Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Over the years, some readers of H.P. Lovecraft have attempted to identify the physical and especially the psychological factors that influenced his life and the fiction he produced.  Much of this is elaborate speculation, because determining such a diagnosis is difficult with someone who is dead.  There are no more behaviors to observe which might confirm this or that hypothesis with their repetition.  In Lovecraft’s case, family members and contemporaries who may have known or observed the author have also passed away.  He leaves behind his stories and letters--his friends have left behind their recollections—but this material is now better suited to autopsy.  Why was Lovecraft the person that he was, and the writer that he became?

L. Sprague de Camp, in his biography of the author, describes a “nervous collapse” that Lovecraft experienced in 1908, around the time he withdrew from high school for the last time. He would have been around 18 years old, a difficult time for many of us.  Symptoms included headaches, indigestion, extreme fatigue, and poor concentration.  The condition lasted for several years, and persisted well into adulthood.  It seems that he struggled often with what would be considered clinical depression, and felt suicidal on occasion.   

De Camp also offers some other speculations.  Was Lovecraft a victim of hypoglycemia, related to his poor diet and excessive fondness for sweets?  Did he suffer from poikilothermism, a condition in which a person loses the ability to maintain bodily warmth?  It is believed that one cause of this condition is a combination of hypoglycemia and hypothyroidism, which De Camp believes accounts for many of Lovecraft’s physical symptoms.  With respect to his mental health, the biographer concludes that Lovecraft’s behavioral quirks, indifference and detachment from other people and lack of interest in practical, worldly matters is evidence of a “schizoid” personality.

It seems that Lovecraft’s noted social awkwardness, unusually intense and focused interests, difficulty with change, his attention to detail, his sharp memory, and unusual sensitivities all suggest what is nowadays called Asperger Syndrome.  If he indeed experienced this condition he could very well have suffered tremendous anxiety and depression throughout adolescence and early adulthood.  

In the context of a “schizoid” personality, De Camp goes on to remark about the possibility that people with this orientation are often more likely to be highly creative and talented in their fields.  We have all known people like this. If Lovecraft was alive today he might be listed among a number of celebrities and renowned people in various fields who have acknowledged that they have Asperger Syndrome.  Whatever his diagnosis,  we can appreciate the courage and herculean effort Lovecraft must have made to share his vision with the rest of us.   

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