I am no scholar of Lovecraft, but on hearing rumors (online statements of fact) that he was a racist I did try to do some research confirm it myself. He was definitely racist. Probably even by the standards of his time still pretty racist. However, what else I learned about his life made the racism seem a symptom of his many other flaws than the one flaw to filter all his writing through.
Because this was a deeply flawed individual. I do not mean that from a moral aspect, I mean he struggled to operate and succeed in society. His writing made him a little amount of money, but never enough to survive on. Through out his life he often suffered bouts of depression or nervous system disorder which would strand him inside his house or apartment. He lived with his mother until age 31 and her death. Shortly after he married a Jewish immigrant, who seemed to just really like his writing and used her skill as a hat maker to support him. She moved him to New York City from Providence, where he found himself in a literary club of sorts. However, he ultimately failed to make it as a writer in New York. He moved back to Providence where rent money went further, and began his most prolific writing phase. However, his fear of rejection meant many of those stories were never sent to publishers or only sent to one. He died at the age of 45, largely unknown to the wider public, and living off a dwindling inheritance.
However, he might not have been a well publisher writer, but he was your favorite published writer’s favorite writer. He had several friendships apparently built entirely on love of writing, and he exchanged letters and prose with them. He allowed and encouraged others to expand upon his “Yog Soggoth” mythos, and today a good portion of “Lovecraft” was not actually written by Lovecraft. When he died those friends worked to preserve his writing, going so far to create a new publishing house just to print his collected works. In the decades after his death, his reputation grew until his name was synonymous with the genre he created.
Some other life of Lovecraft facts.
- He never graduated high school, suffering some medical malady shortly before graduation. He also never attended any college class. However, he read a lot, making him an autodidact.
- In one anecdote, fellow aspiring writers would visit him and during these visits his mother would appear every hour to give him a glass of milk, which he drank.
- When his wife ran into financial difficulties, he attempted to find regular work and failed.
- His marriage eventually fell apart as she would travel for work and they eventually just stopped seeing each other. He agreed to a divorce, but never signed the final papers despite telling her he did.
- Speaking of his wife, a lot of his biographical details comes from her autobiography of being married to him. I believe this means some of the details we think we know about him might be embellished because “guy was perfectly normal” doesn’t sell books.
- He died living with an aunt at the age of 45.
So, we have somebody who had very limited social contacts, while being praised for his prose by a small circle. Like a lot of suffering individuals, he lashed out at a society that he failed to fit into. Part of this “lashing out” was being an Anglophile, choosing anachronistic words, and declaring himself born after his time. Another part was blaming the fall of society on the visibly different and the new arrivals (despite marrying one). If he had been born across the ocean and about one century earlier he’d be lambasting William the Conqueror as the ruination of pure Britannia.
So, the themes of man’s powerlessness and isolation? Yeah, he appeared to be writing what he knew. His fear of the “other?” This was a real fear, which he re-contextualized for himself as his natural superiority versus their natural inferiority. So, I guess I feel sorry for him. Is the subtext “certain people are inferior,” or “I am a lonely individual scapegoating my social inadequacies?” Perhaps some more confidence and getting out into the real world would have left him with different things to say about New Yorkers. He might also have been a lot less whiny and co-dependent.
What we are left with is a man who falls into the Steven Martin school of success, although success is strictly posthumous, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Being that those works are off copyright, its not like we are denying a horrible person wealth by self censuring the mythos. Though we do deny him his far to human life by white washing the person.
This seems like a good point to just hit reply on an otherwise rambling post.