First, I’ll say that I’ve missed mapping the edges! It’s been almost a month since my last post. Seems like six months to me. Why have I been gone? That’s a topic for a future post!
The title of the post has nothing to do with drunken vandals doing damage in a cemetery. The honeymoon part? That comes later… This post is about a common element with artists I admire. They seem to die poor or penniless. Literally. They receive a headstone late in death, only after enough money is raised to purchase it.
Artists like Howard Phillips Lovecraft. As most fans of gothic horror and weird fiction, I discovered a new world when I discovered H. P. Lovecraft’s works as a kid. It was the first time I’d read stories with characters that were difficult to imagination, both in form and origin.
I read his stories with a dictionary nearby. The language was as heavy and difficult to pronounce as it was transcendent. Lovecraft’s writing style has been often criticized, but his style matched the Cthulhu mythos it described. As a combination geek/dork/nerd, I committed some of his writings to memory, such as the opening paragraph to his story, The Call of Cthulhu (from memory):
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” – (The Call of Cthulhu, by H. P. Lovecraft, 1926)
OK, I cheated. I looked up the date of publication. I know. I should have dedicated my teen years to something more productive, like practicing the slide guitar!
Lovecraft wrote about the strange on an extreme level. Sometimes in his stories, guilt was inherited and insanity was punishment. His stories made me wonder how fragile sanity actually was, and if we all weren’t a little closer to it than we realize or are willing to admit.
In 1983, I bought a copy of Donald R. Burleson’s textbook, H.P. Lovecraft: A Critical Study. I learned that Lovecraft had, oh let’s just call it, a non-traditional upbringing. I knew some facts about his life, but had no idea of the extent of non-tradition!
His father was institutionalized when Lovecraft was three. His paternal grandfather became his father-figure, but died when Lovecraft was still a teenager. H. P. was raised by his mother and two aunts. According to some sources, Lovecraft’s mother always wanted a girl, so much so, that she would curl her only child’s hair, and put young Howard in lacy dresses and pretty hats.
Others say it was simply the “unisex” dress of that era – late 1800s and early 1900s. Regardless, Lovecraft was indulged as a child genius, the 19th-century’s answer to Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon Cooper. H. P. was treated more like a delicate doll kept in a protective case than as a little boy. He claimed to have suffered a nervous breakdown before graduating high school, and was sickly his entire life.
Would he have become H. P. Lovecraft otherwise? If sanity and insanity are as closely aligned as Lovecraft suggests in his stories, we could argue that Lovecraft’s life experiences are more chilling than the fictional insanity presented in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Check out a similar study I did on Edgar Allan Poe and how life experiences can serve as influences.
H. P. Lovecraft died in March 15, 1937 at the age of 46. He was buried at Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, RI without a permanent headstone. Not until 1977 was enough money raised to buy a Lovecraft headstone. It’s elegantly simple grey granite with birth and death dates, and his quote, “I am Providence,” at the bottom.
Perhaps the most chilling fact in this post is this: I’m such a romantic, that in the summer of 1986, I gave my wife the honeymoon of a lifetime. I took her to Providence to visit Swan Point Cemetery, so we could see Lovecraft’s new headstone in person. We had an automobile accident trying to find the cemetery, but it was worth it.
Ah, the adventures of young love… Good times!