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H. P. LOVECRAFT

American H. P. LOVECRAFT

born Howard Phillips LOVECRAFT

American author of horror, fantasy and science fiction

Source :  Tim DOWLING

Born: on August 20, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, USA
Died: on March 15, 1937 in Providence, Rhode Island, USA


Biography

Lovecraft was born in his family home at 194 (later 454) Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island. (The house was torn down in 1961.) He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling salesman of jewelry and precious metals, and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, who could trace her ancestry in America back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. His parents married, the first marriage for both, when they were in their thirties, unusually late in life given the time period. In 1893, when Lovecraft was three, his father became acutely psychotic in a Chicago hotel room while on a business trip. The elder Lovecraft was taken back to Providence and placed in Butler Hospital, where he remained until his death in 1898. Lovecraft maintained throughout his life that his father had died in a condition of paralysis brought on by "nervous exhaustion" due to over-work, but it is now almost certain that the actual cause was paresis due to syphilis. It is unknown whether the younger Lovecraft was ever aware of the actual nature of his father's illness or its cause, although his mother likely was.

After his father's hospitalization, Lovecraft was raised by his mother, his two aunts (Lillian Delora Phillips and Annie Emeline Phillips), and his maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, an American businessman. All five resided together in the family home. Lovecraft was a prodigy, reciting poetry at the age of three and writing complete poems by six. His grandfather encouraged his reading, providing him with classics such as The Arabian Nights, Bulfinch's Age of Fable, and children's versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey. His grandfather also stirred the boy's interest in the weird by telling him his own original tales of Gothic horror.

Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child, at least some of which was certainly psychosomatic, although he attributed his various ailments to physical causes only. Due to his sickly condition, he barely attended school until he was eight years old, and then was withdrawn after a year. He read voraciously during this period and became especially enamored of chemistry and astronomy. He produced several hectographed publications with a limited circulation beginning in 1899 with The Scientific Gazette. Four years later, he returned to public school at Hope High School (Rhode Island). Beginning in his early life, Lovecraft is believed to have suffered from night terrors, a rare parasomnia disorder; he believed himself to be assaulted at night by horrific "night gaunts." Much of his later work is thought to have been directly inspired by these terrors. (Indeed, Night Gaunts became the subject of a poem he wrote of the same name, in which they were personified as devil-like creatures without faces.)

His grandfather's death in 1904 greatly affected Lovecraft's life. Mismanagement of his grandfather's estate left his family in a poor financial situation and they were forced to move into much smaller accommodations at 598 (now a duplex at 598-600) Angell Street. In 1908, prior to his high school graduation, he himself claimed to have suffered what he later described as a "nervous breakdown", and consequently never received his high school diploma (although he maintained for most of his life that he did graduate). S. T. Joshi suggests in his biography of Lovecraft that a primary cause for this breakdown was his difficulty in higher mathematics, a subject needed to master to become a professional astronomer.

Lovecraft wrote some fiction as a youth but, from 1908 until 1913, his output was primarily poetry. During that time, he lived a hermit's existence, having almost no contact with anyone but his mother. This changed when he wrote a letter to The Argosy, a pulp magazine, complaining about the insipidness of the love stories of one of the publication's popular writers, Fred Jackson. The ensuing debate in the magazine's letters column caught the eye of Edward F. Daas, President of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), who invited Lovecraft to join them in 1914. The UAPA reinvigorated Lovecraft and incited him to contribute many poems and essays. In 1917, at the prodding of correspondents, he returned to fiction with more polished stories, such as "The Tomb" and "Dagon". The latter was his first professionally-published work, appearing in W. Paul Cook's The Vagrant (November, 1919) and Weird Tales in 1923. Around that time, he began to build up a huge network of correspondents. His lengthy and frequent missives would make him one of the great letter writers of the century. Among his correspondents were Robert Bloch (Psycho), Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian series).

In 1919, after suffering from hysteria and depression for a long period of time, Lovecraft's mother was committed to Butler Hospital just as her husband had been. Nevertheless, she wrote frequent letters to Lovecraft, and they remained very close until her death on May 24, 1921, the result of complications from gall bladder surgery.

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