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H. P. Lovecraft

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Lovecraft, H. P. (1890–1937), , writer, USA.

H. P. Lovecraft

presentation composed by P. R. van Pottelberg

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, an author of pulp fiction in the 1920s and '30s, is now recognized, along with Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce, as one of the three greatest American writers of horror and the supernatural. His unique and unmistakable style of fantasy and its subsequent influence on world literature puts him into the same class with Borges and Kafka. His specific influence on science fiction and popular imagination, places him on a par with Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Lovecraft will also be remembered as one of the world's most prolific letter writers, having written over 100,000 letters, amounting to several million words. Only a small fraction of these have been published so far.

Lovecraft Genealogy

H. P. Lovecraft's parents were Winfield Scott Lovecraft and Sarah Susan Phillips, who married June 12, 1889, at Boston, Massachusetts.

Winfield Scott Lovecraft's parents were George Lovecraft and Helen Allgood (she was of British parentage). George Lovecraft's parents were Joseph Lovecraft and Mary Fulford. Joseph Lovecraft was born in Devonshire, England, and migrated to the U.S.A. in 1827, settling in Rochester, New York. Mary Fulford's mother was an Edgcombe. Her father was Francis Fulford. Francis' father, also named Francis, married Ann Chichester, daughter of Sir Arthur Chichester, son of Sir John Chichester, who married Anne Dennis, daughter of Sir Robert Dennis and Mary Blount. Mary Blount was the daughter of William Blount, the Fourth Baron Mountjoy and Dorothy Grey, who was the daughter of Thomas Grey, First Marquess of Dorset and Cecily Bonville, the Baroness Harington. The Baroness was the daughter of William Bonville, Baron Harington and his wife, Catherine Neville, who was the daughter of Richard Neville, First Earl of Salisbury, son of Ralph Neville, First Earl of Westmorland and Joan Beaufort. Joan Beaufort was the daughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, son of Edward III, King of England (1312-1377) and Philippa of Hainault (1311-1369), H. P. Lovecraft's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents). Of course Edward III was the son of Edward II and Isabelle of France, and the grandson of Edward I Longshanks and Eleanor of Castile. The lineage of Edward I goes back through Henry III and Henry II to Geoffrey V "Le Bon" Plantagenet d'Anjou and his wife Matilda, daughter of Henry I, son of William I, the Conqueror. William was descended, through the dukes of Normandy, from Richard I the Fearless, Count of Normandy (died 996) and his wife, Gunnor of Denmark. The wife of William I was Matilda of Flanders, daughter of Baldwin V, Count of Flanders, and that line.

It is unlikely that Lovecraft was aware of his ties to royality through his father's line. Although he did boast of being descended from gentility, he probably had his mother's ancestors, the Phillipses and Whipples, in mind, rather than the forebears of his father, a traveling salesman. Lovecraft's mother's people had been farmers and small businessmen in Rhode Island since the 17th century, and by the middle of the 19th century had acquired some wealth and social standing. Lovecraft would have been much more aware of their background, than of his father's ancestors in England.

The parents of Lovecraft's mother, Sarah Susan Phillips, were Whipple Van Buren Phillips (born 22 November, 1833, at Moosup Valley, Foster Township, Providence County, Rhode Island; died 28 March, 1904, City of Providence, Rhode Island) and his wife Robie Alzada Place. Whipple Van Buren Phillips' father was Jeremiah Phillips (1800-1848, Rhode Island, married Roby Rathbun, died 1848). Jeremiah's father was Asaph Phillips (married Esther Whipple, 1767, at Scituate, Rhode Island). The Phillipses trace their orgins in New England to George Phillips, who arrived there in 1630. The Whipples of Rhode Island trace their descent to John Whipple (born at Milfore, England, 1617, died at Dorchester, Massachusetts, 1685) and his father, Mathew Whipple (born at Backing, Essex, 1591, died in England, 1618). Through the Whipples, Lovecraft seems also to be descended from the Olney family, another familiar name among the old landed families of Rhode Island. These surnames weave in and out of Lovecraft's fictions. He often evoke geneaological materials to lend an air of history and verisimilitude to his stories set in New England.


Lovecraft was born August 20, 1890 at Providence, Rhode Island where he would live all of his life except for two years spent in New York City (during his marriage to Sonia Greene), and a few vacations. Lovecraft became a voracious reader at an early age, especially the Arabian Nights, the Brothers Grimm, Jules Verne, classical mythology, 18th century English poetry, and from the age of seven, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Later in his boyhood he developed a passion for science, especially astronomy and chemistry. An inability to master mathematics in high school, however, excluded him from a career in the sciences, and due to poor emotional and physical health, Lovecraft never completed his education. In spite of this, Lovecraft was said to be superbly (but unevenly) self-educated, and erudite in his favorite subjects, which included New England's antiquities and architecture. But without a formal education and plagued by neurotic symptoms and ill-health, Lovecraft was scarcely employable and lived in poverty. The family's fortune had been in decline since the deaths of Lovecraft's father and grandfather. His only income came from the stories he sold to pulp fiction magazines and for ghost writing.

In 1914 Lovecraft became involved in a amateur press association, publishing mostly his poetry -- bad imitations of the Georgian poetry he loved. He began writing fiction in 1917, which also marked the beginning of his career as a ghost writer. In 1924 the magician Harry Houdini became Lovecraft's most notable client. Their "collaboration" led to Lovecraft's story of horror beneath the pyramids called "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs."

Lovecraft died on March 19, 1937 after a brief struggle with cancer. He was 46 years old.

Writing and Reputation

In 1919, Lovecraft was introduced to the writing of the Irish fantasist Lord Dunsany who became a major influence on his writing. Lovecraft's "Dunsanian" fiction include "The White Ship" (1919), "Celepha´s" (1920), "The Silver Key" (1926), and the novel "Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" (1926-27), the writer's longest work. These stories are set in a sumptuous, over-described dream world. Lovecraft will borrow Dunsany's device of a pantheon of invented gods for his "Cthulhu" cycle of stories.

In 1923, Lovecraft discovered the weird stories of the Welsh writer Arthur Machen. Machen's accounts of modern survivals of ancient magic and other dimensions that intrude on ours were to have a powerful influence on Lovecraft's best horror fiction. Lovecraft also admired Algernon Blackwood, a prolific and stylish British writer of supernatural stories.

Lovecraft took themes, techniques and moods learned from Machen, Dunsany and Poe and combined them with his own personal obsessions and interests, to create not just a unique style, but an entirely new genre of horror fiction somewhere between science fiction and supernatural horror, featuring a pantheon of ancient, evil, alien "gods" threateningly immanent and inimical to humankind. The best tales of this cycle include "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926), "The Dunwich Horror" (1929) and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (1936).

Less easy to categorize are such works as Lovecraft's masterpiece "The Colour Out of Space" (1927), his short story "The Dreams in the Witch-House" (1932) and "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1928), an engaging novella which combines elements of supernatural horror and detective fiction. In fact, attempts to categorize Lovecraft's various "genres" of fiction -- "Dunsanian," "Poesque" and his unique stories of the "Cthulhu Mythos" -- are fraught with difficulty. Many of the same devices and backgrounds occur throughout his works.

Lovecraft made one notable venture into literary criticism, his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" (1927-1933), considered by many to be the finest discussion of the subject ever written.

After being rediscovered in the 1970s, Lovecraft's fiction continues to influence a growing number of writers in and out of the horror genre and it has generated a considerable body of scholarship and literary criticism. But in spite of his popularity, some aspects of Lovecraft's work remains troublesome for modern readers. His admirers have been forced to deal with Lovecraft's xenophobia and blatant racism. A neurotic reaction to social changes in Lovecraft's world have been suggested as a possible origin for these tendencies. His apologists point to bizarre inconsistencies in his professed racialism, most notably that he married a Jew (Sonia Greene) in spite of being an avowed anti-Semite. He is remembered by everyone who knew him as an endlessly generous, kind and gentle man, an impression seriously divergent from the misanthrope and bigot he appeared to be in print.


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