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I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES) Hardcover – August 20, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Those who regarded Lovecraft scholar Joshi's monumental 1996 biography, H.P. Lovecraft: A Life, as too short will embrace its expanded and updated two-volume successor. In even greater detail, with close attention to Lovecraft's philosophical thought, Joshi charts the life of America's 20th-century master of supernatural horror, from his birth in Providence, R.I., to a genteel Yankee family in 1890, through his activity in the amateur press movement and less than remunerative career as a contributor to the pulp magazines, chiefly Weird Tales, to his premature death in obscurity and near poverty in 1937. A final chapter chronicles the rise in Lovecraft's reputation through 2010. Joshi fans may enjoy his frequent personal asides ("For my part, I think it is an entirely charming but relatively insubstantial work," Joshi says of the long fantasy The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath), but others might wish a firm editorial hand had kept the biographer more in the background. Still, this exhaustive double tome should stand as the definitive Lovecraft biography for a long time. Photos. (Dec.)
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About the Author
S. T. Joshi is the author of The Weird Tale (1990), The Modern Weird Tale (2001), and other critical and biographical studies of supernatural fiction. He has prepared textually corrected and annotated editions of H. P. Lovecraft s work for Arkham House, Penguin Classics, and other publishers, as well as editions of the work of Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, and other weird writers. With David E. Schultz, he has begun a long-range project to edit Lovecraft s collected letters, in a projected 25 volumes.
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Top customer reviews
1. I wanted to read a biography of H.P. Lovecraft, not critiques of his works. The opinions of the author about the merits of various writings should have been left in the editorial trash bin, as they are irrelevant to the subject of the book, and are HIGHLY subjective. Telling us how various Lovecraft works came to be is interesting. I'm not, however, interested in what Joshi thinks of those works.
2. Joshi delights in talking about something, and then saying "I'll talk more about this later." In the first 30 pages alone, he uses this device at least four times, and it is incredibly distracting. Either talk about it, or don't! Similarly, the all too frequent usage of "I" is almost insulting as it seems like he wants to make sure the reader knows that the driving force of the text is Joshi, and not Lovecraft. Joshi needs to be told that the subject of a biography is the star - not the author.
3. Joshi flings accusations of racism almost as much as he mentions himself. As above, in the first 30 pages he uses the term "racist" three times. I realise that some of what Lovecraft wrote and believed would be racist by OUR standards. They were not by the standards of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That period was a time when doctors, clergymen, and scientists widely held such views, and it goes without saying that much (if not most) of the populace held the same views to a greater or lesser degree(Joshi even states that the attitudes were common in New England at the time). Ideas of Racial purity and mixed-race degeneracy may have few followers today, but in Lovecraft's time they were quite common.
As an example, Joshi is astounded that Lovecraft never read a book of essays written by W.E.B. Du Bois (The Souls of Black Folk, 1903). Why should such a thing be astounding? I, myself, had never heard of Du Bois until college - in 1991. There is no valid reason to believe that Lovecraft should have (or would have) read anything written by Du Bois.
Another example is Joshi's statement that by the 1930's, Lovecraft should not have held the racial beliefs he did. Why? As I'm sure Joshi knows, prejudice was not dying in the 1930's, but was, instead, intensifying. As there were no definitive scientific/genetic studies proving that the "races" were equal (like we have today), why would he have had any reason to change his mind? Many people cling to scientific "truth" until it is dis-proven (such as Lovecraft's ideas about Antarctica).
It is astounding that people will condemn those that lived in the early 20th century as racists, especially considering the state of OUR society. As Joshi pointed out, a local newspaper published one of Lovecraft's prejudiced poems - that should be enough to tell you everything you need to know about the period in question.
Oddly, however, Joshi seems to pick and choose what he considers to be racist. Joshi calls "Fishhead", by Irvin Cobb, a "magnificent tale" -despite the fact that the core of the story is two white men deciding to murder a black man, and despite its use of the "n" word(Joshi strongly condemns Lovecraft for using this word!).
4. Joshi gives away the endings of many Lovecraft writings - with no warning. I've read them all, but someone new to Lovecraft might not want to be told how a specific story ends before they have a chance to read it.
This biography does contain a great wealth of information about H.P. Lovecraft. In places, it is fascinating. Unfortunately, Joshi's intrusions into the narrative are distracting and ill-conceived(they would have been fine as footnotes, but never should have been left in the main text), and his harping on racism is boorish. If you are a huge fan, and can mentally make your own editorial cuts of the irrelevant and inflammatory material, this is a set you should own. If you're just a "normal" fan, you'll be better off just reading Lovecraft himself, and not bother with this expensive, flawed, set.
The "politically correct" mafia does not like this review - simply because it dares to suggest that we should not judge past societies by our standards. Lovecraft was a great writer, with social views common to the time he lived. Calling him an ignorant racist, as Joshi does, simply because he believed in the racial theories prevalent at the time - is true ignorance.
This biography is not for the casual fan and is the unexpurgated version of the original text from the Necronomicon Press release. There have been statements made to the effect that the volume would have benefited from the removal of certain areas of the text (or otherwise edited and/or watered down), which kind of flies in the face of the fact that it is intended to be the full text as it was originally written, but I digress from actually reviewing the book.
The arguments over Joshi's style are a bit tired, in my opinion. That he 'inserts himself into' his work is something that anyone reading Joshi's work should know by now is just his way. I don't think he needs to apologize for his writing voice and I'm certainly not going to do it for him. I almost see it as getting to sit down at a table and listen to the man talk about HPL to his contemporaries rather than read a staid and boring narrative. Personally, I enjoy how it reads. The volume touches on virtually all known areas of Lovecraft's life including his personal relationships, his writings, and everything between birth and death and beyond. Lovecraft is posthumously lucky to have someone so intensely interested in his life to so vigorously research his life and times for all of us to enjoy so many years later. As far as biographies in general go, I'm not sure you'll find anything much more comprehensive on the the given subject than this one (and there certainly won't be anything that tops it as far as HPL goes).
If you're a fierce Lovecraftian and haven't picked this up yet, you'll be kicking yourself later when it goes out of print. If you're just a casual fan, it's probably a bit much.
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