Two people attended the funeral of H.P. Lovecraft in 1937, but his horror stories had an afterlife. They started getting recognized, and then they got famous.
Lovecraft’s stories have been made into movies, video games and the lyrics to heavy metal music. They’ve inspired the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows and writers like Stephen King and Robert Bloch, who wrote Psycho.
His work combines his fascination with New England’s landscape, the Puritans, the 18th century, science, astronomy, chemistry, physics and black magic.
During his short life he published most of his work in the pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales. After he died he developed a cult following. Critics recognized the literary merit of his work, comparing him with Edgar Allan Poe. In the 1970s prestigious publishing houses began churning out collections of Lovecraft’s work.
He was born Howard Phillips Lovecraft on Aug. 20,1890, the only son of a wealthy Providence couple.
When Lovecraft was three years old his father was committed to Butler Hospital for doing and saying strange things. He died there five years later. His grieving mother then smothered him emotionally.
For much of his childhood, Lovecraft lived in his grandfather’s large home with his mother, two aunts, grandfather and servants. The spacious house looked down on park-like grounds with winding walks, arbors and a fountain. He learned to read in his grandfather’s large library. Intellectually curious, he liked high school and loved science. What he called a nervous breakdown caused him to drop out of high school. He didn’t go to college.
His grandfather’s fortune began to dissipate. Then in 1904, when Lovecraft was 14, his grandfather died and didn’t leave much money. Lovecraft and his mother moved to a smaller home.
In 1913 he wrote a letter to the editor of Argosy magazine; which led to an invitation to join United Amateur Press Association. That put him in touch with a wide network of writers.
His mother was hospitalized for depression in 1919 and died in 1921. Shortly afterward Lovecraft met Sonia Greene, a widow who owned a hat shop in New York City. She admired his literary talent.
Lovecraft and Greene married and moved to Brooklyn while she supported him. He strove for success, but didn’t find it. At first he loved New York, then he hated it and moved back to Providence. He and Sonia theoretically divorced, only he never signed the divorce decree. She married another man and he died of intestinal cancer in 1937.
Those are the bare outlines of his life: Here are some fun facts about him.
1. His work features New England landmarks known as Lovecraft Country.
Old Puritan towns fascinated him. “Here is material for a really profound study in group neuroticism; for certainly, none can deny the existence of a profoundly morbid streak in the Puritan imagination,” he wrote. He was also drawn to the lonely old farmhouses of backwoods New England. They had the “dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance” that combined to form the hideous, he wrote.
Danvers State Hospital appears in two stories, Pickman’s Model and The Shadow over Innsmouth. It may have inspired Arkham Sanitarium, which appears in The Thing on the Doorstep.
The town of Arkham appears in a dozen stories. Lovecraft himself wrote he had a mental picture of Arkham as “a town something like Salem in atmosphere [and] style of houses, but more hilly [and] with a college (which Salem [lacks]) … I place the town [and] the imaginary Miskatonic [River] somewhere north of Salem—perhaps near Manchester.”
He used Connecticut’s Moodus noises in the Dunwich Horror. He may have based the town of Dunwich on East Haddam, Conn., near the noises. Or he may have based it on what he called “the decadent Massachusetts countryside around Springfield — say Wilbraham, Monson and Hampden.”
Lovecraft also mentioned Mercy Brown, a country girl from Exeter believed to be a vampire victim. He included her story in The Shunned House. How could he resist?
2. He had issues with sex.
As a young boy he read anatomy books, which explained sex. That, he later said it “virtually killed my interest in the subject.”
He was a virgin when he married at the age of 34. His wife, Sonia Greene, wrote that Lovecraft had performed satisfactorily as a lover, though she had to take the initiative in all aspects of the relationship.
New England towns, on the other hand, got him excited. Lovecraft fell in love with Marblehead, Mass., in 1922. In 1929 he wrote passionately about seeing the snow-covered town at sunset and experiencing his “first stupefying glance of MARBLEHEAD’S huddled and archaick roofs”. Indeed, “that instant—about 4:05 to 4:10 pm., Dec. 17, 1922—[was] the most powerful single emotional climax during my nearly forty years of existence.”
3, He wrote a LOT of letters.
He wrote more than 60 short stories, plus some novels and novellas, but he also penned somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 letters to friends and fans. Some were 50 pages long.
Taking the more conservative number, Lovecraft wrote more than five letters a day from the time he learned to write at the age of three.
Sometimes he skipped meals to pay for postage.
4. He tried farm living (briefly) and liked it.
Lovecraft made friends with Vrest and Mildred Orton. They had restored Vrest’s father’s general store in Weston, Vt., and started a mail-order business. You know it as the Vermont Country Store.
Lovecraft came to visit the Ortons at their primitive farm near Brattleboro. Though a city boy who’d lived in Providence and New York, Lovecraft loved the experience. He learned to build a fire and round up cows. During his visit, the Brattleboro Reformer reported A Weird Writer Is In Our Midst.
5. Lovecraft was extremely racist.
Lovecraft bragged his story The Dunwich Horror was so fiendish that Weird Tales might not dare to print it. Today, publishers wouldn’t have problems with fiendishness but with racism. Many of Lovecraft’s stories, like The Dunwich Horror, involve the monster within. Lovecraft clearly thought of the monster as non-Anglo-Saxon races and cultures.
In 2015, organizers of the World Fantasy Convention announced that their annual award trophy would no longer bear Lovecraft’s likeness because of his racism.
6. He graded math homework in 1920.
His Aunt Annie got a job as a substitute teacher at the Hughesdale Grammar School in Johnston, R.I. She brought home the papers for him to grade. In a letter, he wrote that he preferred that to actually teaching. He couldn’t bear to “hold in check a room full of incipient gangsters.”
7. Only two people attended his funeral service.
He is buried in the family plot in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. One of the two people who attended his funeral service was his Aunt Annie.
Now more people visit Lovecraft’s grave than any other in the cemetery. His fans hold memorial services on his birthday.
Since 2013, thousands of people have attended the biennial NecronomiCon in Providence.”four days of weird fiction, art, academia, and festivities in the birthplace of Weird: Providence, Rhode Island..” annually in Providence. The conference is named after one of Lovecraft’s inventions, the Necronomicon, a book of forbidden knowledge. H.Pl. Lovecraft film festivals are held in cities around the country.
Image: Dunwich Horror movie poster By unknown – http://www.bmovieposters.com, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24368337.