Her Letters To Lovecraft: Myrta Alice Little

A new recruit likely to be of great prominence is Miss Myrta Alice Little (Colby A. B., Radcliffe A.M.) of Hampstead (Westville P. O.), N. H. Miss Little is, like our leader Mr. Moe, a high-school English teacher; and she is in addition a professional author of increasing success. She is pursuing a systematic course in short story construction, and will probably be numbered among the successful writers of the future.

H. P. Lovecraft, “News Notes” (Nov 1920), in Collected Essays 1.265

Myrta Alice Little was 32 years old when she joined Lovecraft’s branch of the United Amateur Press Association in 1920, and began publishing in amateur journalism with a piece in The Tryout in Nov 1920, published by Charles “Tryout” Smith. Whether their association and correspondence began then or dates back earlier is difficult to say. Likewise, we have no idea when the correspondence ended, or even if it did end. The trace of their friendship is fairly thin—one letter from Lovecraft to Little survives, an envelope for a letter from Lovecraft to Little postmarked 1927 sold at auction, an entry for “Davies” (her married name) is included in a list of postcard recipients for Lovecraft’s 1934 southern vacation, and her address was still in Lovecraft’s 1937 address-book. In Lovecraft’s letters, references to Little are scarce, mostly focused on two trips that he took to visit her in New Hampshire in 1921, during a time when she was Historian of the U.A.P.A.

The surviving letter, some ten handwritten pages and covering a fair bit of discussion of both their lives and literary interests, predates the first trip and shows an easy familiarity that suggests the correspondence had been ongoing for some time:

Dear Miſs Little:—

Pray accept my sympathy regarding the process of domestic upheaval, & the hope that your chain of symbolic icons may by this time boast complete colouration! That there exists in the task some redeeming spark of pleasure fo ryou, is indeed fortunate. I abhor all manual labour, & am unutterably bored by the necessity of taking care of my own quarters. Many a night have I slept in a dressing-gown on the top of my bed to avoid making it the next day—in fact, I believe I am the most basically & constitutually indolent person on this terraqueous globe.

H. P. Lovecraft to Myrta Alice Little, 17 May 1921, Miscellaneous Letters 145

Myrta Little had just recently moved back to New Hampshire from California, and was getting re-settled in the family home. This may have been what prompted her invitation for Lovecraft to visit, as the rail network in New England made such travel relatively easy. A good portion of the letter involves the date and time for the visit, e.g.:

I note your correction regarding your literary encampment, which I shall view with interest & pleasure if the Parcae permit my Arctic expedition next month. And regarding said expedition—surely Junius is better than Maius, & I am not sure but that Quintilis would be better still. Heat is my breath of life—I never really live till the mercury reaches 90°. As to duration; the fatigue I felt on the second day both times I stayed overnight in Boston, warns me that it were well not to extended my absences too abruptly. Wherefor I fancy I had better plan for the single night only, at the same time extending sincerest thanks for the ampler invitation.

H. P. Lovecraft to Myrta Alice Little, 17 May 1921, Miscellaneous Letters 145

It should be remembered at this time that Lovecraft had been largely Providence-bound (if not actually homebound) for about a decade. In 1904 the death of Lovecraft’s grandfather Whipple V. Phillips had seen the breakup of the family home and the decline of the family fortunes; Lovecraft and his mother moved into a smaller, rented place on the same street. Lovecraft attended public high school, but it was sporadic, and he did not graduate at the appointed time. Failing to matriculate to college, Lovecraft also failed to find a job or any other real occupation; this may or may not have been due in part to ill health or depression. He began to break out of his shell in 1914 when he joined amateur journalism; and it was those friends and contacts which brought him finally to meet fellow amateurs, both at his home in Providence and then traveling to Boston.

At the time Lovecraft wrote this letter, his mother was confined at Butler Hospital in Providence; she had just had an operation to remove her gallbladder the day before, and would die four days after the letter was handwritten on 21 May 1921. With his mother’s death, Lovecraft was less tied to Providence, and traveled further and more frequently. Lovecraft’s aunts assumed large control of the family finances and their nephew’s welfare during this period, perhaps being the “Parcae” mentioned above, if Lovecraft wasn’t just using Classical allusion for its own sake.

In any event: Susan Lovecraft died, and the next month Lovecraft made his first visit to the Littles from 8-9 June 1921. The trip was touched on in several letters, including this one:

As I continued to stagnate in dressing-gown & slippers—increasingly active with the pen, but inert physically–my aunts endeavoured to arouse me to some variation of the indoor monotony, & insisted that I respond to an invitation which I had received a month before, to visit an exceedingly learned & brilliant new United Member—Miss M. A . Little, A. B., A. M., a former college professor now starting as a professional author—in Hampstead, N. H., near Haverhill, Mass. This I finally did, as you already know from the postcard mailed at the latter place.

On Thursday came the Smith call. I had intended to stop there alone on my return trip, but Miss Little was so interested in the genial Grovelandite as revealed in his paper that she wished to go also. We found him in his little Tryout office behind the house, cordial & hospitable, & eagerly awaiting the visit which my card had heralded. […] He was sorry we could not stay longer, & made both Miss L. & me promise to visit him sometime when we could stay all day & eat a dinner of his cooking—he prides himself on his skill as an amateur chef. […] He gave me a vast pile of old Tryouts for recruiting work, & gave Miss Little as complete a file of back numbers as he could. She is going to bake him a loaf of gingerbread as a reward—he dilated at length upon the excellencies of one which good Mrs. K. Keyson Brown baked & sent him recently.

H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 12 Jun 1921, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner and Others 181-182

However, these letters shed little real light on Lovecraft’s friendship with Little, or even descriptions of Little herself. Whether this represents a reticence on Lovecraft’s part or an unhappy gap in the correspondence isn’t clear. We know there must have been more letters back and forth, because Lovecraft visited them again a little over a month later:

On the following Friday I received still another invitation, as Galba already knows. This time Hampstead and Haverhill again, by request of the super-hospitable Littles, who so delightfully approximate the state of England’s rural gentry. It was for a longer time than the other visit, but I compromised on two nights, and arranged to use the final evening on my homeward trip to discharge the debt of courtesy by calling at the Hamlet Castle. Leaving Providence Thursday morning at 11:00, I arrived in Haverhill at 2:15, and was met with a horseless carriage containing Miss Little, her mother, and a bearded and pleasant uncle whom I had not seen previously but whom I liked at once. In describing these rural magnates I am happily able to discard that tone of sarcasm with which I describe certain more urban amateurs; for verily, they are of the wholesome Saxon gentry that needs no apology or allowances. In a word, they are all right; of one’s own sort, as it were.

H. P. Lovecraft to the Gallomo, 31 Aug 1921, Miscellaneous Letters 113

This was the same trip in which Lovecraft helped entertain his hosts by dressing in drag:

After dinner the family again demanded that Grandpa amuse them with some of his theatrical impersonations—and believe us, you’d never know the old man in some of the things they made him put on! In my acting days I went in for the heavy villainous stuff; but the Hampsteaders seem partial to the Julian Eltinge stuff, and could not be satisfied till they had Grandpa laced into a hoop-skirt outfit with bonnet and parasol to match! Though it was hard to think of dialogue for such a makeup, they seemed satisfied with my improvisations; and compensated by prolonged applause for the injury inflicted upon my patriarchal dignity.

H. P. Lovecraft to the Gallomo, 31 Aug 1921, Miscellaneous Letters 115

There was not the last that Lovecraft and Little would see of each other, although references in Lovecraft’s surviving letters are few. It is not unusual for Lovecraft to fail to disclose much about his friends in other letters; after 1921 Myrta Little’s active involvement in amateurdom appears to have faded, perhaps because she wished to focus on professional writing, perhaps because she wished to focus on…someone else. Dave Goudsward, who has written about Little in The Fossil #383 and in his book Lovecraft in the Merrimack Valley covers both trips in detail suggests that Myrta Little’s invitation and cordiality to Lovecraft was more than just friendly; that she was in fact romantically interested in him. They were after all nearly the same age (Lovecraft was two years younger), and Lovecraft appears to have supported her literary interests.

Whether the romance actually existed, and if it did how one-sided it was on Little’s part, is open for speculation. What is known is that three days after their final meeting in 1923, Myrta Alice Little married Arthur Davies, a Methodist minister. Lovecraft does not mention the marriage in his letters, and references to Myrta Davies largely cease, although the inclusion of a “Davies” in his postcard list shows their correspondence may have continued, if sporadically.

What was Myrta Alice Little to Lovecraft, and what was he to her? Were they simply friends and fellow amateurs whose interests blossomed for a season, before their lives drew them back apart again? Were there deeper feelings for a time? We can only guess. Certainly, Little was one of many women in amateur journalism that Lovecraft corresponded with, and his letter does not appear any more intimate, at this point, than any other to, say, Elizabeth Toldridge or Winifred Virginia Jackson—but then, neither are the letters to Lovecraft’s future wife, the amateur Sonia H. Greene, particularly intimate either. It may be he simply refused to commit such sentiments to paper; or perhaps simply that the relationship had not progressed to that point.

Perhaps they were nothing more than friends, as it might appear on the surface they were.

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.

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