Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 619
Howard Phillips Lovecraft wrote in a mixed genre of fantasy, supernatural horror, and science fiction; he came to dominate his pulp periodical market, particularly the magazine Weird Tales, throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on August 20, 1890, the only child of a relatively affluent family whose ancestry dated to the original founding colonists. This fact, a susceptibility to illness, and the death of his father and most of his relatives during his formative years contributed to the precociously brilliant and imaginative Lovecraft’s introspection and nostalgia for the past.
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His neurotic mother convinced him that he was ugly; it was possibly this belief but certainly his predilection for solitude which caused him to be reclusive. The few friends he made were firm, and over the course of his life he was to write 100,000 letters of several million words. In the 1970’s, these letters, by volume his largest work, were analyzed, as were his deserving essays on nonfiction subjects. Lovecraft’s poetry has been variously described by critics as first-rate, mediocre, and hideous. In the arena of fantasy and borderline science fiction, however, he has received lasting acclaim.
Several influences on his success in these genres are traceable, among them the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, eighteenth century poetry in general, and Greco-Roman mythology. Four authors definitely influenced Lovecraft: Edgar Allan Poe, with whom he shared the literary technique of pitting his fictive protagonist against an antagonistic horror; Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had previously utilized the pervasive legends and lore of New England; Lord Dunsany, who described pantheons of gods alternative to the classical traditions; and Arthur Machen, who had written of entities crisscrossing between the past and present. Nevertheless, it has been consistently asserted that Lovecraft was more than the sum of his parts. Lovecraft drew on these themes and concluded that humanity was of little consequence when compared with the infinite cosmos.
Financially, the family had fallen on hard times after his father’s and other relatives’ deaths, and Lovecraft was never really able to support himself, most of his money coming from his revisions of other authors’ manuscripts. His idiosyncrasies about accepting money for writing and his stubborn refusal to edit or alter his first drafts only ensured a continuing poverty. Fortunately, the fact that he never finished high school or attended college was more than overcome by his passionate love of reading and by his travels in later life.
Lovecraft received two breaks that furthered his career, the first being acceptance into the United Amateur Press Association in 1914. Through successive years, he became intimately involved with the publishing, editorial, and even administrative mechanics of amateur journalism. The second, in 1923, was the advent of the magazine Weird Tales. Through this periodical, Lovecraft published nearly all his major works and acquired twenty thousand “cult” fans. It was in this fantasy genre that he became a legend.
From 1924 to 1926, Lovecraft lived in Brooklyn, New York, while married to the domineering Sonia Greene. After the foundering of this incompatible marriage, he returned to his native Providence to enjoy a literary renaissance that would result in progressively better and longer works. On March 15, 1937, he died of intestinal cancer and was buried at Swan Point Cemetery in Providence.
Immediately after his death, his friends and associates August Derleth and Donald Wandrei began collecting and publishing his work in book-length editions through their own publishing vehicle, Arkham House. By the 1950’s, Lovecraft had become famous in many European countries and by the 1970’s had begun to be seriously studied in the United States. It seems certain Lovecraft’s reputation will not only persevere but also enlarge as his work becomes a scholarly subject.