H. P. Lovecraft's Legendary Stillborn First "Book"H. P. Lovecraft. The Shunned House. With a Preface by Frank Belknap Long, Jr. Athol, Mass: Published by W. Paul Cook, The Recluse Press, 1928.
First edition of the author's very rare first book. One of 300 copies printed. Octavo. 58, , [1, blank] pp. Paper watermarked "Canterbury Laid." Preface inscribed at end in blue ink: "Frank Belknap Long."
Folded unbound sheets. Minimal wear and browning to edges, slight browning to title-page, tiny split at upper edge of fold of first gathering, very faint crease to lower corner of text block. Ink inscription on verso of title-page: "Witucki [?] P./3/21/62 $16.00." An excellent copy. Chemised in a linen slipcase with black leather label down the spine decoratively stamped and lettered in gilt.
This copy is one of fifty unbound copies distributed by Arkham House (circa 1959), with the cancel copyright notice listing copyrights for 1936, 1937, 1939, and 1947 pasted over the original copyright notice on the verso of the title-page which reads "COPYRIGHT 1928/By W. PAUL COOK." This copyright notice is in the first state with the book and magazine titles set in bold face.
"Though the sheets of this story were printed and marked for copyright in 1928, the story was neither bound nor circulated at that time. A few copies were bound, put under copyright, and circulated by R. H. Barlow in 1936, but the first wide publication of the story was in the magazine, Weird Tales, in the following year. The story was originally set up and printed by the late W. Paul Cook, publisher of The Recluse" (Arkham House cancel copyright notice).
W. Paul Cook had wanted to publish The Shunned House in the first issue of The Recluse, but perhaps because of space limitations, did not do so, and thus decided to print the story as a small book. Cook printed approximately 300 copies in mid-1928. "In 1934 [R. H.] Barlow [Lovecraft's literary executor] received about 225 copies of the unbound sheets. It is rumored that he bound only eight copies: one was bound in natural leather and was given to Lovecraft in 1935. The other seven were bound in boards...These seven copies bear either a printed label ("Copyright 1935 / R. H. Barlow") pasted over the copyright notice (p. ), or the original copyright notice crossed out by hand to read: "Copyright 1936 / R. H. Barlow"...It is believed that Barlow distributed some copies in wrappers and other copies in an unbound state, both bearing his printed copyright notice, but none has been seen by the compiler. Of the 225 copies, Barlow apparently distributed only about 50, having found some unusable...Arkham House, when obtaining the remainder of the unbound sheets, bound or distributed 150 as follows: 50 unbound copies bear a printed label pasted over the original copyright notice; 100 are bound in black cloth bearing the printed copyright notice...The former were distributed ca. 1959; the later ca. 1961. The Arkham House copyright label is in two states: the one for the unbound sheets prints book and magazine titles in boldface, that for the bound sheets prints these titles in italics" (Joshi).
The story is based upon on an actual house in Providence, Rhode Island, built around 1763 and still standing at 135 Benefit Street. Lovecraft was familiar with the house because his aunt, Mrs. Lillian Clark, had lived there in 1919-1920 as a companion to Mrs. H. C. Babbitt. But the writing of the story was triggered by Lovecraft's seeing a similar house in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in early October 1924. Lovecraft describes the house in a letter to his aunt, dated November 4-6, 1924, as follows: "on the northeast corner of Bridge St. & Elizabeth Ave. is a terrible old house-a hellish place where night-black deeds must have been done in the early seventeen-hundreds-with a blackish unpainted surface, unnaturally steep roof, & an outside flight of stairs leading to the second story, suffocatingly embowered in a tangle of ivy so dense that one cannot but imagine it accursed or corpse-fed. It reminded me of the Babbitt House in Benefit St., which as you recall made me write those lines entitled 'The House' in 1920." (See S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, pp. 242-243).
In his definitive biography of Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi describes The Shunned House as "a dense, richly textured story with convincing historical background and a fine sense of cumulative horror...[T]he hideous climax (with another genuine surprise ending) and the thought-provoking scientific rationale for the horror make this a noteworthy landmark in Lovecraft's early corpus" (S. T. Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, p. 350).
Currey, Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors: A Bibliography of First Printings of Their Fiction and Selected Nonfiction, Revised Edition, p. 263, (C) (1) (a). Bleiler, The Guide to Supernatural Fiction, 1037. Joshi I-A-5. From the Robert and Diane Yaspan Collection.
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