A Biography of H. P. Lovecraft (Part 2)


Szerző: S. T. Joshi • Dátum: 2003-08-03



In the short term Lovecraft’s reputation will certainly rest upon his sixty or so short stories, novelettes, and short novels, and it is right that the bulk of the articles in this volume focus upon them. I myself can only touch upon the broadest features of his fiction here, and then dwell briefly on other bodies of his work.  

A useful starting-point for the study of the philosophy of Lovecraft’s fiction is his own epochal statement of 1927:  

Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form—and the local human passions and conditions and standards—are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown—the shadow-haunted Outside—we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold. (SL 2.150)  

This statement—emphasizing the fundamental amorality of his fictional cosmos—was made in conjunction with the resubmittal of „The Call of Cthulhu” (1926) to Weird Tales; and there can hardly be a doubt that that tale marks a watershed in Lovecraft’s work, although perhaps not exactly in the way many think. To be sure, it marks the debut of Lovecraft’s convoluted pseudomythology, dubbed by August Derleth the „Cthulhu Mythos”; but in truth it reveals that Lovecraft has taken not merely the world but the cosmos for his backdrop. The cosmicism that became so distinctive a feature of his later fiction was observable only tangentially in his work prior to 1926, even though it had been an aesthetic goal from the beginning; as early as 1921 Lovecraft had written:  

I could not write about „ordinary people” because I am not in the least interested in them. Without interest there can be no art. Man’s relations to man do not captivate my fancy. It is man’s relations to the cosmos—to the unknown—which alone arouses in me the spark of creative imagination. The humanocentric pose is impossible to me, for I cannot acquire the primitive myopia which magnifies the earth and ignores the background. (In Defence of Dagon [1921])  

This is all well and good, but where do we find it in the early tales? The second story of Lovecraft’s maturity, „Dagon” (1917), suggests it dimly in its brief glimpse of a vast „Polyphemus-like” sea-creature; but that is about all. What is even more curious is that the many tales of the 1919-21 period inspired by Lord Dunsany—of whom Lovecraft claimed flamboyantly in Supernatural Horror in Literature that „His point of view is the most truly cosmic of any held in the literature of any period”—are themselves singularly uncosmic, seeking instead to imitate the homely, folktalelike quality that is a feature of some of Dunsany’s work.  

But all this changes with „The Call of Cthulhu.” At this point I will not enter into the vexed question of how useful it is to bracket off those of Lovecraft’s tales which employ his imaginary pantheon (Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth, etc.) or imaginary New England topography (Arkham, Kingsport, Dunwich, Innsmouth, etc.) or other appurtenances, such as the mythical books of occult lore like the Necronomicon or De Vermis Mysteriis. After Lovecraft’s death (or even before, as Will Murray has argued) all this became a sort of „parlor game” (in Maurice Lévy’s apt phrase) as second-rate writers imitated the outward form of the „Cthulhu Mythos” but not its inner philosophical substance. Even more so than the countless epigoni of Sherlock Holmes, these imitations have cast a dubious light on Lovecraft himself, and it is understandable that critics like David E. Schultz would wish to discard the whole framework of the mythos as more of a hindrance than a help to the understanding of Lovecraft. But the fact is that Lovecraft did use his pseudomythology more concentratedly in some tales than in others, and because of this they really do gain a cumulative power they would not have as independent units.  

What we derive from Lovecraft’s later fiction is a brutal sense of mankind’s hopelessly infinitesimal place in the cosmic scheme of things. In Lovecraft’s fictional cosmos, successive waves of alien races (they are always whole cultures or civilizations, not isolated individuals) came to the earth millions of years ago, erected vast cities, held sway over enormous empires, and finally vanished long before the advent of humanity. Each of these races is incalculably superior to us—physically, intellectually, and most telling of all, aesthetically. The Great Race in „The Shadow out of Time” have a vast archive full of documents about all the species in the cosmos; the record for mankind is housed on the „lowest or vertebrate section.” Worse, the Old Ones of At the Mountains of Madness, who came from the stars and established themselves in Antarctica, are „supposed to have created all earth-life as jest or mistake.” We are merely the inconsequential and accidental byproduct of another race.  

The passage quoted earlier citing Lovecraft’s desideratum of a „non-supernatural cosmic art” (SL 3.296) is also of vital importance in understanding both Lovecraft’s fictional goals and his place in the history of weird fiction. The events and entities in Lovecraft’s later tales are „non-supernatural” in not overtly contradicting reality as we know it; rather, they embody those „natural laws” not yet known to us. When, in „Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” Lovecraft speaks of „one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which forever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis,” he is careful to specify „the illusion” of a violation. This notion is clarified in a letter:  

The crux of a weird tale is something which could not possibly happen. If any unexpected advance of physics, chemistry, or biology were to indicate the possibility of any phenomena related by the weird tale, that particular set of phenomena would cease to be weird in the ultimate sense because it would become surrounded by a different set of emotions. It would no longer represent imaginative liberation, because it would no longer indicate a suspension or violation of the natural laws against whose universal dominance our fancies rebel. (SL 3.434)  

This notion that the events in a weird tale must form „supplements rather than contradictions of the visible & mensurable universe” (SL 3.295-96) is what gives Lovecraft his unique place as an unclassifiable amalgam of fantasy and science fiction; it is not surprising that he has considerably influenced the subsequent development of both genres.  

If Lovecraft is capable of suggesting the awesome gulfs of the cosmos as well as any writer in literature, he can also in his tales depict the reality of the mundane landscape—the Vermont backwoods in „The Whisperer in Darkness”; the frozen Antarctic in At the Mountains of Madness; the insidious decay of the once-thriving seaport Innsmouth in „The Shadow over Innsmouth.” There is no paradox in this, and in „Notes on Writing Weird Fiction” he defends both his topographical realism and his diminution of human characters as part of a single aesthetic aim.  

In writing a weird story I always try very carefully to achieve the right mood and atmosphere, and place the emphasis where it belongs. One cannot, except in immature pulp charlatan-fiction, present an account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions. Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to overcome, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel. This marvel must be treated very impressively and deliberately—with a careful emotional „build-up”—else it will seem flat and unconvincing. Being the principal thing in the story, its mere existence should overshadow the characters and events. But the characters and events must be consistent and natural except where they touch the single marvel. (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 113)  

Realism, then, is not a goal but a function in Lovecraft; it facilitates the perception that „something which could not possibly happen” is actually happening. So too with Lovecraft’s style. A dense, richly textured style tends to aid in the creation of that „mood and atmosphere” toward which Lovecraft bent all his efforts. His style, of course, has been much criticized, and there is no question but that his early work is „overwritten” in a way he himself later deprecated; but the later Lovecraft prose is as precise, musical, and evocative as anything out of Dunsany or Machen, his stylistic paragons. One is of course at liberty, with Edmund Wilson or Jacques Barzun, not to like the style; but to condemn an Asianic style merely for being Asianic (and that, frankly, is all I can derive from the majority of such criticisms) does not strike me as especially sound methodology. One should merely wallow sensuously in a passage like this:  

The Thing cannot be described—there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled. God! What wonder that across the earth a great architect went mad, and poor Wilcox raved with fever in that telepathic instant? The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own. The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight.  

And we must remember that nearly thirty pages of clinical, meticulous prose have supplied that „careful emotional ‘build-up’„ for this climactic moment.  


The majority of Lovecraft’s essays were written during his intensive amateur phase—roughly 1914-22. They are stiff, formal, and dogmatic; Lovecraft certainly showed that he could write like a twentieth-century Addison, but also showed the rigidity of mind that came from bookishness, sequestration, and simply an ignorance of the world. But this did not last long. Lovecraft well knew how important was his involvement in the world of amateur letters: his dogmatism began to be chipped away as he encountered opinions very different from his, whether it be the fin-de-si?cle Hellenism of Samuel Loveman, the orthodox religiosity of Maurice W. Moe, the light-hearted eroticism of Rheinhart Kleiner, or the evangelical atheism of James F. Morton. Lovecraft never completely relinquished his cherished predilections—love of the weird; championing of classicism over romanticism; an earnest but not fanatical or ethically irresponsible atheism—but they were modified and honed through his amateur contacts. In this sense his early essays—along with his staggeringly voluminous correspondence—were formative,influences of the most important sort.  

The essays of his last decade or so—no longer written spontaneously but only for specific occasions—reflect the change. As early as 1924, in spite of his lifelong opposition to the extremist trends of modern literature—stream-of-consciousness, imagism, plodding realism—he could declare that Joyce’s Ulysses and Cabell’s Jurgen were „significant contributions to contemporary art”; (5) „Cats and Dogs” (1926) playfully but acutely sees the cat as a symbol for many of Lovecraft’s favored human traits—aristocracy, aloofness, dignity, grace; „Some Causes of Self-Immolation” (1931), in spite of its jocular title, is a serious study of human psychology; and, perhaps most impressive of all, „Some Repetitions on the Times” (1933) is an earnest and almost harried plea to remedy the crushing economic woes of the time through modified socialism. All these essays display a flexibility, crispness of style, and intellectual rigor found in few of their predecessors, save perhaps the superb In Defence of Dagon essays (1921), where Lovecraft defends his aesthetics and metaphysics with a scintillating rhetoric found perhaps nowhere else in his work except in some of his argumentative letters.  

Lovecraft’s essays on amateur affairs remain the bulkiest of his nonfictional work, and testify to the mutual benefit he both derived and gave to the amateur cause. Even if Lovecraft eventually became somewhat disenchanted with the movement—even if he found that most of its members were merely hapless and egotistical tyros rather than disinterested pursuers of self-expression—he never dissociated himself from it. We must read the countless installments of Lovecraft’s „Department of Public Criticism”—where with unfailing patience he points out the grammatical and aesthetic blunders of each and every contribution to the UAPA for that season—or his voluminous „News Notes,” where he reports on the comings and goings of various amateurs (including himself), to perceive the depth of his attachment to amateurdom. Many nowadays see Lovecraft merely as the most prominent of the pulp writers; but in fact he was never a pulp writer at all (he published in the pulps from necessity, not inclination), and his amateur phase can be seen to be far more significant than his involvement with pulp fiction.  

Lovecraft’s travel essays form a unique body of his work. True, few of us have the patience to wade through the eighteenth-century diction of A Description of the Town of Quebeck (1930-31)—his single longest work, and a self-conscious flaunting of his utterly non-commercial stance—but such things as „Vermont—A First Impression” (1927) or „The Unknown City in the Ocean” (1934; on Nantucket) speak poignantly of his constant need to be aesthetically revivified by actual contact with the relics of the past.  

As a general literary critic Lovecraft will never gain much acclaim; but it is arguable that he is still the acutest critic of weird fiction, and this not merely on the strength of Supernatural Horror in Literature (1925-27) but also on other essays like „Notes on Writing Weird Fiction” (1933) and especially the masses of incidental comment in his letters. All this body of work shows that Lovecraft’s principles of weird writing were clearly formed at a fairly early stage in his career and continued to be elaborated as he read new work or discussed the matter with his many colleagues in the field. As an ancillary to this material one ought to mention his invaluable Commonplace Book, a storehouse of plots and images gleaned form his wide readings, dreams, and other experiences. Only recently, in the critical edition of David E. Schultz, have we finally been able to see how intimately a part of his writing process were the seeming random and disjointed entries in this little notebook.  

Lovecraft saw his deficiencies as a poet fairly early on; he knew that his real purpose in such things as „Old Christmas” (1917) or „Myrrha and Strephon” (1919) was not aesthe,ic expression but undiluted antiquarianism:  

In my metrical novitiate I was, alas, a chronic & inveterate mimic; allowing my antiquarian tendencies to get the better of my abstract poetic feeling. As a result, the whole purpose of my writing soon became distorted—till at length I wrote only as a means of re-creating around me the atmosphere of my 18th century favourites. Self-expression as such sank out of sight, & my sole test of excellence was the degree with which I approached the style of Mr. Pope, Dr. Young, Mr. Thomson, Mr. Addison, Mr. Tickell, Mr. Parnell, Dr. Goldsmith, Dr. Johnson, & so on. (SL 2.314-15)  

Lovecraft remained faithful to the eighteenth-century poets, although he came to regard as the true giants of English poetry such Romantics as Keats and Shelley and such of his predecessors and contemporaries as the early Swinburne and Yeats. And yet, given his belief that poetry should be „simple, direct, non-intellectual, clothed in symbols & images rather than ideas and statements” (6)—a definition he used to denigrate the Metaphysicals just then reviving in critical esteem—he seemed to realize amazingly early that there may have been something lacking in his beloved Dryden and Pope: „I am aware that my favourite Georgians lacked much in the spirit of poesy—but I do admire their verse, as verse.”(7) This was written in 1918; and although it is not quite an echo of Matthew Arnold’s claim that Dryden and Pope were really masters of English prose, it at least acknowledges that the Georgians’ principal virtue was not poetic instinct but metrical dexterity. In any case, the unfortunate result of Lovecraft’s early adoption of the verse forms of the early eighteenth century is a mass of perfectly competent (from a metrical standpoint) but entirely lifeless and contentless poetry up to about 1925, with only intermittent points of interest: a number of pungent satires, from „Ad Criticos” (1913-14) to „Medusa: A Portrait” (1921);(8) the flawless Georgianism of „Sunset” (1917); the exquisite self-parodies „On the Death of a Rhyming Critic” (1917) and „The Dead Bookworm” (1919). The horrific verse—from „The Poe-et’s Nightmare” (1916), with its potent blank-verse distillation of his cosmic philosophy, to the brooding „A Cycle of Verse” (1919)—retains a little more life, although we could do without such mechanical Poe pastiches as „The House” (1919) or „The Nightmare Lake” (1919).  

Curiously enough, however, Lovecraft got away from all this. From 1922 to 1928 he wrote almost no poetry: clearly his creative energies had shifted to fiction. Even some of this poetry reveals an incipient shaking off of eighteenth-century models: „My Favourite Character” and „A Year Off” (both 1925) have something of the flavor of Locker-Lampson and the vers de société of the later nineteenth century, and could well have been influenced by Rheinhart Kleiner, an unknown master of this light form. But then—suddenly—we come upon the sonnet „Recapture” (November 1929; later incorporated into Fungi from Yuggoth), which is so unlike anything Lovecraft had written before that both Winfield Townley Scott and Edmund Wilson were led to suspect (groundlessly, as it happens) that in it, as well as in the rest of Fungi from Yuggoth (1929-30), Lovecraft was influenced by Edwin Arlington Robinson. But if we study Lovecraft’s aesthetic thought of this time we may learn that the change was perhaps not so sudden. By 1928 he is already railing against the use of the archaisms, inversions, and „poetic language” that had cluttered his earlier verse. He had begun to realize that living poetry cannot wear the garments of a prior day, and saw that his own previous poetry had merely been a vast psychological game he had played with himself—an attempt to retreat into the eighteenth century as feeble and pathetic as his longing for a periwig and knee-breeches. But when he sent „Recapture” to a correspondent, he added the note: „Speaking of my stuff—I enclose another recent specimen illustrative of my efforts to practice what I preach regarding direct and unaffected diction—a sort of irregular semi-sonnet, based on an actual dream.”(9)  

What had triggered this radical shift? There must have been a number of factors. Principally it was simply his awareness that the twentieth century was not a nightmare from which one could simply wake up and walk away but an age whose uniqueness demanded expression in art and literature; secondly, Lovecraft may have been struck by the brilliant poetry of his friend Clark Ashton Smith, who could have shown Lovecraft how to harmonize a very selective use of archaism with a generally modern and vigorous approach; most directly, there was Lovecraft’s work on a poetic handbook, Doorways to Poetry (never published), for his friend Maurice W. Moe, and his reading of Donald Wandrei’s Sonnets of the Midnight Hours (1927), probably the direct model for Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth. In any case, his sonnet-cycle, while by no means radical, can take its place with the work of other conservative poets of the day—Rupert Brooke, Ralph Hodgson, Robert Hillyer, John Masefield, Walter de la Mare, and others. Lovecraft may never be known for his poetry; but at its best it offers the same elements of cosmic horror, purity of diction, and philosophic resonance that characterize his prose.  

Of Lovecraft’s letters it is difficult to speak in short compass. In sheer quantity they dwarf the rest of his oeuvre to complete insignificance. Although at the moment they are known only to the inner circle of Lovecraft scholars, they are arguably some of the most remarkable literary documents of the century, and it is even conceivable that in the distant future his reputation will rest more on them than on his fiction. It is to the letters that we go for information on Lovecraft’s life, for details about his literary work, for the particulars of his philosophical thought; but more than mere utilitarian adjuncts to scholarship, they are some of the most beautiful things of their kind. Lovecraft had no compunction writing letters of fifty, sixty, or even seventy pages; and it is in these heroic epistles—longer than most of his stories—that he reveals his true greatness and diversity as an artist. From technical philosophizing to farcical and self-parodic humor; from playful archaism to blunt colloquialism; from poignant reflections on the cosmic insignificance of mankind to heated discussions of political and economic regeneration, the letters run the gamut of subject, tone, and mood. I cannot resist quoting at length Lovecraft’s chiding of Frank Long for his equation of science and technology:  

Listen, young man. Forget all about your books & machine-made current associations. Kick the present dying parody on civilisation out the back door of consciousness. Shelve the popular second-hand dishings-up of Marxian economic determinism—a genuine force within certain limits, but without the widest ramifications ascribed to it by the fashionable New Republic & Nation clique. For once in your life, live up to your non-contemporary ideal & do some thinking without the 1930-31 publishers’ sausage-grist at your elbow! Get back to the Ionian coast, shovel away some 2500 years, & tell Grandpa who it is you find in a villa at Miletus studying the properties of loadstone & amber, predicting eclipses, explaining the moon’s phases, & applying to physics & astronomy the principles of research he learned in Egypt. Thales—quite a boy in his day. Ever hear of him before? He wanted to know things. Odd taste, wasn’t it? And to think, he never tried to manufacture rayon or form a joint-stock company or pipe oil from Mesopotamia or extract gold from sea-water! Funny old guy—wanted to know things, yet never thought of a collectivist state....leaving this last for the unctuous windbag Plato, upon whom the moustacheletted little Chestertons of a later aera were to dote. Bless me, but do you suppose he actually had the normal human instinct of curiosity & simply wanted knowledge to satisfy that elemental u,ge? Perish such an un-modern & un-Marxian thought.....yet one has dim suspicions........ And then this bozo Pythagoras. What did he want to bother with that old „what is anything” question for? And Heraclitus & Anaxagoras & Anaximander & Democritus & Leucippus & Empedocles? Well—if you take the word of your precious old satyr-faced pragmatist Socrates, these ginks merely wanted to know things for the sake of knowing! According to this beloved super-Babbitt of yours, who brought down philosophy from the clouds to serve among men—serve useful ends in a civically acceptable fashion—the old naturalists & sophists were a sorry lot. Your dear Plato agreed. They were not social-minded or collectivistic. Tut, tut—they were actually selfish individualists who gratified the personal human instinct of cosmic curiosity for its own sake. Ugh! take them away! Moustacheletted young Platonists want nothing to do with such outlawed & unregimented pleasure-seekers. They simply couldn’t have been real „scientists”, since they didn’t serve big business or have altruistic or bolshevistic motivations. Practically & Marxianly speaking, there simply weren’t any such people. How could there be? „Science” is (they print it in books) the servant of the machine age. Since ancient Ionia had no machine age, how could there be „Science”? (SL 3.298-99)  

But it is in letters of less intrinsic interest that Lovecraft displays his full humanity. For eight years he corresponded regularly with Elizabeth Toldridge, a would-be poet who was disabled and could not leave her apartment in Washington, D.C.; and although we can tell, from Lovecraft’s side of the correspondence, that she was hopelessly conventional and Victorian in her outlook, Lovecraft never failed to answer every point made in her letters and acknowledge the books and newspaper clippings she sent him. Lovecraft was neither condescending nor dishonest with her—he made no bones about not ascribing to her benign theism, her admiration of tame late Victorian poetry, or her political and economic conservatism. Only his death curtailed this correspondence. The tireless help and encouragement Lovecraft gave, even on his deathbed, to all his correspondents young and old makes one wonder little at the admiration and even reverence that all his colleagues extended to him during his lifetime and after his death. If the publication of Lovecraft’s collected correspondence—in dozens or perhaps hundreds of volumes—is, at least for the present, an unrealizable dream, it is perhaps a dream worth keeping in our minds.  




There is now little need to rehearse the details of Lovecraft’s posthumous resurrection: the attempts by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei to find a publisher for an omnibus of his tales; their founding of Arkham Hose when they failed in that enterprise; the emergence of a youthful band of enthusiasts in the growing fantasy fandom movement (blasted by Edmund Wilson as „on even a more infantile level than the Baker Street Irregulars and the cult of Sherlock Holmes”—he was probably right); the gradual dissemination of Lovecraft’s stories in paperback, including an Armed Services edition; the periodic publication by Arkham House of volumes of tales, poems, essays, and miscellany from the forties to the sixties; the translation of Lovecraft into French and Spanish in the fifties, German, Italian, and Dutch in the sixties, and Japanese and the Scandinavian languages in the seventies; the stupendous popularity of the Beagle/Ballantine paperbacks in the seventies; the reprinting of minor works by the fan or specialty press in the seventies and eighties; and, finally, the republication of his collected fiction in textually correct editions from Arkham House under my editorship. And yet, his fiction has yet to be published by a major commercial or academic firm in hardcover in this country (in Europe and Asia elaborate illustrated or slipcased editions have appeared in the last two decades, and foreign editions are invariably reviewed in leading journal, and newspapers); his essays, poetry, and letters have not reached anything like wide distribution; and, most important of all, the study of his life, work, and thought remains largely in the hands of independent scholars emerging from the science fiction or fantasy field, although a few of these have published in the academic press.  

It is this last point that I shall dwell on briefly in concluding this piece. Prior to 1971 (the death of August Derleth), the number of academicians or mainstream critics who even discussed Lovecraft could be counted on the fingers of one hand: we have mentioned Edmund Wilson, Colin Wilson, and T. O. Mabbott, and mention should be made of Peter Penzoldt, the Swiss scholar who in The Supernatural in Fiction (1952) devoted what are still some of the most illuminating pages on Lovecraft’s style and theory of weird fiction. But his is an isolated instance of a non-condescending treatment. In this early stage the foundations of Lovecraft criticism were ably laid by George T. Wetzel, Matthew H. Onderdonk, and especially Fritz Leiber, whose „A Literary Copernicus” (1949) may still be the single best general article ever written on Lovecraft. Little was done in the 1950s (the special Lovecraft issue of the University of Detroit literary magazine, Fresco [Spring 1958], is ephemeral and insubstantial) or the 1960s; and it seemed to require the death of August Derleth—and, perhaps, the publication of the Selected Letters beginning in 1965—to spur renewed scholarly interest in Lovecraft. The dismantling of Derleth’s many erroneous conceptions of Lovecraft the man and writer began with Richard L. Tierney and Dirk W. Mosig; L. Sprague de Camp wrote a controversial biography after he saw that Derleth had failed to finish his; and finally, the establishment of Lovecraft Studies in 1979 provided a focus for informed discussion of Lovecraft, although inevitably that discussion was and is still conducted predominantly by non-academicians. How much of this scholarship is actually seeping into the general academic community it is difficult to say; perhaps it is still too early to speak definitively on the matter.  

It can hardly be denied that many current Lovecraftians still write as if they are evangelically trying to convert the heathen; I am myself not exempt from this tendency. But if the academic and critical establishment continues to ignore Lovecraft—whether because of a general prejudice toward the weird tale or because of some perceived failing in Lovecraft’s own work—it ought to be no business of mine. I have found Lovecraft an enormously rewarding and enriching writer; but perhaps it will take another hundred years for the general literary public to come to that realization.  

This Scriptorium piece is a modification of the introductory essay to An Epicure of the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays in the Honor of H.P. Lovecraft, edited by David E. Schultz and S.T. Joshi. The Modern Word and S. T. Joshi would like to thank Associated University Presses, Inc., for their permission to use this material.  


[Abbreviations used in this essay: JHL = H. P. Lovecraft Papers, John Hay Library, Brown University. SL = Selected Letters (Arkham House, 1965-76; 5 vols.).]  


(1) First printed in Juvenilia (Necronomicon Press, 1984), pp. 15-18.  

(2) „What Amateurdom and I Have Done for Each Other” (1921); rpt. Miscellaneous Writings (Arkham House, 1995), p. 452.  

(3) The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (Necronomicon Press, 1985), p. 15.  

(4) Lovecraft to Mrs. F. C. Clark, 17 November 1924 (ms., JHL).  

(5) „The Omnipresent Philistine” (1924); rpt. Miscellaneous Writings, p. 242.  

(6) Lovecraft to Lee McBride White, Jr., 10 February 1936 (ms., JHL).  

(7) Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 27 May [1918] (ms., JHL).  

(8) Lovecraft’s best satire, „Waste Paper” (1923), a vicious but telling parody of The Waste Land, of course owes nothing to the eighteenth century.  

(9) Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 26 November 1929 (ms., J,L).


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