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"The Thing on the Doorstep" is a short story written by H. P. Lovecraft, part of the Cthulhu Mythos universe of horror fiction. It was written in August 1933, and first published in the January 1937 issue of Weird Tales.
Two novels suggested as inspirations for "The Thing on the Doorstep" are Barry Pain's An Exchange of Souls (1911), about a scientist's invention that allows him to switch personalities with his wife, and H. B. Drake's The Remedy (1925; published in the U.S. as The Shadowy Thing), in which a character with the power of mind-transference comes back from the dead by possessing the body of an injured friend.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890, in his family home at 194 (later 456) Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island (the house was demolished in 1961). He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft (1853–1898), a traveling salesman of jewelry and precious metals, and Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft (1857–1921), who could trace her ancestry to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. Both of his parents were of entirely English ancestry, all of whom had been in New England since the colonial period. In 1893, when Lovecraft was three, his father became acutely psychotic and was placed in the Providence psychiatric institution, Butler Hospital, where he remained until his death in 1898. H. P. Lovecraft maintained throughout his life that his father had died in a condition of paralysis brought on by "nervous exhaustion." Although it has been suggested his father's mental illness may have been caused by syphilis, neither the younger Lovecraft nor his mother (who also died in Butler Hospital) seems to have shown signs of being infected with the disease.
After his father's hospitalization, Lovecraft was raised by his mother, his two maternal aunts (Lillian Delora Phillips and Annie Emeline Phillips), and his maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, an American businessman. All five resided together in the family home. Lovecraft was a prodigy, reciting poetry at the age of three, and writing complete poems by six. His grandfather encouraged his reading, providing him with classics such as The Arabian Nights, Bulfinch's Age of Fable, and children's versions of the Iliad and the Odyssey. His grandfather also stirred the boy's interest in the weird by telling him his own original tales of Gothic horror.
Lovecraft was frequently ill as a child. Because of his sickly condition, he barely attended school until he was eight years old, and then was withdrawn after a year. He read voraciously during this period and became especially enamored of chemistry and astronomy. He produced several hectographed publications with a limited circulation, beginning in 1899 with The Scientific Gazette. Four years later, he returned to public school at Hope High School. Beginning in his early life, Lovecraft is believed to have suffered from sleep paralysis, a form of parasomnia; he believed himself to be assaulted at night by horrific "night gaunts". Much of his later work is thought to have been directly inspired by these terrors. (Indeed, "Night Gaunts" became the subject of a poem he wrote of the same name, in which they were personified as devil-like creatures without faces.)
His grandfather's death in 1904 greatly affected Lovecraft's life. Mismanagement of his grandfather's estate left his family in a poor financial situation, and they were forced to move into much smaller accommodations at 598 (now a duplex at 598–600) Angell Street. In 1908, prior to his high school graduation, he is said to have suffered what he later described as a "nervous breakdown", and consequently never received his high school diploma (although he maintained for most of his life that he did graduate). S. T. Joshi suggests in his biography of Lovecraft that a primary cause for this breakdown was his difficulty in higher mathematics, a subject he needed to master to become a professional astronomer.
The adult Lovecraft was gaunt with dark eyes set in a very pale face (he rarely went out before nightfall). For five years after leaving school, he lived an isolated existence with his mother, writing primarily poetry without seeking employment or new social contacts. This changed in 1913 when he wrote a letter to The Argosy, a pulp magazine, complaining about the insipidness of the love stories in the publication by writer Fred Jackson. The ensuing debate in the magazine's letters column caught the eye of Edward F. Daas, president of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), who invited Lovecraft to join the organization in 1914.
In April 1917, Lovecraft tried to join the National Guard, but did not pass the physical examination.
The UAPA reinvigorated Lovecraft and incited him to contribute many poems and essays; in 1916, his first published story, The Alchemist, appeared in the United Amateur Press Association. The earliest commercially published work came in 1922, when he was thirty-one. By this time he had begun to build what became a huge network of correspondents. His lengthy and frequent missives would make him one of the great letter writers of the century. Among his correspondents were Robert Bloch (Psycho), Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian series). Many former aspiring authors later paid tribute to his mentoring and encouragement through the correspondence.
His oeuvre is sometimes seen as consisting of three periods: an early Edgar Allan Poe influence; followed by a Lord Dunsany–inspired Dream Cycle; and finally the Cthulhu Mythos stories. However, many distinctive ideas and entities present in the third period were introduced in the earlier works, such as the 1917 story "Dagon", and the threefold classification is partly overlapping.
In 1919, after suffering from hysteria and depression for a long period of time, Lovecraft's mother was committed to Butler Hospital - the mental institution where her husband had died. Nevertheless, she wrote frequent letters to Lovecraft, and they remained close until her death on May 24, 1921, the result of complications from gallbladder surgery.
A few days after his mother's death, Lovecraft attended a convention of amateur journalists in Boston, Massachusetts, where he met and became friendly with Sonia Greene, a widow and owner of a successful hat shop and seven years his senior. Lovecraft's aunts disapproved of the relationship. Lovecraft and Greene married on March 3, 1924, and relocated to her Brooklyn apartment; she thought he needed to get out of Providence in order to flourish and was willing to support him financially. Greene, who had been married before, later said Lovecraft had performed satisfactorily as a lover, though she had to take the initiative in all aspects of the relationship. She attributed Lovecraft's passive nature to a stultifying upbringing by his mother. Lovecraft's weight increased to 90 kg (200 lb) on his wife's home cooking.
He was enthralled by New York, and, in what was informally dubbed the Kalem Club, he acquired a group of encouraging intellectual and literary friends who urged him to submit stories to Weird Tales; editor Edwin Baird accepted many otherworldly 'Dream Cycle' Lovecraft stories for the ailing publication, though they were heavily criticized by a section of the readership. Established informally some years before Lovecraft lived in New York, the core Kalem Club members were boys' adventure novelist Henry Everett McNeil; the lawyer and anarchist writer James Ferdinand Morton, Jr.; and the poet Reinhardt Kleiner. In 1925 these four regular attendees were joined by Lovecraft along with his protégé Frank Belknap Long, bookseller George Willard Kirk, and Lovecraft's close friend Samuel Loveman. Loveman was Jewish, but was unaware of Lovecraft's nativist attitudes. Conversely, it has been suggested Lovecraft, who disliked mention of sexual matters, was unaware that Loveman and some of his other friends were homosexual.