The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft

Discussion in 'H P Lovecraft' started by w h pugmire esq, Aug 28, 2015.

  1. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    Although I first encounter'd H. P. Lovecraft from listening to his fiction as it was recorded by Roddy McDowall and David McCallum, and then I read his fiction while serving as a Mormon missionary in Northern Ireland in 1972, it wasn't until I return'd to ye States, discover'd Arkham House, and order'd ye first three volumes of Selected Letters that I fell under ye spell of Lovecraft's personality. Lovecraft the man comes fully alive in his correspondence, and this remains as true to-day as it was over 40 years ago. The effect of those letters on my own persona is with me still; because in ye early '70s I began to date all correspondence 1772 &c, and I began to ape certain eccentricities found in Grandpa's missives, in spelling, ye constant use of "ye", and so forth.

    We have enter'd a wonderful era of knowledge concerning the life & time of H. P. Lovecraft, and this is largely on account of the knowledge we glean of him through the publication of his private letters. There is so much chatter online, in various groups or forums, by people who have no understanding of Lovecraft. This is especially obvious when some of these critics dismiss Lovecraft as a "hack" writer. From reading Lovecraft's correspondence, we learn that he consider'd the writing of quality weird fiction an art form, & he clearly saw himself as an artist. Writing for Weird Tales may have alter'd his aesthetics slightly, making him consider the idea of a market for his work; but he almoft always approached the writing of fiction as a serious and artistic endeavor--even in the case of his first market-oriented works, "Herbert West--Reanimator" and "The Lurking Fear".

    Hippocampus Press has taken over the task of bringing out edition of Lovecraft's letters; and they do so with editions that publish the full correspondence (as it exists) of Lovecraft's letters to an individual correspondent: thus we have single volume editions of Letters to Alfred Galpin and Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner, &c. Ye newest edition from Hippocampus Press is Letters to Robert Bloch and Others. Hippocampus has also publish'd remarkable joint-correspondence editions, with Essential Solitude: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth, and A Means of Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Long delay's is ye forthcoming single volume (it will be one huge book) of the combined correspondence between HPL and Clark Ashton Smith. A charming, eccentrically-edited volume is Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters, from Ohio University Press. And moft recently, that magnificent body of Lovecraftians, The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, has publish'd The Spirit of Revision: Lovecraft's Letters to Zealia Brown Reed Bishop.

    I would like patrons to use this thread to discuss any number of topics, such as the idea of publishing the private letters of deceas'd individuals, what you have learn'd about H. P. Lovecraft from perusing his correspondence, how Lovecraft presents himself to various individuals in his selected letters, how the publication of Lovecraft's letters have affected his world-wide reputation (for example, his racism, his professionalism as a writer vs his amateurishness as such, &c &c).
     
  2. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    I have been reading Lovecraft's letters since 1995 (I started with Selected Letters V). They give a fascinating insight into the man, showing what a complex but generally likeable person he was. And you learn a lot about everything, from Colonial architecture to the etymology of the name "Robert". I can't get enough of them.
     
  3. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Beat me to the punch did you, Wilum? Ah, well....

    For those coming to this subject for the first time, the following may be a bit helpful:

    https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/47132/

    http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/letters/

    There is also the recently published The Spirit of Revision:

    http://store.cthulhulives.org/produ...sion-lovecrafts-letters-to-zealia-reed-bishop

    And the publication of smaller selections of his letters to such as Lee McBride White or Adolphe de Castro, etc., in places such as Lovecraft Studies, the Lovecraft Annual, and Crypt of Cthulhu.

    I would recommend that any who are curious about the subject, but are perhaps a bit lacking in enthusiasm because these are letters, take a look at the links provided, particularly in the Lovecraft Archive site. Lovecraft's letters have been claimed by some (notably Joshi) as quite possibly his greatest contribution to literature per se, and I think there is a strong case to be made for this. His correspondence, unlike most of that by Hawthorne, Poe, or even Smith, is so broad and entertaining, that it can be read and reread with increasing pleasure and a growing appreciation of not only Lovecraft himself, but also the subjects which he discusses, and not infrequently the subtleties of the arguments he makes for or against them. Having read at least a modicum of collections of correspondence of others (including Pliny the Younger, Ambrose Bierce, Hart Crane, J. R. R. Tolkien, and George Sterling), I think it is no exaggeration to state that Lovecraft was one of the world's great epistolarians, and to delve into the collections of his letters is to realize just how truly exceptional a form of literary art the humble letter can often be.
     
  4. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    One excellent edition, that is still available for $40 on Amazon, is O FORTUNATE FLORIDIAN: H. P. LOVECRAFT'S LETTERS TO R. H. BARLOW. The book features over 390 pages of correspondence, includes an in-depth Introduction and reprints Barlow's The Wind That Is in the Grass: A Memoir of H. P. Lovecraft in Florida, and includes ye following appendices:
    I. Autobiographical Writings of R. H. Barlow
    [Memories of Lovecraft (19340]
    [Autobiography]
    II. H. P. Lovecraft's Letters to Charles Blackburn Johnston
    Of consummate interest is Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei, publish'd in both hardcover and pb editions by Night Shade Books.
    My one big wish is that Arkham House wou'd reactivate and reprint their five volumes of Selected Letters.
     
  5. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I'd like to respond to that point, although I realize this thread will be primarily devoted to the letters of HPL.

    I think that the first book of an author's letters that I ever owned was the HPL Selected Letters I, which I found around 1975 at the Bartlett Street Book Store in Medford, Oregon -- gone now for some years, though photographed in 1997 before it was too late.

    If some of HPL's letters was the first such collection I owned, that was the start of a type of reading that's brought many hours of enjoyment and instruction. The selection of C. S. Lewis's credited to his brother is a very fine volume, but for HPL fans the Lewis collection to try is called They Stand Together. That's his collected letters to his lifelong (almost) friend Arthur Greeves -- crammed with delectable book talk, sketches of people, walking tour narratives, etc. You will be convinced, if you read this, that Lewis in his first 30 years or so anyway could have been a great friend of Lovecraft's had they been able to meet. Perhaps the majority of the letters are from this period. Later Lewis had enormous demands on his time (not only his professional duties and his avocational writing, but the care of a domineering old lady, the mother of a friend killed in the Great War, whom Lewis had promised to look after); and the correspondence continued, but often in the form of less frequent, and shorter, notes. Lewis was, of course, a Christian in the second half of his life, but for those averse to any such savor there's still the first 30 years, and that accounts for the majority of letters to Greeves.

    I'm grateful for the publication of a number of other authors' letters that I have been able to read. Now, Mr. Pugmire rightly raises the question of the public release of what were originally private letters. I think this must probably be the rightful business of the sender (if he or she has said something about the matter) and the recipient. It seems that the Tolkien family were willing to give us one very fine, rich selection. It would be nice to know, at least, whether it represents a sizeable preservation of Tolkien's non-ordinary-business letters and non-family letters. My guess is that the family may have elected to hold back a lot of his domestic letters, notably youthful letters to the woman he married. I think that that is their prerogative. I would guess also that there was a fair amount of correspondence (but much of it probably was discarded) relating to routine college business and to details of publisher-author business that has not been published. I appreciate the desire of families to preserve privacy -- however old-fashioned that may seem to those of us who have grown up with television programs in which people talk about their sexual practices and so on for the camera. However I hope that they can consider also the wholesome interest readers may have for the thoughts and experiences of favorite authors.

    Some authors who have interested me a lot turn out not to be very interesting when writing letters. Take Arthur Machen. I have seen two or three collections of his letters. In each case, you could have culled what was of interest from what's printed to make a document a fourth the size. My sense is that Dickens was not an interesting letter-writer although I haven't looked into the letters myself.

    In this age of email and texting, what is turning out to be the fate of the letter? Here's a topic that might have to be discussed somewhere else: I do wonder about the younger generation (say age 30 and younger) of today. 1.They don't write or send letters much. 2.They often don't seem to retain things -- they are eager to have experiences, but they don't want to own very much. So I wonder if, when they are well into middle age, they will miss letters and other memorabilia. Will they wish they had more tangible items from when they were kids? Of course, I don't rule out that they will mostly be trying to make an apple and a potato suffice as a meal, perhaps the meal for the day.
     

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  6. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    Henry James burned as much of his private correspondence as he could, huge bonfires, and instructed everyone who had received correspondence from him to burn those letters. I'm very grateful that they did not, for I love the five volumes of his private letters in my library.

    There was once a chap who was planning to publish the selected letters of W. H. Pugmire and began asking people for such letters as they had kept. I put a stop to that. Similarly, S. T. Joshi wants to publish THE COMPLETE WEIRD FICTION OF W. H. PUGMIRE, and I have said that is not to happen in my lifetime. Bleh!
     
  7. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    If you ever wanted to tell about those books at the Henry James place...

    https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/552334/

    Seriously! I have read a little of James but not his letters, and would be very interested in learning if they are something I might want to invest in.

    Incidentally I mentioned my favorite artist, Samuel Palmer, recently, at the Mrs. Radcliffe thread. Palmer's letters have been published. I haven't read them straight through, but there's entertainment in them, e.g. his recommendation of (hard) cider for health, his personal campaign against tight-lacing fashion for women, etc.

    I remember that, in HPL's letters, I responded to, was influenced by, his antiquarian zest, especially as it was apt to come out in his letter-passages on his travels. ....As I recall that Vol. 1 had a photo of a big rock by a pond that had special appeal for HPL, also -- or maybe I saw that somewhere else. Someone here probably knows what I'm referring to. Anyway, I think reading HPL helped me to become more attuned to the appeal of such things.
     
  8. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Dale: The rock by the pond is one of the pictures included in de Camp's Lovecraft: A Biography.* On the subject of Henry James' letters... many, many years ago, I had the experience of typesetting a huge chunk of one of the volumes of his letters (I have no idea which one), and they are indeed fascinating things. (On the technical side, they were a pain in the neck, as his paragraphs were often pages upon pages in length, and the primitive form of electronic typesetting in use at that time made such lengthy passages without breaks give the poor machines nervous breakdowns... in other words, you'd fill up a file in no time, and still be in the middle of a long sentence, and the lines wouldn't justify properly as a result.....)

    *It is labeled "Quinsnicket Lake, with Lovecraft's favorite ledge"
     
  9. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    I've ordered the Henry James -- Life in Letters selection that Wilum mentioned and am quite keen to get it. If it's as pleasing as I hope it will be, perhaps then I'll go on to the full course of letters.

    Thanks for identifying the photo I remembered. I like to see collections of photos of places, people, and things associated with favorite authors. So far as I know there isn't one for Lovecraft -- is there? I wish there were for Machen. For C. S. Lewis there's a very nice volume, C. S. Lewis: Images of His World from around 1973, and there's a book in similar format for George MacDonald. There's also something of the sort for Th. Hardy. One would like such a book for Kipling. Of course, even for fairly recent authors things may have changed such that the present appearance of a place gives little sense of what it looked like contemporaneously for the author, though archival photos may help.
     
  10. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't think there is such for HPL, at least a collection as such... but the H. P. Lovecraft Archive has a quite nice selection of images of HPL himself, from infancy on, in chronological order:

    http://www.hplovecraft.com/life/gallery.aspx

    And, of course, Joshi's Nightmare Countries has an extensive number of illustrations dealing with HPL, his writings, his milieu, and the publications which influenced him and in which he was included.
     
  11. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    There isn't yet, but Donovan Loucks (of the H. P. Lovecraft Archive) mentioned at NecronomiCon that he has plans for a book on Lovecraftian geography. He is the foremost expert on the subject, and his "virtual walking tour" of Lovecraftian New England at the con was one of the highlights to me. However, his database of Lovecraftian locations contains around 1300 entries, so a book would have to be selective.
     
  12. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    I finished this last week -- tremendously interesting! The most interesting detail, I think, is that the correspondence mentions several romantic stories by Bishop that Lovecraft worked on. Who knows? The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions may have to be expanded... ;)
     
  13. yaxomoxay

    yaxomoxay Active Member

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    I am extremely fascinated by HPL's letters, even more so than his weird literature although I wouldn't be able to explain why.
    My first encounter with his letters was by the Lettere dall'altrove (*), an Italian translation of some of his epistolary.
    i have all the Hippocampus books, and I devoured his letters from NY, the letters to REH (2 tomes), and the letters to Wandrei. I read with interest the HPL-Derleth epistolary, and although interesting it is by far the least interesting.

    (*)http://www.fantascienza.com/catalogo/volumi/NILF110826/lettere-dall-altrove-epistolario-1915-1937/
     
  14. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I've not read much (if anything) by Lippi (I'd have to go back through all my material to make certain of this), but he certainly has quite a reputation. And of course the addition of work by Faig would definitely add to it. Must have been a very interesting selection indeed.
     
  15. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    Hippocampus Press has just announced two more letter connections: Letters to Duane Rimel and Others and Letters to J. Vernon Shea and Others.
     
  16. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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  17. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    I am REALLY excited about the letters to Vernon, as he was one of my dearest friends in my early Lovecraftian days. We corresponded every other week or so, and wou'd chat on the 'phone. He also wrote a couple articles for my Lovecraft fanzine, MIDNIGHT FANTASIES. I still miss him so much, he was such a vibrant personality, so sweet and gossipy. He had the ability to get Lovecraft to discuss a number of things, some few of which were controversial in regards to race and such. This is going to be an exciting book!
     
  18. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    A Means to Freedom -- the HPL/REH correspondence -- will be reprinted in tpb, according to the Hippocampus Press FB page. Sorry about the cross post.
     
  19. lynnfredricks

    lynnfredricks Well-Known Member

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    That's like the "Best of..." albums from groups that are still together - meaning the rest is crap and nothing good will be coming in the future.

    Are you sure its not part of a sneaky plot? Have a limited run of THE COMPLETE WEIRD FICTION OF W. H. PUGMIRE, get you to sign them, buy them all up, then stage an unfortunate maple-bacon bar accident at the H P Lovecraft Film Festival. The limited run sells at $5,000 per volume. He then turns it into a novel, pinning it all on the "firm but fat" corpse of August Derleth backed by the WFC.
     
  20. Melmoth the Wanderer

    Melmoth the Wanderer New Member

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    I've had the 5 volumes of Selected Letters since the early 1980s - first got interested in them by reading quotes from the letters in the old de Camp biography of HPL. Very recently, I stocked up on all the new volumes of letters I could get my mitts on - which was pretty much all of them - and am looking forward to an entire winter's reading, and then some. It's been said, by (I think) STJ and others, that HPL's eventual place in literature could come to rest as much (or even more) on his letters as on his fiction, and I agree with this statement. You just can't get anything like a well-rounded picture of HPL as a man from his fiction, because he (deliberately, for aesthetic reasons) left humor and other aspects of his personality out of his stories. So, heartfelt thanks and kudos to STJ and his accomplices for the letters project, which I think is the #1 most important aspect of Lovecraft Studies at this time (now that the corrected texts of the stories are in print).
     
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