Earlier, I noted how the American man of letters Edmund Wilson tried to put a nail in Lovecraft’s literary coffin with his excoriation of HPL’s tics as a writer and the seeming silliness of the latter’s creations. But Wilson never really got why Lovecraft worked then and works now.
In brief, HPL advanced the American gothic literary tradition…and broke with it. Now keep in mind that Lovecraft was a self-proclaimed amateur in every sense of the word: he regarded himself as an amateur journalist, amateur astronomer, and, yes, something of an amateur writer who placed his work in pulp venues like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. For Lovecraft and his peers—Conan creator, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and many lesser-known figures—there would be no climbing literary ladders of success into the pages of the New Yorker or Saturday Evening Post. He was one of several purveyors of shock and schlock—no more, no less.
But there was something different about Lovecraft—and, in my view, Howard, too. First, HPL was an aesthete, although one with some rather strange tastes. Second, he was deeply learnéd. Despite his failure to matriculate to university owing to poor health, he was a voracious reader with an enormous appetite for science, history, and philosophy and apparently the time to indulge it all because of his early cloistered life. Lovecraft is your classic example of the home-schooled autodidact: vastly read although not always with the rigor and breadth that the classroom setting provides through outside input and peer debate.