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Lovecraft’s Letters

As to letters, my case is peculiar. I write such things exactly as easily and as rapidly as I would utter the same topics in conversation; indeed, epistolary expression is with me largely replacing conversation, as my condition of nervous prostration becomes more and more acute. I cannot bear to talk much now, and am becoming as silent as the Spectator himself! My loquacity extends itself on paper.

H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 23 December 1917

In his H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography, L. Sprague de Camp estimated that Lovecraft wrote nearly 100,000 letters in his lifetime. S. T. Joshi revises this estimate down to 87,500 in his “A Look at Lovecraft’s Letters” (in Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H. P. Lovecraft). Of these, Joshi estimates that only about 10,000 survive. Less than a thousand (930) of Lovecraft’s letters were included in Arkham House’s Selected Letters, published between 1965 and 1976: Selected Letters I (1911–1924), Selected Letters II (1925–1929), Selected Letters III (1929–1931), Selected Letters IV (1932–1934), and Selected Letters V (1934–1937). These letters were highly abridged, and Joshi points out that the unabridged versions of the Selected Letters would be at least twice their printed size. Thus, the unabridged versions of all of Lovecraft’s extant letters would require approximately 100 volumes the same size. (As we shall see, many of these estimates are very high.)

Starting in 1990—the centennial of Lovecraft’s birth—Necronomicon Press began the practice of publishing collections of Lovecraft’s letters to specific correspondents. These included H. P. Lovecraft: Letters to Henry Kuttner, H. P. Lovecraft: Letters to Richard F. Searight, H. P. Lovecraft: Letters to Robert Bloch, and H. P. Lovecraft: Letters to Samuel Loveman and Vincent Starrett. Necronomicon Press also published Uncollected Letters and H. P. Lovecraft in the Argosy: Collected Correspondence from the Munsey Magazines, the latter a series of letters resulting from “the sentimental stories of Fred Jackson”.

In 2003, Hippocampus Press began publishing complete collections of letters to individual correspondents, starting with H. P. Lovecraft: Letters to Alfred Galpin and H. P. Lovecraft: Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner. However, they then made the decision to publish all of Lovecraft’s letters as a series of books, which has now grown to eighteen volumes:

Five volumes are left to be published in this series—at that point, all of Lovecraft’s known, extant letters will be in print. This collection will ultimately consist of 23 volumes containing about 3,500 letters, far fewer than originally predicted.

During this time, various other publishers have also released correspondent-specific collections of Lovecraft’s letters. These include Fritz Leiber and H. P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark (Wildside Press), Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei (Night Shade Books), Lovecraft Letters Volume 2: Letters from New York (Night Shade Books), O Fortunate Floridian: H. P. Lovecraft’s Letters to R. H. Barlow (University of Tampa Press), and The Spirit of Revision: Lovecraft’s Letters to Zealia Brown Reed Bishop (The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society). Note that the letters in these five volumes already have been or ultimately will be included in the 23 Hippocampus Press volumes.

Some have complained that Lovecraft should have spent more time writing fiction and less time corresponding. They argue that Lovecraft’s doing so would have produced more horror fiction for the world to enjoy. However, many have discovered that Lovecraft’s letters are just as enjoyable, if not more enjoyable, than his fiction. In his letters, Lovecraft doesn’t have the constraints placed upon him that he does in writing fiction. He is free to describe his philosophy, his interests, and his dreams, the descriptions of which are sometimes superior to his fiction.

One thing seems quite clear: Lovecraft’s fiction may never be considered literature by academia—but his correspondence makes it clear that he was “a man of letters”.

Sample Letters

 
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