He was a great reader, mostly of paperback westerns and dime romance novels. All this is well known, but what many readers probably do not ralize is that Howard wrote (under various pseudonyms) several stories and “confession” pieces for magazines of that type. Two of my own favorites were “Showdown at the OK Abyss” (written as “Hank Theobald”) and “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom” (under the by-line “Sally Theobald”). Sonia may have assisted him in some of these, but she would never admit it.
—”Lovecraft as I seem to Remember Him” (1983) by “F. Gumby Kalem” in Crypt of Cthulhu14
Those who chanced to read F. Gumby Kalem’s memoir “Lovecraft as I seem to Remember Him” (Crypt of Cthulhu 14) may recall Kalem’s surprising revelation that HPL, too, wrote for the confession magazines under the transparent pen-name Sally Theobald. Much checking with pulp colectors has turned up a copy of one of these tales, “I Wore the Brassier of Doom.” You will have to admit that Lovecraft could cover his tracks when he wanted to. But for Gumby Kalem’s information, it is a safe bet this work would never have been identified and restored to its rightful place among HPL’s oeuvre.
—”Scandal Sheet” (1986) by Robert M. Price in Lurid Confessions
“I Wore the Brassiere of Doom” is a playful hoax perpetrated by Robert M. Price, editor of both Crypt of Cthulhu and Lurid Confessions (among other ‘zines). The idea that a pulp writer might spread their wings and splash another field of fiction is not far-fetched—many did. Robert E. Howard wrote for example wrote weird fiction, westerns, detective, historical adventure, and spicy stories for the pulps; he tried to write science fiction and confession-style pulps too.
For spicy pulps in particular, Howard adopted the pseudonym “Sam Walser”—and Lovecraft was famous for his own pseudonyms, mostly in the amateur press, such as “Lewis Theobald, Jr.” which was his byline with Winifred Virginia Jackson (“Elizabeth Berkeley”) for “The Green Meadow” and “The Crawling Chaos.” Price, who wrote both “Lovecraft as I seem to Remember Him” and “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom,” was thus careful in picking a realistic pseudonym for the Providence pulpster in “Sally Theobald.”
The hoax was so convincing, that some folks actually fell for it.
Once I wrote a fake Lovecraft tale, as if he had written it for the confession magazines, “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom,” as by Sally Theobald. Without meaning to, I tricked a French Lovecraft scholar into listing it in his Lovecraft bibliography!
—“Robert M. Price Interview” (2010)
The story was translated as “Le Soutien-Gorge Ensorcelé” (“The Enchanted Bra”) and published in Pulps No. 2 La Nurserie de l’Épouvante (“The Nursery of Terror,” 1987), a collection of translated pulp reprints, as by Lovecraft.
The broader point that the backstory “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom” emphasizes is not about the gullibility of readers or editors who fell for the hoax; Price’s tongue-in-cheek trail of breadcrumbs is transparent to any Lovecraft scholar (HPL did not read westerns or dime romance novels, no dates or titles of magazines are given, etc.) before they read the first line of the story. What is the point is that there was never anything stopping Lovecraft (or any other writer) from using a pseudonym of a different gender—and this presents a particular challenge at times when seeking to focus on works by female writers in pulps or weird fiction. While it is not clear that there were any women who wrote Mythos fiction under male pseudonyms (or vice versa) before the 1980s, it would not be surprising to find a few such works lurking in odd fanzines and forgotten pulps. Certainly there are plenty of examples of such genderbending nameplay in other genres, probably most famously James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon).
The story itself is not a pastiche of Lovecraft’s style, but certainly a pastiche of the confessional, a pulp genre inaugurated by True Story Magazine (1919- ). The moralistic atmosphere of these confessionals generally has women expressing grief for how they erred—usually by engaging in inappropriate relationships, having children out of wedlock, drinking or drugs, etc.—providing a taboo thrill to the reader at being able to re-live their adventures while at the same time unsubtly re-affirming the decidedly misogynistic attitudes of the first half of the 20th century.
The story of a young and well-endowed country girl goes to the big city for the first time, intent on making it as a modern business woman is meat for a thousand stories…except in this particular Macy’s, she finds something strange:
As I placed the bra back in its box I noticed something else: the odd seam design. Across each cup, radiating out from the center, was a five-pointed star with an oval or eye-shape in the center. thought little of this, except to guess that the design might have something to do with the nice way the bra seemed to uphold and almost carress me.
—Lurid Confessions 31
The implication, of course, is that this is the Elder Sign as used by August Derleth in his own Mythos fiction:
The new brassiere certainly attracts a good bit of attention, and if there’s a fault in Price’s story, this is where it comes in, trying to channel some of the inherent racism of “The Call of Cthulhu” combined with the inherent sexism of the confession pulps:
Oh, I admit, soem of my gentlemen callers were not exactly dreamboats, but in a city populated by herds of rat-faced mongrels and ruffians, one had to make do. And if a girl waits until Mr. Perfect comes along, she’s liable to wind up an old maid. (ibid.)
Price would touch on similar issues in “Nautical-Looking Negroes” (1996) by Peter Cannon & Robert M. Price, and there is certainly something to be said for attempting to accurately capture the atmosphere of racism of the time and of the suggested author; whether Price goes too far or just far enough is a bit subjective, it is certainly not necessary to the story, but does help to tie it in a little closer to Lovecraft’s life and fiction. While Lovecraft did not work racism into everything he wrote, the language Price uses here is directly influenced by Lovecraft’s.
Price, of course, is all about working in the little references to Lovecraft based on what little was published of the Providence pulpster’s own romantic life. When he wrote:
We would sit on the couch smootching and my sate would say something romantic like, “My dear, you have no idea how much I appreciate you.” Then his hand would begin to drift from my shoulders southward to hover above my breast. (ibid, 32)
The line was lifted wholesale from the memoir of Lovecraft’s former wife, Sonia Davis, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985). Price makes a few more little quips like this (“The crinoid thing (or was it an echinodern? His school biology had scarcely prepared my for this!“, ibid 34) as the story progresses toward an ending reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “The Diary of Alonzo Typer,” albeit with one last, final and perhaps thematically appropriate twist as Sally gives as a glimpse what might be Yog-Sothoth…
The original story has never been reprinted since Lurid Confessions, except in the French translation, but Robert M. Price allowed it to be republished by the Lovecraft eZine in 2013. So if you wish, prepare yourself and read “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom.”
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).