Providence in winter provides a suitably dark and gloomy backdrop to explore the life and work of master horror writer H P Lovecraft. The city and its surroundings feature in many of his short stories. In ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’, walking through the streets of Providence is described as an adventure ‘in antiquity’ amongst ‘myriad relics of a glamorous old city’. Born in Providence in 1890, Lovecraft lived in several houses in the College Hill area, and many sites can be visited which relate to his life and literature. A useful guide can be found at here.
Sadly, Lovecraft’s childhood was far from idyllic, and later life would also prove to be a struggle. When Lovecraft was eight years old, his father died in Butler Hospital from a psychotic condition. Though studious, the young Lovecraft’s attendance at Moses Brown School was infrequent. As an adult, literary success remained elusive, and his only marriage ended in divorce after a short and unhappy period spent in New York.
Although Lovecraft did not achieve the recognition he would have liked during his lifetime, he is now regarded as an important figure in the genre of horror fiction. He has been favorably compared to Edgar Allen Poe, has been highly praised by Stephen King, and is regarded as having a wide ranging influence in literature, art, television and film.
Lovecraft was drawn to the macabre, and his work features familiar gothic matter such as pagan rites and rituals, ancient religions, medieval churches and castles, magic and occultism. He was also fascinated by the possibilities offered by contemporary science, utilizing ideas commonly found in the genre of science fiction. In his later stories, Lovecraft developed his own mythological world, the ‘Cthulhu Mythos’, which remains a source of great interest to many of his fans. In all of his writing, Lovecraft imposes his own unique style to create the truly terrible and monstrous.
Today’s reader may find Lovecraft to be something of a challenge: he uses language that is frequently florid and often archaic; evidence of his apparent racism has been much debated; and a modern audience may be more difficult to shock than in Lovecraft’s own time. But in each of his stories we are taken on a suspenseful journey, leading to a revelation of ultimate horror that will challenge our imaginations.
For those interested in exploring the world of H P Lovecraft further, a good introduction to his short stories can be found in The Best of H P Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, edited by Robert Bloch, Ballantine Books, New York, 1982. There are also many websites dedicated to Lovecraft. To read his works online, including ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ cited in this article. The H P Lovecraft Archive, an award winning resource, can be found here.