“European Glimpses” (1988) by Sonia H. Greene & H. P. Lovecraft

After a year and a half of almost daily letter-writing, back and forth, we were finally divorced in 1929, but we still kept up correspondence; this time it was entirely impersonal, but on a friendly basis, and the letters were far and few between until in 1932 I went to Europe. I was almost tempted to invite him along but I knew that since I was no longer his wife he would not have accepted. However, I wrote to him from England, Germany and France, sending him books and pictures of every conceivable scene that I thought might interest him.

When I visited the Cheshire Cheese Restaurant in London I sent him a replica of the beerstein out of which Dr. Johnson drank, and other souvenirs including a picture card of the corner (which was roped off and held sacred) in which the table and chairs stood that D.r johnson and his cronies and Boswell sat and drank and talked. […] From Germany and from france I sent him more scenic views; whole sets of the Castle of Rambouillet, the residence of Francis I, Versailles, Fontainbleau, Chartres, Rheims, Soissons, Chateau Thierry, Sevres, Le Lido, in Paris, the Luxembourg, the King’s Chapel—the entire walls of which are made of exquisite stained glass of which the process of coloring has become a lost art—Montmartre, Eglise Madeleine, Genevieve, the beautiful Russian Church on the Hill from which hilltop the entire city of Paris may be seen, Notre Dame, and many, many more places of historic interest that I no longer remember at present.

But I sent a travelogue to H P. which he revised for me.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 141-142

H. P. Lovecraft and his wife Sonia would meet for the final time in March 1933, when she prevailed upon him to visit her during a trip to Farmington, Connecticut. Whether she had any intention of publishing these “European Glimpses” is unknown, as the manuscript was not published until some years after her death. Most of their letters were largely lost—Sonia claims in her memoir to have burned her letters from Lovecraft—and as for her side of the correspondence:

[Lovecraft’s surviving aunt] Mrs. Gamwell also gave the children about a hundred picture postcards that Sonia had mailed to Howard. These all held loving, spirited messages to H.P.L. from his sweetheart in New York. Not knowing their possible value in the far-away future, I did not hold on to any of these cards bearing Sonia’s signature, written in her breezy, happy handwriting. […] The children played for hours with the cards, and they eventually went the way all children’s toys go…in the ash heap!
—Muriel Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 17

Lovecraft himself spoke only very rarely of his wife in his letters after the divorce, and very seldom mentioned the marriage itself. It is possible that this circumspection may be why Lovecraft wrote to one friend living and studying abroad in Paris:

For the past year I have had such knowledge of Paris that I’ve felt tempted to advertise my services as a guide without ever having seen the damn place—this erudition coming from a ghost-writing job for a goof who wanted to be publicly eloquent about a trip from which he was apparently unable to extract any coherent first-hand impressions. I based my study on maps, guide-books, travel folders, descriptive volumes, & (above all) pictures—the cards secured from you forming the cream of the latter. Fixing the layout of the city in my mind, & calculating what vistas ought to be visible from certain points (pictures seen under a magnifying-glass furnish a splendid subsittute for first-hand vistas), I cooked up a travelogue which several Paris-wise readers have almost refused to believe was written by one never within 3000 miles of the place. If I ever get to your beloved burg I shall be able to stat in sightseeing without any preliminary orientation-tour or rubberneck-wagon ride. In my article I took a vicious fling at the ugly Eiffel Tower, & ventured the suggestion that the Victorian trocadero is an eyesore at close range, but glamourous when seen in the distance against a flaming sunset. Other parts of the text touched on chartres, Rheims, Versailles, Barbizon, Fontainebleau, & other tourist high spots. I revelled in the London section (I studied Old London intensively years ago, & could ramble guideless around it from Hampstead Heath to the Elephant & Castle!), but was not able to do it justice because of the nominal author’s hasty passage through it. nothing but the Tower, the Abbey, & the Cheshire Cheese seemed to give him a first-class kick.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 4 Nov 1933, Letters to Alfred Galpin 196-197

All of these sites were in fact included in “European Glimpses,” and despite the references to “he” it seems clear that this travelogue was Sonia’s, with Lovecraft being misleading about the identity of his “client.” A manuscript written on the backs of letters to friends at the John Hay Library is dated 19 December 1932, and aside from internal evidence, this is the only date we have for when the piece was written.

As with Lovecraft’s other revisions, there is a question as to how much of his own writing makes up the final product. S. T. Joshi weighs in on this in the introduction to its first publication:

What we have, therefore, is a travelogue recounting Sonia’s experiences but written in Lovecraft’s style and frequently with his outlook and perspective. Would Sonia have called certain vistas of Paris “Dunsanian”? Would she have harped on the “meaningless” and “hideous” modernistic architecture of Germany (the subject of Lovecraft’s essay “Heritage or Modernism” written three years later)? Would she have thought of Rémy de Gourmont (author of the languidly philosophical prose-poem A Night in the Luxembourg) when wandering through Luxembourg Gardens? As we read this document we mut constantly adopt a sort of schizophrenic mind-set: the first-person narrator is supposed to be Sonia, but Lovecraft cannot help injecting his own views into her sights and experiences.

To be quite frank, however, Lovecraft was extraordinarily charitable to rewrite this travelogue for Sonia. Even in his version it is hopelessly unpublishable. Where did Sonia think she could land such a piece? Do we really want yet another commonplace account of hackneyed tourist sites like the Tower of London or Versailles?
—S. T. Joshi, “Introduction” to European Glimpses 5

It is a valid point; most of the entries are relatively brief and contain little real insight or interest as a travelogue. The ending of the narrative seems to acknowledge this:

There may be those who will think my modest jaunt a sadly hackneyed coursing in the beaten paths, but to them I can only reply that no path is truly purged of its glamour so long as any ancient memories or overtones of fancy still cling around to its sights and impressions.

The contents also echo both Sonia’s memoir and Lovecraft’s letter to Galpin strongly. For example, in discussing the Cheshire Cheese tavern, “European Glimpses” notes on Dr. Johnson’s mug: “Duplicates of these mugs are for sale, and form especially apt mementoes of the place and its illustrious frequenter.” (Collected Essays 4.234)

The one part of the travelogue that does hold continued interest is a reference to a gathering of the National Socialist party at which Adolf Hitler, then on campaign for the presidency of Germany, gave a speech:

During my stay of five days at Wiesbaden I had opportunities to observe the disturbed political state of Germany, and the constant squabbles between various dismally uniformed factions of would-be patriots. Of all the self-appointed leaders, Hitler alone seems to retain a cohesive and enthusiastic following; his sheer magnetism and force of will serving—in spite of his deficiencies in true social insight—to charm, drug, or hypnotise the hordes of youthful “Nazis” who blindly revere and obey him. Without possessing any clear-cut or well-founded programme for Germany’s economic reconstruction, he plays theatrically on the younger generation’s military emotions and sense of national pride; urging them to overthrow the restrictive provisions of the Versailles treaty and reassert the strength and supremacy of the German people. He is fond of such phrases as: “Germany, awaken and take your rightful heritage with your own strong hands!”—and when speaking of elections usually intimates that in case of defeat he will consider an armed march on Berlin corresponding to Mussolini’s Roman coup d’etat of 1922.

Hitler’s lack of clear, concrete objectives seems to lose him nothing with the crowd; and when—during my stay—he was scheduled to speak in Wiesbaden, the Kurpark was crowded fully two hours before the event by a throng whose quiet seriousness was almost funereal. the contrast with America’s jocose and apathetic election crowds was striking. When the leader finally appeared—his right hand lifted in an approved Fascist salute—the crowd shouted “Heil!!” three times, and then subsided into an attentive silence devoid alike of applause, heckling, or hissing. the general spirit of the address was that of Cato’s “Delenda est Carthago“—though one could not feel quite sure what particular Carthage, material or psychological, “Handsome Adolf” was trying to single out for anathema.

After the conclusion the crowd respectfully opened a path for his departure, and he left in his car as quietly as he had arrived—the only sound being a shot of farewell from his followers. then—silently, though perhaps with the general muffled discontent of the period—the kindly burghers dispersed to their not quite happy homes. At the time of this speech Hitler’s tactics hinted of a “back to the Monarchy” movement; and Prince August Wihelm, sone of the ex-Kaiser, was a brief supplementary speaker. the royal scion, however, failed to overshadow the would-be dictator in the popular emotions.

The waste of energy and widespread chaos caused by the incessant conflict of no less than thirty-six separate parties—of which three may be called major ones—is the most distressing phenomenon in modern Germany; yet no one seems able to reconcile the various shades of opinion and feeling which cause this confusing diversity. Taxes are exorbitant, unemployment terrific, and general confidence at a very low ebb. the people of Wiesbaden have lately come to call their habitat “the city without a smaile”, though the same might be said for almost any city in the Reich. Passport restrictions are very stringent, including both visas and police registration; and the tourist is taxed nine pfennigs a day during his sojourn in the country. yet the German people as a whole, apart from the governmental meshes in which they are entangled, are perhaps the most kindly and affable beings I have ever met. they are gracious, courteous, and delightful; and seem to radiate a really cordial glow devoid of hollowness or superficiality. they perform their duties with an almost military precision and effectiveness, and when once led out of their present chaos will undoubtedly resume their place of importance in the world. One hopes that a suitable leader may arise before the existing misery increases. (ibid. 239-240)

This speech was July 28th, 1932, part of a tour that Hitler was giving in the run-up to the 1932 elections in Germany (election day was 31 July). There is a lot to unpack in the general sentiments; some bits are clearly Lovecraft, some bits are clearly Sonia. The date of the manuscript is after the election, so he would know of the Nazi party’s success, even as Hitler lost his bid for the presidency.

Lovecraft’s own opinion of Hitler was one of cautious optimism. The Providence writer had a low opinion of the intellect of the masses, and believed that the democratic trust of the lowest denominator was illogical; he believed in a kind of natural aristocracy of the intelligent and capable who would rise to leadership positions—and thought he saw this in the rise of Mussolini, and later Hitler. He approved of strongly nationalistic ethos, which jived with his own prejudices regarding race and culture, and with a planned, state-run economy. However, he disliked the Nazis’ racial theories—finding them unscientific—and he thought Hitler a clownish figure (particularly the mustache). Overall, Lovecraft’s opinion on Hitler was mixed, and leaned toward approval…at least until Hitler became chancellor and began to actually enact his program, where Lovecraft’s support rapidly dwindled. Lovecraft died in 1937, before World War II or the horrors of the Holocaust could be revealed.

Sonia’s opinion of Hitler is less well-known; no correspondence from her survives from before the end of the war. As a Jewish woman, she would have been keenly aware of the anti-Semitic thrust of Nazi ideology. Her memoir of their marriage includes mention of Lovecraft’s apparent consideration, including a claim that Lovecraft read Mein Kampf as soon as it came out; the only English-language translation during HPL’s lifetime was the Dugdale abridgment, available for sale in 1933 (after their final meeting), and there are no mentions of it in Lovecraft’s surviving letters. Possibly she referred to excerpts from the translation published in the Times in 1933, which Lovecraft would more likely have had access to, and which presumably he may have written her about.

So how much of this was incident was Sonia, and how much was Lovecraft? It seems clear that she must have mentioned the rally in her notes or correspondence; the interpretation seems more strongly evocative of Lovecraft. It is not unlikely that this represents a sort of balancing-act between Sonia’s disapproval and Lovecraft’s tentative optimism toward a man and political party that would go on to be some of the greatest monsters in human history. This was the calm before the storm that would be another world war and the horrors of the Holocaust. Lovecraft and Sonia could not have known that, readers today cannot forget it.

Where was I? Oh, yes, back from Europe and once more in New England with Howard at my side exploring the grounds and places of cities more than three hundred years old. Yes, I believe I must have still loved Howard very much, more than I cared to admit even to myself.  For, although in my travels I met many eligible men, some of them offering honest proposals of marriage, none appealed to me until after a period of eight years, during which time I could not help but compare what to me appeared as the inadequacy of other men, when compared in point of intellect, with Howard.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 143

If “The Horror at Martin’s Beach” marks the true beginning of Sonia and Lovecraft’s relationship, then “European Glimpses” marks its true end. A strange and fitful journey that left its imprint on both of them.

“European Glimpses” was first published in 1988 by Necronomicon Press; it is republished in volume four of Lovecraft’s Collected Essays. The unedited 1932 manuscript is available to be read online for free.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

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