Where can I look for well-regarded books and essays on H. P. Lovecraft as both a person and a writer? If it deals with his racism, that would be a bonus, but general biographical and lit-crit stuff would also satisfy me. I know S. T. Joshi is one name to look for, and I have an annotated collection of Lovecraft’s stories edited by him. Anything else out there?
This site might be a good place to start. It’s certainly long!
Lin Carter wrote a book called Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos. L. Sprague DeCamp wrote a biography simply called Lovecraft, IIRC. His “racism” seemed to be more ethnicity-oriented than race-oriented. That is, you could pretty much guarantee that someone with a Slavic-sounding name would not fare well in his stories (much the same as the guest-starring Ensign that beamed down with Kirk, Spock, and Bones).
The DeCamp book includes a lot of his poetry, too. One line that I remember: “Why are base, foreign boors allowed to dwell, along the shores where Saxon greatness fell?”
(I apologize if this is already included in the link previously provided.)
de Camp’s biography of Lovecraft is interesting, but it’s neither de Camp’s best work nor the best Lovecraft biography. (de Camp was a very different kind of person than Lovecraft, and perhaps didn’t entirely understand Lovecraft.) It’s also hard to find, which may be more important.
S.T. Joshi is the major name in contemporary Lovecraft criticism, having edited the corrected editions of Lovecraft’s work for Arkham House in the 1980s. Since then, he’s produced his own biography of Lovecraft (available in paper from Necronomicon Press – I haven’t yet read it myself, so I can’t compare it to the de Camp). More recently, he’s edited a book which is as close as we’ll get to Lovecraft’s autobiography – Lord of a Visible World: A Life in Letters – culled from Lovecraft’s immense correspondence.
There’s also a small-press magazine called “Lovecraft Studies” which is devoted almost exclusively to his work. Other good names in Lovecraft criticism are Donald Burleson, Darrell Schweitzer, and David E. Schultz.
As to the specific charge of racism, Lovecraft started off as a very rabid xenophobe (as can be clearly seen even in his fiction), but he greatly changed his views over the course of his life. To call it “racism” would simplify a much stronger and more central impulse in his life: he desperately wanted to be part of a (mostly imagined) New England WASP upper class, but he was quite poor most of his life and practically incapable or earning a regular living as well. So he clung to what scraps of superiority he could. You can certainly find examples of racist statements in his writings, as well as nasty anti-Semitic rants and even fulminations at southern Europeans. Then again, these opinions didn’t seem to effect his actual life much – he married a Jewish woman, for one thing – so it’s hard to say what he really believed. He certainly said very nasty things about a wide variety of people, so, if you’re looking for ammunition to show him as a bastard, it’s not hard to find. If you want to know what really made him tick, well, that would be much harder. He was a very odd man. But, I think, a very interesting writer and one who can be re-read with pleasure today.
I’ve read Joshi’s bio, H.P. LOVECRAFT: A LIFE, and agree that it’s by far the better book than the de Camp biography. Unfortunately, it is ALSO out of print. Knowing Necronomicon Press, they probably printed about a thousand copies.
As long as you’re going to the BookSearch engines, look for a copy of the 1980 Ohio University Press title by Joshi, H.P. LOVECRAFT: FOUR DECADES OF CRITICISM. This is an interesting multi-view of HPL; Joshi brought together a huge sampling of stuff written about him since his death in 1937. If you want an all-purpose read, this might be your best bet.
The LORD OF A VISIBLE WORLD volume Da Ace mentions is kinda interesting, and Joshi divides the letter-excerpts up into subject headings, which makes it easy to dig out HPL’s opinions on the Institution of Marriage, Why Italians Smell Bad, Cosmic Horror, How to Buy a Cheap Suit, etc. And once you get hooked on the man’s epistolary charms, you’ll be buying all five volumes of his Selected Letters.
That’s the fun part about reading up on Lovecraft, nothing’s in #@*&ing print. I hope my local public library does inter-library loan.
Hence this thread.
Da Ace, upon reflection, my reply to what you said was kinda curt, given all the effort and information you put into your reply. I should have used a smiley or something. Sorry 'bout that.
Oh, so you apologize to Ace, huh? Because of HIS effort and information?
That’s it. Me and Mjollnir don’t love you any more.
That’s for damn sure.
Especially after I gave him TWO good used-book-network search engines, both of which he apparently summarily dismissed.
BTW, I did find a number of books on Lovecraft and his correspondence using them.
Uke, Mjollnir, you must know that I write sonnets to both of you nightly in my Hello Kitty diary. I only mentioned Da Ace 'cause my seemingly curt reply was to something of his that I quoted.
I actually went and bought Lord of a Visible World and another one called A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft on Barnes and Noble’s website. Before I go mortgaging my firstborn male child to get the out-of-print books like the biographies, I figure I’ll check my local library.
Again: I luuuuuuvs me some Mjollnir and Ukulele Ike.
Yeah, but Da Ace is used to rough treatment. Me and Mjollnir, we’re a couple of sensitive blossoms.
Post a review of A Subtler Magick after you’ve read it. It sounds kind of interesting, going by the review on Amazon. They say the material crosses over a bit with Joshi’s biography, but focuses more on HPL’s philosophy than on his day-to-day affairs.
I mightily enjoyed the banal stuff you get in the bios and the letters, I must say. Really brings Lovecraft alive to read about how much he enjoyed eating ice cream, how he relished his bus-trips to Florida and South Carolina, how he dealt with the financial devastation of having his suits stolen from his studio apartment in Brooklyn Heights, how he loved his books, how he got along on 12 cents’ worth of food a day. (The man ate NO fruit or vegetables. No wonder his insides dissolved by 1937.)