Meanwhile let me wish you all success with the realistic novel or character study—”No Right to Pity”. Material which ‘must be written out of one’s system’ has a very excellent chance of being genuine art—no less so when it comes hard than when it comes easy. And semeblance to a ‘chronicle of actuality’ is not to be deplored unless all dramatic modulation & implied interpretation be absent. Don’t hurry with the work—but let it unfold itself at whatever rate makes for maximum effectiveness. A subjective or quasi-autobiographical novel is often a stepping-stone to work of wider scope. Certainly, many books of the kind have received the highest honours in recent years.H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 24 Jul 1936, O Fortunate Floridian 353
By early Summer 1936, Robert Hayward Barlow’s focus had turned to prose, poetry, and publication—the amateur journals The Dragon-Fly that Barlow managed to print using the press in the small shack (which Lovecraft had helped with during his last visit) were well-received by many. Barlow’s original fiction efforts ranged from fantasies like the “Annals of the Jinns” to post-apocalyptic vignettes like “The Root-Gatherers.” They showed promise, and Lovecraft was keen to encourage his young friend’s literary efforts.
Yet all was not quite well with R. H. Barlow’s home life.
Col. Everett D. Barlow suffered from what today is called post-traumatic stress disorder. From the hints and suggestions in R. H. Barlow and Lovecraft’s letters, it appears that the colonel was irascible, with periods of depression. Retired from the army and spending most of his time with his wife and youngest son at their homestead in DeLand, Florida, the old man was probably difficult to escape, for both R. H. Barlow and his mother, Bernice. The strain in the marriage would eventually lead to separation and divorce, but for Bobby Barlow, there were few opportunities to escape…
…which is what, essentially, R. H. Barlow’s sudden trip to Providence, Rhode Island to visit Lovecraft was.
It isn’t clear from R. H. Barlow’s autobiographical writing as to when exactly he came to realize he was gay, but there is evidence that around 1936 he was grappling with issues of sexuality and sexual identity. While it isn’t clear if he ever broached these matters with Lovecraft directly, there are hints elsewhere:
Don’t allow yourself to be influenced in any way by Cities of the Plain. This remarkable study in sexual perversion is sui generis.August Derleth to R. H. Barlow, 8 Jul 1936, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society
Cities of the Plain was the 1927 translation of Marcel Proust’s Sodome et Gomorrhe (1921/1922), a novel which deals with homosexuality and jealousy. By itself, this isn’t necessarily telling; Derleth was notably relatively open on reading about and discussion of sexuality (there are claims that he was bisexual, see Derleth: Hawk…and Dove (1997) by Dorothy M. Grobe Litersky), and perhaps Barlow felt more comfortable bringing up the book with Derleth than Lovecraft. Yet it could be a sign of Barlow’s growing interest and awareness of gay issues, especially as related to himself.
R. H. Barlow visited H. P. Lovecraft in Providence from 28 July to 1 September 1936, Since they were seeing each other every day, there was no need to write letters, so the surviving accounts of the trip come from Lovecraft’s letters to his other correspondents. One thread from such an exchange with Derleth stands out:
Speaking of impromptus—enclosed are a triad of modernistic character sketches which Barlow wrote the other day without any effort or premeditation whatsoever. He pretends to despise them, but I rather think he’d like to see them in one of the little magazines which you so kindly listed for Pabody. What do you think of them? Would you encourage R H B to revise & submit them, & to pursue further endeavours along the same line? He could grind out this stuff endlessly if there were any demand for it. It seems rather in the Story line.H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 22 Aug 1936, Essential Solitude 2.746
I read Barlow’s stuff with a good deal of interest, but must regretfully report that while it has the promise it is as yet pretty unformed, and not likely to see publication. Also, it is extremely difficult to read, owing to the fact that RHB is not up on paragraphing, etc. Structurally, the pieces are pretty bad. I Hate Queers has the most promise, but before the really chief characters are introduced, we get 4 pages of tripe about people who do not concern the leads at all. Nobody would take a story like that, though the best bet for Barlow’s emergence into little magazine print would be Manuscrupt, 17 West Washington, Athenos, Ohio. I have made a few marks here and there in one or two of the stories, though I did not contribute the usual amount of marginal notes owing to close typing. […] The use of long-winded, platitudinous expressions annoys, but despite all this I should think there is hope that RHB may make something out of such material as this. Let him drop at once any air of sophistication he may have. Affectations may serve a purpose to one’s self, but not in print. […]
No, RHB’s tales are far from the Story line: Story’s are crisp and clear, Barlow’s are jumbled. I Hate Queers might be revised to some good end, but much of it would have to be cut, and some staple point-of-view maintained throughout. He shifts point-of-view constantly, which is very confusing and not good creation. Frankly, the stuff shows sloppy writing: I can easily believe that he just dashed it off.August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 26 Aug 1936, Essential Solitude 2.747, 748
Barlow appreciated your criticisms immensely, & will doubtless be guided by them in future attempts. He is now, of course, in a purely experimental stage—scarcely knowing what he wants to write, or whether he wnts to write at all…as distinguished from painting, printing, bookbinding, &c. My own opinion is that writing best suits him—but I think he does better in fantasy than in realism. A recent atmospheric sketch of his—“The Night Ocean”—is quite Blackwoodian in its power of dark suggestion. However—it’s just as well to let the kid work the realism out of his system. At the moment he seems to think that the daily lives & amusements of cheap and twisted characters form the worthiest field for his genius. Plainness in style will develop with maturity.H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 23 Sep 1935, Essential Solitude 2.748-749
This is the first and last mention of R. H. Barlow’s “I Hate Queers”—a piece that is not known to survive and has never been published. Most likely, like much juvenalia it ended up in the ash bucket, never to see the light of day. Yet it is impossible to read that title, and the surrounding comments on the work, without delving into some speculation.
The suggestion of autobiographical elements and the need to write something out of his system recalls Barlow’s later, very much explicit “Autobiography,” which was written as an extension of the psychoanalytic therapy he underwent in his twenties. One can easily imagine a literate young man attempting a quasi-autobiographical story; Robert E. Howard had done much the same thing with Post Oaks & Sand Roughs, and Arthur Machen with The Hill of Dreams, so Barlow was in good company.
The title itself is plainly homophobic, yet Barlow himself was homosexual, even if he hadn’t had his first experience with another man yet. Barlow’s “Autobiography” opens in 1938 at age 18 as he roomed with the Beck family in California, with his attraction to the male form already fully developed, at least if such passages as this are any to go by:
I could not decide which if the Beck boys to fall in love with and vacillated continually. Claire had a mania for bathing, and I saw him once or twice quite naked. he had a nice prick, uncircumcised. At other times he found excuses to go downstairs from the bath to the living room, drssed only in skin-tight drawers, which also showed him off to advantage.R. H. Barlow, “Autobiography” (1944) in O Fortunate Floridian 410
Keep in mind that this was Barlow in 1944 looking back at himself in 1938, so he could have been impressing his then-current comfort level with his sexuality on his past self—but if it is accurate to his teenage feelings, this may suggest that Barlow had passed through any phase of doubt or confusion before this point—and perhaps he was still in that period of self-discovery in 1936 when he dashed off this short story.
This is important because the title “I Hate Queers” is very provocative, designed to establish and evoke an emotional response from the reader. After all, in the very homophobic 1930s, who would publicly disagree? Who would stand up and say they don’t hate queers? This suggests that the expressed prejudice of the title might be performative: the closeted gay character who emphasizes their homophobia to deflect suspicion about their own sexuality…or, perhaps, a heterosexual character who is preoccupied with being mistaken for gay because they know what discrimination that will bring.
It is fun to speculate; certainly Barlow would not have been able to be open about his burgeoning sexuality with his family, and perhaps not even with his few friends like Lovecraft and Derleth. Even discussing Proust or showing them “I Hate Queers” might have represented a risk, albeit a considered one, with any hint of personal interest disguised as literary interest or effort…and there was reason for Barlow to be concerned. Derleth was upfront about it:
Barlow is for sure a homo; from what I have heard, so was the late minister-weird taler Henry S. Whitehead. Any anybody with a mandarin moustache is vulnerable to the kind of flattery, larding I can do very well.August Derleth to Donald Wandrei, 21 March 
“I Hate Queers” stands out in Lovecraft’s correspondence as one of those fascinating possibilities which have been lost to time. We’ll never really know what the story was, unless an archive of Barlow’s teenage stories shows up at some point. It was a different world then, for LGBTQ+ folks, and it took decades of hard work and legislation to begin to win them recognition and equal rights with heterosexuals…rights and recognition which, sadly, have continually faced opponents dedicated to restrict, redefine, and rescind them. To turn back the clock to when gay men like R. H. Barlow struggled to express themselves even to their closest friends and relatives for fear of imprisonment and fines, censorship and blacklisting; and faced blackmail and violence simply for appearing to be different.
Barlow’s title is expressive of an age and attitude I had hoped was dead and buried, but there are still bigots today who would say it proudly…and that, perhaps, is a more subtle horror than the realism which Barlow had tried to express. For it is still as real today as it was in that earlier century.
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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