Today is the 137th birthday of William Hope Hodgson!
WHH was born in 1877 and led a life of almost amazing adventure. Running away from home at the age of 13, he joined the Merchant Marine, sailed around the world and won an award for saving the life of a crewmate who had fallen overboard in shark-infested waters. But Hodgson found life on the sea to be cruel, hard and economic slavery so he left the sea as the new century began.
Hodgson had long been an advocate and eager student of physical culture and had even begun this practice while at sea. After returning to a life on land, WHH parlayed this interest into a school of physical culture but this enterprise would not last long. After a legendary encounter with Houdini failed to save the school, it was closed and Hodgson turned his attention to writing.
Although he had enjoyed some early success with articles about physical culture, it would not be as easy writing fiction. For several years, Hodgson approached his new trade with the same ferocity and single-minded focus that he had used with every other endeavor. During that time, he wrote all four of his novels, many of what would be his most famous stories and possibly created his ghost-detective character, Carnacki. Hodgson approached his writing as a business, keeping careful records of where he had submitted work, the result and how much he was paid. The connection between selling work and survival was a painfully obvious one for Hodgson. When his work finally DID begin to sell, he would be frustrated and disappointed by the lack of appreciation and limited funds that resulted. Still, he would continue writing up until the time of his death which shows that this was not an entirely financial occupation to Hodgson.
It was not until the age of 36 that Hodgson would finally marry. Shortly after, he and his wife moved to France in an effort to economize that ended when the Great War began in 1914. They returned to England where Hodgson enlisted in the Officer Training Corps and would later be assigned as a Lt. in the Royal Field Artillery which shipped over to France and faced dreadful battles. Despite several chances at going home due to injuries, Hodgson stayed in the war and eventually, on April 19th, 1918, suffered a direct hit from a German shell and was blasted to pieces.
Since his death, Hodgson has had a difficult literary legacy. As shortly as 16 years later, in 1934, Hodgson had been forgotten by all but a few devoted readers of weird literature. It was in that year that H. P. Lovecraft was introduced to Hodgson’s works by his friend, H. C. Koenig, who had been waging a one man campaign to rescue Hodgson from obscurity. Due to Koenig’s influence, Lovecraft included Hodgson in a later draft of his ground breaking essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, and convinced August Derleth to publish an omnibus edition of Hodgson’s novels. These two events kept Hodgson’s works alive so that they could be discovered by later generations such as ourselves.
So, today, we remember William Hope Hodgson on the date of his birth and thank him for the stories he left us.
(The illustration at the top of this post is by the talented artist Dave Felton who has done portraits of many of the great weird literature writers from history. I am honored to have this portrait of Hodgson by him on today’s blog.)