since the two alcoves—one for dressing and the other for washing—allowed him to preserve a study-like effect in the room proper. There were no cooking facilities in the apartment. The only thing he found disappointing, at least initially, was the seediness of the general area; but he knew that beggars could not be choosers. At $40 a month the place was a pretty good deal, especially since Sonia—during her infrequent visits there—could be accommodated well enough, as the sofa could be unfolded into a double bed....

  16. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Paradise Regain’d (1926)
    (pp. 233-250)

    The saga of Lovecraft’s efforts to return to Providence can be said to commence around April 1925, when he writes to Lillian that ‘I couldn’t bear to see Providence again till I can be there for ever’.¹ Lillian had clearly suggested that Lovecraft pay a visit, perhaps to relieve the tedium and even depression that his lack of work, his dismal Clinton Street room, and the rocky state of his marriage had engendered.

    When Lovecraft stated in November 1925 that ‘My mental life is really at home’² in Providence, he was not exaggerating. For the entirety of his New York...

  17. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Cosmic Outsideness (1927–28)
    (pp. 251-269)

    The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadathwas finished at 43,000 words on 22 January 1927. Even while writing it, Lovecraft expressed doubts about its merits: ‘Actually, it isn’t much good; but forms useful practice for later and more authentic attempts in the novel form.’¹ That remark is about as accurate a judgment as can be delivered on the work. More than any other of Lovecraft’s major stories, it has elicited antipodally opposite reactions even from devotees: L. Sprague de Camp compared it to George MacDonald’sLilithandPhantastesand theAlicebooks, while other Lovecraft scholars find it almost unreadable. For...

  18. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Fanlights and Georgian Steeples (1928–30)
    (pp. 270-292)

    Lovecraft arrived in New York no later than April 24. Sonia writes in her memoir: ‘Late that spring (1928) I invited Howard to come on a visit once more. He gladly accepted but as a visit, only. To me, even that crumb of his nearness was better than nothing.’¹ How ‘gladly’ Lovecraft accepted this invitation we have already seen in the letter to Zealia Bishop. To his old friend Morton he is a little more expansive: ‘The wife had to camp out here for quite a spell on account of business, and thought it only fair that I drop around...

  19. CHAPTER SIXTEEN Non-supernatural Cosmic Art (1930–31)
    (pp. 293-312)

    By the early 1930s Lovecraft had resolved many of the philosophical issues that had concerned him in prior years; in particular, he had come to terms with the Einstein theory and managed to incorporate it into what was still a dominantly materialistic system. In so doing, he evolved a system of thought not unlike that of his later philosophical mentors, Bertrand Russell and George Santayana.

    It appears that Lovecraft first read both these thinkers between 1927 and 1929. He clearly found Russell’s reliance on science and his secular ethics to his liking, although Russell was not exactly an atheist. In...

  20. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Mental Greed (1931–33)
    (pp. 313-328)

    The year 1931 was, of course, not an entire disaster for Lovecraft, even though the rejections of some of his best work stung him. His now customary late spring and summer travels reached the widest extent they would ever achieve in his lifetime, and he returned home with a fund of new impressions that well offset his literary misfortunes.

    Lovecraft began his travels on Saturday, 2 May, the day after he finished the back-breaking work of typingAt the Mountains of Madness. His customary stop in New York was very brief, and he caught a bus for Charleston via Washington,...

  21. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN In My Own Handwriting (1933–35)
    (pp. 329-345)

    A passage like this can be found in nearly every letter Lovecraft wrote during this period, and testifies to the miraculous stroke of luck whereby a move made for purely economic reasons—and after Lovecraft had come to feel so at home at 10 Barnes after seven years’ residence there—resulted in his landing in a colonial-style house he had always longed for. Even his birthplace, 454 Angell Street, was not colonial, although of course it remained dear to his heart for other reasons.

    Across the back garden from 66 College Street was a boarding-house, at which Annie customarily ate...

  22. CHAPTER NINETEEN Caring about the Civilization (1929–37)
    (pp. 346-363)

    In the summer of 1936 Lovecraft made an interesting admission:

    I used to be a hide-bound Tory simply for traditional and antiquarian reasons—and because I had never done any realthinkingon civics and industry and the future. The depression—and its concomitant publicisation of industrial, financial, and governmental problems—jolted me out of my lethargy and led me to reëxamine the facts of history in the light of unsentimental scientific analysis; and it was not long before I realised what an ass I had been.¹

    This is one of the few times Lovecraft explicitly mentions the Depression as...

  23. CHAPTER TWENTY The End of One’s Life (1935–37)
    (pp. 364-388)

    For the time being ‘The Shadow out of Time’ remained in manuscript; Lovecraft was so unsure of its quality that he didn’t know whether to type it up or tear it up. Finally, in a kind of despair, he sent the notebook containing the handwritten draft to August Derleth at the end of February 1935—as if he no longer wished to look at it. Meanwhile the fifth proposal by a publisher to issue a collection of Lovecraft’s stories emerged in mid-February—this time through the intercession of Derleth—but ended in a rejection, as Loring & Mussey declined on...

  24. EPILOGUE: Thou Art Not Gone
    (pp. 389-392)

    On the evening of 15 March theProvidence Evening Bulletinran an obituary, full of errors large and small; but it made mention of the ‘clinical notes’ Lovecraft kept of his condition while in the hospital—notes that ‘ended only when he could no longer hold a pencil’. This feature was picked up by the wire services, and a brief obituary appeared in theNew York Timeson 16 March. Frank Long, Lovecraft’s best friend, learnt of his death from reading this obituary.

    A funeral service was held on 18 March at the chapel of Horace B. Knowles’s Sons at...

  25. Notes
    (pp. 393-410)
  26. Index
    (pp. 411-422)