Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in Providence, Rhode Island on August 20, 1890. He was born to Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, a woman proud of her ancestry that colonized Massachusetts in 1630, and Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling salesman. Lovecraft lost his father to a nervous breakdown at the age of three; his dad floundered for five years in a hospital before dying in 1898.
Lovecraft was raised by his mother, his two aunts, and his grandfather. Lovecraft likely got his drive from the grandfather, a famous Rhode Island businessman named Whipple Van Buren Phillips. As a boy, Lovecraft’s fascination with dark things was evident. By age six, he was writing stories as “Abdul Alhazred,” the same name Lovecraft would later say was the writer of the mythical book Necronomicon.
Lovecraft made his first contributions to the literary world as a young teenager, writing a short story called “The Noble Eavesdropper” in 1896 that does not survive. Lovecraft blames his own fascination with the macabre on his grandfather, who often recited ghost stories and other weird tales to the young HP Lovecraft.A sickly boy, Lovecraft discovered reading at a young age thanks to being bedridden. The young Lovecraft fell in love with science, printing his own scientific journals like The Scientific Gazette and handing them out among friends. It wasn’t long after entering high school that he had his first writing published, a letter to the local paper the Providence Sunday Journal. That gig led to jobs writing for papers. Journalism was Lovecraft’s first entrance into the literary world.
Lovecraft had his own nervous breakdown In 1908, spurred on by the death of his grandfather and the family’s fall into financial ruin. Lovecraft had been accepted to Brown University, but his mental state kept him from graduating high school. Even though Lovecraft was a self-taught genius, his inability to earn a diploma or degree would haunt him until his death. From 1908 to 1913, Lovecraft kept after astronomy and gained a new interest in poetry. It was during this six-year period that Lovecraft’s relationship with his mom got as weird as a Lovecraftian short story. His mother, still crushed by the death of Lovecraft’s father and grandfather, became wrapped up in Lovecraft’s life, and vice-versa. One of Lovecraft’s first great biographers, L. Sprague de Camp, went as far as to suggest that this relationship may have been sexual, but at very least it was marked by the psychological problems of both HP and Susan.
When a man named Edward F. Daas spotted one of Lovecraft’s passionate letters to the editor, Daas (who was President of the United Amateur Press Association) invited Lovecraft to join and begin publishing his own magazines. Lovecraft began printing his own paper, The Conservative, and began submitting his poems and writings in other UAPA journals. It was this spate of publishing that pulled Lovecraft out of his downward spiral and brought him to the great love of his life: the writing of fiction.
Once Lovecraft published his first short stories (“The Beast in the Cave” (1905) and “The Alchemist” (1908), editors began asking Lovecraft for more of his weird fiction. In 1917, Lovecraft created both “The Tomb” and “Dagon,” and began a steady course of writing that would continue appearing in print even after his death. During all this, Lovecraft kept up letter-writing relationships with friends and family, and he is now recognized as one of the great writers of correspondence of his era. The letters that survive are cherished by Lovecraft fans the world ever, and a great way to get into the mind of one of our greatest horror writers.
His mother’s death in 1921 should have destroyed Lovecraft, but at an amateur journalism convention in Boston just after her death, HP Lovecraft met Sonia Haft Greene, a Russian Jew that he quickly fell in love with. They were married in 1924. The early days of their marriage were great: Lovecraft was earning a reputation as a professional writer and his wife Sonia opened a hat shop on Fifth Avenue in New York City that was quite successful.
But like all else in Lovecraft’s troubled life, it all fell apart. Sonia’s hat shop went bankrupt, Lovecraft rejected an offer to start his own version of the magazine Weird Tales in Chicago, and Sonia spent most of her time at a sanitarium in New Jersey. Lovecraft found himself a thirty-four-year-old-man with no real life or job experience. Lovecraft moved into a crumby neighborhood called Red Hook, and Sonia went off to Cleveland to find work. Thus ended their marriage.
Lovecraft’s depression starts to show through in his writing after his move to Red Hook. Take a look at the nostalgic “The Shunned House” in 1924 and compare it to the very dark “The Horror at Red Hook” later in that same year. Eventually, Lovecraft was forced to move back with his aunts in Providence.
This period begins the end of Lovecraft’s life. Luckily for us, this final decade was his most prolific and his happiest in many ways. He began to travel, saw Quebec, Philadelphia, the South, and wrote his most-appreciated fiction. “The Call of Cthulhu” and At the Mountains of Madness were written during this period, not to mention thousands of letters. It was also a time of great scholarship for Lovecraft, in the minds of his students. Lovecraft’s “students” studied with him informally: writers like August Derleth and Fritz Leiber were his pupils. Lovecraft even gained an interest in politics, support Roosevelt and The New Deal, and even identifying as a socialist.
Towards the end of his life, the darkness began to appear again. In 1936, his friend and pen-pal Robert E. Howard committed suicide. In 1936, Lovecraft was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, and he lived in constant pain all throughout 1936 and 1937. Lovecraft entered Jane Brown Memorial Hospital on March 10, 1937, and died just five days later.
HP Lovecraft – Wikipedia
The biography and supporting material found on HP Lovecraft’s Wikipedia page is solid, and provides a quick background to his life, his work, and his influence on our culture. Maybe the most valuable section of HP Lovecraft – Wikipedia is the section called “Themes.” Taking an in-depth look at concepts like forbidden knowledge and guilt, this handy little wiki is a great way to introduce yourself to the life and work of HP Lovecraft.
Other Lovecraft Biographies
Lovecraft: a Biography, by science fiction writer L. Sprague de Camp, appeared in the early 1970s to critical acclaim. It was the first biography of Lovecraft that took what Lovecraft’s wiki page calls a “warts and all” approach to his life. It was that same approach that led some Lovecraft fans to suggest this book took a biased approach to his life. It remains one of the most authoritative records of Lovecraft’s life and work.
Lovecraft Remembered, edited by Peter Cannon, is a collection of some three dozen personal accounts written by people who knew and worked with Lovecraft. As such, it is an invaluable resource for people reading Lovecraft or doing research into his life and influence.
HP Lovecraft – A Life was released in 1996 to worldwide acclaim. Writer S.T. Joshi put together this text from the clippings of a larger work on Lovecraft’s life. This book won the British Fantasy Award and was hailed by Joyce Carol Oates as “the definitive work on HP Lovecraft.”
But just fifteen years later saw the release of I Am Providence, The Life and Times of HP Lovecraft, a biography put together by S.T. Joshi in the mid-90s, and heavily whittled down to become Joshi’s prize-winning bio of Lovecraft, then-named HP Lovecraft: A Life. I Am Providence is the full unedited manuscript, some hundreds of thousands of words long. Considered the definitive biographical work on Lovecraft, Joshi’s text proves he is the number one Lovecraft scholar in the world.
Lord of a Visible World is of particular interest to people who love correspondence. This is an autobiography of Lovecraft in letters taken from his vast collection of letters. Edited by Lovecraft experts S.T. Joshi and David E. Shultz, Lord of a Visible World reprints the text of many of Lovecraft’s letters and provides annotation and guidance throughout.