Her Letters To Lovecraft: Mayte E. Sutton

As for Sutton (1879-1968), she lived at 100 Spring Avenue in Tory, N.Y. She stated in a letter to August Derleth that she had corresponded with Lovecraft “for nearly ten years,” but Lovecraft’s first extant letter to her dates to the fall of 1933, when, shortly after moving into 66 College Street, Annie had broken her ankle and took months to recover. He speaks of meeting Sutton and her daughter, Margaret Morgan, on his visit to New York during the Christmas period of [1933-1934], but his comments suggest that he found them rather tiresome and strove to avoid direct contact. Nonetheless, Lovecraft continued writing to Sutton until as late as 1936.
⁠—S. T. Joshi & David E. Schultz, Letters to Family and Family Friends 1.21

The_Ithaca_Journal_Mon__Sep_30__1968_

Some of Lovecraft’s correspondents are not well-attested in the record. Mrs. Mayte E. Sutton, for example, is known only from one surviving letter and a fragment of another. Very little reference to their correspondence was made by Lovecraft in his letters to others, though this is not particularly unusual. What we have, then, is a very incomplete picture—we have no particular idea of the full length of their correspondence, or how it started, or why.

If Sutton’s letter to Derleth is correct, she and Lovecraft had been corresponding since c.1928 or 1929; but the sole surviving full letter from Lovecraft is dated 2 November 1933 (MS. John Hay Library). It does not appear to be a first letter; but discusses Lovecraft’s upcoming Christmas visit to Frank Belknap Long, Jr. and his family in New York City; his aunt Annie Gamwell’s recovery from a broken ankle.

The invitation to visit Mayte E. Sutton—who lived with her adult daughter, Margaret Morgan—was issued in August 1933 (LFF 2.957). Finally, after Christmas, Lovecraft paid his call:

This was not the bore I expected it to be. Old Mrs. S. is very pleasant & cordial, & the daughter Miss Morgan is highly intelligent, learned, cultivated, & acute in debate. Her political & economic views are socialistic, but she does not duplicate Sonny’s total bolshevism. They are both enthusiastic antiquarians. I shall call again—if possible, with Sonny & Wandrei, whom they want to meet. They had a wood fire—but no irons!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 27 Dec 1933, LFF 2.959

Margaret Morgan (sometimes as Margaret C. Morgan or Christine Margaret Morgan) was either a nursing student or trainee nurse in the 1930 census, so by 1930 if she stayed the medical course was probably a nurse. Mayte’s youngest daughter Terrace Dorathea Morgan had graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics, had married in 1931 and was out of the home. On the 30th, Lovecraft brought his friends Frank Belknap Long, Jr. (“Sonny”) and Donald Wandrei to meet Mrs. Sutton and her daughter.

Sonny & I then went down to 23d St. to meet Wandrei & make the Sutton-Morgan call. All were very cordially received—but Wandrei had to leave at 10:30 p.m. Sonny & I stayed till 1 a.m. discussing philosophy with our hosts. Mrs. S. is rather blindly orthodox, but Miss M. is keenly analytical & intelligent—more so, I must admit, than Little Belknap himself. They are invited to 230 for dinner Tuesday evening.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 1 Jan 1934, LFF 2.963

Before the dinner date could happen, Lovecraft and Belknap had a little surprise for Mayte:

Rose noon, lunched at Sonny’s, & thereafter accompanied him down to the flat of the people (Mrs. Sutton & Miss Morgan) who were to have been to dinner last night. He wanted to take them some old andirons which he had promised during our call of last Saturday—for they have a fine fireplace. The andirons are not colonial, but late-Victorian brass. Not at all bad, on the whole. We found Mrs. S. in, & the andirons look splendid in place—although the lack of a set of fire irons & bellows like yours is regrettable. According to present plans, Mrs. S & Miss M. are coming to dinner here Saturday evening.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 4 Jan 1934, LFF 2.966

The dinner date then went off as planned:

In the evening Mrs. Sutton & Miss Morgan came for dinner, & much interesting conversation followed. At 11 p.m. the guests left, but a sick fish in the aquarium kept the Longs up till midnight.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 8 Jan 1934, LFF 2.968

The only other surviving letter fragment from Lovecraft to Mayte E. Sutton is dated 6 August 1936, and discusses a heat spell which restored his energy and digestive troubles, and comment on his aunt’s condition—Annie Gamwell having been hospitalized for breast cancer and a mastectomy.

There are no other references to “Mayte E. Sutton” in Lovecraft’s published letters…but there are two references to a “Mrs. M. E. Sutton” or “Ma Sutton”:

Another favor solicited for an aspiring struggler—an old lady who wants to place a saccharine tale of a haunted house (involving a conventional lunatic & a happy marriage at the end) in some magazine. Is there any rural publication which would consider accepting such an 1875 relique with or without pay? The thing is not really crude from the standpoint of a half-century ago. You might mention any possible medium to me–or drop a kindly line to the author, Mrs. M. E. Sutton, 505 W. 167th St., New York City. Thanks in advance for any name you can conveniently furnish.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 22 Aug 1936, Essential Solitude 2.745

Additional thanks for the names of naive markets for Ma Sutton’s 1875 pieces. I’ll pass ‘em on with acknowledgements.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 23 Sep 1936, Essential Solitude 2.749

Lovecraft’s 1937 diary gives an address for “Sutton-Morgan, 505 W 167 NYC” (Lovecraft Annual 6.175; Ken Faig’s biographical note on Sutton is worth reading for anyone interested), which seems to confirm the connection.

Given which, the “1875” date Lovecraft gives is a bit strange, since Mayte E. Sutton was born in 1879—but perhaps he didn’t know her true age and was guessing. We do know is that Mayte E. Sutton was a writer who in the 1960s published several short stores in the New York Folklore Quarterly, including “Old Sasparilla” (1961), “The Cursed Peach Orchard” (1961), and “Grandmother’s Story” (1963), mostly recalling bits of lore from her childhood. Whether a tale of a haunted house would fit into this corpus or not is hard to say, but Lovecraft is known to have had a soft spot for helping older correspondents place tales, so the effort would have been completely in-character for him.

Through census and newspaper accounts we can draw an incomplete sketch of Mayte E. Sutton’s life—her marriages, her daughter’s marriages, her work—but we have no real insight into her personal life, or what drew her into correspondence with and meeting Lovecraft. Was she an amateur journalist? A revision client? A friend of his aunt Annie, perhaps, who then fell into correspondence with him when he was obliged to answer mail on her behalf? Perhaps a friend of a friend? The letter-and-a-fragment we have are too little to go on to say much of anything for certain, except that they were friendly correspondents.

Excerpts from the two Sutton letters were first published in Selected Letters IV and V. Both of these have been reprinted in full in Letters to Family and Family Friends volume 2.


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

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One thought on “Her Letters To Lovecraft: Mayte E. Sutton

  1. I just spent 5 minutes reading about a person I find deplorable getting some andiorns for a friend, and am somehow utterly charmed both by the sentiment and the scholarship. The web of connections we share is constantly facinating.

    Like

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