Thursday, February 23, 2006

August Derleth on the Lovecraft of Legend

August Derleth wrote a touching defense of the memory of HPL in 1949. [1] However, you can be the judge whether he assisted in dispelling misapprehensions or contributed his own level of myth to the man.

"Within a year of the death of Howard Philips Lovecraft on March 11, 1937 {sic} [2] the myths about him have begun to grow. Perhaps there is no more valid testimony of his place - a minor one to be sure but welcome one - to the halls of notable Americans in literature than the fact that in the dozen years since his untimely passing, he has become an almost legendary figure leading credence to V. Starrett;s early judgment that Lovecraft was "his own most fantastic creation". Moreover the myths have spread to become associated with all who have had to do with Lovecraft or his work, and like many myths they do him and his friends an injustice either on the right or the left. An examination of them - at this point, in the view to publishing the facts persistent therein is appropriate.

"That Lovecraft died of starvation? ... Lovecraft had been invalid through most of his early years, and he was not well during most of his life. He suffered from an allergy to cold and all its complications and when he died eventually at the Jane Brown Memorial Hospital in Providence of a combination of cancer of the intestine and Bright's disease {sic?}. That Lovecraft spent days and perhaps weeks at a time in a state of undernourishment is probably true; it might be said that his condition was occasionally aggravated by the irregularity of his eating habits but not that he dies of starvation. It would be going too far to suggest that Lovecraft lived in a state of chronic undernourishment as some writers suggested he did. To this legend Lovecraft's sometimes wife gave some unjustifiable support for while he attained some girth and was for a time fat during his marriage {this predicament} with his weight began in 1923, during which year his letters refer to his ailment with embarrassment to his need for having his clothes altered, and in 1924, the year of his marriage (Lovecraft lived with his wife less than 2 years) and his gained weight did not outlast his marriage. He was normally thin rather than heavy though his aunt with whom he spent his last years was a plump woman shorter in stature than he. His eating habits were often dictated by necessity, but just as often as by choice."

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Recall that on an earlier blog post - I wondered about a comment by Moskowitz that I found. "...suffered from a kidney ailment, as well as Bright's disease (also an affliction of those organs) which was eventually to prove a major factor in his death at the age of forty-seven. Since kidney disorders decrease the tolerance to cold in some people, it seems quite logical that for a man suffering from such a condition the term 'cool air' would evoke horror."

This Bright's Disease legend obviously circulated widely before 1949 and at least through Moskowitz' comment in 1967.

The term is old-fashioned and the pathology is simply elevated albumin in the urine and necrosis - or disintegration - of the kidney tissue. It is rarely used as a medical description now. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bright.

Obviously, if Lovecraft had kidney failure, it might be hard for the doctor to determine if the cancer led to the condition - but seeing that it is a secondary cause, too much may have been made of this.

Feel free to discuss in comments, below.

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1 Essay in a May 1949 fan circular - Said to be produced and published by Ray Zorn.

2 Joshi in A Dreamer and a Visionary (2001) corrects this to March 15, 1937. On p. 385, Joshi quotes the detah certificate, "the principle cause of death was given as 'Carcinoma of the small intestine'" and a "contributory cause was 'chronic nephritis', or kidney disease.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I find this particularly funny, because more than once in his letters to Wandrei et all he mentions recent efforts to "reduce" because his waistline was rounding out, in his estimation. Very human, our Lovecraft, indeed. :)

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