Lovecraft (1890–1937) is considered by devotees of the macabre to be the greatest American writer since Edgar Allan Poe.
Like Poe, Lovecraft labored in penury and in considerable obscurity, and his posthumous vindication (while not on the scale of Poe’s) has been remarkable. Ever since reprints first appeared in the 1960s, Lovecraft’s stories of too-curious-for-their-own-good academics, inbred and suspicious rustics, assorted scions of overbred New England families, and such trans-dimensional monstrosities as Great Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, and Nyarlathotep have been devoured by generations of obsessive fans. Lovecraft’s fame rests on small but distinctive body of work that ranges from dreamlike fantasies to supernatural tales in the science-fiction mode. But most of his time and energy as a writer went into his correspondence. Lovecraft scholars Joshi (H.P. Lovecraft: A Life, not reviewed) and Schultz estimate his output at 70,000 letters. They tell the story of Lovecraft’s short life through extracts from this vast correspondence. He writes about his comfortable childhood, his abortive marriage and two-year sojourn in New York (he was enchanted at first, but grew to hate it, returning with relief to his native Providence), the day-to-day problems of finding a respectable suit for $11.95 or a week’s meals for $2.10, the complicated politics of the amateur press movement (the predecessor of the webzines of today), the craft of fiction-writing, and his struggles with the editors of the pulp magazines that were virtually his only market. Some readers will quail before the dogmatic disquisitions on materialist philosophy scattered along the way, and almost all will find the taken-for-granted racism and anti-Semitism of his time and class offensive.
But for all his limitations, emotional and intellectual, Lovecraft will appear as an eloquent, playful, observant, companionable, generous, and, in the end, lovable man to most readers.