Her Letters To Lovecraft: Kathleen Compere Hughes

Kathleen Compere was born in Dublin, Texas on 20 June 1904, a middle daughter in large family headed by Baptist minister Edward L. Compere. She graduated high school; newspaper accounts say she attended the College of Industrial Arts in Denton, TX, and graduated from Baylor College. In 1927, Kathleen married Herald Hall Hughes, becoming Mrs. H. H. Hughes—the name by which she would sign herself in letters to Weird Tales and to Lovecraft. By 1936, the Hughes were living in Lawton, Oklahoma, with their sons Harold (age 8) and William (“Billy,” age 4). Somewhere during that bare sketch of a life, she had gained an appreciation for weird fiction:

Weird Tales Sep 1936

Weird Tales has been reprinting “classics” of weird fiction and stories from earlier issues since 1928, a practice sometimes clamored for by fans who had no access to earlier issues, and sometimes derided by fans who wanted new material, not just reprints. Farnsworth Wright was no doubt glad to have a fan asking for such reprints. Presumably, it was Wright that put Kathleen Compere Hughes in touch with H. P. Lovecraft, probably forwarding a letter as he did with other fans wanting to get in touch with him.

We have scanty evidence for the actual correspondence between the two of them, one abridged letter tentatively dated c. October 1936 was copied into the Arkham House Transcripts, though the physical letter it was copied from was presumably returned and is not known to be extant. A second letter, dated 6 April 1937, survives among his papers at the Brown University Library. Sent after Lovecraft’s death and addressed “Dear Friend,” it isn’t clear if this is a letter to Lovecraft at all, although circumstantial evidence within the letter itself suggests it may be.

Taking all these facts together suggests that the correspondence of Kathleen Hughes and H. P. Lovecraft was notably brief and rather self-contained. There are no references to Mrs. Hughes by name in any of Lovecraft’s other published letters, nor is her address included in the list of his correspondents in his 1937 diary. This would not be unusual for a relatively new and minor correspondent for which there might be long gaps between letters.

Lovecraft’s letter to Hughes is published in Miscellaneous Letters, and begins much like some of his other letters to fans disabusing them of certain popular notions:

About these books on Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu—I regret to say that they all belong in the domain of charlatanry, semi-charlatanry, and self-delusion. There is absolutely no basis in fact for any of the assumptions they purvey—while on the other hand there is overhwelming evidence that none of the favulous “Vanished contiennts” ever existed since the appearance of mankind on the earth.

H. P. Lovecraft to Mrs. H. H. Hughes, c. Oct 1936, Miscellaneous Letters 369

In very typical Lovecraftian fact, this turns into a kind of mini-essay taking a materialist stance against lost continents and pre-human civilizations. Switching gears, Lovecraft then discusses travel, especially in Massachusetts (“Cape Cod is a bit overdone by tourists, and has always seemed to me somewhat overrated.” ibid 370-371), apparently in answer to a desire Hughes expressed to visit Newburyport, one of Lovecraft’s favorite towns (and, he mentions, an inspiration for “The Shadow over Innsmouth”) to which she had some family connection. He then does the typical explanation of the unreality of the Mythos:

As for the “hellish and forbidden volumes” mentioned by various Mu writers—the monstrous Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, the portentous Book of Eibon, the shocking Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, the Comte d’Erlette’s Cultes des Goules, Ludvig Prinn’s De Vermiss Mysteriis, the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Eltdown Shards, the unmentionable Ghorl Nigral, etc. etc.—they are all purely imaginary, like some of the “terrible tomes” mentioned in Poe, Bierce, Machen, Blackwood, Hodgson, etc.

H. P. Lovecraft to Mrs. H. H. Hughes, c. Oct 1936, Miscellaneous Letters 372

A typical answer to a typical fan question. The most interesting part of the letter is the last paragraph, however, which ends:

Incidentally I’m enclosing something about my writing methods which I prepared at the request of one of the young “fan magazine” editors. Please return it some time—for I’m not sure when the printed version will appear. About those snaps of “the gang”—I’ll lend them as soon as Finlay returns them. I don’t like to hurry him up, since he’s been ill.

H. P. Lovecraft to Mrs. H. H. Hughes, c. Oct 1936, Miscellaneous Letters 373

The reference to Weird Tales artist Virgil Finlay helps date the letter to Hughes; in his letters to Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft mentions getting a letter from Finlay in September 1936 (DS 651), and in a letter to Willis Conover, Jr. dated 31 Jan 1937 is a reference to Finlay returning pictures (LRB 416). That helps give a period in which Lovecraft must have sent Hughes this letter. The reference to an enclosure is interesting because it ties in with the April 1937 letter from Hughes:

While there’s no direct evidence that this was a letter from Hughes to Lovecraft, returning manuscripts jives with Lovecraft’s known generosity in lending out copies of his stories. Elsewhere in the same letter she asks for details on books on the continent of Mu, echoing the opening passages of Lovecraft’s letter.

Without more evidence, it’s impossible to say for sure. If she did send this letter to Lovecraft or to someone else within the Lovecraft circle like R. H. Barlow. If Lovecraft was the intended recipient, she would not have heard of his death on 15 March 1937, which wasn’t announced in Weird Tales until the June 1937 issue. Such a gap might not be unusual if their correspondence was broken up, with a month or months between letters…and one can imagine Lovecraft’s aunt, opening the mail that came in after her nephew’s death, having to pen a brief note regarding his death. Or perhaps Kathleen Hughes saw the notice in Weird Tales first, and realized then she would no longer receive any letters from 66 College Street in Providence.

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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

4 thoughts on “Her Letters To Lovecraft: Kathleen Compere Hughes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s