Edgar Allen Poe’s influence on Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Their personalities, literary styles and concepts


Term Paper, 2007
21 Pages, Grade: 1,7

Excerpt

Contents

1. Preface

2. Howard Phillips Lovecraft – An Introduction
2.1 A Biographical Sketch
2.1.1 Early Years
2.1.2 Later Years
2.1.3 Teutonic Aryan – In HPL’s Behalf
2.2 Calling forth Cthulhu – Lovecraft’s Mythology
2.2.1 The Necronomicon
2.2.2 The Old Ones

3. H.P. Lovecraft and E.A. Poe
3.1 Literary Concepts
3.2 Literary Style
3.3 The Outsider
3.4 Biographical and Personal Similarities

4. Synopsis

5. Bibliography

1. Preface

„The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”[1]

Well suited to explain the origin of the literary genre of Gothic and Horror literature as well as his own preoccupation with the topic, these lines are quoted from one of its most gifted yet underestimated authors, the inventor of the “weird story”, Howard Phillips Lovecraft[2].

Born in 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, where he spent most of his life, Lovecraft led a very unspectacular, almost reclusive life. Having taken up a 18th century nobleman’s pose prevented him from earning his income by the inadequate business of story-writing, resulting in recurring financial troubles throughout his lifetime. His own indignation at publishing his work, partly caused by fear of rejection, partly caused by his peculiar views prevented him from achieving public recognition during his lifetime. HPL died as a poor man with few more merits on the field of literary achievements than some of his short stories being published in dime novel series, several ghost-writings, articles for amateur press journals and an essay on supernatural horror in literature (ibid.).

Lovecraft’s work could well have sunk into oblivion, if there had not been a few of his friends, authors and enthusiasts, above all August Derleth, who posthumously published, piece by piece, his stories and letters[3]. Slowly, Lovecraft began to establish himself as a cult figure, mostly in the USA, where the unrestrained worship[4] prevented literary studies to care for his work, or to be precise, to take it seriously at all. “It is difficult to find an author in this century […] whose writings were so unrecognized in his lifetime, yet so widely known after his death. We must look to Poe and LeFanu to find writers whose lives have accumulated such bizarre legendry; to Conan Doyle to find one whose work has inspired such blatant imitation; and to Nathanael West to find one whose work has suffered such vicissitudes in critical acceptance.”[5]

When in the 1960s and 1970s literary criticism, respectively literary studies, slowly became aware of the actual worth of Lovecraft’s work, the connection between HPL and Edgar Allen Poe naturally became a topic in Lovecraftian studies. Having idolized E.A. Poe in his letters and his single essay on literary theory, Lovecraft himself had encouraged such efforts.

In the vein of these studies, the main purpose of this paper will be to trace Poe’s influence on HPL, to prove coincidences or expose differences, whether it is of style, topic, literary concepts or biographical respectively personal similarities.

As Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s life and work are less known than it is the case with Edgar Allen Poe, the paper will be divided into two main parts, one of them exclusively dedicated to Lovecraft, the other one trying to draw the above mentioned comparison.

2. Howard Phillips Lovecraft – An Introduction

2.1 A Biographical Sketch

The purpose of this part is to present a very brief overview of HPL’s life. It does, however, not claim to be exhaustive.

The first section will deal with Lovecraft’s youth and adolescence, his upbringing and education, for a closer look on their odd circumstances will surely shed light on some of his views and habits, on his conception of the world and their influence over his literary work.

The subject of the second section are, as the title says, his later years.

The third section will entirely be concerned with a subject as unpleasant as inevitable in Lovecraftian studies, his racist views. Although these softened, almost vanished with age, although there are certain traces of inconsistency in his biography regarding this matter, my aim will be not to excuse but to explain.

All biographical facts in this part are taken from L. Sprague de Camps well-known but not undisputed book Lovecraft. A Biography[6], which some critics go as far as to reproach with “armchair psychoanalysis” [7]. Nevertheless, his conclusions are in some cases, at least in my opinion, plausibly drawn, and it represents on of the most comprehensive biographical works on Lovecraft.

Paraphrases or direct quotes are, of course, marked as such separately.

2.1.1 Early Years

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20th 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island. Until he was two years old, Howard had lived with his father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft, and his mother, Susie Phillips Lovecraft, in the suburbs of Boston. But in the early summer of 1893, his father “[…]had gone violently insane and had been placed in a mental institution.” [8] Therefore, the young mother and her son had returned to her father’s house in Providence. In the three-story house, Whipple Van Buren Phillips lived with his wife and two unmarried daughters. “Besides the amenities of upper-class American life of the 1890s, the house at 454 Angell Street included a library of 2,000 books, some of them centuries old. Whipple Phillips and his wife were both well-read.” [9]

With her husband gone, Susie completely devoted her life to her boy and her already “narrow interests” [10] concentrated on pampering her little son. He was allowed to go to sleep whenever and eat whatever he pleased, of course resulting in a diet of sweets and ice cream as well as a nocturnal life style. Having wished for a girl did not influence his education in a positive way either, as he was put in a Lord Fauntleroy suit and deliberately tried to be feminized by his mother.[11] “As a result of his mother’s suggestions, the infant Lovecraft for a while insisted: “I’m a little girl.” [12] At the same time avoiding physical contact with the child and telling people he was ugly[13] clearly shaped his stay-at-home attitude and spoilt him for the rest of his life. The consequences of his unhealthy life style were yet to show themselves. “Long afterwards, Lovecraft confessed to his wife that his mother’s attitude towards him had been “devastating.” [14] Staying at home most of the time, his interest in books soon began to develop, further fostered by his grandfather, who encouraged him to read in the vast Phillips library. Since he was a child prodigy, he could read by himself at three years and was able to write at the age of four. One of the first books he read by himself was Grimm’s Tales, followed by The Arabian Nights at the age of five. His preoccupation with medieval Islam should have extensive influence on his later work and the concept of his own mythology, a circumstance a will go into in the following sections with more detail. He started to show interest in classic Greek and Roman mythology, and “One effect of dabbling in non-Christian traditions was to make Lovecraft skeptical of the faith of his fathers. Before he reached his fifth birthday anniversary, young Lovecraft announced that he no longer believed in Santa Claus. Further private thought convinced him that the arguments for the existence of God suffered the same weaknesses as those for Santa.” [15]

One occurrence in Howard’s life shall serve to illustrate his extraordinarily precocious behavior:

“When he was seven, his mother tried to enter him in a dancing class. He balked and, having already picked up a smattering of Latin, quoted Cicero in the original: “Nemo fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit! [Almost nobody dances sober, unless he happens to be insane] . So Susie gave up the idea.”[16]

Although his passion for the classical antiquity lasted throughout his lifetime, it was even surpassed by his Anglophilia. Especially his encounter with the 18th century England was to shape his whole thinking, his behavior, his political and social opinions, his self-appraisal and not least, his style of writing. “This combination of peculiar heredity, bizarre upbringing, and early bookishness combined to produce the mass of contradictions that was Lovecraft.”[17]

In the following years, Lovecraft had to withdraw several times from school due to a nervous condition. He was never able to obtain a high school degree.

The death of his grandfather Whipple Van Buren in 1904 marked the beginning of the monetary decline of the Phillips-Lovecraft family. The admittedly extensive inheritance from both father and grandfather soon shrank, for it had to sustain Howard, his two unmarried aunts and his mother.

2.1.2 Later Years

Due to his poor physical and nervous condition, as I have mentioned before, HPL was neither able to obtain a high school degree and study at the university nor able to earn a living with a regular job. Which part of these health problems was real or forced upon him by his hysterical, hypersensitive mother[18] is indeterminable, but it is, however, true that “Under this [Susie’s] regime, Lovecraft became a lifelong hypochondriac-although he neglected his health and forwent medical attention. The willing prisoner of his hallucinated mother, he understood, long afterwards, what had been done to him.” [19]

Increasing financial problems forced the family to sell the Phillips property. The loss of his ancestral birthplace plunged Howard into a severe crisis, causing him to contemplate suicide. Around 1913, however, his health began to improve and he discovered amateur journalism for himself. He wrote several articles and poems for various amateur journals, even founded one by himself, and became acquainted with other amateur writers. Already having been an avid writer of letters, his correspondence now even intensified. L. Sprague de Camp gives an estimated account of 100,000 letters altogether.[20] In 1917, he wrote his first weird fantasy story, called The Tomb, and tried to earn money by revising, more often completely rewriting fellow authors’ stories. Most of this writing was done in the night, and if he was forced to work in the day, he closed the window shutters and drew the curtains.

[...]


[1] H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature, New York 1973: 12.

[2] furthermore referred to as HPL.

[3] Cf. Franz Rottensteiner, “Vorwort”, in Franz Rottensteiner (Ed.), Über H.P. Lovecraft, Frankfurt a. M. 1984: 7-11, here: 7.

[4] cf. Franz Rottensteiner, “Vorwort”, in Franz Rottensteiner (Ed.), Über H.P. Lovecraft, Frankfurt a. M. 1984: 7-11, here: 9.

[5] Kenneth W. Faig, Jr/ S.T. Joshi, “H.P. Lovecraft: His Life and Work”, in S.T. Joshi (Ed.), H.P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism, Ohio 1980: 1-19, here: 1.

[6] L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975.

[7] S.T. Joshi, “Lovecraft Criticism: A Study”, in S.T. Joshi (Ed.), H.P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism, Ohio 1980: 20-26, here: 25.

[8] L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 2.

[9] L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 1.

[10] L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 2.

[11] cf. L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 3.

[12] L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 3.

[13] cf. L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 3.

[14] L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 3.

[15] L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 18.

[16] L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 26.

[17] L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 3.

[18] cf. L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 65.

[19] L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: 67.

[20] cf. L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft: A Biography, New York 1975: xii.

Excerpt out of 21 pages

Details

Title
Edgar Allen Poe’s influence on Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Their personalities, literary styles and concepts
College
University of Constance
Course
American Literature and Culture II
Grade
1,7
Author
Year
2007
Pages
21
Catalog Number
V281411
ISBN (eBook)
9783656759522
ISBN (Book)
9783656759515
File size
453 KB
Language
English
Tags
Lovecraft, Poe, Cthulhu, Necronomicon, raven, outsider
Quote paper
Sebastian Langner (Author), 2007, Edgar Allen Poe’s influence on Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Their personalities, literary styles and concepts, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/281411

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