Who was H. P. Lovecraft? Theater Pub Co-Founder Stuart Bousel, who adapts and directs his classic story The Dunwhich Horror has the answers (thanks in large part to Wikipedia):
H. P. Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling salesman, and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, who was a direct descendant of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. In 1893, when Lovecraft was three, his father became acutely psychotic in a Chicago hotel room while on a business trip and was taken back to Providence and placed in Butler Hospital, where he remained until his death in 1898. After his father’s hospitalization, Lovecraft was raised by his mother, his two aunts, and his maternal grandfather. All five resided together in the family home. Lovecraft was a prodigy, reciting poetry at the age of three and writing complete poems by six. His grandfather encouraged his reading while his mother, on the other hand, worried that these stories would lead to conditions similar to her husband’s. Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child and due to his sickly condition and his undisciplined, argumentative nature, he barely attended school until he was eight years old, and then was withdrawn after a year. He read voraciously during this period and became especially enamored of chemistry and astronomy. He produced several hectographed publications with a limited circulation beginning in 1899 with The Scientific Gazette. Four years later, he returned to public school at Hope High School.
His grandfather’s death in 1904 greatly affected Lovecraft’s life. Mismanagement of his grandfather’s estate left his family in such a poor financial situation they were forced to move. Lovecraft was so deeply affected by the loss of his home and birthplace that he contemplated suicide for a time. In 1908, prior to his high school graduation, he himself claimed to have suffered what he later described as a “nervous breakdown”, and consequently never received his high school diploma (although he maintained for most of his life that he did graduate). This failure to complete his education (he wished to study at Brown University) was a source of disappointment and shame even late into his life. In 1919, after suffering from hysteria and depression for a long period of time, Lovecraft’s mother was committed to Butler Hospital just like her husband before her. Nevertheless, she wrote frequent letters to Lovecraft, and they remained very close until her death on May 21, 1921, the result of complications from gall bladder surgery. Lovecraft was devastated by the loss.
Lovecraft wrote some fiction as a youth but, from 1908 until 1913, his output was primarily poetry. During that time, he lived a hermit’s existence, having almost no contact with anyone but his mother. This changed when he wrote a letter to The Argosy, a pulp magazine, complaining about the insipidness of the love stories of one of the publication’s popular writers. The ensuing debate in the magazine’s letters column caught the eye of Edward F. Daas, President of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), who invited Lovecraft to join them in 1914. This reinvigorated Lovecraft and incited him to contribute many poems and essays. In 1917, at the prodding of correspondents, he returned to fiction with more polished stories, such as “The Tomb” and “Dagon”. The latter was his first professionally-published work, appearing in The Vagrant (November, 1919) and Weird Tales in 1923. Around that time, he began to build up a huge network of correspondents, including Robert Bloch (“Psycho”), Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard (“Conan the Barbarian”).
A few weeks after his mother’s death, Lovecraft attended an amateur journalist convention in Boston where he met Sonia Greene. They married in 1924, and the couple moved to Brooklyn where Greene owned a hat shop. Initially, Lovecraft was enthralled by New York, but soon the couple was facing financial difficulties. Greene lost her hat shop and suffered poor health. Lovecraft could not find work to support them both, so his wife moved to Cleveland for employment. Lovecraft lived by himself in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and came to dislike New York life intensely, a sentiment he sublimated in the short story “The Horror At Red Hook.” A few years later, Lovecraft and his wife, still living separately, agreed to an amicable divorce, which was never fully completed. He returned to Providence to live with his aunts during their remaining years.
Back in Providence, Lovecraft lived in a “spacious brown Victorian wooden house” at 10 Barnes Street until 1933. The same address is given as the home of Dr. Willett in Lovecraft’s only novel, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”. The period after his return to Providence — the last decade of his life — was Lovecraft’s most prolific. In that time he produced almost all of his best-known short stories (“The Call of Cthulhu”, “The Thing on the Doorstep”, “The Dreams in the Witch-House”, “The Haunter in the Dark”, “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Rats in the Walls”, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, “The Shunned House”) for the leading pulp publications of the day (primarily Weird Tals), as well as longer efforts, such as the stream of consciousness novella, “At The Mountains of Madness”. He frequently revised work for other authors and did a large amount of ghost writing, including “Under The Pyramids” (also known as “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs”) for Harry Houdini. Despite his best writing efforts, however, he grew ever poorer. He was forced to move to smaller and meaner lodgings with his surviving aunt. He was also deeply affected by Robert E. Howard’s suicide. In 1936, Lovecraft was diagnosed with cancer of the intestine, and he also suffered from malnutrition. He lived in constant pain until his death on March 15, 1937, in Providence.
Lovecraft was listed along with his parents on the Phillips family monument. That was not enough for his fans, so in 1977 a group of them raised the money to buy him a headstone of his own in Swan Point cemetery, on which they had inscribed Lovecraft’s name, the dates of his birth and death, and the phrase “I AM PROVIDENCE”, a line from one of his personal letters. Though only a modest success in his lifetime, interest in his work has progressively escalated with every passing decade. Iconic American authors Stephen King and Joyce Carole Oates list him as a principal influence on their work and British writers Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore also consider him to have had a profound affect on their artistic visions. Film-makers John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, Stuart Gordon and Daniel Gildark have all tried their hand at interpreting his work to film and Jorge Luis Borges wrote “There Are More Things” in memory of Lovecraft. Heavy metal bands Black Sabbath and Metallica both have numerous songs referencing Lovecraft’s work, as does the best-selling game “World of Warcraft”. The Necronomicon, Lovecraft’s invented spellbook of the damned, has become so iconic in pop-culture that claims to its actual existence continue to this day, ironically make the most famous book Lovecraft ever wrote, one that has yet to be written.
The H. P. Lovecraft Festival begins October 18 with The Shunned House. Join us again on October 19 for three Lovecraft shorts and finally on October 25 for The Dunwich Horror. All shows are performed in the Cafe Royale Bar (800 Post St, San Francisco, at Leavenworth). 8pm curtain. Admission free.