Okay, so I've been putting off talking about it directly. My reasons? It involves a complicated web of self-examination to discuss the topic, I suspect. The topic? L. Sprague De Camp's rather infamous biography of HP Lovecraft.
Not that it's a bad bio. Written back in the mid-70s, it was a sufficiently scholarly work to make the academics take notice, & is credited with finalizing Lovecraft's ascent to his portenteous position as the 20th century's 'Master o' the Macabre'. It's a pretty thick whomping volume, too; I got ahold of the slightly expurgated paperback version, which excludes 13,000 words of L. Sprague's sprawling (yet strangely unsympathetic) prose-narration of Lovecraft's life.
It's fascinating to watch L. Sprague berate Lovecraft across time and space, bellowing at him like some fulvous-hued gym coach. There are biggish chunks of the book where he breaks into open stigmatization, scolding Lovecraft for not attending to his craft in a properly professional manner, mocking his self-taught typing style, & getting all pissy at the dissolution of his marriage (the tongue clucking is nigh-audible). De Camp writes with a craftman's eye, yet seems to have little sympathy for making actual art & the eccentricities it can entail; his summarization of Lovecraft's work is that he produced a decent lump of 'entertainment' (his exact word), & that he could have produced a whole lot more 'entertainment' if he'd manned up, eaten more red meat, & transcended his constant crushing sense of self-doubt (this last, at least, I can agree with). Sprague writes like a hyper-actualized, accultured, heterosexual white male in full possession of his so-called faculties; never dogged by spurts of psychoses, always able to go to bed & rise at a decent hour, & just damn sick of all these crybabies whining on when they should be story-bombing every available publisher, invincible ego primed to absorb any and all rejections.
While I agree that ego transformation is important, & that the artist must be capable of opening themselves to rejection in order to 'make it'/deliver their work into the hands of their readers, I certainly wouldn't classify a hyper-sensitive visionary with rejection issues as anything less of an artist on account of his querulous tuning. Lovecraft was indeed a visionary; L. Sprague was a respected writer of many things, most notably sword n' sorcery yarns distending from Robert E. Howard. He was possessed of the ability to move in highly normative circles, & confesses at the beginning of the bio that he feels singularly qualified to write about Lovecraft due to his subject's alien nature contrasting sharply with his own. Herein lies the boundary between writing-as-craft & writing-as-art; De Camp frequently reiterates his disgust that Lovecraft should EVER think of himself as special, or better/different (the terms seem interchangeable) than other people, in any way. To him, writing is ultimately like spinning wool, with small consideration for Beauty or shamanic 'nonsense,' & certainly conferring no right to sacred exaltation. Conversely, to Lovecraft writing was an invocation, in which he strove to personify abstract extradimensional impressions, symbols, & arcane revelations seemingly received via atavistic astral/dreamtime states, psyche all-the-while in violent revolt against the norms of his age. Couple this to HP's insistence on being a cogwork rational materialist in waking life, & one wonders how he managed to stay sane at all.
In short, De Camp is just too damn normal to write a bio of Lovecraft (LeGuin says something similar to this in her review of the biography), & I'm glad to see that there's a more respected contemporary bio written by S.T. Joshi. And yet...it was a good book. I learned a lot from it, & had my first extended glimpses into Lovecraft's voluminous correspondence; it also allowed me to juxtapose two very antipodal creative personalities (biographer & biographee). I'd recommend Lovecraft: A Biography overall, though I'll confess I'm not feeling very compelled to branch out into De Camp's fiction. A man so insistent on marginalizing relative artistic value can't have a whole lot to say. Some of the garbage he spews is frustratingly prosaic - really, there's 'no such thing as good or bad art, it's all subjective'? Piffle. Dismissing high art on the premise that 'it's all high art to somebody' is lazy, callous, & self-suppressive thinking. I refuse to believe there's no difference between Shakespeare and Duck Dynasty, so out the window that reasoning goes.
In conclusion, I must acknowledge that Lovecraft was very (frustratingly) self-defeating. He reacted to the merest hint of rejection with paroxysms of innermost doubt, resulting in his writing tapering off towards the end of his life. De Camp is right to address these traits, and fully justified in using them as red-flag examples for other writers, though the reader wonders at the very personal wording he chooses at times. This highlights the quixotic modern mass fascination with Lovecraft: many of those who profess to have been inspired by HP wax long about how they hate his writing style, abhor his racism, & think of him as having more psychological than artistic value. Yet all of them are caught up in his universe, battling his monsters, invoking his gods, & crying out at the black uncaring abyss he postulated. Lovecraft accessed something far beyond mere 'entertainment;' he gave the 20th century a new-birthed pantheon. For that, for everything (especially his vestigial passion for tricorne hats & periwigs), I forgive him his myriad faults. Hopefully someone will similarly forgive me one day.