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HP Lovecraft: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

In this lesson, we will learn about the life of H.P. Lovecraft, one of the earliest American horror and science fiction writers. We will also list some well-known quotes from his fiction, letters, and critical work.

Biography

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) was born in Providence, Rhode Island, where he spent most of his life. He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susan Philips. His father, a traveling salesman, developed mental illness and died in Butler Hospital, a psychiatric institution, when Lovecraft was only seven. His mother, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, was a volatile figure who seems to have both smothered and disparaged her son. Unsurprisingly, Lovecraft suffered from violent nightmares as a child---some of which would later be reflected in his fiction---and from psychological difficulties. He was highly intelligent, however, reading at age three and writing around age seven. Lovecraft developed interests in Arabian tales, Greek mythology, Gothic weird tales (initially as told by his grandfather), chemistry, and astronomy. After his grandfather's death in 1904, the family fell into financial straits, and Lovecraft experienced a nervous breakdown that prevented him from completing high school and attending Brown University.

Photo of H.P. Lovecraft, taken in June 1934
Photo of H.P. Lovecraft, taken in June 1934

Nonetheless, Lovecraft wrote poetry and continued studying astronomy. He published poems and essays in various journals. He became involved with organizations like the National Amateur Press Association, which brought him out of a reclusive lifestyle. Lovecraft began publishing short fiction, for which he is best known, in addition to poetry and essays. His mother grew ill, suffered a nervous breakdown, and later died in Butler Hospital in 1921. Shortly thereafter, he met his wife, Sonia Haft Greene, who owned a hat store in downtown New York City. She eventually took a job in Cleveland, leaving Lovecraft in Brooklyn. He hated life there and returned to his beloved Providence, but his disapproving aunts (who weren't invited to the wedding) forbade Sonia to follow. The couple divorced in 1929.

Cover of Weird Tales magazine containing Lovecrafts novella, Herbert West: Reanimator (1922)
Cover of Weird Tales magazine containing Lovecrafts novella, Herbert West: Reanimator (1922)

Lovecraft wrote some of his best fiction in the years that followed, including 'The Call of Cthulhu,' At the Mountains of Madness, and 'The Shadow Out of Time.' He traveled and corresponded extensively with colleagues and friends; he expanded his knowledge in a number of fields, including literature, history, and architecture. He also became a moderate socialist. Unfortunately, in the last few years of his life, his longer stories were less popular, and he was forced to work as a ghostwriter. He developed cancer of the intestine during this period and died on March 10, 1937.

The Samuel B. Mumford House, H.P. Lovecrafts final home in Providence, RI
The Samuel B. Mumford House, H.P. Lovecrafts final home in Providence, RI

Notable Quotes

On The Human Condition

The most merciful thing in the world... is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. 'The Call of Cthulhu'

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. 'Supernatural Horror in Literature'

On Politics

As for the Republicans---how can one regard seriously a frightened, greedy, nostalgic huddle of tradesmen and lucky idlers who shut their eyes to history and science, steel their emotions against decent human sympathy, cling to sordid and provincial ideals exalting sheer acquisitiveness and condoning artificial hardship for the non-materially-shrewd, dwell smugly and sentimentally in a distorted dream-cosmos of outmoded phrases and principles and attitudes (...)? Letter to C.L. Moore (1936)

I do not regard the rise of woman as a bad sign. Rather do I fancy that her traditional subordination was itself an artificial and undesirable condition based on Oriental influences. Our virile Teutonic ancestors did not think their wives unworthy to follow them into battle, or scorn to dream of winged Valkyries bearing them to Valhalla. Letter to Clark Ashton Smith (1934)

Primordial Manifestos

In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming. 'The Call of Cthulhu'

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