The Embroidered Robes of Myth

Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was the last of his family, and alone among the indifferent millions of London, so there were not many to speak to him and remind him who he had been. His money and lands were gone, and he did not care for the ways of people about him, but preferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at by those to whom he shewed it, so that after a time he kept his writings to himself, and finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world about him, the more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futile to try to describe them on paper. Kuranes was not modern, and did not think like others who wrote. Whilst they strove to strip from life its embroidered robes of myth, and to shew in naked ugliness the foul thing that is reality, Kuranes sought for beauty alone. When truth and experience failed to reveal it, he sought it in fancy and illusion, and found it on his very doorstep, amid the nebulous memories of childhood tales and dreams.


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Celephaïs” (1920), the narrator describes how Kuranes, by distancing himself from modern civilization, finds beauty and meaning in his dreams.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Celephaïs.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 24-30.

The Iridescent Past

There had been no decay, nor even vandalism. Tables stood about as of yore, pictures we knew still adorned the walls with unbroken glass. Not an inch of tar paper was ripped off, & in the cement hearth we found still embedded the small pebbles we stamped in when it was new & wet—pebbles arranged to form the initials G.M.C.C. Nothing was lacking—save the fire, the ambition, the ebulliency of youth in ourselves; & that can never be replaced. Thus two stolid middle-aged men caught for a moment a vision of the aureate & iridescent past—caught it, & sighed for days that are no more.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt, Annie E. P. Gamwell, Lovecraft describes the sense of nostalgia he felt when, as an adult, he found his childhood clubhouse unchanged by time.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Annie E. P. Gamwell.” 19 Aug. 1921. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 144-7.

Unfulfilled Dreams

In studies I was not bad—except for mathematics, which repelled and exhausted me. I passed in these subjects—but just about that. Or rather, it was algebra which formed the bugbear. Geometry was not so bad. But the whole thing disappointed me bitterly, for I was then intending to pursue astronomy as a career, and of course advanced astronomy is simply a mass of mathematics. That was the first major setback I ever received—the first time I was ever brought up short against a consciousness of my own limitations. It was clear to me that I hadn’t brains enough to be an astronomer—and that was a pill I couldn’t swallow with equanimity.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft describes the depression he experienced when he realized that, due to his inability to master algebra, he could never become an astronomer.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Robert E. Howard.” 29 Mar. 1933. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 167-73.

Losing the Family Home

My mother & I moved into a 5-room-&-attic flat two squares farther east (598 Angell St., where I dwelt till 1924) & for the first time I knew what a congested, servantless home—with another family in the same house—was…. I felt that I had lost my entire adjustment to the cosmos—for what indeed was HPL without the remembered rooms & hallways & hangings & staircases & statuary & paintings … & yard & walks & cherry-trees & fountain & ivy-grown arch & stable & gardens & all the rest? How could an old man of 14 (& I surely felt that way!) readjust his existence to a skimpy flat & new household programme & inferior outdoor setting in which almost nothing familiar remained? It seemed like a damned futile business to keep on living. No more tutors—high school next September which would probably be a devilish bore, since one couldn’t be as free & easy in high school as one had been during brief snatches at the neighbourly Slater Ave. school…. Oh, hell! Why not slough off consciousness altogether?


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend J. Vernon Shea, Lovecraft describes the sense of loss he felt when, shortly after the death of his maternal grandfather, he and his mother were forced to leave 454 Angell Street and move into a smaller home at 598 Angell Street.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To J. Vernon Shea.” 4 Feb. 1934. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 351-71.

Nightmares

And then it was that my former high spirits received their damper. I began to have nightmares of the most hideous description, peopled with things which I called “night-gaunts”—a compound word of my own coinage. I used to draw them after waking (perhaps the idea of these figures came from an edition de luxe of Paradise Lost with illustrations by Doré, which I discovered one day in the eat parlor). In dreams they were wont to whirl me through space at a sickening rate of speed, the while fretting & impelling me with their detestable tridents. It is fully fifteen years—aye, more—since I have seen a “night-gaunt”, but even now, when half asleep & drifting vaguely along over a sea of childhood thoughts, I feel a thrill of fear … & instinctively struggle to keep awake. That was my own prayer back in ’96—each night—to keep awake & ward off the night-gaunts!


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes the nightmares he experienced after the death of his maternal grandmother.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 16 Nov. 1916. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 29-42.

Childhood Home

… I was born in the year 1890 in a small town, & in a section of that town which during my childhood lay not more than four blocks (N. & E.) from the actually primal & open New England countryside, with rolling meadows, stone walls, cart-paths, brooks, deep woods, mystic ravines, lofty river-bluffs, planted fields, white antient farmhouses, barns, & byres, gnarled hillside orchards, great lone elms, & all the authentick marks of a rural milieu unchanged since the 17th & 18th centuries…. My house, tho’ an urban one on a paved street, had spacious grounds & stood next to an open field with a stone wall … where great elms grew & my grandfather had corn & potatoes planted, & a cow pastured under the gardener’s care.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft describes his childhood home at 454 Angell Street.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Frank Belknap Long.” 27 Feb. 1931. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 290-342.

City of Wonder

For know you, that your gold and marble city of wonder is only the sum of what you have seen and loved in youth. It is the glory of Boston’s hillside roofs and western windows aflame with sunset; of the flower-fragrant Common and the great dome on the hill and the tangle of gables and chimneys in the violet valley where the many-bridged Charles flows drowsily […] This loveliness, moulded, crystallised, and polished by years of memory and dreaming, is your terraced wonder of elusive sunsets; and to find that marble parapet with curious urns and carven rail, and descend at last those endless balustrade steps to the city of broad squares and prismatic fountains, you need only to turn back to the thoughts and visions of your wistful boyhood.


DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Randolph Carter learns that the fantastic city he has been searching for in his dreams is, in reality, the Boston of his childhood.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2004, pp. 155-251.

The Family Library

In 1898 I commenced a school career, much interrupted by ill health, and supplemented by home reading and private instruction. It was my favourite diversion to spend hours in the midst of the family library, browsing chiefly over books over a century old, and insensibly forming a taste for eighteenth-century style and thought which will never leave me.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “The Brief Autobiography of an Inconsequential Scribbler,” Lovecraft describes the beginnings of his lifelong interest in the eighteenth century.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Brief Autobiography of an Inconsequential Scribbler.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 143-4.

Lovecraft’s Odyssey

The nighte was darke! O readers, Hark!
And see Ulysses’ fleet!
From trumpets sound back homeward bound
He hopes his spouse to greet.
Long he hath fought, put Troy to naught
And levelled down its walls.
But Neptune’s wrath obstructs his path
And into snares he falls.


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Poem of Ulysses, or The Odyssey,” Lovecraft, who was only seven when he wrote it, retells the story of Ulysses in verse.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Poem of Ulysses, or The Odyssey.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 23-5.

Home Again

At Break-Neck Hill Road we diverg’d to the eastward and travers’d the winding roads thro’ the exquisite sylvan stretches of Quinsnicket, or Lincoln-Woods, my favourite haunt on fine summer afternoons. It seem’d appropriate to return to my native scenes thro’ this lovely and typical part of them—and this avenue of approach set off very ably the occasional glimpses of the distant spires and domes of OLD PROVIDENCE which hilltop moments afforded. PROVIDENCE—my native land! No sensation at any stage of my travels equall’d that with which I was animated as we drew near the scene of my birth and lifelong memories. Pawtucket was a dingy interlude. Then the line of East Avenue and Hope Street—and the PROVIDENCE urban boundary at the end of Blackstone Boulevard, known to me for thirty years and more, and the scene of my choicest bicycle rides of boyhood! Again my three-corner’d hat was rais’d from the powder’d locks of my periwig. HOME! After that but a little space to Barnes Street, then a turn under shady trees, a square or two westward to where the road touches the brink of the antient hill and vanishes into the golden sunset sky betwixt old houses—and then Number Ten! My own hearthstone at last—and all the remember’d books and furniture of my youth! It was the eighteenth of May, and I had been abroad since the fourth of April! A marvellous, pleasing, and vary’d trip in all its parts, yet providing no sight more agreeable than Old Providence, or any moment so delightful as that of my return to my cherish’d doorstep.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Travels in the Provinces of America,” Lovecraft describes his sensations when, after a long trip abroad, he returned home to his beloved Providence.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Travels in the Provinces of America.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 32-61.