I see that I need to don armour against a curious fate that concerns itself with bringing loss to me. The loss of Mr. Lovecraft’s letters also touches you.
May the California sunshine restore you to perfect health.
—Winifred Virginia Jackson to R. H. Barlow, 11 Nov 1938, MSS. John Hay Library
Winifred Virginia Jackson was born in 1876 (although dates vary), attended county and public schools, and then attended college at the Eastern State Normal School and the Curry School of Expression (now Curry College) in Boston, and was sometimes employed as a librarian. She married her husband Horace Jordan in 1915, so that when she joined amateur journalism shortly after she was known as Winifred Virginia Jordan.
We know that Winifred was recruited to the United Amateur Press Association in 1915 by Lovecraft’s friend and correspondent Anne Tillery Renshaw. Winifred must have written to Howard Phillips Lovecraft in late 1915 or early 1916, because her poem “Song of the North Wind” appears in Lovecraft’s own amateur journal The Conservative in the January 1916 issue. They continued to write to each other until at least 1921 or 1922, when references to her fade from Lovecraft’s correspondence. Yet for that 5-7 years of letter writing, all that remains are six letters from Howard to Winifred dated from 1920 to 1921, near the tail end of their relationship, and we must reconstruct what is left from Lovecraft’s other letters.
As a poet, she was successful in getting published in amateur journals and newspapers. At the United Amateur Press Association convention of 1917, Howard was elected President and Winifred was elected vice-president, so their correspondence for the next few years would have included much official business as well as any personal news. She also held various editorial positions, including the United Women’s Press Club of Massachusetts official organ The Bonnet, and published her own amateur journal Eurus. Some unsigned pieces in The Bonnet are believed to be from Lovecraft, so their letters must have included details about the journals she edited as well.
Around early 1918, Winifred was stricken with influenza—probably the “Spanish Flu” pandemic—and one of Lovecraft’s letters from the period suggests she required a nurse at home to care for her, and that she had to dictate her letters to Lovecraft through the nurse:
Mrs. Jordan’s recovery has not been as rapid as one might wish, but a copy of The London Daily Mail lately came from her, addressed in her own handwriting instead of her nurse’s, hence I assume she is much improved. In the last letter she dictated, she related an amusing recruiting incident.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 5 May 1918, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 110
This formed the nucleus of what would become Howard and Winifred’s first collaboration, “The Crawling Chaos” (1921). Around the same period (1918-1919), Howard’s mother Sarah Susan Lovecraft experienced a nervous collapse that in 1919 required her to be committed to Butler Hospital. Lovecraft’s admiration for Jordan as a poet was growing, and includes his appreciative editorial “Winifred Virginia Jordan: Associate Editor” (Silver Clarion 3, No. 1, April 1919).
Also in 1919, Howard shared a dream in a letter; Winifred replied with her own, complete with a map, and suggested he make a story out of it. This became in 1920-1921 their second collaboration, “The Green Meadow” (1927). Both of these collaborations used her pen-name “Elizabeth Berkeley”, which Howard himself used twice himself. Perhaps at this time their correspondence became a touch more intimate; in late 1920 he wrote On Receiving Ye Portraiture of Mrs. Berkeley, Ye Poetess, indicating that she had sent him a photo. At this time, Winifred’s marriage likewise disintegrated, ending in divorce. She retook her maiden name, and in Lovecraft’s letters “Mrs. Jordan” became thereafter “Miss Jackson.” Lovecraft wrote to her:
From your amended, or restored, signature, I assume that your court case hath come to a successful termination; a circumstance which will cause universal rejoicing because of the inevitable suspense & tension from which it doubtless relieves you.
—H. P. Lovecraft to W. V. Jackson, 25 Dec 1920, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 329
Rumors of a romantic relationship between Howard and Winifred derive Winifred Virginia Jackson—Lovecraft’s Lost Romance (1976) by George T. Wetzel & R. Alain Everts, a scarce chapbook which repeats a good deal of decades-old gossip—some of it probably wrong; despite assertions by Wetzel & Everts that Horace Jordan was African-American, his birth certificate and draft card both list him as white. Lovecraft was an ardent Anglophile and supported the British during World War I and the Irish War of Independence, and Jackson supported the Loyal Coalition of Boston in opposition to Sinn Fein:
I first heard of the organisation from Mrs. Jordan, who is so devoted to the cause that she does secretarial work at the offices two or three days every week without remuneration.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the Gallomo, Apr 1920, Letters to Alfred Galpin 85
Howard mentions continuing to see Winifred at various amateur get-togethers, and he even published a critical appreciation: “Winifred Virginia Jackson: A ‘Different’ Poetess” (United Amateur, March 1921). Her appreciation for Lovecraft also appears to have been real; on one visit to her house he noted:
[…] I found my worthless poetical attempts predominating in her old scrap books which date back to a time when their inspection by me was probably never anticipated.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Sarah Susan Lovecraft, 17 Mar 1921, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.33
Susie Lovecraft died 24 May 1921 at Butler Hospital, after complications from gallbladder surgery. Howard would write:
My dear Miss Jackson:—
It may indeed be said with justice that you have lost a friend in my mother, for although you never heard directly from her, she may be reckoned among the earliest and most enthusiastic admirers of your work. As I recall her especial appreciation of your poems, from the very first she saw, I regret the more that you did not know her personally, either by letter or meeting.
—H. P. Lovecraft to W. V. Jackson, 7 June 1921, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 330
That July, Howard and Winifred both attended the National Amateur Press Association convention in Boston—where Lovecraft met a new amateur from New York, Sonia Haft Greene. Everts reports that in a 1967 interview Sonia told him “I stole HPL away from Winifred Jackson.” Maybe it was so; references to Sonia increase in Howard’s letters at the same time that references to Winifred decrease—yet the correspondence between HPL and WVJ did not cease immediately. If there was a romantic rivalry, it’s not clear that Lovecraft was even aware of it…and there was another factor.
William Stanley Braithwaite was a prominent African-American poet and editor; Lovecraft was not immediately aware of his race (Braithwaite’s parents were both mixed race) until 1918, when Braithwaite was awarded the Springarn medal, this occasioned one of the most intemperate outbursts of racial prejudice in Lovecraft’s letters (Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 112). In the Twentieth Anniversary Number (1921 annual of the Bibliophile Society in Boston), Braithwaite wrote an introduction “The Poetry of Winifred Virginia Jackson”—and the two would soon begin a much more substantial collaboration. In 1921 Braithwaite and Jackson would found the B. J. Brimmer publishing company, which published Braithwaite’s annual anthologies of magazine verse and several works associated with the Harlem Renaissance. The latter connection with African-American literature is no doubt why Winifred was mistakenly identified as black in Colored Girls and Boys’ Inspiring United States History: and a Heart to Heart Talk about White Folks (1921). Wetzel & Everts assert that Jackson and Braithwaite were having an extramarital affair, but there is no evidence for this.
Lovecraft by 1921 was certainly aware that there was some association between Jackson and Braithwaite; his last extent letter to Winifred mentions Braithwaite, whom Lovecraft also named a black kitten after (Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 334); and there are scattered other references in his letters, mostly to Braithwaite writing about Jackson’s poetry or mentioning The Conservative in connection to it (Letters to Family & Family Friends 37, Letters to Maurice W. Moe & Others 106). Whether Lovecraft was aware of them being business partners is unclear; the references to her in his correspondence drop off precipitously in 1921-1922. A single letter from Lovecraft to Braithwaite survives, dated 7 Feb 1930, where HPL is pleased to hear about WVJ, so they must have been out of touch by that date.
Which need not have been anything more elaborate than two friends drifting apart. Winifred Virginia Jackson was spending more time with her new business and less with amateur affairs; H. P. Lovecraft was spending more time with Sonia H. Greene, whom he would marry in 1924. For the lack of their surviving correspondence, Lovecraft gives a clue:
She has a fad for destruction, and wishes all her epistles burnt without exhibition, though they are in truth far less slanderous than the presumably preserved GALLOMO. I usually comply with the wish, though in this case had to save this one sheet for the sake of the story.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the Gallomo, 31 Aug 1921, Letters to Alfred Galpin 109
What did her letters to Lovecraft mean, to Winifred? Certainly he supplied encouragement and enthusiasm for her poetry; they shared dreams and collaborated on two stories; and their period of correspondence was marked by major life events for both of them: disease, divorce, & death. They shared a close professional correspondence as the lead administrators of the United Amateur Press Association…and if there was anything more, we can only guess at it.
The six surviving letters consist of one draft among Lovecraft’s papers, and five letters that R. H. Barlow transcribed and submitted to August Derleth; only an excerpt from the first letter was published in Selected Letters I. Presumably, these were all of the letters that Winifred was able to unearth when Barlow contacted her c. 1938.
All six letters have been published in Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others.
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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