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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 seconds this estimate in his “A Look at Lovecraft’s Letters" (in Selected Papers on Lovecraft). Of these, Joshi estimates that only about one-fifth survive—roughly 20,000. Of these, less than a thousand (930) were printed in Arkham House’s 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 200 volumes the same size.

In addition to Arkham House’s Selected Letters volumes, Hippocampus Press, Necronomicon Press, and NightShade Books have printed several collections of Lovecraft’s letters to specific correspondents. NightShade Books has even printed the joint Lovecraft-Wandrei correspondence in Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei. In addition, Necronomicon Press has printed H.P. Lovecraft in the Argosy: Collected Correspondence from the Munsey Magazines, a series of letters resulting from “the sentimental stories of Fred Jackson.”

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 very clear that he was “a man of letters.”

Collections of Lovecraft’s Letters

Sample Letters

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