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H.P. Lovecraft: A Biography

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This biography relates a paradoxical, ironic literary life--that of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who never had a book of his stories published in his lifetime, but who became a best-selling author after his death; who died in poverty and obscurity, convinced of his failure, but who is today hailed as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century; who was a self- This biography relates a paradoxical, ironic literary life--that of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who never had a book of his stories published in his lifetime, but who became a best-selling author after his death; who died in poverty and obscurity, convinced of his failure, but who is today hailed as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century; who was a self-proclaimed misanthrope, but who collected a circle of devoted friends who remember him fondly as one of the kindest and most delightful people they ever knew. The author relates Lovecraft's peculiar upbringing, his bizarre habits and preferences, his tragicomic careers, his role in the development of science fiction, and his posthumous triumph--revealing how this strange and neurotic man transformed his nightmares into the wonderful stories that have made him one of our most influential and important literary figures.


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This biography relates a paradoxical, ironic literary life--that of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who never had a book of his stories published in his lifetime, but who became a best-selling author after his death; who died in poverty and obscurity, convinced of his failure, but who is today hailed as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century; who was a self- This biography relates a paradoxical, ironic literary life--that of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who never had a book of his stories published in his lifetime, but who became a best-selling author after his death; who died in poverty and obscurity, convinced of his failure, but who is today hailed as one of the most important writers of the twentieth century; who was a self-proclaimed misanthrope, but who collected a circle of devoted friends who remember him fondly as one of the kindest and most delightful people they ever knew. The author relates Lovecraft's peculiar upbringing, his bizarre habits and preferences, his tragicomic careers, his role in the development of science fiction, and his posthumous triumph--revealing how this strange and neurotic man transformed his nightmares into the wonderful stories that have made him one of our most influential and important literary figures.

30 review for H.P. Lovecraft: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    I remember reading this soon after discovering Lovecraft, and it really pissed me off. It is the most judgemental biography I've ever read. You might be thinking L. Sprague de Camp went after Lovecraft for his notorious racism, but that isn't what he harps on. No, this author criticizes Lovecraft for writing too many letters, and never learning to type. That really is my main memory of this book; De Camp bitching about how Lovecraft could have written more fiction and finished novels if he hadn't w I remember reading this soon after discovering Lovecraft, and it really pissed me off. It is the most judgemental biography I've ever read. You might be thinking L. Sprague de Camp went after Lovecraft for his notorious racism, but that isn't what he harps on. No, this author criticizes Lovecraft for writing too many letters, and never learning to type. That really is my main memory of this book; De Camp bitching about how Lovecraft could have written more fiction and finished novels if he hadn't wasted so much time corresponding and writing by hand. It is ridiculous. Also, the book is a bit of bore. There is nothing too juicy to write about a borderline shut in who lived with his aunts most of his life and traveled little. The main interest in the book actually came from Lovecraft's letters, which were often about his mythos. Interesting topics like HP's attitudes about sex (for example his short-lived marriage in New York) and his racist viewpoints are glossed over and excused. At least, that was how I felt when i read this book. Just stick to reading Lovecraft, and wait for a smarter biography to come out. Everything you need to know is probably on the wikipedia entry anyway: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.P._Lov...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lucas Townsend

    While this is indeed H.P. Lovecraft's first biography (first published in 1975, and only because of August Derleth's sudden death, who had initially planned the biography), I believe that de Camp made some poor choices in the writing of it. The emphasis in his central argument, which he carries throughout the 450 page tome, is that Lovecraft was a man of contradictions. While all well and good, the fact that there is even an argument or thesis present within a biography is a cause for concern fr While this is indeed H.P. Lovecraft's first biography (first published in 1975, and only because of August Derleth's sudden death, who had initially planned the biography), I believe that de Camp made some poor choices in the writing of it. The emphasis in his central argument, which he carries throughout the 450 page tome, is that Lovecraft was a man of contradictions. While all well and good, the fact that there is even an argument or thesis present within a biography is a cause for concern from the onset--and as I expected, the book is full of de Camp's snide comments, opinions, and recommendations of how Lovecraft should have lived his life. What really gets me about this is the fact that a) this is a biography, and b) Lovecraft had been dead thirty or so years before this was even being written, how on earth is he possibly going to be able to take de Camp's suggestions at living more effectively and profitably? Lovecraft lived the life he wanted; he knew the choices he made. Berating him for his failures isn't going to change anything, and really detracts from what is an informative narrative into an opinion-laced pulpit. What absolutely grinds my gears is de Camp's complete inability to list the citations for many of the letters and correspondence that he is quoting from--many of the largest and most important passages that he includes lack a reference to a letter, year, point of contact, anything, without even a footnote. Sure, he does include references to his notes pages for some of the small asides, but when there is something that I see he has quoted that is absolutely essential to my professional research, and I look, and lo and behold, there is no citation anywhere on the page or in the notes, I lose my mind. Of less import, he sets aside multiple pages interspersed within the biography to discuss his own views on fiction (in what it is and on the writing of it), as well as his own experiences and techniques; completely unnecessary in any biography, especially one of someone that you had never even heard of until after his death. Nonetheless, I respect de Camp for at least making the first steps towards informing the populace of his life fifty years ago, and it was indeed informative. However, I'm sure that there is a reason that S.T. Joshi's work is considered the go-to biography of today. Review may change contingent upon my opinion of Houllebecq's and Joshi's biographies, but my expectation is that Joshi's will be far more reserved, and thus, palatable.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Horror writer icon H.P. Lovecraft was obscure in his life, but is well-known today, and arguably products of his fruitful imagination outpace his name in recognition- he could hardly have foreseen the image of his terrible elder god Cthulhu becoming chibi-fied into dolls, for instance, or for his references to become so common in gaming culture. Perhaps, as a lifelong pessimist, he could have seen coming the way his name has become synonymous with racism in speculative fiction and nerd culture m Horror writer icon H.P. Lovecraft was obscure in his life, but is well-known today, and arguably products of his fruitful imagination outpace his name in recognition- he could hardly have foreseen the image of his terrible elder god Cthulhu becoming chibi-fied into dolls, for instance, or for his references to become so common in gaming culture. Perhaps, as a lifelong pessimist, he could have seen coming the way his name has become synonymous with racism in speculative fiction and nerd culture more generally. Ironically, if he didn’t become so well-loved by a fervent cult in the mid-twentieth century, no one would have published his voluminous correspondence, which contains much stronger and more persistent racist content than do his stories (which could be pretty racist but not much more than was common in pulps at the time). I’m reading Lovecraft for my upcoming birthday lecture, which juxtaposes the writer with crime writer Dennis Lehane and discusses both as promulgators of a genre vision of New England. Truth be told, chain-reading Lovecraft stories gets pretty old, pretty quickly- he’s best taken one at a time. I also “knew” about him and his various reputations, good, bad and indifferent, from my previous immersion in nerd culture, so who knows how I would have taken to him without that background. This birthday lecture is why I sought out this biography, which was also recommended by a correspondent of mine (alas, Lehane is still among the living and has not been biographized outside of brief journalistic profiles, to the best of my knowledge). If the first iteration of the Lovecraft myth was of a lone genius scribbling away his tales of cosmic horror unacknowledged in Providence, L. Sprague de Camp, a man of the golden age of science fiction, seems to be the author of the second iteration of the myth- Lovecraft, tragic victim of what made him great. Apparently, August Derleth, first and most dedicated votary of the first iteration of the Lovecraft cult, dropped dead before he could write this biography, and the contract passed to de Camp. De Camp makes heavy use of Lovecraft’s thousands of surviving letters and is able to follow the author’s career month by month, giving his opinions of the various projects Lovecraft pursued and generally giving a thoroughgoing picture… if one with a distinct framing. De Camp’s writing is sprightly, irreverent, lightly swaggering in that way of scifi writers of his time. He was a man of the world, author of nearly a hundred books, and a major critical figure in scifi/weird-fiction circles (he also wrote a biography of Lovecraft’s friend Robert E. Howard, of “Conan the Barbarian” fame). In short, he was as different from Lovecraft as it was possible for another white, basically conservative, male speculative fiction fan of his time to be. And seeing as that was largely the ambit in which de Camp (and Lovecraft) walked in and wrote for, de Camp makes much of the implied difference. De Camp doesn’t downplay what many modern readers will want to know about, Lovecraft’s bigotry, except by way of comparison with the amount of attention de Camp dedicates to Lovecraft’s distinctly type-B personality and unprofessional working habits and demeanor. Lovecraft’s dread of rejection, refusal to “lower” himself to self-promotion, blown opportunities for advancement, inability to type even, come in for de Camp’s disapproving notice. Lovecraft’s bigotry gets tied up in this- de Camp depicts his “ethnocentrism” (a term he seems to prefer to “racism” for some tired midcentury reason) as one of his many impractical attachments to outmoded ways of thinking and doing things, that kept him in Providence, cozened by older female relations, unable to keep the good wife he won in the person of Sonia Greene, and generally failing to be the sort of ubermensch de Camp saw himself and his fellow scifi golden agers — an impressive bunch, if with impressive failings — to be. One of the more relatable things about Lovecraft, to me, is his disdain for life, from his horror at biological fact to his preference for the dreamed over the real. His participation in “amateur journalism,” which de Camp lightly chides as a waste of time, reminds me of the people I know who’ve gotten really into blogs and/or forum cultures, complete with wrangling and factionalization. I think Lovecraft resounds as much with nerds to this day in part because he was one of them, and one who transcended without selling out… by the expedient of dying before he could and having his devotees popularize his work. But make no mistake- he was racist as fuck. De Camp keeps promising what amounts to a “face turn” in later life. He did marry a Jew, after all, though he kept making anti-semitic remarks during and after his marriage. He got less bad about white ethnics in his later years, even making a mob of Italians (led by a priest, natch) save the day in one of his better late stories. One of the reasons de Camp prefers charges of “ethnocentrism” to “racism,” it seems, is that Lovecraft had a great pride in his notional “aryan” ancestors, which he dampened some later on. To broaden out into the ways his worldview affected his work, later stories like “At the Mountains of Madness” show a certain sympathy with the alien other that rivals his earlier outbursts of horror at difference for their emotional charge. But he was still writing shit about black people basically until the end, died believing Mussolini was pretty good (and FDR, too, for what it’s worth), and really didn’t change that much. You get the impression de Camp wished Lovecraft would stop being racist in the same way he wished he would buck up and learn to type- because it was embarrassing. How much does Lovecraft’s bigotry matter? Well, I think for the fandom culture it matters somewhat what they name their prizes et al for, in terms of being welcoming to the people Lovecraft scorned. I don’t bother with the old get-out of “separating art from artist;” I believe can and should appreciate and enjoy the works of artists of all kinds with their eyes open. It’s just a fact that a lot of innovative artists were lousy people and/or had rotten politics. If you understand art as something other than a set of interchangeable entertainment products, which I do but which it appears a troubling number of popular critics do not, you can’t just swap them out for nicer people and have yourself a nice, clean culture. If nothing else, the repressed has a way of returning… as it happens, I’m not sure if Lovecraft was that much of a genius in and of himself. But in some respects the proof is in the pudding: we’re still talking about him, he helped define the genre of horror, and Cthulhu isn’t going to leave our collective imagination any time soon. We’re into at least a third iteration of the Lovecraft myth — Lovecraft as monster — and arguably a fourth — Lovecraft as figure less than the sum of his works — and who knows where it’s going to go from there. There’s limits to how much I care — I’m only a horror guy incidentally, for projects such as this year’s birthday lecture — but it’s an interesting process to watch. ****

  4. 4 out of 5

    Patrick.G.P

    At times I underestimate my love for H.P.Lovecraft and his bibliography. Since I was a teenager his works have meant extremely much too me, and I have read and re-read his tales numerous times. Up until now I actually only knew the most basic facts about his life (!), which I had learned from various forewords in his collections. L.Sprague De Camp's book is a massive tome and I must say I enjoyed every sentence in it immensely! It was truly exhilarating learning more about Grandpa Theobald and I reg At times I underestimate my love for H.P.Lovecraft and his bibliography. Since I was a teenager his works have meant extremely much too me, and I have read and re-read his tales numerous times. Up until now I actually only knew the most basic facts about his life (!), which I had learned from various forewords in his collections. L.Sprague De Camp's book is a massive tome and I must say I enjoyed every sentence in it immensely! It was truly exhilarating learning more about Grandpa Theobald and I regret not having delved into his bio earlier than this. He led a fascinating if not a bit sad (in more ways than one) life. The only thing I would criticize the book for is, as many others have pointed out, De Camp's harsh critical tone of more "trivial" aspects of Lovecrafts life. Had he managed to stay a bit more objective in his writing, I think the book would have been even better. Overall a great book,that made me even more eager to explore the mythos and Lovecraft even further than before!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Martin Gibbs

    Lovecraft was kind of a mess. This was the first biography I'd read about the author, and so it was a surprise to find that it was not entirely the most accurate. The book itself is well-written and very detailed in describing the life of Lovecraft, while sprinkling in snippets from his various stories. It certainly helped to align the biography with the body of his work, though at times it feel like it was disjointed. We get a little mention of Lovecraft's racism, but it does seem that de Camp is Lovecraft was kind of a mess. This was the first biography I'd read about the author, and so it was a surprise to find that it was not entirely the most accurate. The book itself is well-written and very detailed in describing the life of Lovecraft, while sprinkling in snippets from his various stories. It certainly helped to align the biography with the body of his work, though at times it feel like it was disjointed. We get a little mention of Lovecraft's racism, but it does seem that de Camp is trying to criticize Lovecraft for things that don't necessarily need critizing. Yet the insights into the publishing world in the '30's was very interesting--and the need to market and peddle one's work is still relevant today. A decent work with many words. Could have spent the last few weeks finishing it doing other stuff, but all in all it was OK. Now back to reading the original... "At the Mountains of Madness" awaits!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mantis Matsuri

    This biography of Lovecraft's helped me put in perspective a writer we are prone to idealize. HPL was a profoundly flawed person with countless shortcomings in life; De Camp's portrait of the man is brutal at times and, though he misses the magic and romance of Lovecraft's romanticized vision of the world and his life decisions, this kind of tough love is indispensable for a devout HPL reader and aspiring writers of strange fiction. This biography of Lovecraft's helped me put in perspective a writer we are prone to idealize. HPL was a profoundly flawed person with countless shortcomings in life; De Camp's portrait of the man is brutal at times and, though he misses the magic and romance of Lovecraft's romanticized vision of the world and his life decisions, this kind of tough love is indispensable for a devout HPL reader and aspiring writers of strange fiction.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    I was given this book by a fellow Lovecraft fan, which he had had for some 40 years and had just reread it. The book was written by L. Sprague DeCamp, himself a well-respected SFF author, who certainly was influenced by Mr. Lovecraft (as have the likes of John Faris, Stephen King and Dean Koontz, among others of the horror genre). Mr. DeCamp’s meticulous research and interviews are quite obvious, although this (paperback) edition has, by the author’s admission, been shortened from the original I was given this book by a fellow Lovecraft fan, which he had had for some 40 years and had just reread it. The book was written by L. Sprague DeCamp, himself a well-respected SFF author, who certainly was influenced by Mr. Lovecraft (as have the likes of John Faris, Stephen King and Dean Koontz, among others of the horror genre). Mr. DeCamp’s meticulous research and interviews are quite obvious, although this (paperback) edition has, by the author’s admission, been shortened from the original in response to what he felt were valid criticisms of excessive verbosity, repetitions and other snags; also, the original extensive list of references was eliminated from the paperback edition. Nonetheless, the endpapers of this edition contain a number of photographs of Lovecraft, his family, his wife, the homes where he grew up, and friends. Mr. Lovecraft is, for want of a better term, the father of the modern horror story. Most of his tales are from the 1920’s and are largely situated in New England, his birthplace. (by the way, I am wending my way through the “Complete Lovecraft,” a mammoth work encompassing his fiction, poetry, correspondence and essays; gonna be awhile before that’s finished). Mr. Lovecraft was an enigmatic person, mostly a recluse who nonetheless had friends in a journalism group; a man with strongly racist and anti-Semitic leanings who married a Jewish woman; a man plagued by the absence of a mentally-ill, institutionalized father and a doting, overprotective mother, who along with two aunts raised him after his father’s death. Lovecraft had a frail constitution and missed much of his elementary and secondary education due to what was described as both physical and emotional maladies. He reportedly did not complete high school or attend college. Although intelligent, he was chronically underemployed, relying on family for support. Relatedly, despite his prodigious oeuvre, he apparently made little or no money from any of it, indicating that his writing was for his entertainment and that of his friends and relatives. He was very formal in his writing and speech, preferring a stilted, anachronistic Victorian mode of communication. Lovecraft’s fiction in marked by at times florid descriptions of weird, vaguely threatening landscapes; evil forces affecting the very soil of a house suspected to be haunted;, extraterrestrial beings (“The Old Ones”) which exist in the cracks between conscious and unconscious thought and which are awaiting a sign to emerge and conquer; an alien leader (Cthulhu) with an octopus-like face and the ability to control humans’ thoughts; and flawed, vulnerable and plagued humans who throw themselves upon these forces, sometimes for generations. His influences include Lord Dunsany and Edgar Allen Poe (whose “The Narrative of H. Gordon Pym” is the basis for “At the Mountains of Madness,” in which an underground civilization of supposedly extinct aliens is discovered underneath Antarctica). The reader will cringe and shudder (well, this one has done so) upon reading many of these passages, not a few of which are thematically linked. Lovecraft has been praised for both his comprehensive “Cthulhu Mythos” and for being a sort of combination of science fiction and fantasy. However, most of these positive comments, as well as large-scale sales of his writings, did not come until decades after his death, and his writings continue to be widely read. I greatly enjoyed this book, although according to Wikipedia Mr. DeCamp’s research has been criticized for not being thorough enough, with the book “I am Providence” by S. T. Joshi considered as more comprehensive and updated. Maybe I’ll read it someday. Five stars.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rhuff

    Great biography of an American literary giant who even yet does not receive the credit he's due. Stephen King is but a hack compared to Lovecraft, to whom King owes so much. King is a "giant" in the US middle brow world only because the American reader is largely ignorant of Lovecraft. As biographer and Lovecraftian de Camp says, it's partly HPL's fault: as a reclusive pseudo-gentleman he did not pursue commercial writing as did lesser talents. Sprague de Camp offers not only professional but pe Great biography of an American literary giant who even yet does not receive the credit he's due. Stephen King is but a hack compared to Lovecraft, to whom King owes so much. King is a "giant" in the US middle brow world only because the American reader is largely ignorant of Lovecraft. As biographer and Lovecraftian de Camp says, it's partly HPL's fault: as a reclusive pseudo-gentleman he did not pursue commercial writing as did lesser talents. Sprague de Camp offers not only professional but personal insight into a contradictory and complex man. In today's terms Lovecraft was the prototype "incel" living in mama's house, inventing his own world of D&D rather than indulging in electronic fantasy. De Camp's critique is spot-on, despite the "insult" Lovecraftians here interpret it (and implicitly of themselves and their own reality-escaping.) But no matter the snobbery that can be used against him (as opposed to his own) he was a creator and innovator of the fantastic, rivalled only by Poe and better than anyone now pursuing the craft he loved.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Bad biographies are never so-called for a lack of good style and grace in the prose. Any life, be it one of near-mythic intrigue or of the most hum-drum ordinariness, is still a life; still strange, complex, simple, distant and familiar all at once, and even the worst prose stylist will have difficultly diminishing that if they can recognise what made the life they write of so significant. Bad biographies, in other words, are the ones that are disinterested in their own subject. H. P. Lovecraft's Bad biographies are never so-called for a lack of good style and grace in the prose. Any life, be it one of near-mythic intrigue or of the most hum-drum ordinariness, is still a life; still strange, complex, simple, distant and familiar all at once, and even the worst prose stylist will have difficultly diminishing that if they can recognise what made the life they write of so significant. Bad biographies, in other words, are the ones that are disinterested in their own subject. H. P. Lovecraft's first biography, written by the mostly but unfairly forgotten L. Sprague de Camp (a contemporary of Asimov and Heinlein, and a man with a very good prose style indeed), flirts with outright bad just enough times for the whole affair to seem hair-rendingly redundant. de Camp launches on a contemptuous first note, declaring himself relatively unattached to Lovecraft and unable to see the merit that the likes of, say, August Derleth (Lovecraft's correspondent and first editor proper) were all too eager to see without much reservation. The attempt is to seem balanced; the attempt fails. From this ominous note, de Camp sprinkles the rest of the story, from Lovecraft's circling journey from Providence, to New York, and back to Providence, with dismissiveness, bemusement, and enough exhausted resignation for it to become frequently uncomfortable. He despairs too often of Lovecraft's professional failings. He denounces Lovecraft's racist outbursts, then follows them, sometimes near-immediately, with his own sudden tangents on homosexuals and feminists, whom he addresses several times as 'deviants'. Worst of all, his critical digressions on Lovecraft's writings are so uniformly disapproving that, besides 'At the Mountains of Madness', de Camp seems to feel that Lovecraft never even wrote a worthwhile or lasting horror story - all of which leaves one wondering what on earth motivated him to expend five hundred pages on his subject in the first place! Yet, despite this sometimes palpable feeling of disdain from de Camp, he never allows his opinions to so carry the book away that it becomes unreadable. Far from it; though deeply problematical, the book cannot but remain essential reading for any serious Lovecraft devotee or scholar, though 'I Am Providence' by S. T. Joshi has probably trumped it by now. de Camp provides plentiful access to Lovecraft's illuminating and absolutely gigantic body of correspondence - a privilege given how expensive those letters are in published form - and his telling of the macabre fabulists' story is richly detailed and broad in topic and scope, covering almost every pre-WWII social issue that might've concerned the author. His discussions of Lovecraft's notoriously fierce racism, though perhaps marred by its insistent description as 'ethnocentrism', are empathetic without being undeservedly sympathetic, but the great achievement of the book is that, for all its flaws, it does make one feel, for an instant, what kind of emotional life it was that Lovecraft experienced, and in that sense de Camp succeeds as a biographer. Whether this is an attractive achievement is another question - do not to come to this book for a story of misunderstood genius ending in a final triumph. Here you open up the story of a truly lonely life, a life of thwarted ambition and bottle-corked bitterness, much of which will seep through unbidden and sting the heart of the reader, even as they note that, had it not been so, we might never have been left with all those wonderful, terrifying stories, and certainly with a whole different conception of the weird tale.

  10. 4 out of 5

    James Quinn

    This biography is much derided due to de Camp's overreach in his psychological analysis of Lovecraft, and this criticism is justified, but I encourage fans to read it just the same. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This biography has quite a few good qualities which in my estimation more than outweigh it's shortcomings. For one thing de Camp does not let Lovecraft off the hook when it comes to his racism and chauvinism. I also appreciated de Camp's willingness to describe Lovecraft This biography is much derided due to de Camp's overreach in his psychological analysis of Lovecraft, and this criticism is justified, but I encourage fans to read it just the same. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This biography has quite a few good qualities which in my estimation more than outweigh it's shortcomings. For one thing de Camp does not let Lovecraft off the hook when it comes to his racism and chauvinism. I also appreciated de Camp's willingness to describe Lovecraft as refusing to give up his childlike romantic views of the world and class hierarchy and how no one suffered more from this stubbornness than Lovecraft himself. Lovecraft would have benefited immensely from a simple Liberal Arts education at a university, but he coddled himself to such a degree he never even finished high school. This weakness greatly restricted his intellectual and professional development throughout his life. I recognize Joshi's two volume biography is now the standard, but I actually got less out of it than from this work. I think Joshi is too enthralled with his subject to write objectively. Joshi's insecurities also mar his work. To my mind, Joshi's need to elevate Lovecraft writing to the scholarly plain leads to at least as much overreach in his analysis as you will find in de Camp's analysis of Lovecraft's character. De Camp creates a portrait of Lovecraft as a messed up adult who lived a very unconventional life, but one who still emerges as likable on many levels, understandable on even more. This book helped me appreciate Lovecraft's writing more, not less, and for that alone it gets my recommendation.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This was loaned to me by the horror-fantasy writer and, now, GoodReads author, Larry Santoro. I'd read most everything by Lovecraft that had ever been published--well, at least his fiction and his book about the craft of horror writing, not his newspaper science articles, poetry or amateur fandom pieces--over the years and had long been interested in knowing it the stories about his eccentricities--so compatible with the character of his writing--were true. Conclusion: he was much less bizarre t This was loaned to me by the horror-fantasy writer and, now, GoodReads author, Larry Santoro. I'd read most everything by Lovecraft that had ever been published--well, at least his fiction and his book about the craft of horror writing, not his newspaper science articles, poetry or amateur fandom pieces--over the years and had long been interested in knowing it the stories about his eccentricities--so compatible with the character of his writing--were true. Conclusion: he was much less bizarre than I had thought. Indeed, he'd been married, had lived in New York City, held common racist notions of the time etc. He was almost, but not quite, "normal". During the seventies I had occasion to travel to Providence, RI, staying a weekend at the home of some college students there. On a drive somewhere Lovecraft's old house was pointed out to me. Recently, returning to Providence with friends from Vermont who have a daughter there, I had occasion to ask about the Lovecraft house. Sadly, I was told that it no longer exists.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Donald

    H.P. Lovecraft inspired many a conspiracy theorist with his ominous tales of the Ancient Ones and the persistent references to some sort of "Them" in his short stories and novellas. This biography is lively and interesting, which is to be expected considering the author, L. Sprague De Camp, produced some memorable science fiction and fantasy himself. Lovecraft was a strange bird, and his writing reflected that. Unlike Poe though, whose life was seemingly intertwined with his tragic, forboding ta H.P. Lovecraft inspired many a conspiracy theorist with his ominous tales of the Ancient Ones and the persistent references to some sort of "Them" in his short stories and novellas. This biography is lively and interesting, which is to be expected considering the author, L. Sprague De Camp, produced some memorable science fiction and fantasy himself. Lovecraft was a strange bird, and his writing reflected that. Unlike Poe though, whose life was seemingly intertwined with his tragic, forboding tales, Lovecraft didn't seem to walk around looking over his shoulder or searching for the "Them" that his stories certainly proclaimed to exist. The "Illuminatus" trilogy by Shea and Wilson relied heavily on Lovecraft, who they speculated was an innocent dweeb who inadvertently stumbled upon part of the truth about "Them" in his writings. Reading this story of Lovecraft's life is especially essential for all those who are enraptured by his fantastic stories.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Scott Ferry

    I would put this book at 4 stars for the overall research and possibly the growth of the author with regards to his feeling about Lovecraft at the end of the book. Especially maybe the last paragraph or 2. He states clearly at the beginning that he wasn't really into Lovecraft and Derleth had been the one who was going to write a bio but never did. I did not enjoy so much though the author's nitpicking and critiquing Lovecraft when I doubt he has written anything better. He just goes on and on t I would put this book at 4 stars for the overall research and possibly the growth of the author with regards to his feeling about Lovecraft at the end of the book. Especially maybe the last paragraph or 2. He states clearly at the beginning that he wasn't really into Lovecraft and Derleth had been the one who was going to write a bio but never did. I did not enjoy so much though the author's nitpicking and critiquing Lovecraft when I doubt he has written anything better. He just goes on and on throughout the book. For myself a lot of Lovecraft's downfalls and character flaws for sure added to his writing and he may not have been able to write what he did without them. This book though left me wishing to read another biography on Lovecraft with maybe a different perspective and approach.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Whitehead

    This is prolific writer L. Sprague DeCamp’s 1975 attempt to distill the life of one of horror fiction’s most influential and enigmatic figures down into just under 450 pages. And for the most part, he succeeds. The picture DeCamp paints isn’t always flattering. In fact, he devotes a great deal of space – though perhaps not an inordinate amount – to Lovecraft’s vile bigotry and other personal failings. On the other hand, he also does an excellent job of revealing Lovecraft’s state of mind at key This is prolific writer L. Sprague DeCamp’s 1975 attempt to distill the life of one of horror fiction’s most influential and enigmatic figures down into just under 450 pages. And for the most part, he succeeds. The picture DeCamp paints isn’t always flattering. In fact, he devotes a great deal of space – though perhaps not an inordinate amount – to Lovecraft’s vile bigotry and other personal failings. On the other hand, he also does an excellent job of revealing Lovecraft’s state of mind at key points in his writing career, helping scholar and casual fan alike develop a greater understanding of the man and the mind behind beloved tales. My only real gripes about DeCamp’s effort are that I could have done without the hearty doses of his personal opinions about his subject’s life and work (often irksome and distracting even when I agreed with him), and the organization could have been a little tighter. Otherwise this is a must-read for any serious student of Lovecraft and the genre he helped pioneer.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Will Mayo

    What, if anything, can one say about Mr. Lovecraft? A recluse who distrusted anyone unlike himself. A racist and a xenophobe that shed most if not all of his fears through the travels of his final years. A writer whose posthumous success was for the most part despite himself. L. Sprague de Camp explores all of this in his well written biography and the impression this reader is left with is mostly of how Lovecraft, like many writers, faced the darkness within himself and conjured up a universe i What, if anything, can one say about Mr. Lovecraft? A recluse who distrusted anyone unlike himself. A racist and a xenophobe that shed most if not all of his fears through the travels of his final years. A writer whose posthumous success was for the most part despite himself. L. Sprague de Camp explores all of this in his well written biography and the impression this reader is left with is mostly of how Lovecraft, like many writers, faced the darkness within himself and conjured up a universe in his fiction that was neither moral nor immoral but rather amoral in nature. Of a cosmos where mankind occupies a lonely backwater and is no way shape or form in charge of his destiny. Of Lovecraft's creation of Elder Gods that are neither good nor evil but rather bat man away the way a fellow might well bat away a fly. This worldview may, despite all Lovecraft's prejudices, be the most meaningful and lasting of his many creations. I thank the late de Camp for filling us in on the life of a most curious man.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jorge Williams

    I usually give pretty high stars but this only gets three from me. All the way through I am thinking 'L. Sprague de Camp, if all this negativity is all you have to say about Lovecraft why on earth did you write such a lengthy biography? (and it was long). The detail he goes into about Lovecraft's xenophobia and racism is all good and should be there but there is a lot of negative criticism not just of Lovecraft's character, personal life, sexuality(or lack of) but also his story writing. I almost I usually give pretty high stars but this only gets three from me. All the way through I am thinking 'L. Sprague de Camp, if all this negativity is all you have to say about Lovecraft why on earth did you write such a lengthy biography? (and it was long). The detail he goes into about Lovecraft's xenophobia and racism is all good and should be there but there is a lot of negative criticism not just of Lovecraft's character, personal life, sexuality(or lack of) but also his story writing. I almost didn't finish it due to the repetitiveness of it. There is lot's of information in there which is good but to be honest I am more interested in his correspondence and idea sharing with other weird tales legends like Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith which wasn't covered in much detail. Overall, I am glad I am finished and can move on to something else ;)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Although the book (despite being called “A Biography”) badly overstocked with criticism, subjectivity & in some way unnecessary opinions about HPL personality (mostly negative) that bubble over from author here and there throughout the whole book, it’s hard not to admit that Sprague de Camp did a great work through the letters and memories collecting all the complicated pieces together in such a smooth and readable way that even a anti-epistolary snobs like I am will find captivating. I enjoyed t Although the book (despite being called “A Biography”) badly overstocked with criticism, subjectivity & in some way unnecessary opinions about HPL personality (mostly negative) that bubble over from author here and there throughout the whole book, it’s hard not to admit that Sprague de Camp did a great work through the letters and memories collecting all the complicated pieces together in such a smooth and readable way that even a anti-epistolary snobs like I am will find captivating. I enjoyed this reading very much. No matter how many pages author spent on his classical “de Camp “teaching” HPL and guessing what person Lovecraft would be and what he would yield if he do this and that in certain way instead of just being HPL”, though it could be quite annoying for one reader, it is, for Tsathoggua’s sake, a MUST read for a fan!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Yosef the Heretic

    I don't necessarily love whatever the funk this guy who wrote this name be... but there are many times I laughed out loud and empathized with Lovecraft... Did not know I loved the dude, even more than his work, esp. the note about stopping at roadside ice creamery and having one of every flavor. Again did not know I loved this dude, I heard from the herd he was evil; even his biographer here cantankerously rails against his subject! ; but there you have it, Love for Lovecraft. A great inspiration for I don't necessarily love whatever the funk this guy who wrote this name be... but there are many times I laughed out loud and empathized with Lovecraft... Did not know I loved the dude, even more than his work, esp. the note about stopping at roadside ice creamery and having one of every flavor. Again did not know I loved this dude, I heard from the herd he was evil; even his biographer here cantankerously rails against his subject! ; but there you have it, Love for Lovecraft. A great inspiration for budding poets I'll be passing on their way.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Olivia (Phoenix_Park)

    Very interesting, but took me forever.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Josh Dollins

    Obviously out of date now still a fun quick read for fans of Lovecraft and Lyon

  21. 4 out of 5

    user

    Enjoyable read, don't know why de Camp gets so much flak out of it, the criticism is pretty tame. Enjoyable read, don't know why de Camp gets so much flak out of it, the criticism is pretty tame.

  22. 5 out of 5

    James

    I finally finished L. Sprague De Camp's "Lovecraft: A Biography." For years a friend had told me that he saw great parallels between me and Lovecraft in terms of our lifestyles, neuroses, and biographies. I knew him to be correct to some extent, but until I read this book I had no idea just how much Lovecraft and I have in common. Indeed, there were times where I started to get bored, and ask myself, "Why am I even reading this? I know exactly what's going to come next. This is like a biography I finally finished L. Sprague De Camp's "Lovecraft: A Biography." For years a friend had told me that he saw great parallels between me and Lovecraft in terms of our lifestyles, neuroses, and biographies. I knew him to be correct to some extent, but until I read this book I had no idea just how much Lovecraft and I have in common. Indeed, there were times where I started to get bored, and ask myself, "Why am I even reading this? I know exactly what's going to come next. This is like a biography of a life I'd never realized I'd lived before." I admit that I must wonder why a person, who lived only forty-seven years, spent one-fourth of his life as a total recluse and the rest as a semi-recluse, needs a biography 500-pages long. Granted, Lovecraft is hugely influential in his genre, but De Camp is one of those biographers who feels it necessary to mention in the text every single time his subject blew his nose, then back it up with extensive documentation in the end notes. This can make for slow reading. Even stranger is the fact that De Camp doesn't even seem to like Lovecraft as a man or a writer. Indeed, there are places in the book where he makes a point of trying to defend himself against charges that he dislikes Lovecraft, but De Camp protesteth too much, I think. He's highly critical of Lovecraft's writing style, gives only so-so marks for Lovecraft's better works, and lousy marks for the rest. He takes great pains to point out Lovecraft's faults, especially the racism that marked most of his life, and even though he mentions that Lovecraft outgrew a lot of these faults in later life, that doesn't seem to satisfy De Camp. Much of the book seemed to me to be an attempt by De Camp to give Lovecraft a posthumous lecturing and dressing-down, to wag his finger under Lovecraft's nose for his shortcomings, and to prove, by comparison, De Camp's own superiority. From start to finish the book reads as a "Here's-what-I'd-have-done-instead." De Camp constantly criticizes Lovecraft's lack of professionalism, his blasé attitude towards his writing career, his preoccupation with his hobbies, his correspondence, his travels, and his friends, his silly affectations, his blustering political and social views, his fear of sex, his acquiescence to his female relatives, his low self-esteem, and his very real, crippling neuroses. And while, yes, Lovecraft does come across to some degree as absurd, embarrassing, and a little pathetic, De Camp comes across as a snotty, bullying, pedantic p***k. And there is no doubt which of the two writers will remain a major influence on science fiction, horror, and fantastic literature. Lovecraft made major contributions to popular culture, and will be remembered as long as there are readers who enjoy the weird and the uncanny. De Camp, on the other hand, spent his final years in Plano, Texas, a suburban s**t-hole so hellish that not even Lovecraft at his most twisted could have come up with such an awful place.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Geoff Sebesta

    Fascinating. There's a reason why this is the standard text on the man. Impeccably reasearched, written by a writer who came in as Lovecraft went out, this is a commentary on two men: Howard Philips Lovecraft, and L. Sprague DeCamp. Lovecraft was a fascinating, complicated man, who lived an intense life on paper, and DeCamp is not sparing with his opinion of the man. It is a picture of the 20s from the point of the view of the 70s. It's also a story of an insane racist. HPL is a little hard to tak Fascinating. There's a reason why this is the standard text on the man. Impeccably reasearched, written by a writer who came in as Lovecraft went out, this is a commentary on two men: Howard Philips Lovecraft, and L. Sprague DeCamp. Lovecraft was a fascinating, complicated man, who lived an intense life on paper, and DeCamp is not sparing with his opinion of the man. It is a picture of the 20s from the point of the view of the 70s. It's also a story of an insane racist. HPL is a little hard to take these days, because one of the things he's best known for is one of the things that de Camp, and Derleth, and so many other commentators have done their best to hide, and cover up, and apologize for; Lovecraft wrote some of the craziest, most racist stuff I have ever read, and I've read Ben Johnson's version of The Merchant of Venice. I'm not just talking about his stories, but his personal letters were, shall we say, pre-Nazi. In fact, it was only the growing horror of what the Nazis actually became that pulled him away from his antisemitism and racism at the end of his life. He repented at the end, but from 1910 to 1930 HPL wrote many, many things of which a Nazi eugenicist would be proud. De Camp sort of tries to glide over this, but to the modern eye it is a show-stopper and to many a deal-breaker. And then De Camp gets to the subject of sexuality, and does not cover himself in glory there either. This book was written in the 70s. Their picture of homosexuality was badly incorrect. But if you look at this book correctly, it's not a terrible thing. What you're reading is a picture of the 1920s, written in the 1970s. It is honest and forthright as it knows how to be. Of course it's wrong. Don't waste your time correcting dead men; learn about the world they lived in. Learn what your grandparents and great-great grandparents went through. De Camp also points out that there is another level of horror to Lovecraft's life; his career. To any professional man of words HPL presents a sort of encyclopedia of what not to do, how not to try to make a living from writing, what choices not to make. After reading this book I lost 1d4 sanity.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andres

    L. Sprague de Camp is not universally liked as a biographer. I have heard a lot of negative comments from the Robert E. Howard crowd in that respect. That said, and without having ever read any other biography penned by him, I did not dislike his Lovecraft. As a follower of Lovecraft's writing for quite a few years, especially his Cthulhu Mythos, I thought reading his biography would give me some more insight into his writing. Lovecraft was definitely a weird duck, as if his output didn't reveal L. Sprague de Camp is not universally liked as a biographer. I have heard a lot of negative comments from the Robert E. Howard crowd in that respect. That said, and without having ever read any other biography penned by him, I did not dislike his Lovecraft. As a follower of Lovecraft's writing for quite a few years, especially his Cthulhu Mythos, I thought reading his biography would give me some more insight into his writing. Lovecraft was definitely a weird duck, as if his output didn't reveal that already, and the story of his life as told by de Camp goes a long way towards explaining why. Lovecraft's upbringing seriously crippled him psychologically, and never allowed him to fully grow up. The details of how this came to be are amply covered in this book. His social ineptitude, his self-sabotaging commercial ways, his sexual hangups, intense racism during most of his life, as well as a sense of false entitlement which had him always pretending to be a landed gentleman and thus unable to even contemplate holding a job as it would dishonor his position. The only fallacy to the latter is that this landed gentleman didn't own any land, or much else to speak of, and so his income after going through his inheritance was precarious, at best. While he had some success marketing his writings, he was relatively unknown as a writer until after his death. Only towards the very end of his short life did he ever bring in any decent sums within a short period of time from his fiction. Some say he died just in time to avoid the poorhouse, while others say he would have started bringing in more money as a result of burgeoning success around the time of his passing. Regardless, this biography is no page turner, but it is well written and will probably be appreciated by all devoted Lovecraft followers. If you don't fall into that category, I really wouldn't recommend it to you.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    lovecraft was an amazing character and his story is fascinating... a related anecdote: when i was originally reading this book i accidentally left it in a coffee shop and didn't realize until i was some distance away in my car...(it was at this point in my life i caught a glimpse into the potentiality for mental imbalance inherent in my psyche...) i eventually realized what i'd done and raced back to the restaurant, it was a carrow's, at top speed to retrieve the book... i went to the booth i had b lovecraft was an amazing character and his story is fascinating... a related anecdote: when i was originally reading this book i accidentally left it in a coffee shop and didn't realize until i was some distance away in my car...(it was at this point in my life i caught a glimpse into the potentiality for mental imbalance inherent in my psyche...) i eventually realized what i'd done and raced back to the restaurant, it was a carrow's, at top speed to retrieve the book... i went to the booth i had been sitting in and it was not there, i moved quickly to the hostess kiosk to inquire as to whether or not it had been turned in and was told by a heavy-set young woman in a curt, overly officious manner that it had not... dazed, i went outside, got in my car, and proceeded to have what can only be called a petite mal seizure... sitting behind the wheel of my dirt encrusted white VW bug,i literally came unhinged.... i sat for a bit and eventually found i could not leave...so, almost in tears, i got back out of the car and went back inside, not fully sure what i was going to do, but prepared to do it... i was about to declaim to the room at large my situation and ask if anyone had seen the book or anyone who might have taken it when i had the impulse to look behind the counter myself to see if the thick hostess had merely missed it when she looked... she had... behind the kiosk, sitting several shelves down was the CLEARLY VISIBLE bottom edge of the book...(it was a thick hardbound first edition with a white dust jacket i'd acquired at a used bookstore in concord california)... elation is an inadequate word really...it remains one of the happier moments of my life... The book sits at this very moment on the second shelf of my first edition case...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    This is one of two biographies i read on HP Lovecraft. Aside from the expected chronological account of his life, de Camp offers some of his personal insight about Lovecraft, his life, and his writing. Since this is the first biography written on him, you got to hand it to de Camp, who compiled letter upon letter and undertook the daunting task of organizing one of the worlds most prolific epistolaries and his writings and come out with a pretty decent biography. However, the biography is laced w This is one of two biographies i read on HP Lovecraft. Aside from the expected chronological account of his life, de Camp offers some of his personal insight about Lovecraft, his life, and his writing. Since this is the first biography written on him, you got to hand it to de Camp, who compiled letter upon letter and undertook the daunting task of organizing one of the worlds most prolific epistolaries and his writings and come out with a pretty decent biography. However, the biography is laced with the author's own voice regarding Lovecraft's mistakes. In the end the book seems more like a criticism of Lovecraft, and a personal guide to young writers on how not to do things (by example of Lovecraft). Read this book (or parts of it) if you love Lovecraft.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel

    A rather bizarre abridgment (of only 30 pages-- one might fairly call this rather a revision, and given the number of repeated passages still present (which de Camp claimed to have excised in this abridgment), the book could have stood another, further, "abridgment"), with an equally bizarre conclusion: the "professional" writer ought to "keep himself in good physical trim," know something about copyright law, and practice his shorthand. Then he will be healthy, wealthy, and wise to his dying da A rather bizarre abridgment (of only 30 pages-- one might fairly call this rather a revision, and given the number of repeated passages still present (which de Camp claimed to have excised in this abridgment), the book could have stood another, further, "abridgment"), with an equally bizarre conclusion: the "professional" writer ought to "keep himself in good physical trim," know something about copyright law, and practice his shorthand. Then he will be healthy, wealthy, and wise to his dying day. Whether the "grotesque" lapses in chronology and the often nonsensical segues are the result of the abridgment, I have serious doubts, but I still enjoyed this book. Much more even-handed than Joshi gives it credit for being.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Randolph

    This biography is only so-so. When I read it there wasn't a lot of biographical information about Lovecraft (this was well pre-internet, even pre-PC), so there was nothing to compare it to. De Camp, for whatever reasons, had a lot of goofy notions about Lovecraft's personal life that he drew not from knowledge, but by interpreting a lot of Lovecraft's writing and a lot of hearsay. He also seemed to have some kind of ax to grind. I always thought most of de Camp's fictional output was only so-so This biography is only so-so. When I read it there wasn't a lot of biographical information about Lovecraft (this was well pre-internet, even pre-PC), so there was nothing to compare it to. De Camp, for whatever reasons, had a lot of goofy notions about Lovecraft's personal life that he drew not from knowledge, but by interpreting a lot of Lovecraft's writing and a lot of hearsay. He also seemed to have some kind of ax to grind. I always thought most of de Camp's fictional output was only so-so anyway. There are lot better biographies out there now so I would steer clear of this one.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ian

    An enjoyable read, as you would expect from the pen of Sprague de Camp. The life of Lovecraft, a sad, but informative tale. Interestingly, a little of Sprague de Camp comes through. He uses Lovecraft's misfortunes and attitudes to warn himself and his readers of the perils of life. I also got the feeling that Sprague de Camp would have liked to give Lovecraft a big shake, and tell him to stop whining and preening, and do something with his life. Write for money, and work at it, and stop pretendi An enjoyable read, as you would expect from the pen of Sprague de Camp. The life of Lovecraft, a sad, but informative tale. Interestingly, a little of Sprague de Camp comes through. He uses Lovecraft's misfortunes and attitudes to warn himself and his readers of the perils of life. I also got the feeling that Sprague de Camp would have liked to give Lovecraft a big shake, and tell him to stop whining and preening, and do something with his life. Write for money, and work at it, and stop pretending. Lovecraft: great talent, but a complete inability to live of his talent. A mother's boy, somewhat effete, a variable white supremacist, and a terrible business man. RIP.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Disappointing. I'm not a big fan of de Camp in the first place, so this was a tough read. For one, it's pretty rambling and all over the place. For two, de Camp likes to continually remind his reader that he really doesn't like Lovecraft's writings all that much (which makes me wonder, why did you write this?). Also, he belabours some of Lovecraft's racist overtones (which would have been quite common in that day and age) into the ground. Finally, he has some of the most purple prose I've ever r Disappointing. I'm not a big fan of de Camp in the first place, so this was a tough read. For one, it's pretty rambling and all over the place. For two, de Camp likes to continually remind his reader that he really doesn't like Lovecraft's writings all that much (which makes me wonder, why did you write this?). Also, he belabours some of Lovecraft's racist overtones (which would have been quite common in that day and age) into the ground. Finally, he has some of the most purple prose I've ever read. It does give you some details about Lovecraft's life, but it's more narrative than insightful.

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