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Lovecraft’s Providence

The John Hay Library at Brown University, where many of Lovecraft’s manuscripts are now held. Credit: Brown University Library.

Brown University loomed large in Lovecraft’s life. He could not attend due to what appears to have been a nervous breakdown and poor grades in higher math, which forestalled his hopes of becoming an astronomer. Brown University was gifted with many of Lovecraft’s papers and letters after his death in 1937, and the Lovecraft Collection at Brown’s John Hay Library at 20 Prospect Street has only grown since then. Perhaps the most interesting piece is a handwritten manuscript version of his classic, The Shadow Out of Time, written in a child’s notebook. This book, discovered in 1995, contains several differences from the published story, which Lovecraft considered to be poorly edited; the original was later published as The Shadow Out of Time: The Corrected Text in 2001 by Hippocampus Press.

In 1990, a memorial plaque was dedicated at the John Hay Library. Credit: James Spurrier.

The poverty of a pulp writer is also on display in the Brown collection—Lovecraft handwrote manuscripts and pieces of his stories on the back sides of letters he received from clients for his editorial service, with desperate addition and subtraction scribbled on the margins; hotel stationery; handwritten maps of Providence; and even on the backs of rejection letters.

Lovecraft had a life-long fascination with astronomy, and he was a frequent visitor to Ladd Observatory, also on the Brown University campus.

Brown’s Ladd Observatory at 210 Doyle Avenue, dedicated in 1891, is also well worth visiting. Lovecraft himself was a guest of the observatory as an enthusiastic youth, but after his nervous collapse, Lovecraft turned away from astronomy and instead wrote about a time in the future, when, if the “stars are right” extradimensional beings would consume the planet Earth itself. Ladd Observatory holds no grudges—it was even the site of a tribute to the author in 2010.

Lovecraft’s legacy also lives on in endless pastiches and literary tributes, in games and toys, and in the work of locals. Caitlín R. Kiernan, author of The Red Tree and other well-regarded novels and stories—many with Lovecraftian themes—moved to Providence several years ago. She said she feels closer to Lovecraft now, “because I can regularly walk the same streets, work in the Athenaeum where he spent so much time, and visit his grave. I can feel Providence now, so when I write the city, I know the writing’s more authentic.”

The gravestone of H. P. Lovecraft, with an epitaph declaring: “I am Providence.” Credit: Wikipedia/StrangeInterlude.

Lovecraft’s grave should be the final stop on a literary tour of the city. His grave was originally unmarked—friends and fans came together to buy the tombstone and selected the famed epitaph. Fans still flock to it. “When I visit his grave,” Kiernan said, “there are always tokens of appreciation that others have left behind—coins, stones, sheets of music, letters, bouquets of flowers, and so on. It pleases me, seeing how many people have come to appreciate him, when he was so unappreciated in his lifetime.”

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