Wolff (1971) by Luis Gasca & Esteban Maroto

Luis Vigil, que ne época fazia a revista Nueva Dimensión, tinha me mostrado algumas capas norte-americanas de um gênero resgatado sa antigas pulps estadunidenses: Espada & Feitiçaria. Essas capas eram maravilhosas. Em uma, um guerreiro selvagem protegia uma donzela seminua, rodeados por um conjunto de figuras misteriosas, caveiras, bruxos, fortalezas, dragões… Tudo apenas insinuado. Em outra, o guerreiro montado nas costas de uma gigantesca serpente, com diversas caveiras e outras formas monstruousas, preso em um calabouço. Elas raziam todos os elementos que eu sempre amei. Perguntei a Luis se havia alguma tradução daquelas histórias para o espanhol e ele respondeu que não (anos mais tarde, a editora Bruguera a publicaria). O protagonista das imagens se chamava Conan e o ilustrador era Frank Frazetta.

Quando em, 1969, Luis Gasca me pediu idias para uma história que seria publicada em uma nova revista, props um personagem daquele estilo. Ele aprovou, e assim nasceu Wolff, para a revista Drácula. Eu desenhava o que queria, fazia uma pequena sinopse e ele escrevia os textos finais com a pseudônimo Sadko. Mese depois, começaram a publicar nos Estados Unidos a adaptação do personagem de Robert E. Howard, Conan, no clássico formato dos comics, na revista Savage Tales, da Marvel, com desenhos de Barry WIndosr-Smith e roteiros de Roy Thomas.
Luis Vigil, who at the time was at Nueva Dimensión magazine, had shown me some North American covers of a genre rescued from the old American pulps: Sword & Sorcery. Those covers were marvelous. In one, a wild warrior protected a half-naked maiden, surrounded by an array of mysterious figures, skulls, witches, fortresses, dragons… All just hinted at. In another, the warrior riding on the back of a gigantic serpent, with several skulls and other monstrous shapes, trapped in a dungeon. They brought out all the elements that I’ve always loved. I asked Luis if there was any translation of those stories into Spanish and he answered no (years later, Bruguera publishing house would publish it). The protagonist of the images was called Conan and the illustrator was Frank Frazetta.

When, in 1969, Luis Gasca asked me for ideas for a story to be published in a new magazine, I proposed a character in that style. He approved, and thus Wolff was born, for Drácula magazine. I would draw what I wanted, make a short synopsis, and he would write the final texts under the pseudonym Sadko. Months later, they began publishing in the United States the adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s character Conan in the classic comic book format in Marvel’s Savage Tales magazine, with drawings by Barry Windsor-Smith and scripts by Roy Thomas.
Esteban Maroto, Espadas e Bruxas (2017) 10English translation

In 1971, Spanish publisher Buru Lan published began publishing Drácula, which despite the name had little to do with Bram Stoker’s character, but was a general fantasy and horror comic comparable in some ways to Warren Comics’ Eerie and Creepy in the United States—especially since Warren would, at about the same time as Drácula came out, begin relying heavily on Spanish artists such as Esteban Maroto. At the same time, the paperback fantasy boom in the United States was blossoming with the Lancer editions of Robert E. Howard’s Conan, with covers by Frank Frazetta (who also lent his talents to Warren magazines).

Conan the Usurper (Lancer 1967), art by Frank Frazetta

Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comic by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith first hit the stands in 1970, and its success helped to spread the fantasy boom to comic books. It was a good time to build your own barbarian…and so, Gusca and Maroto created Wolff, inspired by and in the mold of Conan (or at least, Frazetta’s covers for the Conan paperbacks). The series caught the eye of English-language publishers, and the British publisher New English Library translated and published twelve issues under the title Dracula; Warren combined several issues as a standalone graphic novel, also titled simply Dracula…implicitly competing with Dracula Lives! and Savage Tales, both produced by Curtis, Marvel’s magazine imprint. Full-size comic magazines could circumvent the restrictions on nudity and content imposed by the Comics Code Authority on comic books.

One gets the impression the English publishers of Dracula understood exactly what they were doing; in the intro to the first issue of Dracula, the editors wrote:

The Wolff comics themselves would seem to reinforce these arguments, since Wolff is happy to swear by Crom, Mitra, and Set and throw in other references to Howard’s Conan stories and Lovecraftian allusions. All of which are, in hindsight, a bit odd if Maroto claimed they hadn’t been translated yet.

Dracula #1 (1972)

What happened is that Gusca’s script was changed in the translation. Compare this same scene to that in the 2017 Brazilian Portuguese translation, which is closer to the original Spanish:

Espadas e Bruxas (2017)

The uncredited translator obviously took a few liberties in order to emphasize the connections between Wolff and Conan, inserting the occasional “By Crom!” or whatnot wherever convenient. Whatever injustice was done to Luis Gusca’s script, however, was balanced by accurate reproduction of Maroto’s artwork, especially in the 1973 trade paperback edition, which is larger than the average magazine page size and on glossy paper rather than newsprint.

From the description Maroto gives, he and Gusca appear to have used something similar to the Marvel Method—and the evidence of Maroto’s freed is clear in nearly every page and panel; while more restrained than the other blatantly psychedelic stories in Dracula, Maroto’s backgrounds are often sparse, but with well-proportioned, realistic figures and phantasmagoric tableaux.

Dracula #3 (1972)

Wolff’s adventures follow a series of interlinked quests. Unlike Howard’s Conan stories, the plots tend to be rather straightforward, with few betrayals or moral complexities to vex the hero; but there is much of wonder and horror. This was before Conan had become widely-parodied as a simple musclebound brute, and Wolff often overcomes the challenges set regularly in his path by luck and cunning as much as brute strength or swordplay. Wolff is obviously inspired by Conan, right down to the visual details, but he is not Conan; there is none of the brooding and cynicism that mark Howard’s hardboiled fantasy.

In terms of fantasy comics of the 1970s, “Wolff” is sadly little more than a footnote, much like Dagar the Invincible (Gold Key, 1972-1976) by Don E. Glut and Jesse Santos, or Maroto’s other barbarian Dax the Warrior for Warren’s Eerie (based on his Spanish comic “Manly”), and remembered today largely for Maroto’s artwork than for the stories themselves. These were the barbarians inspired by Conan, both as Robert E. Howard wrote him, and increasingly as Conan was depicted in the artwork and adaptations created by folks like Frank Frazetta, Roy Thomas, and Barry Windsor-Smith.

Aside from translation issues, the full series was only ever collected in English in a scarce Australian edition printed on newsprint in black and white:

So, most collectors would have to hunt down the original issues if they want to see what Wolff’s later adventures were. In other markets, a resurgence of interest in Esteban Maroto’s art have led to reprints like Espadas e Bruxas, but most English-speaking readers who want to admire Maroto’s work will have to content themselves with volumes like Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu (2018).

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.

“The Mould Shade Speaks” (1919) by Winifred Virginia Jackson

Mrs. Jordan’s serious literary work is all poetical, and her poems may br roughly grouped in six classes: Lyrics of ideal beauty, including delightful Nature poems replete with local colour; delicate amatory lyrics; rural dialect lyrics and vigorous colloquial pieces; poems of sparkiling optimism; child verse; and poems of potent terror and dark suggestion.

H. P. Lovecraft, “Winifred Virginia Jordan: Associate Editor” (1919) in Collected Essays 1.228

In 1919, Winifred Virginia Jackson was still married to Horace Jordan, and so it is under that name that Lovecraft knew her and her poetry. Lovecraft’s appreciation for her poetry appears genuine, and perhaps he had read enough of her verse to form a solid opinion. Although little-remembered and little-reprinted these days, during her life Winifred Virginia Jackson was a fairly prolific poet, both in amateur journals and in newspapers, publishing well over a hundred poems, some of which were collected in the collections Backroads: Maine Narratives, with Lyrics (1927) and Selected Poems (1944), now both quite rare.

Indeed, very little of Jackson’s poetry has been reprinted, and much of it is uncollected or largely inaccessible for those without access to newspaper archives and obscure and expensive amateur journals, although a selection of poems have been republished in the appendix to Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner and Others. What’s notable about the selection of Jackson’s poems that survive and are accessible is that very few are of that final category that Lovecraft delineated: “poems of potent terror and dark suggestion.” Lovecraft expanded on this in a subsequent essay:

It remains to speak of the singular power of Miss Jackson in the realm of the gruesome and the terrible. With that same sensitiveness to the unseen and the nreal which lends witchery to her gayer productions, she has achieved in darker fields of verse results inviting comparison with the best prost work of Ambrose Bierce or Maurice Level.

H. P. Lovecraft, “Winifred Virginia Jackson: A ‘Different’ Poetess” (1921) in Collected Essays 2.50

One such poem Lovecraft thought to mention in his letters:

Cook’s Vagrant did not specialise in the weird, & was in general very variable. […] However, quite a few weird things appeared. In JUne 1918 my verses “Nemesis” (later in W.T.) & my old juvenile tale “The Beast in the Cave” (written in 1905) appeared. July 1918 contained a long piece of my weird blank verse which I presented in the guise of comedy, with a comic rhymed framework around it. […] Oct. 1919 contained our old friend “Psychopompos”, & also a shorter piece of weird verse, “The City”, which I contributed under the pseudonym of “Ward Phillips.” Furthermore—an exotic Chinese piece called “Tea Flowers” (based on Wilde & suggesting Lesbianism) by Roswell George Mills, & a rather powerful ghoul-poem, “The Mould-Shade Speaks” by Winifred V. Jackson. A rather bizarre issue on the whole.

H. P. Lovecraft to Robert H. Barlow, 17 Dec 1933, O Fortunate Floridian! 91-92

“The Mould Shade Speaks” has never been reprinted since it first appeared in The Vagrant #10—which is a shame, because as Lovecraft says, it is a ghoul-poem, darker and more suggestive than most of Jackson’s verse:

The Mould Shade Speaks
by Winifred Virginia Jordan

I hide at early dawn, gray-clothed,
 I rub my fingers cold
Against my face, dark-browned and loathed,
 To better see the world
I loved and walked in some old dream,
 That hangs about me still,
And wonder if ‘neath sunshine’s gleam,
 I forged my silent will.

My voice you hear when storm-fiends sack
 The sunbeams from the sky;
I shriek with joy when earth grows black
 And jangling thunders cry.
I clutch with glee the raindrops white
 For my will’s evil hap,
I hold them, shiv’ring in their fright,
 Within my musty lap.

I hate the noon-high sun whose eyes
 Seek out my spawn, my moss,
With smiles for ferns, where lizards rise
 And crawl the leaves across.
I hate the murmurs that reel round
 When sunbeams get within
My slimy gulches, without sound,
 That I keep black as sin.

But when night strikes the sunbeam’s doom
 I wrap myself in black,
And stalk, a hydra-headed gloom,
 Red fears astride my back;
Then I set out my tumorous plague,
 I seed my foul decay:
My touch has feel of menace vague
 That gnaws at edge of day!

And I climb up the heights of air
 To spray my poisoned breath,
I swish my skirts upon trees where
 I leave the mark of death;
I never sleep, I never rest
 I cherish but life’s tears,
And hug close to my sexless breast
 The scourge of charnel fears!

Gravestones, particularly older ones which have been long exposed to the elements and uncared for, tend to become host to lichen, molds, fungi, moss, creeping vines like ivy or kudzu, even algae if the environment is wet enough. Even as the bones and flesh that moulder in the grave are slowly consumed, the names and inscriptions may be covered or effaced by the decay of the grave itself—and that is the “mould shade” of Winifred Virginia Jackson’s poem, the animate spirit of that decay made manifest, anthropomorphized with fingers and skirts, shrinking from the sun, leaving its mark on stone and wood, setting up baleful miasmas. There is an almost Poe-esque quality that recalls “The Conquerer Worm” which has a similar structure and may well have inspired it.

It is easy to see why Lovecraft may have liked this poem, ghoulish as it was.

Thanks and appreciation to David E. Schultz for his help and assistance.

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.

“I Remember Conan” (1960) by Grace A. Warren

The tall barbarian?
He who came with the rough gusto of the west wind?
Aye—I remember Conan!

Grace A. Warren, opening lines of “I Remember Conan” in The Conan Grimoire (1972) 138

Although Robert E. Howard died in 1936 and H. P. Lovecraft in 1937, the study of the life, letters, and work of Howard have often lagged behind Lovecraft. This was not for want of fans; Donald Wollheim consulted Lovecraft on the possibility of issuing a collection of Howard’s fiction shortly after the Texas pulpster’s death. However, circumstances were different: it took time to settle Howard’s estate, which went to his father Dr. I. M. Howard. Doctor Howard was not familiar with publishing, and with his son’s agent Otis Adelbert Kline worked to receive compensation due for stories his son had sold and to place what unpublished works remained—but various projects to get Robert E. Howard into print failed to be financially feasible, and unlike Lovecraft there was no one who thought to deposit Howard’s collected correspondence at a local university, no energetic duo like August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, who founded Arkham House specifically to put Lovecraft in print.

By the time Arkham House did publish the first hardback American collection of Howard’s fiction, Skull-Face and Others (1946), Dr. Howard was dead…but Robert E. Howard’s posthumous career was just beginning. Arkham House had shown the viability of small presses dedicated to science fiction and fantasy, and pulp authors from storied publications like Weird Tales were in demand among the burgeoning fan movement. Gnome Press began publishing the Conan series in 1950, and after five books had exhausted most of Howard’s finished Conan material—at which point L. Sprague de Camp produced Tales of Conan (1955), a series of Howard non-Conan stories re-written as Conan adventures, and then the original novel The Return of Conan (1957), a novel by Björn Nyberg and L. Sprague de Camp.

Although Conan and Robert E. Howard hadn’t hit a mass audience—that would have to wait for the release of the Lancer paperbacks in the 1960s with the iconic Frank Frazetta covers, the Conan the Barbarian comic book by Marvel beginning in 1970, and finally the 1982 film of the same name starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the eponymous barbarian—organized fandom activity around Howard began to pick up. Robert E. Howard had never quite been forgotten: there are many references to him and his work in the 1940s fanzine The Acolyte, which was nominally devoted to Lovecraft, for example. Yet in 1955 the Hyborian Legion was formed, and among the fanzines put out was one called Amra, named after Conan’s pseudonym among the pirates of the Black Coast.

Like most fanzines, issues of Amra weren’t intended as scholarly journals the way modern works like The Dark Man: The Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Studies is, but it was a step in that direction, a place where fans who wanted to talk about Howard and the characters and settings he created could share their insights and thoughts, fanfiction and poetry, art and cartoons, essays and articles. During its fairly long run, Amra attracted some interesting names (including Frederic Wertham of Seduction of the Innocent fame, who would go on to write The World of Fanzines in 1973). It took decades more work for Howard studies to be properly established, with a pure-text movement and the publication of Howard’s letters, much as had been done with Lovecraft, but Amra played its part.

But what could Conan be to me?
Father of fatherless children?
For who should train such sons to manliness?
Not I alone.
Who should shelter daughters fair?
Not I alone!

Grace A. Warren, lines from “I Remember Conan” in The Conan Grimoire (1972) 138

Grace Adams Warren (born Marguerite Grace Adams) and her husband Dana Thurston Warren appear to have been involved with organized fandom from at least the 1960s through the 1990s, though exact dates are hard to come by. Her poem “I Remember Conan” appeared in the ninth issue of Amra vol. II (January 1960), and is reminiscent of such works as “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson & “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934) by Grace Stillman and “The Acolytes” (1946) by Lilith Lorraine—fan poetry, a pure expression of sentiment. She would have written that in the years between the last of the Gnome Press books, but before the Lancer paperbacks, when it really was fanzines like Amra that were keeping the memory of Robert E. Howard and his favorite barbarian alive.

It is easy now to forget how precarious memory can be—how easily the public forgets, how few characters find an audience, how many pulp authors lie forgotten, their works no longer read or published, no one much caring whether they’ve fallen into the public domain or if they were ever written at all. It is easy to overlook, in this time of corporate-driven properties and big-budget films and streaming adaptations, that such works are often only possible because of continued fan-interest, fans who take the original material and comment, study, and build on it over time. Nowadays, there are wikis and websites, discussion groups and discords to facilitate the kind of communication that was carried out at the speed of a manual typewriter and a mail carrier’s measured pace.

For Howard studies in particular, fan contributions tend to be overlooked. The pure text movement that began in the 1970s emphasized the changes that had been made to the published stories and the wider setting and Mythos of the Howard tales, by editors and pasticheurs like L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and others. And there was quite a lot of non-Howard material dealing with Conan that would be published over the years, from original novels, comic books, film adaptations, video games, tabletop roleplaying games and more. If you’re going to draw the line between Howard’s original work and a “official” (in the sense of being authorized by the estate or its agents) pastiche novel like The Return of Conan, critical interest in even more derived works like The Leopard of Poitain (1985) by Raul Garcia-Capella, The Barbarian King 1: Le Spade Spezzate (2019) by Massimo Rosi & Alessio Landi, The Song of Bêlit (2020) by Rodolfo Martínez, and Sangre Bárbara (2021) by El Torres, Joe Bocardo, & Manoli Martínez is perhaps understandably low.

Yet these derivative works are worthy of study and appreciation in their own right. They have something to say about Howard’s characters, and they represent—as Grace Warren’s “I Remember Conan” represents—how inspiring Robert E. Howard’s writing can be, that it drives fans to create and remember, long after Howard’s own untimely death.

You too will remember Conan,
The tall barbarian,
He who came with the rough gusto of the west wind—
Aye—even as I remember Conan!

Grace A. Warren, last lines of “I Remember Conan” in The Conan Grimoire (1972) 138

“I Remember Conan” was first published in Amra. Vol. II, no. 9 (1960), and was reprinted in The Conan Grimoire (1972).

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.

“Hairwork” (2015) by Gemma Files

Picture for a moment what it might look like if you could visualize the spiderweb connections of the Cthulhu Mythos, with each story a node, each line a connective thread. “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” “The Dunwich Horror,” and “The Call of Cthulhu” would be dense starbursts, referenced by dozens of successive stories…and further out from the “core” of Lovecraft’s Mythos tales would be the less popular tales, the revision and ghostwritten stories which contributed little to the collective mythology…or were simply less popular with fans and authors. Far out on the periphery, barely connected to anything else, is “Medusa’s Coil” (1939) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft.

In 2015, Gemma Files added a few lines, a new nodal point: “Hairwork” is one of the very, very few works which dared to do anything with Marceline Bedard and “Medusa’s Coil.”

“Redbone,” he says. “She a fine gal, that’s for sure. Thick, sweet. And look at that hair.”

“‘Redbone?’ I don’t know this term.”

“Pale, ma’am, like cream, lightish-complected—you know, high yaller? Same as me.”

Gemma Files, “Hairwork” in She Walks in Shadows 99-100

She Walks in Shadows is a collection of stories that revisits Lovecraft’s Mythos from the view of the often-ignored and neglected women characters. Marceline Bedard is arguably one of the most prominent and interesting of these, if only because so rarely did Lovecraft ever write a woman of color into his stories, much less give her a prominent role. There are many possible reasons for this: the story is only incidentally connected to the wider Mythos, for instance. Most important, though, is the failure of Lovecraft to develop anything of the internal life and motivations of Marceline. She is presented as a kind of femme fatale, an occultist, but why she does anything in the story is utterly absent. If she has any deeper plan beyond marrying Denis de Russy and posing nude for a portrait, it is never revealed. Likewise, her backstory and that of her great hair are left utterly mysterious.

From the perspective in which the story seed was first presented to Lovecraft, and the perspectives with which he told it—white man telling the tale to another white man—the absence of Marceline’s side of the story is perhaps understandable. Yet the absence is still present; the reader only gets one side of the tale.

So Gemma Files fills in the gap, providing something of Marceline’s side of the story, her motivations and background, and perhaps more importantly, what happens next.

It’s kind of odd to say that this is almost a familiar approach. So many stories in weird fiction of this era were written from a white male perspective and centering around the death of some supposedly-evil woman that the revisiting of these stories from the woman’s perspective is almost a mode unto itself. Stories in this mode include Helen’s Story (2013) by Rosanne Rabinowitz, “The Head of T’la-yub” (2015) by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, and Lavinia Rising (2022) by Farah Rose Smith.

In comparison with those works, it has to be said that Gemma Files’ “Hairwork” stands up well. She does not directly work to contradict Lovecraft’s story, but works around the facts by providing a motivation and tying it into the background she supplies, one that works very well. References to the wider Mythos are still fairly thin: Lovecraft didn’t leave much to work with, and unlike Victor LaValle in “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) who chose to re-center the story around the Cthulhu-cult, Files appears content to have left it on the periphery of the Mythos.

The most substantial change is the vague suggestion that painter Frank Marsh may have familiar connections with the Marshes of Innsmouth—and who knows but that someone may pick up that thread someday? And probably the most radical change in the story is the suggestion of what the hair itself might be:

And then there’s the tradition of Orthodox Jewish women, Observants, Lubavitchers in particular—they cover their hair with a wig, too, a sheitel, so no one but their husband gets to see it. Now, Marceline was in no way Observant, but I can see perhaps an added benefit to her courtesenerie from allowing no one who was not un amant, her intimate, to see her uncovered. The wig’s hair might look much the same as her own, only longer; it would save her having to … relax it? Ça ira?

“Yeah, back then, they’d’ve used lye, I guess. Nasty. Burn you, you leave it on too long.”

Gemma Files, “Hairwork” in She Walks in Shadows 100

Black hair is tied up in so many aspects of history, culture, fashion, and racial discrimination that it is a difficult to know where to start. The focus on hair as a defining trait of Marceline Bedard, given her biracial or multiracial heritage, is something that is rarely examined by critics and scholars. Lovecraft was vaguely aware of some of the efforts that went into hair straightening from his time in Harlem, but like a lot of aspects of Marceline’s life, he doesn’t focus on it. A blank spot on the canvas for some worthy writer like Files to fill in.

In keeping with the overall plot of “Medusa’s Coil,” “Hairwork” gives Marceline Bedard means, motive, and depth—but she is still the villain of the story if not necessarily the antagonist. Lovecraft’s tale casts Marceline as a victim, essentially blameless except for the one-drop rule, but Files gives her animus, and the deliberation in what she does makes her something other than an unfortunate woman trapped between two men. In many ways, that makes her both more terrible and more interesting than Lovecraft’s original portrait of the Paris priestess.

It is, overall, a very skillful take on what might be one of the most difficult Mythos stories to revisit, and the success of it is reflected in its publishing history: since first appearing in She Walks in Shadows (2015) and its paperback edition Cthulhu’s Daughters (2016), “Hairwork” has been reprinted in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2016 Edition, The Dark Magazine (Aug 2016), and Best New Horror #27 (2017).

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.

“I Hate Queers” (1936) by R. H. Barlow

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 [1937]

“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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Her Letters To Lovecraft: Lillian M. Galpin

Here’s some news that can’t wait for a letter. Alfredus—Grandpa’s little Galpinius-child—is married! The event occurred last June, but The Boy kept it a secret for a while—perhaps waiting to see whether or not it would turn out well.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 27 Aug 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.154

According to census data, birth records, and her gravestone, Lillian Mary Roche was born on 16 Nov 1903 in Lowell, Massachusetts, one of six children of Irish immigrants Maurice and Elizabeth Roche. Her family was living in Chicago, IL in the 1920s, and Lillian was attending the University of Chicago and in the final year of her undergraduate degree when she married Alfred Galpin, then finishing his master’s degree at the same university. The marriage occurred on 23 June 1924, and initial prospects did not appear to be poor—Alfred was fluent in French and had a position as an instructor in that language at the Univeristy of Michigan secured. It would end with Lillian’s death in 1954…and as far as public records go, there is little to add to that. The Galpins had no children, and if Lillian left any record, it has not been published.

Yet things were not all right with the marriage…and that would lead to one of the oddest and briefest (one might say, tangential) correspondences in Lovecraft’s life. The story is not one that Lovecraft or anyone else has told directly, but has to be pieced together from different records, references in Lovecraft’s correspondence, and other odds and ends.

AUGUST 27, Wednesday. Did I mention that Alfred Galpin, Madisonian, friend of Lord and L (whatshisname) and myself, incidentally, went and got married some time ago? Hully gosh! He, Howard! Next I suppose CAS, SL, RK, and even JFM and perhaps even GK will join ranks.

George Kirk, Lovecraft’s New York Circle 28

H. P. Lovecraft came in contact with Alfred Galpin around 1918, when Galpin was still in high school, through their mutual associate Maurice W. Moe. They shared an interest and involvement in amateur journalism, and developed a robust correspondence. Lovecraft predicted great things for Galpin, but neither man shared everything with the other. When Lovecraft eloped in March 1924 to marry Sonia H. Greene, he didn’t inform Galpin (or anyone else) until after the fact; when Galpin married Lillian Roche a few months later, he didn’t inform Lovecraft right away either.

Ex-President Alfred Galpin, having been married in June, 1924, last autumn accepted a post as Instructor in French at the Rice Institute, Houston, Texas, perhaps the leading university of the Lone Star State. His interests are veering more and more away from literature toward music, and after suitable years of study he hopes to be recognised as a pianist and composer.

H. P. Lovecraft, “News Notes,” United Amateur 24, No. 1 (Jul 1925) in Collected Essays 1.356

For young, untenured university professors, going where the jobs are isn’t unusual, then or now. Yet the Galpins did not end up going to Paris. Instead, about a year after their marriage, Alfred and Lillian went to Paris:

The little rascal sailed from New Orleans (3d class) on the 14th of last month, & has since been imbibing true Parisian accent & colour whilst his wife studies at the Sorbonne. They inhabit a rather costly hotel in the Rue Madame, & Galpinius does not seem to be disappointed in the least—as yet—with the storied city of his dreams.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 13 Jul 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.313

Most of Lovecraft’s surviving correspondence mentions Lillian indirectly; they were not apparently correspondents at this time, and if they exchanged letters after 1925 there is no evidence of it. She was, for the most part, mentioned only indirectly as Lovecraft related news about Alfred Galpin to his various correspondents. It is somewhat ironic, given how nebulous and tangential the bulk of these passing references are, that it is only through Lovecraft’s letters that we get a picture of Lillian Galpin.

The story unfolds in his letters:

Speaking of Galpin—he is now in Paris studying, having gone thither in June with his wife. The latter is returning ahead of him on the Majestic—arriving, as coincidence would have it, this very day—& Loveman & I expect to see her & ply her with questions anent her brilliant spouse & his Gallic sojourn.

H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 18 Aug 1925, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 77

Arrival documents confirm that Lillian Galpin arrived, without her husband, in New York City on 18 Aug 1925. Why she left Paris is not clear, although in other letters Lovecraft notes that Alfred Galpin was experiencing financial difficulties (his father, who died in 1924, had left the bulk of his estate to a nephew also named Alfred Galpin). This is the first real hint of trouble in the marriage, although Lovecraft goes into no details—and Lovecraft himself was at the time semi-separated from his wife, living in Mrs. Burn’s boarding house at 169 Clinton Street in Brooklyn while Sonia was working in Cleveland to help support them both, visiting New York at intervals.

Alfred Galpin wrote to Lovecraft ahead of time to greet his wife at the pier and help her out; Sonia was in town at the time, although due to leave for Cleveland in a few days. Lovecraft, not sure how best to handle the situation, wrote Lillian a letter which was to be delivered to her when she came ashore, giving his phone number and enclosing photographs of himself and Samuel Loveman, so she could recognize them when they came to assist with her luggage.

Dear Mrs. Galpin:—

Your gifted husband having informed our local circle of easthetic dilettanti of your impending arrival on the S.S> Majestic, & having delegated to use the agreeable responsibility of showing you such sights & salient points of interest as you may care to inspect hre, I herewith take it upon myself to facilitate your location & identification of the circle in question. Mr. Galpin tells me that you will call me up by telephone, but it occurs to me that I may not have given him the number of this haven of remunerative guests; in which case you will look in vain through the book for a telephone in my name. Let me, therefore, here state that the correct number is MAIN 1401, at the Brooklynward end of which a proper sentry will be posted during the day of your arrival as estimated byt he White Star offices—Tuesday, Aug. 18.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian M. Galpin, 16 Aug 1925, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 261-262, MSS. John Hay Library

What followed was one of those comedies of errors that in another century could have been solved with a ten-minute call on a cellphone.

The next day—Tuesday the 18th—we were up early & on the watch for Mrs. Galpin’s telephone call. S H had to go out, but arranged to leave the numbers of the places she visited, so that I might reach her when Mrs. G. communicated. Meanwhile I busied myself with reading & correspondence—& framed an inquiry for the Post Office concerning an important envelope from Clark Ashton Smith, containing a letter, a story, & several poems, which was mailed to me last March & failed to reach its destination. Thus the day passed—when at three o’clock the Burns boy brought up the card of Mrs. Alfred Galpin! The steamship letter had failed to reach her; & after a five-hour search including inquiries at police stations, public libraries, & heaven knows what else, she had come upon the place through a vague remembrance that it was in Clinton Street, & that its number had three figures beginning with 1 & ending with 9. Beginning at 199, she had worked along the street northward, trying 189 & 179, & finally stumbling on the correct spot at 169.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 19-20 Aug 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.353-354

Lovecraft’s 1925 diary entry for 18-20 Aug 1925 covers the essentials of Lillian Galpin’s visit (Collected Essays 5.165-166), while his letter to his aunt has a much more detailed, expanded account of events. One has to imagine Lillian Galpin, after a six-day crossing of the Atlantic, arriving in a strange city and randomly knocking on doors until she finds her husband’s friends. It was here that Lovecraft gave his description of her to his aunt:

Mrs. G. was undecided about the duration of her stay; though waning finance dictated a very brief sojourn,whilst her trunk had already been scheduled for through transportation to her parents in Chicago. Three days seemed a logical period, though she would like to obtain a local position & settle semi-permanently till the American return of The Boy. At length she decided to plan on leaving Thursday night, on a late train. Mrs. Galpin is a small person of no especial beauty, strongly resembling the portrait of Mrs. McMullen (Lillian Middleton) which you will find in the second (green-covered) issue of The Rainbow. She is descended from the most ancient Norman nobility domiciled in Ireland—the de Roches—& Alredus is strongly thinking of changing his name to hers, because of its greater aristocratic significance. Some of the kin of this family, the Burke-Roches, are of international social pormienncel whilst Mrs. G’s own father would be the 21st Earl of Fermoy if he would renounce his American citizenship. A proper family for the reception of Grandpa’s Boy—I can see him as Alfred de Roche, in a panlled coach with his new coat-of-arms on the door! Mrs. G. was, like Alfredus, an infant prodigy; & is a graduate of the University of Chicago. Her literary background is ample & profound, & appears to be united to an excellent taste & keen intelligence; in short, the match seems in very way a suitable one for The Child, whose genius deserves a kindred environment. Alfredus himself, I learn, is developing into a typical Parisian character. He wears his hair long—longer, in literal truth, than his wife’s—& even tried to grow a beard till he found it impossible. His scornful repudiation of literature is complete; & he not only laughs at his wife for reading, but refrained from telling her that he had ever followed letters himself—so that the Galpinian essays & critiques which I shewed her came as a complete surprise!

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 19-20 Aug 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.354-355

There is a Baron Fermoy in the peerage of Ireland, and the Burke Roche family do hold it, but someone got the other details wrong. More compelling is the idea that Alfred Galpin didn’t see fit to tell his wife anything of his amateur journalism career, despite the fact that he had once been president of the United Amateur Press Association in 1920-1921 term. That Lillian was resolved to be separated from Galpin until his return to the United States the following year, and looking for work to support herself, speaks somewhat to their marital difficulties—and one has to wonder if the Lovecrafts saw the parallels with their own situation.

After the play we took a taxicab to the Erie ferry near the White Star dock, & fetched Mrs. Galpin’s hand luggage to 169, where she took a room on the ground floor. En route we took refreshments at the Scotch Bakery. Finally, we dispersed for slumber; Ms. Galpin deciding to devote the morrow to job-hunting, & indicating her intention of rising early, perhaps before the rest of the household—returning some time in the afternoon, & attending the meeting of The Boys at Kirk’s ex-partner’s—where S H also planned to attend. […] I last spoke of Wednesday the 19th, on which date I rose early & wrote letters till mid-afternoon, when Mrs. Galpin returned from her fruitless industrial quest. Upon her arrival she spoke of the night before–which, thanks to the negligence of busy Mrs. BUrns–had not been one of rest. It seems that the downstairs room has not been kept as immaculate as some others herabouts, & that its couch has an undesirable population of invertebrate organisms which resent the intrusion of mere mortals to a highly vindictive extent! Accordingly Mrs. G. was far from harassed, & in the morning held an interesting conversation with Mrs. Burns—who apoligised profoundly & let her have the room at a reduced rate.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 19-20 Aug 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.355-356

Fresh across the Atlantic, without her husband, in a strange city, and then faced with bedbugs. Lillian Galpin’s New York adventure was not shaping up to be a good one. Lovecraft himself had long been discouraged with job-seeking, and was not surprised by her lack of success. They went out to dinner, and then an evening with the Kalem Club. When they returned to 169 Clinton, the exhausted Lillian must have realized she was facing another night with bedbugs.

The residual trio proceeded to 169; where Mrs. Galpin, after inspecting her room, decided she could not rest. Accordingly—& with many apologies for having delivered a guest unwittingly into an arena of sanguinary monsters—S H & I decided that Mrs. G. had better stop at some haven of undisputed immaculeteness & desirability; hence I assisted in the transfer of her effects to the celebrated & dignified Hotel Bossert in Montague Street, where she obtained an excellent seventh-floor room for four dollars.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 19-20 Aug 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.356

This was, however, not the last injury that Lillian suffered at Burn’s boarding house:

On this occasion I proceeded home, where I found Mrs. G. already arrived after a last & unavailing early morning interview ith a possible employer, & a last & earnest conversation with Mrs. Burns anent a fresh case of robbery in this delectable retreat! It seems that when packing in haste the previous evening she had left heind a somewhat valuable silk nightgown—which was now missing, & which has not been heard from since. Which of the sundry transient inhabitants to accuse one cannot say—but fortunately Mrs. G. is a philosopher, & able to dismiss life’s casual losses with a shrug & a sigh. We now endeavoured to set out upon that course of sightseeing which malign circumstance had thus far delayed—but again the Fates interposed, & the entire morning was wasted at the Erie & white Star piers in a fruitless attempt to locate Mrs. G’s trunk, for which she had failed to obtain a receipt, but which probably went through to Chicago. We did, however, recover the missing letter with its pictorial encloserues, which latter I wished to preserve.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 19-20 Aug 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.357

They did retrieve the letter, which is why it is not preserved in Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others. Sonia was due back in Cleveland by an earlier train, to which city she invited Lillian to visit; they then helped Lillian see what she would of New York in her few remaining hours.

Since all museums close at five, it was now too late to see more than one; & this was chose without difficulty, snce Mrs. G’s chief wish in N.Y. was to inspect the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum. Arriving in good season, & prviouslt surveying the French rooms (as you & I did) we proceeded to cover the colonial exhibits in detail; & Mrs. G. displayed a genuine interest & acute knowledge in remarking upon the objects displayed. She purchased the dollar handbook of the oclleciton, & means to become something of an authority on Georgian America whilst her effulgent lord & master absorbs the antique charm of mediaeval Paris.  […]

Mrs. Galpin, being exceedingly fatigued by continuous exertion, sent her regrets & went to her hotel to rest; but I went down & saw S H safely aboard the Cleveland train—incidentally carrying her a letter from A E P G which had just arrived. […] Now proceeding to the Bossert, I met Mrs. G. & transferred her values once more to 169, for later transportation to the train. She obtained some light refreshments—cheese crackers, orange marmalade, chocolate, & fruit, & served these whilst I began a letter to The Boy. In due time she added her section, & under separate cover we added the postcards obtained during the afternoon, as a supreme inducement for The Child to stop off in New York next June upon his return to the United States.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 19-20 Aug 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.357-358

It was typical of Lovecraft to write joint letters with such friends were available; there would be nothing more suitable than for Lillian Galpin to include a brief note to the letter Lovecraft was writing to her husband. Regrettably, Alfred Galpin destroyed much of his early correspondence with Lovecraft c.1930, including their joint letter. This is why Lillian Galpin might be considered a “tangential” correspondent—the one letter Lovecraft wrote to her she didn’t receive, and the one letter they wrote together doesn’t survive.

After completing her section, Mrs. G. rested on the couch & slept soundly whilst I finished the epistle at length. At 11:00 I fared forth to secure a taxicab, which I found only with great difficult & alarming loss of time. Returning with it, I awakened Mrs. G. with as much gradualness & as little violence as possible, after which the expedition hastened in the cab across Brooklyn Bridge & through the town to the Erie ferry, just in time to miss the 11:50 boat which had been mentioned as the one connecting with the Cleveland-Chicago train! For a moment, dramatic despair supervened; but in another instant a clerk had cleared the skies by mentioning tht according to Daylight-Saving Time we were a full hour early, the real boat being the 12:50 by the local clocks. Saved! We now proceeded to a neighbouring cafeteria, had coffee & read books at a table which commanded a view of the clock, & in due time returned to the ferry & sailed thereon. Reaching the other side, I assisted the luggage to the 1:25 train, & bade Mrs. Galpin convey my regards to S H upon meeting her, & to Alfredus upon writing him.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 19-20 Aug 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.358

That was the last time that H. P. Lovecraft and Lillian Galpin met, though he would continue to hear from her. In fact, rather shortly he would get an urgent letter from his wife regarding Lillian.

Had a letter from S H yesterday, saying that Mrs. Galpin didn’t shew up in Cleveland at all! She’s quite worried, imagining all sorts of kidnappings, wrecks, & such like; but I fancy Mrs. G. was merely too tired out to relish the Youngstown change of cars, so went straight home to Chicago.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 19-20 Aug 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.367

Lovecraft was probably correct; after the trials and hectic travel of the last few days, Lillian was probably happy to be home…although again, this was back in Chicago, without her husband. How she spent the next year is not clear; Alfred Galpin was desperate for money to continue his music studies in Paris, even asking Lovecraft for a loan, and Lovecraft reported that his wife prevailed on Galpin’s mother to send a $250 cheque to cover his needs (Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.451-452). In 1926, she passed through New York again to take ship to bring him back to the States:

MAY 4 […] Met, the other day, Galpin’s wife: she went back to Paris on the Leviathan, and expects to bring him back ere long….

SEPTEMBER 9 […] Guess old Galpin isn’t coming from Paris either, as I hear his wife is going back and they’re to say another year. There’s bedlam for you.

George Kirk, Lovecraft’s New York Circle 87, 98

By this time, Lovecraft had left New York and so missed a reunion with Lillian; while Alfred Galpin may have wished to stay in France, they did apparently return to the United States in 1926, with Alfred taking a position at Northwestern University in Evanston ( a suburb of Chicago) teaching French and Italian. The 1930 Census shows Lillian employed as a clerk and living with Alfred in Chicago, but likely he would return home to Appleton, Wisconsin in between terms. Lillian did not apparently accompany him.

In 1930 Alfred finished his M.A. at Northwestern, and spent another year (1931-1932) in France; whether Lillian accompanied him is not clear, although a 1932 news article shows she was applying for jobs in Appleton. When Alfred returned to the United States, he took a position at Lawrence College (now Lawrence University) in Appleton. It is in these letters from Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin after the second trip to France that we get more hints of discontent in the Galpin household:

As for your present perturbations—I think a year or so will find you much less agitated, since all amorous attractions are essentially transient. And of course, if you’d get outside yourself, take an objective & panoramic survey, & give some really serious thought to the fortuitous meaninglessness of all emotion, you would be greatly helped in the cooling-off proces. That’s the only process worth cultivating unless the other victim gets ashamed of accepting luxury from a deceived partner & coöperates toward putting the whole matter on an open & straight-forward basis. Meanwhile one may only advise that you “coast” as inconspicuously & indecisively as you can—with eyes open as to possible exits & solutions. Let us hope that your wife will have time in Chicago to think on the value of the prize that is slipping away, & that a renewed affection on her part may assist in toning down the new & capricious hormone-storm. But time & common sense will doubtless bring their own adjustments.

H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 20 Jan 1933, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 283-284

Which sounds a great deal as if Lillian left Alfred, and that there was some issue that caused the separation—the hints “amorous attractions” and “deceived partner” sound an awful lot like an extramarital affair, or perhaps the preliminary stages of one. It’s speculative all around—someone that Alfred met in Paris? A female student at Lawrence College (notable as one of the first co-educational colleges)? The “possible exits & solutions” may have been a gentle hint at divorce, as Lovecraft’s own separation had led to. Suffice to say, Lovecraft was not himself a font of good advice on marital difficulties, although he tried to say positive and encouraging things:

I am glad your domestick affairs maintain a certain quiescence, if not ideal adjustment, & trust that time may do its own salutary & imperceptible modelling toward a stabler & sounder equilibrium.

H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 24 Jun 1933, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 292

It is gratifying to learn—even tho’ it implies no great change in your basick philosophy—that you have extinguish’d the altars of Astarte in favour of those of Urania & Hymenaeus. In your easy recovery from the aberration you might well read a confirmation fo what I previously told you regarding the wholly capricious, cosmically un-grounded, & therefore essentially trivial nature of such seizures. They are simply temporary biological-psychological surface twists—& when one thoroughly realises the trivialmechanical character of such emotional phaenomena, he ought to be able to analyse them out of existence whenever they interfere with the well-harmoised & appropriate course of his life, or with the practice of that fairness, honest, & open, aboveboard conduct which distinguishes artistic living from sloppy, messy living.

H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 5 Oct 1933, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 296

Astarte is the Hellenized version of the Near Eastern goddess Ishtar, associated with love; Aphrodite Urania was the aspect of spiritual love, and Hymenaeus the god of marriage. Which suggests that whatever affair was being pursued was broken off, and that Alfred Galpin was endeavoring to mend fences with Lillian. Part of this involved a trip to Chicago, implying they were still separated:

Glad you had a good Chicago trip, but sorry you picked up a cold. […] As for the philosophy & aestheticks of domestick organisation—I still don’t agree with your essentially cloudy & ill-defined system of standards. The common emotions connected with primary instincts, & not extensively linked with imaginative associations & a sense of pattern, are undeniably largely mechanical matters which, while powerful in the sense that a rap on the head or a siege of typhoid is mechanically powerful in its effect on the system, are certainly not important in the artistic experience of complex conscious living.  Assuredly, they are not important enough to justify their easy interference with the fulfilment of other emotions whose richness & coördination give them a really pivotal place in an harmonious life of widely-realised possibilities. I feel confident that the current fashionable endorsement of messy living will vastly diminish whenever a reacquired cultural stability gives our most active minds a renew’d chance for mature & leisurely reflection.

H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 25 Oct 1933, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 300

Some sort of peace was apparently brokered between husband and wife:

Glad that the household matters are recrystalising favourably, & hope the dual Appleton-Chicago arrangement may ensure you an ideal summer.

H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 6 Jun 1934, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 308

Again, speculation rears its head: if Lillian was living and working in Chicago, she probably was either living with family or had a lease on an apartment, and Alfred was probably in much the same situation in Appleton, although probably staying at the family home; perhaps Alfred would live with or visit Lillian in Chicago between terms until her lease was up, as they sought a more permanent solution.

Too bad that discord developed in Mme. Hasting’s work, but trust that her retirement to domesticity will not be any grave financial blow.

H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 24 Sep 1934, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 322

Where Lillian was when she lost her job (and what it was, and why she lost it) are entirely unknown. It was the Great Depression, and she was a married woman; sexism and economics are equally likely culprits. Lovecraft mentions her being disappointed in not getting a position in October 1934 (Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 323), so she hadn’t given up looking just yet, and a little later he wrote:

Always glad to hear of old-time children turning out well—which reminds me that Little Alfie’s pa’s estate is getting settled at last, so that Master Consult Hasting may get 2000 bucks a year froma trust fund. Hot stuff! He’s fixing up the old home (726 E. College Ave.—formerly numbered 536 College Ave) in good style, & his ma is turning out the boarders as far as she can—& his wife is giving up her job in Chi.

H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 29 Nov 1934, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 364

“Consul Hastings” was Alfred Galpin’s pseudonym in amateur journalism days. After this, presumably Lillian had moved to Appleton to be with her husband. The 1940 Census entry does not list any employment, and the 1950 lists only “Keeping house.” References to Lillian Galpin are few in Lovecraft’s remaining letters; his last mention of their marraige reads:

Descending to merely human matters—I trust that financial asperities will soon be smoothed out, & that domestic life in general will be clarified by a resigned realisation of the irreconcilability of romantic glamour with middle age.

H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 17 Jan 1936, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 325

We have to depend on Lovecraft’s description of Lillian Galpin because Alfred Galpin does not provide one. In his memoir about his friendship with Lovecraft,  “Memories of a Friendship” (1959), Alfred Galpin leaves out all mention of his wife or the time Lovecraft met and helped her those few days in New York in 1925. By 1959, of course, Lillian was dead (she passed away in 1954) and Alfred had remarried (to Isabella Panzini; when the marriage took place is unclear, but she entered the United States in 1957 as Mrs. Galpin). A letter from Galpin clarifies his reasons for cutting Lillian out of the narrative a little:

You will note that I remained as anonymous as feasible and in particular, since ISabella has brought me the only real happiness I have known, I don’t like any reference to “first wife” or such when they can be avoided.

In 1925, Lee got “fed up” with my high-brow and penny-pinching attitude toward Paris and announced her intention to go home; giving this the usual “the hell with you, go along then” treatment, I was surprised to find her show up one day with the return ticket, so off she went. That is why most of my 14-15 months in Paris in 1925-1926 were spent alone (not most as she ultimately came back to fetch me. . . .) and it was while I was alone there that I wrote such reams of correspondence to HPL and also to her—the file which I mention as having later destroyed, as I never had any fondness for lingering on what is dead in the past. Well, here is where HPL comes in—I wanted you, in strict confidence between us, to get the general picture.

When Lee actually left it was without any harshness between us, on the sound theory that I could profit best on our $$ by remaining alone. One of the things we were anxious for her to do on her return was to see HPL who had married just a few months earlier than me (March and June 1924) and who was then in Brooklyn. Still a “babe in the woods” as my music teacher called us both when we went abroad in June 1925, Lee stopped off in New York and then started looking for Howard on foot in Brooklyn after having lost the address!! Believe it or not, she actually found some one who gave her the address and spent a brief visit with them, but very brief for the reason to be indicated and which I have no reason to doubt, since the much less credible part of the story, just told, is confirmed by other sources.

Alfred Galpin to August Derleth, 25 Jun N.D. [1959?], MSS. John Hay LIbrary

Galpin then mentions the bedbugs, which no doubt stood out in any account Lillian must have given her husband of the trip.

Marriages are difficult, always have been; this was true for the Lovecrafts and it was true, apparently, for the Galpins. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they do not. It is unfortunate to us that Alfred Galpin destroyed all the letters from his wife…and Lovecraft…during that year in Paris. As it is, we have only a very limited view of Lillian Mary Roche Galpin…as Lovecraft saw and described her, through the lens of his own relationship with her husband.

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.

“Cassius” (1931) by Henry S. Whitehead

Weird Racism
Historical racism can take some strange turns when expressed through fantasy, horror, and science fiction, and the result can be more disturbing or offensive to some readers than “normal” racism. As such, please be advised before reading further.

Whitehead—to whose other distinctions I find that of Reverend or ex-Reverend added—has just started a tale from an idea of mine which he is suggesting that I finish as a collaborated work—but I may pass it up because of inability to do justice to the West Indian locale he has seen fit to choose. I am the sworn enemy of armchair exoticism, & believe in writing about things one personally knows—except of course in the case of Dunsanian phantasy or cosmic infinity.

H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 31 Jan 1931, Essential Solitude 1.320

The Reverend Henry S. Whitehead was an Episcopal priest and pulp writer who contributed to magazines such as Weird Tales and Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror. Before retiring to Florida, Whitehead had spent summers down in the U. S. Virgin Islands, soaking up the local atmosphere, culture, and folklore, and set many of his tales in this milieu, often in stories involving his character Gerald Canevin. H. P. Lovecraft had fallen into correspondence with Whitehead, and the two formed a convivial bond.

Lovecraft kept a commonplace book with ideas and plot germs, some of which he used and many of which never materialized but were borrowed or developed by others. The plot seed that inspired Whitehead was apparently this one:

[133] Man has miniature shapeless SIamese twin—exhib. in circus—twin surgically detached—disappears—does hideous things with malign life of his own.

Collected Essays 5.227

The entry is dated 1925, and R. H. Barlow, who was Lovecraft’s literary executor, added the notation “HSW—Cassius” to this entry. Whitehead took Lovecraft’s basic idea and applied it to his West Indian milieu to craft another Canevin tale. While Whitehead urged collaboration, however, Lovecraft begged off:

Whether I do anything with that Whitehead tale depends on how eager he is about it—for I hate being churlish & uncivil. He says he has it all started, & that he has prepared some guiding notes on the chosen West-Indian background.

H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 17 Feb 1931, Essential Solitude 1.321-322

As for collaboration—though I’ve done it in scores of ghost-writing cases, I think I’ll dispose of the Whitehead case by keeping things in the air till he writes the whole thing himself.

H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 27? Feb 1931, Essential Solitude 1.324

Which is ultimately what Whitehead did. The story that developed, “Cassius” is essentially pure Whitehead in terms of plot and development, and aside from being set in the West Indies and starring his series character Canevin, also continues certain themes that he had developed in earlier tales.

For example, the tale “The Lips” (Weird Tales Sep 1929), a Black woman on a slave ship to the West Indies curses one of her white captors so that black mouths grow from his flesh, whispering the word “L’kundu”—this was a riff off Edward Lucas White’s story “Lukundoo” (1925), where a white man in colonial Africa wrongs an indigenous woman and is cursed to Lukundoo, where miniature, chattering Black heads grow from his flesh. In another tale, “Passing of a God” (Weird Tales Jan 1931), a white man with a large growth in his abdomen goes to the West Indies and falls in with voodoo; the growth is surgically removed and revealed to have been a parasitic twin that the cultists believed to be an incarnate god.

As those brief synopses indicate, there is a strong racial component to these stories; while the Virgin Islands was much less racially segregated than the mainland United States, Whitehead’s perspective—and his audience—was very much of the white mainland majority, and the characterization of BIPOC characters in his West Indies stories, while rarely mean-spirited, tend to be expressions of particular stereotypes and prejudices. So it is in “Cassius,” where a light-skinned biracial man named Brutus Hellman.

Brutus, it appeared, had need of a minor operation, and, Negro-like, the two of them, talking the matter over between themselves, had decided to ask me, their present patron, to arrange it.

Henry S. Whitehead, “Cassius” in Strange Tales of Mystery & Terror Nov 1931

The operation had been the removal of a growth from Brutus’ groin or side—a parasitic twin which would go on to hunt and haunt Brutus Hellman in revenge. Except that the miniature human being thus freed is darker-skinned than Brutus, and possesses a kind of ancestral memory, reproduced African hut and spear in miniature as it carries out its campaign of terror. Whitehead offers a pseudoscientific explanation:

The well-established ethnic rule,the biological certainty in cases of miscegenation between Caucasians or quasi-Caucasians and the Negro or negroid tpes is tha the offspring is never darker than the darker of the two parents. The ‘black-baby’ tradition, as a ‘throw-back’ being produced by mulatto or nearly Caucasian parents is a bugaboo, Canevin, sheer bosh! It doesn’t happen that way. It cannot happen. it is a biological impossibility, my dear man. […] since Brutus is very ‘clear-colored,’ as the Negroes would say, that one of his parents was black; the other very considerably lighter, perhaps even a pure Caucasian. […] The mother—she was, undoubtedly, the black parent—proud of her ‘clear child’, would favor it,nurse it first.

Henry S. Whitehead, “Cassius” in Strange Tales of Mystery & Terror Nov 1931

Even in 1931, this “scientific” explanation wouldn’t hold water, but the point was to try and give an explanation for why Cassius was both darker-skinned that Brutus, and why the miniature stereotype was running around stabbing lighter-skinned Black people with spears made from knives, building “African” style huts out of discarded pencils, and the like. Totally aside from the explicit and implicit racism (scientific and otherwise) in “Cassius,” the story ends rather anticlimactically, and even Lovecraft wasn’t very impressed with the result:

About “Cassius”—It is hard for me to give an unbiased judgment, since the development is so antithetical to that which I had in mind when offering the central idea. To me it seems that a vast number of atmospheric & other horror-possibilities have been left unrealised, & that the typically bland, urbane, & almost unctuous style (the stereotyped Kipling tradition) wrecks the sort of hideous tensity really needed. Yet on the other hand I can see where Whitehead has used a fertile cleverness in incident-devising that I could never have approached. The chief scientific objection is, of course, the part played by “hereditary memory”—a thing wholly repudiated by responsible biologists, though still favoured by weird writers. I’d call “Cassius” a typical anthology item—for “sophisticated” professionals love that unctuous urbanity which to me is so markedly unsatisfying.

H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 6 Nov 1931, Essential Solitude 1.404-405

Whitehead and Lovecraft did eventually meet in Florida, and would collaborate on another Canevin tale, “The Trap.” Yet in a later letter, Lovecraft would reveal a little more about the origin of the tale:

I gave H S W the idea for “Cassius”—at first he wanted me to collaborate, but our styles & approaches were so different that I couldn’t. It all came from a freak I saw in a dime museum—an Italian with a rudimentary twin growing out of his abdomen. Some time I’ll tell you how I had meant to develop the theme—I may do it yet.

H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 23 Aug 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, &c. 207-208

In a sense, Lovecraft had already played with the twin theme in at least two tales: “The Dunwich Horror” (Weird Tales Apr 1929) and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (written early 1927, unpublished during Lovecraft’s lifetime). Ward with its near-identical ancestor-descendent pair recalls one of Lovecraft’s earliest recorded stories, now lost:

One long-destroyed tale was of twin brothers—one murders the other, but conceals the body, & tries to live the life of both—appearing in one place as himself, & elsewhere as his victim. (Resemblance had been remarkable.) He meets sudden death (lightning) when posing as the dead man—is identified by a scar, & the secret finally revealed by his diary. This, I think, antedates my 11th year.

H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 2 Feb 1916, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 51

Lovecraft would refer to this idea in commenting on a similar story, “The Man Who Was Two Men” by A. W. Bernal in Weird Tales Apr 1935 (Letters to Robert Bloch and Others 233). Yet neither of these stories really involves a parasitic twin, and the idea that Lovecraft got the idea from a real performer he saw at a human oddity exhibition is intriguing. We know from Lovecraft’s letters, for example, that in 1925 (from when the entry in the Common Place book is dated), Lovecraft and his wife visited such an attraction in Coney Island.

We then called in for a fitting of the suit, & took an open car for an evening ride to Coney Island. We had not intended to get off at all; but finding the resort phenomenally uncrowded, we did—incidentally patronising some of the assorted freak shows. In one of them there still survives P. T. Barnum’s original “Zip, the What-is-It”—now probably over 90 years of age. In Barnum’s day “Zip” (whose profile I here reproduce) was exhibited as a semi-ape, & dressed in a furry skin supposed to be his natural hide. Now he appears in immaculate evening dress, grins amiably, & picks out simple tunes on the violin & xylophone. The age is too sophisticated for Barnum’s charlatanry, & “Zip” chiefly interests people as having been part of the great showman’s entourage. This creature is really a semi-idiotic Andaman Islander—one of a dwarf Malay stock inhabiting the East Indies. He was picked up as a boy by a seaman long before the Civil War, & has since vegetated in one freak show after another. Living feebly & lightly, he does not show his years; & will probably excite the smiles of still another generation.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 6 Jul 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.308
Brown University Library

Lovecraft is credulously repeating the popular billing; “Zip the Pinhead” was William Henry Johnson, born to a Black family in New Jersey, and was in his late 60s when Lovecraft saw him, though he would die the following year.

It is not clear if the performer who inspired Lovecraft’s commonplace book entry was seen during this excursion or another, but Lovecraft went into great detail about the idea and its potential development; for ease of reading, this long section of a letter has been broken up into several sections:

About the twin—I was divided between two plans of development. One would have had the monster escape as Whitehead had it—but would have had it much more terrible & much less human. I would have had it grow in size, & frighten people much more terribly than “Cassius” did. Indeed, I would have tried to convey the implication that some Outside force or daemon had taken possession of the brainless, twisted body—impelling it to strange acts of apparently deliberate but plainly non-human motivation. The climax would have consisted of some dramatic & unmistakable revelation of this Outside tenancy—probably connected with the spectacular destruction of the thing in one way or another. My story would have had none of the lightness, sauvity, & humour of Whitehead’s, but would have been grim & terrible all through. So much for one plot.

H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 12 Sep 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, &c. 215

This is the development that most closely resembles the unnamed twin in “The Dunwich Horror”—and perhaps too closely resembles the parasitic twin in Whitehead’s “Passing of a God.” Assuming that Whitehead wrote that story before he received Lovecraft’s plot germ—and perhaps it is what prompted Lovecraft’s sharing of his own vaguely similar idea—he might have felt inclined to develop the parasitic twin idea in a different way in “Cassius” so as to avoid repeating himself. The other plot idea was far less cosmic and, like Whitehead’s, more science fiction:

The other plot I had in mind was much more human—not supernatural at all, in fact. The idea was to have the connexion of the man & his miniature twin much more complex & obscure than any doctor had suspected. The operation of separation is performed—but lo! An unforseen horror & tragedy results. For it seems that the brain of the twin-burdened man lay in the miniature twin alone . . . . so that the operation has produced a hideous monster only a foot tall, with the keen brain of a man, & a handsome manlike shell with the undeveloped brain of a total idiot. From this situation I planned to develop an appropriate plot, although—from the magnitude of the task—I had not progressed very far. I had an idea of having the midget monster assume the guardianship of his handsome, brainless twin & endeavour to hypnotise it in such a way that it could do his talking for him & act as his substitute in the outside world. I meant to have him succeed, so that after about a year there appears in society a handsome, brilliant man who always carries a satchel, & who displays vast alarm when there is any danger of his being separated from it. This, of course, is the brainless twin—who now serves as the mouthpiece & exterior facade of the intelligent monster, who rules him by hypnotism from the shelter of the satchel. From then on I had decided nothing. One idea was to have an accident destroy the satchel, causing the idiot to collapse helplessly & perhaps die. Another was to have the man gain fame—but finally to have the idiot body die in such a way that the death can hardly be concealed. The intelligent twin still lives—but how can he now keep his secret? He may be able to hide bodily, but how can he continue the work which brought him fame (say as a writer or painter or scholar) when the famous man is supposed to be dead? I had not progressed to the point of solving that problem—or even deciding whether I’d have such a problem—when Whitehead began urging the collaboration & I finally gave him the plot to develop in his own way. Hence “Cassius”.

H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 12 Sep 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, &c. 216

This “double life” plot is obviously a continuation of Lovecraft’s earliest twin theme story idea; yet the idea of a miniature parasitic twin with its own independent intelligence is clearly what inspired Whitehead’s “Cassius.” Yet the whole process of thinking over the plot germ led Lovecraft in a third direction:

Now—after years—another alternative occurs to me. I might have the death of the handsome idiot-body concealed, & have the intelligent monster embalm it & display it seated in a chair—ostensibly still alive but paralysed. he would have it appear to speak—in a feeble, alien voice supposedly due to the paralysis—through the clever practice of ventriloquism. Then some awful climax of revelation could occur—any one of a dozen hideous sorts. The embalming could be imperfect, so that the supposedly living man would display signs of decomposition. Or notice could be attracted by its failure to age through the passing years. In writing such a story, I’d probably begin near the end—that is, have the bulk of the action concern the final phase, when the supposed paralytic begins to arouse suspicion. The antecedent history—the operation &c—would be subtly worked in as backflashes. I would make the revelation very gradual & suspense-filled—& at the last might leave the reader in some doubt of what the truth really was. Whether I shall ever do this or not remains to be seen. It certainly wouldn’t be duplicating “Cassius”—for the whole spirit & emphasis of my conception is antipodally alien to Whitehead’s. Whitehead urged me to go ahead & try—but I thought some time had better elapse in any case.

H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 12 Sep 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, &c. 216

While Lovecraft would never develop this explicit idea, the image of the ventriloquist act would be used in “The Whisperer in Darkness” (Weird Tales Aug 1931). The narrative development of beginning at the end and then working back to how this came to pass is a familiar part of Lovecraft’s style. Yet as for where Lovecraft got the idea in the first place:

I believe I mentioned that my idea came from seeing an actual case of the undeveloped-twin anomaly in a freak shew (Hubert’s Museum in W. 42nd St.) in New York. The man in question–an intelligent Italian who for some reason billed himself under the French name of “Jean Libera”—had a little anthropoid excrescence growing out of his abdomen which looked hellishly gruesome when uncovered. Cothed, he looked merely like a somewhat “pot-bellied” individual. So far as I know, he is still living & on exhibition. He looked so essentially refined & high0gade that I wondered at this willingness to be exploited as a freak, & speculated as to what he would do if a stroke of luck removed him from the need of such an ignominious occupation. The first thing he would do, I argued, would be to have the excrescence cut off—& then & there the idea of the story came. This was in 1924 or 1925. Now the odd & amusing thing is this. Years afterward—after I had given the idea to Whitehead & was awaiting the appearance of “Cassius”—I chanced to mention the matter to my old friend Arthur Leeds of New York, who has had extensive dealings with freaks & other amusement enterprises. Fancy my surprise when he told me that he knows Libera well—that the man’s real name is Giovanni Libera, that he is an Italian of great intelligence, that he is interested in everything weird, & that (believe this or not—it’s actual truth!) he is especially fond of my work in W.T.!!!! Talk about coincidence! Leeds was going to tell him about “Cassius”, but I told him not to, since he might feel some delicacy (despite his occupation) about being used in that way. At the time (1930) Leeds was going to introduce me to Liebra; but something prevented, so the meeting never came off. It certainly would have seemed odd to meet one of my plot-germs in the flesh . . . . the flesh of two bodies, or a body & a half, at that!

H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 12 Sep 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, &c. 216-217

Giovanni Libbera was an Italian performer who toured the United States, sometimes billed as Jean or Jean and Jacques Libbera. Lovecraft’s 1924 and 1925 letters do no mention Hubert’s Dime Museum or Libbera by name, and trying to figure out exactly where Libbera was under contract during that period is difficult, but there are newspaper advertisements that show Libbera was employed at Hubert’s during some periods. J.-M. Rajala in “Locked Dimensions Out of Reach: The Lost Stories of H. P. Lovecraft” (Lovecraft Annual #5, 2011) suggests it may have been during a 15 July walk to Times Square recorded in Lovecraft’s 1925 diary.

Which is the long and rather weird root to how a chance encounter with a human oddity led to a story in Weird Tales…and, perhaps, sheds some light on Lovecraft’s plotting and development of story ideas, and how that differed from his colleagues. It is notable, for instance, that Lovecraft’s original plot-germ and all of its developments is totally agnostic in terms of race. The plot has nothing to do with the twins being white, Black, or anything else, while Whitehead in transferring the plot to the West Indies makes it entirely about race, or at least about certain preconceptions about race. This makes fair sense when it is considered that Whitehead’s stories frequently dealt with BIPOC characters in a setting where they predominated, while Lovecraft stuck mostly with familiar New England settings with relatively fewer BIPOC folk.

No—I shan’t let your gargoyle tale cut mine off . . . . any more than I shall let Whitehead’s “Cassius” suppress my future tale of the amputated Siamese twin.

H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 23 Aug 1932, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 320

The legacy of “Cassius” is a bit harder to track. While no one has, to the best of my knowledge, written a direct sequel, however there are two stories by members of Lovecraft’s circle of correspondents that might continue some of the themes and ideas.

“The Mannikin” (Weird Tales Apr 1937) by Robert Bloch is about a man with a parasitic twin growing from the left shoulder that is both intelligent and has a distinct interest in Mythos lore; as in Lovecraft’s second plot development, the parasite manages to gain control of its brothers body for a time.

“It Will Grow On You” (Esquire Apr 1942) by Donald Wandrei is a kind of spiritual sequel that combines elements of “Cassius,” “The Lips,” and “Lukundoo.” A white man among the islands gets a native woman pregnant, and when he threatens to leave she curses him. A small female form then grows from his thigh. A surgeon attempts to remove the growth, but the curse transfers to the surgeon.

In all of these stories that have been discussed, there is a fascination with both bodily deformity—many of the stories are effectively early examples of what today would be termed body horror—and with the idea of a kind of twisted morality play. Giovanni Libbera did nothing wrong, committed no crime or sin, he was simply born the way he was. Individuals in stories like “Lukundoo,” “The Lips,” and “It Will Grow On You” all receive their horrific transformations from some terrible crime, and like a rapist who catches an STD, have to live with the consequences. In “Passing of a God,” “Cassius,” and “The Mannikin” it is the parasite that is evil…something to be cut from the body if possible, endured if not.

None of the characters seek to capitalize on their odd status as Libbera did; these are not stories about the practical difficulties of the life of a performer making the best of an unusual physical condition, like David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980). There is a very distinct prudishness and shame regarding their physical bodies which is reflected in Lovecraft’s emphasis on Libbera’s “ignominious occupation.” Yet that was a mentality that went far beyond just Lovecraft himself, and found expression in many authors during the period. Sideshows and dime museums may have come and gone, yet the repulsion at that which is different—and the fascination with the same—remains.

Henry S. Whitehead’s “Cassius” may be read for free online in the Nov 1931 issue of Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror.

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.

“The Last Horror” (1927) by Eli Colter

Weird Racism
Historical racism can take some strange turns when expressed through fantasy, horror, and science fiction, and the result can be more disturbing or offensive to some readers than “normal” racism. As such, please be advised before reading further.

But by the time I was twenty-one I realized how insurmountable a barrier lay between me and the fulfilment of my dreams. I was a Negro. No matter what respect I might command from white men because of my intelligence and abilities, no matter to what heights I might rise, the wall of race reared between. It drove me fantic. I wanted to meet other great men on a common level, to be one of them. And I could not.

Eli Colter, “The Last Horror” in Weird Tales Jan 1927

Racial discrimination is based on the fallacy that race is a definable, fixed constant; a physical and cultural reality that is consistent and unalterable. The reality of this discrimination—the eponymous color line in the United States—has been a source of tension within the population since the first African slaves were brought to the nascent Colonies in 1619. Sometimes the definition and discrimination based on race was encoded in law, such as during the Jim Crow era when Lovecraft and his contemporaries wrote for Weird Tales, and more often—even today—the discrimination was largely informal, social, a reflection of white supremacy and the paranoia and violence used to enforce that self-image.

Yet race is not so clear-cut or fixed. This is part of what gave rise to the white horror of passing, a light-skinned person of color being able to successfully pass themselves off as “white,” as happened in Mark Twain’s Puddn’head Wilson (1894) and “Medusa’s Coil” (1939) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft. Supernatural and science fiction, however, allows much more fantastic possibilities. What if you could drink some magic potion, or apply some chemical agent to the skin, and change its color? On the surface, this seems silly; albinism exists regardless of ethnicity, and there is much more to ethnic identities than just skin, eye, and hair color. However, when so much cultural tension is wrapped up in issues of skin color, the idea of racebending becomes a thought experiment—a narrative what-if explored in stories like Harry Roselenko’s Black Is A Man (1960) or Lord Dunsany’s “Across the Colour Bar” (2002), and many other works, sometimes for social commentary, or comedy, or horror.

“The Last Horror” by Eli Colter is an example of such a racebending weird tale—a rare story that directly addresses the issues of racial discrimination, and yet the plot is irreparably snarled.

In form, the story is essentially science fiction: a Black millionaire with white hands (attributed to maternal impression, but possibly inspired by vitiligo) receives a skin graft from a white friend and conceives the idea of grafting white skin onto his entire body and passing himself as a white man. This is accomplished with the aid of a rogue surgeon and a carefully planned campaign of kidnapping, bribery, and murder to obtain the white skin. Yet the focus of the story is less on the details of the surgery, the possibilities of tissue rejection, or the possibility of failure—the antagonist, Ballymair, has planned too well. What the narrative focuses on are the racial dynamics of the story.

When Ballymair goes to the Congo to participate in a hunt, the African-American meets indigenous Africans, and expresses his prejudices:

I compared myself to those negroids over there. Cannibals! Living in crude rectangular houses, tattooed in weird designs with scars, carrying bows with cane strings and packing wooden shields, wearing bark-cloth—or nothing—believing in their fetishism and witchcraft, chipping their teeth and letting the women do all the work. Was I like them? Was I of that race? Only in color! Outside I was black, but inside I was as purely Caucasian as either the captain or Dr. Straub.

Eli Colter, “The Last Horror” in Weird Tales Jan 1927

Except…are these really his prejudices? Because the words put into the character’s mouth are white stereotypes, the kind of thing expressed in a hundred pulp stories or Black Magic (1929) by Paul Morand. These are the words put in the mouth of an African-American character when the author wants to express self-hatred, to define that spark of madness that would lead to this murderous plot. These are a white person’s prejudices, put in the mouth of a non-white character, and for the specific purpose so that at the climax of the story a white character can give the ultimate rebuttal when the operation is complete and Ballymair shows off his white skin.

White? Where? You may change your skin, Ballymair, but you can’t change your heart. You’re quite right. The skin does not matter. One of the best friends I have is a Negro—a man with a clear brain and a fine soul, satisfied to hold his place in the world.

Eli Colter, “The Last Horror” in Weird Tales Jan 1927

While this might not be the earliest example of a white person dragging out a token Black friend as an effort to appear inclusive. Yet that Black man is only the white man’s friend so long as he is “satisfied to hold his place in the world.” The whole of the reason-you-suck speech is such a bizarre mishmash of backhanded compliments towards Black people and hellacious stereotypes about Black people that the ideas run into each other.

While the overall moral of the story would appear to be self-acceptance, it is couched in such a web of white supremacist language and ideas that it’s difficult to read this as well-meaning. This is a story written by a white person who, regardless of what moral they were trying to express, fundamentally doesn’t understand and cannot portray the Black experience in the 1920s, and it shows at nearly every turn. All we are left with at the end is a morally indignant white person essentially proving their ideas of white superiority by shaming Ballymair to suicide by explaining race and racism to him.

You may be white from the second skin out, but your blood runs true to form. Whatever pigment lies in the cells of that first skin to make the Negro black still flows in your veins! Go ahead and marry! Find out how white you are. Look—there you are! A white man, having taken his place in the world, wealthy; perhaps respected for his brain and his polish, in social intercourse with his seeming kind—with black children around his knees.

Eli Colter, “The Last Horror” in Weird Tales Jan 1927

It’s not a stupid argument to point out that the skin graft is a change literally only skin deep, but the idea that this is a showstopper for someone who has already conducted multiple murders to pull off the fraud is making a hell of an assumption. The problem isn’t the genetics so much as the suppositions that go behind these statements. For example, the assumption is that Ballymair will marry a white woman and that biracial children would give him away or prove a social handicap. A moment’s thought might bring up adoption, interracial marriage, or any other option if Ballymair desires children.

Yet the superficial nature of the argument is a reflection of the literally superficial plot. “The Last Horror” is not some deep introspective philosophical work on the nature of racism and racial identity; it’s an almost hokey science fiction story with a laughable surmise that’s played for horror to an audience of white readers. The argument that “passing” doesn’t make Ballymair white is a reaffirmation of scientific racialism and white supremacist talking points, even when an effort is made to couch it in such a way as to shame Ballymair for not embracing his own Black identity. If a Black character had made this argument, it would have seemed an appeal to Black pride; from a white character, it is literally nothing more than “know your place.”

Given the absolute mess of the race dynamics in this story, it is perhaps not surprising that “The Last Horror” hasn’t had much of a cultural impact or seen much reprinting. The story was well-received at Weird Tales, and reprinted in the British Not At Night anthology You’ll Need A Night Light (1927) edited by Christine Campbell Thomson and in the Feb 1939 issue of Weird Tales, but “The Last Horror” has been passed over for anthologies and collections ever since, except for facsimile reprints of Weird Tales. No doubt it is too much an artifact of the Jim Crow era, and of sentiments whose time is long past.

Yet there is a final aspect of “The Last Horror” which is rarely acknowledged: the synchronicity with H. P. Lovecraft. In that same issue of Weird Tales where “The Last Horror” was first published, Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook” also first saw print. When Thomson selected “The Last Horror” for You’ll Need A Night Light, she picked “The Horror at Red Hook” too. And while Lovecraft rarely discusses many of the early stories of Weird Tales, he did make a point to mention this one:

The only decent thing in the issue, aside from such shorter features as your tale, is “The Last Horror”—which is truly clever, though more quasi-scientific than weird. I have long planned something of that sort myself, though of psychic rather than physical cast—an attempt on the part of an educated negro to project his personality & secure the tenancy of a white man’s body through the arts of voodoo.

H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 16 Dec 1926, Essential Solitude 1.56

Lovecraft wasn’t kidding. His Commonplace Book where he recorded story ideas and images for later use includes two entries along these lines from 1923:

108: “Educated mulatto seeks to displace personality of white man & occupy his body”

109: “Ancient negro voodoo wizard in cabin in swamp—possesses white man.”

Collected Essays 5.225

Like “A Million Years After” (1930) by Katharine Metcalf Roof, Lovecraft was sort of beaten to the punch. Perhaps that is why, ultimately, Lovecraft would not write either of these stories, though the whole idea of personality displacement or possession would appear in stories like “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Shadow Out of Time.” Nor does voodoo make much of an appearance in Lovecraft’s fiction (see “Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch for details). Later generations who mined Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book for ideas have also generally left those ideas inviolate. We can only imagine how Lovecraft might have conceived and written a story based on this kind of premise—whether he could bend his view to get inside the mind of a Black character, or whether like Colter it would have been simply a confirmation of white supremacism.

Which is understandable. Lovecraft and Colter both expressed an interest in the same idea at roughly the same time because racial segregation and white supremacy were current and ongoing issues in the United States, and passing had real legal, social, and economic benefits when compared to the ongoing discrimination that nearly all people of color faced. Discrimination which Lovecraft and Colter were both aware of, but did not face themselves.

As for Eli Colter’s “Golden Whistle”—not having my W T file with me, I couldn’t say what issue it appeared in. Nor do I know anything about Colter himself. I never liked his tales overly well, since to me they seemed to contain just a touch of the mawkish.

H. P. Lovecraft to F. Lee Baldwin, 29 Apr 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 81

Eli Colter was one of the pseudonyms of May Eliza Frost (see her entry on Tellers of Weird Tales blog), a white woman from Oregon, which had long-lasting Black exclusion laws. She and Lovecraft were of an age, and it is not surprising that they addressed some of the same themes, in their own style and from their different perspective. Yet they were both white people, and benefitted from their place in the racial hierarchy of the United States, despite their personal hardships…and they were writing to an audience that was presumably also white, who would be expected to share those same experiences and possibly the same prejudices, spoken and unspoken, that inform works like “The Horror at Red Hook” and “The Last Horror.”

Yet while Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook” has been reprinted dozens of times, studied and dissected, critiqued, pastiched, parodied, and revisited (see “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle), “The Last Horror” has largely sunk into obscurity—and the obscurity of this story, and other contemporary stories like it, is part of the reason why Lovecraft’s own prejudices tend to loom larger in his reputation. When folks claim that Lovecraft’s racism was particularly virulent or notorious even when compared to his peers, it is worth remembering “The Last Horror” and that Lovecraft’s prejudices were not unique. This should not be taken as absolving or downplaying the prejudices expressed in either Colter or Lovecraft’s fiction, but only as an understanding that these works were not created in a vacuum, but express something of the historical context of their times and experiences.

“The Last Horror” by Eli Colter can be read online in the Jan 1927 issue or Feb 1939 issue of Weird Tales.

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.

“Sunfire” (1923) by Francis Stevens

The Golden Atom #9 (Dec 1940)

In the 1940 issue of The Golden Atom fanzine, editor Litterio B. Farsaci (who later changed his name to Larry Farsace) published an article “Science Fiction Pseudonyms” that claimed that “Augustus T. Swift” was a pseudonym of H. P. Lovecraft; as proof of this, elsewhere in the same issue Farasci reprinted two letters from Swift that had appeared in Argosy pulp magazine for 15 Nov 1919 and 22 May 1920. The Swift letters were given as being from Providence, Rhode Island, and Lovecraft was known to have used a number of pseudonyms, and to have written fan-letters to the Argosy (some of which were reprinted in the same issue of The Golden Atom).

The letters were notable in no small part because Swift praised the writing of Francis Stevens (a pseudonym of Gertrude Barrows Bennett), whose fantasy stories ran in the All-Story Weekly, Argosy, People’s Favorite Magazine, Thrill Book, and Weird Tales. To give a taste of Swift comments’, consider his praise for Stevens’ “The Citadel of Fear,” serialised in Argosy from 14 Sep to 19 Oct 1918:

But one story tops them all, “Citadel of Fear.” If written by Sir Walter Scott or Ibañez, that wonderful and tragic allegory would have been praised to the skies. While reading it I often wondred if Francis Stevens had in mind the slimy and diabolic spirit of evil which has so many years dominated the German rulers, until finally the whole nation became prostituted by the devil and his imps. Underlying its amazing and thrilling scenes was the sad but indisputable lesson that once a man gives himself up to evil and to evil deeds only, resulting from selfish greed, that man’s soul is lost. I find also in it a very strong suggestion that real evil does not lie in the so-called personal pecadilloes, but rather in black treachery toward one’s own kith and kin and country, an unmoral endeavor to harm all those who stand in the path of selfish purpose, and a general and studied ambition to spread animalism and degeneration among the human race. Pan-Germanism, class creed, Bolshevism are the present illustrations of the sliminess and abysmal hell portrayed by Francis Stevens.

I feel so much interested in the motif of that curious tale that I should like very much to have my curioisty gratified by the author himself. I believe many of your readers would like a sketch of the life of Mr. Stevens, and particularly the source and development of his motif in the “Citadel of Fear.” That story would make one amazing moving-picture drama, if taken up by the right moving-picture managers.

Augustus T. Swift to The Argosy, published 15 Nov 1919, in H. P. Lovecraft in The Argosy 32

However, Farsace was incorrect: Augustus T. Swift was not a pseudonym of H. P. Lovecraft, but a real person. Nevertheless, the name entered the general store of Lovecraftian lore being compiled in the 1940s; the claim was reprinted in “Pseudonyms of H.P.L.” in The Lovecraft Collector #1 (1949) by Ray H. Zorn, and continued to promulgate in articles and books apparently without question for decades. L. Sprague de Camp’s 1975 H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography repeats the claim, as do many other works. S. T. Joshi took “Augustus T. Swift” seriously as a Lovecraft pseudonym as late as “The Rationale of Lovecraft’s Pseudonyms” (Crypt of Cthulhu #80, 1992). The error was not finally revealed until 1994’s H. P. Lovecraft in The Argosy (Necronomicon Press), where Joshi wrote:

A very simple examination of the Providence city directory for 1919-1920 establishes that there was a real individual named Augustus . Swift living at 122 Rochambeau Avenue in Providence. It is manifestly clear that these two letters are not by Lovecraft at all; they are accordingly reprinted here in an appendix, purely for the historical record. […]

Some further conseqeuences follow upon the supriousness of these letters. ALthough Lovecraft admits to reading A. Merritt’s “The Moon Pool” in All-Story for 22 June 1918,there is now no evidence that he read Argosy at all after 1914, or that he read and enjoyed the work of Francis Stevens (praised in the Augustus T. Swift letters), although it is conceivable that he might have. Stevens’ novels The Citadel of Fear and Claimed have been reprinted in paperback, with blurbs from the Augustus T. Swift letters attributed to Lovecraft! One hopes this sort of thing will not occur again.

S. T. Joshi, “Introduction” in H. P. Lovecraft in The Argosy 6-7

Unfortunately, that has occurred again. And again. A lot of times, including the 2022 edition of The Citadel of Fear by Flame Tree Press. Fifty years of Lovecraft scholarship had been published noting Swift as a Lovecraft pseudonym and that Lovecraft praised Stevens, and the false fact was promulgated in many reprints of Francis Stevens’ work and in works of criticism and genre scholarship, as Terence E. Hanley noted in his Tellers of Weird Tales blog posts for Francis Stevens and Augustus T. Swift. It seems depressingly unlikely that publishers trawling the public domain for works to reprint will make the extra effort to research such claims—and even if they did, the false myth has spread so widely, odds are that they might honestly come across several sources that appear to support the claim, rather than those that accurately debunk it.

As Joshi points out, without the Swift letters there is no evidence that Lovecraft read most of the magazines where Francis Stevens’ work appeared; nor are there any mentions of Francis Stevens (or Barrett’s other pseudonyms) in Lovecraft’s published letters or essays such as “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” She appears to have formed a blind spot in his reading—and that’s not unusual; Lovecraft couldn’t read everything, even in the field of contemporary weird fiction.

Yet there is one story by Francis Stevens that did appear in a pulp magazine that Lovecraft was reading.

“Sunfire” by Francis Stevens was serialized in two parts in Weird Tales (Jul-Aug & Sep 1923). Lovecraft’s letters do not mention this tale, but neither does Lovecraft report on most of the contents of these early issues of Weird Tales in his early letters. Regardless, it is likely that Lovecraft did read this story, especially since it was the cover story for the Jul-Aug 1923 issue.

Unfortunately, this final effort is not Francis Stevens’ best work, lacking the imagination and subtlety of stories like “Unseen—Unfeared” (People’s Favorite Magazine, 10 Feb 1919), “Serapion” (Argosy, 19 Jun-10 Jul 1920), or “Claimed” (Argosy, 6-20 Mar 1920), the stories which are the most “Lovecraftian” in theme and mood. Instead, “Sunfire” is a rather typical lost world/lost race novella which Stevens has attempted to tell in a brisk style that contrasts humor and horror—light, zippy dialogue fights with efforts to express fantastic visions or dangers. The characters are only lightly sketched, and there is a Keystone Cops element to their portrayal, the five protagonists almost tripping over themselves at the sight of a pretty young blonde, lampshaded by their own self-awareness of what utter boobs they’re being. It would almost qualify as a parody of the genre.

It was part of a genre. The massive expansion and consolidation of European colonial empires in the 19th century had been an age of exploration and conquest, and in the early 20th century the romantic notion of the white man’s expedition was swiftly running out of unknown regions with uncontacted indigenous peoples to exploit. H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quartermain novels were only one starting point that typically involved white men penetrating some exotic region, encountering indigenous peoples, and often contacting lost white tribes, ancient cities and ruins, and quite possibly unfeasibly sized jewels and monsters, natural or supernatural. “Sunfire” may in this respect be compared and contrasted with stories like Henry S. Whitehead’s “The People of Pan” (Weird Tales Mar 1929) and “The Great Circle” (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror Jun 1932), Robert E. Howard’s “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” (Weird Tales Oct 1931) and “The Valley of he Worm” (Weird Tales Feb 1934), A. Merritt’s “The Moon Pool” and “The Metal Monster”…and dozens of other stories that ran in the pulps. Even Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness follows the form of an expedition story…but there, the similarities with “Sunfire” largely end.

Francis Stevens obviously cracked a book or two researching this story; the first couple of chapters include a number of details relating to Brazilian culture that are more or less accurate (caboclos, farina, chiheh, assai wine, giant centipedes, etc.). The depictions aren’t perfect (how the indigenous guides died of beri beri in a week is beyond me), but it’s obvious that she put at least a minimum of effort into actually centering the story when and where it should be. So too, while finding a beautiful blonde white woman in a place where it was believed no white person had gone before is straight out of the lost world story playbook, the actual descriptions of some of the weird phenomena and architecture show that Stevens was very capable of fantastic prose:

Then all paused uncertainly. The abruptness of a tropical sunset had ended the last of the day. Great stars throbbed out in a blue-black sky. The breeze had increased to a chill wind. All the pyramid was a mass of darkness about them, save that about the flat peak there seemed again to hover a faint, pale luminescence.

These clear, evocative bits of prose are, however, sandwiched in between a lot of zippy dialogue by a group of racist, sexist, and relatively horny and violent white men. This is very much of a piece with the other elements of lost world fiction; the kind of casual racism and sexism expressed in lines like:

She is of white blood, but she disgraces it. Any Indian woman, feeling as she pretends to feel, would dare the wrath of her people on earth and the gods beyond and be true to the humane instinct.

Is very much in keeping with the colonialist ideals and ethics that inform this piece. The casual assumption of white supremacy and feminine nature were a part of the language of such fiction. They didn’t have to be, but it was nearly universal to such pulp fiction, and while those elements haven’t aged well, they should also be seen as explicitly part of the trope-driven nature of this particular narrative. The light tone and humor contrast with the inherent horror of the piece, and the dialogue has aged about as well as the racism and sexism, coming across as stilted and unrealistic, though in the context of the 1920s it definitely captures the tone and language of that now-alien vernacular of the 1920s.

Some of Stevens’ fiction shares elements with Lovecraft’s own fiction, like the dark sea-god intimated in “Claimed” or the unseen presence in “Unseen—Unfeared,” illustrating that Lovecraft was himself working inside a kind of weird tradition, playing with many of the same concepts as other contemporary weird writers. Unfortunately, her story “Sunfire” shares almost nothing with Lovecraft’s fiction in theme or style. At one point she uses the word “Cyclopean” to refer to the pyramid, but aside from that bit of vocabulary, there isn’t much there that can be pointed to as potentially influential on Lovecraft.

However, Francis Stevens’ fiction should not be read from the perspective of “what did Lovecraft take from his?” It should be enjoyed in its own right. “Sunfire” isn’t a story I would recommend as an introduction to her fiction, or to anyone except diehard completionists of lost world fiction, but as an example of that mode of fiction, it stands up okay. Not some lost classic to be rediscovered, but a competent working of the familiar tropes and elements. Her other fiction, however, is worth reading. Not because Lovecraft read it (he probably didn’t), but as an example of what other people who weren’t Lovecraft were writing and publishing in Weird Tales at the time.

Francis Stevens might not have been an influence on Lovecraft, but she was a contemporary, and reading her fiction gives readers more insight into the literary traditions in which Lovecraft himself was working. In her own way and in her own style, she touched on some of the same elements completely independent of Lovecraft—because the pulp fiction tradition, and the weird fiction tradition, is bigger than Lovecraft and his contemporaries, bigger than the Mythos and cosmic horror, and many elements of what we now often call “Lovecraftian horror” were far from exclusive to Lovecraft himself.

“Sunshine” can be read for free in Weird Tales Jul-Aug 1923 and Weird Tales Sep 1923.

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.

Deeper Cut: Hart Crane

And saw thee dive to kiss that destiny

Like one white meteor, sacrosanct and blent

At last with all that’s consummate and free

There, where the first and last gods keep thy tent.

Hart Crane, “The Dance,” part of The Bridge (1930), in Hart Crane: Complete Poems & Selected Letters 47

H. P. Lovecraft did not rub shoulders with Ernest Hemingway in Key West; did not correspond with F. Scott Fitzgerald or Gertrude Stein. If he argued with Henry Miller over a bookstall in Brooklyn, or sipped coffee in an automat across from Dorothy Parker, we have no record of it. Lovecraft’s brushes with the famous literary names of his day were few and brief, and the most notable of these encounters was with the gay poet Hart Crane.

On 21 July 1899, Grace Edna Hart Crane gave birth to Harold Hart Crane, her only child. Her husband was Clarence A. Crane, a successful businessman. Their relationship was rocky, and ended with divorce in 1917, the young Hart Crane living with his mother in Cleveland. The circumstances of Hart Crane’s life at this point offer some superficial similarities with Lovecraft’s own: both young men lived with mothers who suffered nervous breakdowns, both were unprepared for college and largely autodidacts who read voluminously; poetry and literature were overwhelming passions, and money was a pressing concern. However, the similarities break down in detail. By age 18, Crane had already attempted suicide and had his first homosexual experience; his father was alive, and if Crane didn’t always get along with him, they had a relationship; and while Crane struggled to hold a steady job he did try everything from working in a munitions plant during the Great War to writing copy for an advertising agency to working for his father’s candy business.

Samuel Loveman, the amateur journalist, poet, and bookman, recalled meeting Crane in Cleveland in 1919, shortly after Loveman had been discharged from the army (Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 315). Loveman and Crane became friends, bonding with their mutual love of books and poetry (they were also both gay, though there is no indication they were ever lovers). Despite Prohibition, Crane had begun to drink, and alcohol and conversation flowed easily in the literary and artistic crowd that he moved in.

Among his friends, there was a steady round of parties. Every time one of the Cleveland artists or writers had a visitor, the entire group was called together. One such visitor was the poet James Daly, a friend of Charles Harris’s, and another was H. P. Lovecraft, the writer of horror stories and weird tales, who came to see Sam Loveman and Alfred Galpin and who described for this aunts in Providence, Rhode Island, the Loveman-Crane-Sommer-Lescaze circle

Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane 256

Cleveland, August 1922

H. P. Lovecraft had encountered Samuel Loveman’s poetry in amateur journals c.1915, and in 1917 he wrote to Loveman, coaxing him back into amateur journalism and beginning a correspondence—despite the fact that Loveman was Jewish and Lovecraft antisemitic, the two became good friends. Loveman and Lovecraft finally met in New York City in 1922, as guests of Sonia H. Greene, who hoped that Lovecraft’s encounters with them both would disprove his antisemitic notions (The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985)). It didn’t work, but they all became fast friends, and in 1922 Loveman invited Lovecraft to Cleveland. Lovecraft’s letters to his aunt detail the trip, although his mention of Hart Crane is brief:

We held a meeting here of all the members of Loveman’s literary circle, at which the conversation covered every branch fo aesthetics. […] I met some new figures—Crane the poet, Lazar[e], an ambitious literary student now in the army, & a delightful young fellow named Carroll Lawrence […]

Tonight Galpin, Crane, I, & a fellow I have not yet met are going to a concert held in the art museum building. Great days!!

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 9 Aug 1922, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.54, 55

This was probably a program at the Cleveland Museum of Art, possibly under the direction of Ernest Bloch of the Cleveland Institute of Music, whom Hart Crane mentions in several letters (cf. Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 392-393). Lovecraft did not go into detail about the crowd he was hanging out with to his aunt, but in a later letter he particularly recalled:

Mention of S. L. reminds me of this Hatfield person. To be sure, I recall him! Dear, dear! how he used to sit cross-legged on the floor at Eglin’s, little white sailor’s cap tucked gracefully under one arm, sport shirt open at the neck, gazing soulfully up at Samuelus and discoursing of the arts and harmonies of life! I’m afraid he thought me a very crude, stupid, commonplace, masculine sort of persons—and am indeed surprised that he recalled me! Hatfield and Crane were mortal enemies, and it use to be amusing to watch them when they met by accident, each trying to humiliate the other by veiled thrusts and conversational subtleties hardly intelligible to an uninitiated third person. And so he has hit the big town! Here’s hoping it will be kind to him, and not crush his flower-like delicacy!

H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 8 Jan 1924, Selected Letters 1.281-282

Eglin’s was a Cleveland bookstore where Samuel Loveman (“S.L.” above) was employed; Gordon Hatfield was a minor composer and, apparently openly homosexual or possibly displayed “camp” mannerisms. In another letter, Lovecraft was less discreet:

Have you seen that precious sissy Gordon Hatfield, that I met in Cleveland? [Frank] Belknap [Long] says he’s hit the big town, U that he’s had some conversation with him. When I saw that marcelled what is it I didn’t know whether to kiss it or kill it! I t used to sit cross-legged on the floor at Elgin’s & gaze soulfully upward at Loveman. It didn’t like me & Galpin—we was too horrid, rough & mannish for it!

H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 8 Jan 1924, Letters to James F. Morton 63

How much Crane disliked Hatfield is unclear; Crane’s letters barely mention Hatfield at all. However, Samuel Loveman weighed in on the subject during an interview:

But during that period there was a very rich young man whom I had known in Cleveland, alienated from his family and made much of by an aunt who lived in a cottage on the lot where they lived. […] His name was Gordon Hatfield. He was of the troiseme sex, but he absolutely never approached me and never referred to it. But I knew what was going on. […] Hart knew [Gordon Hatfield]. Hart disliked him, he disliked Hart. Because he didn’t like Hart’s action when he was drunk. Hart was boisterous, and since many of these people were like porcelain figures, Hart was like a bull in a china shop when he came there. He grabbed. There was no end to it. […] But Gordon liked me, liked my company because he sought it. He was completely different from Hart.

“Conversations with Sam” in Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 465-466

The contrast between Hart Crane and Gordon Hatfield led to an interesting comparison in Lovecraft’s account:

. . . . . Alfredus never spoke a harsh word to the creature, but I suppose he couldn’t conceal the contempt of an ultra-masculine personality for such attenuated exquisteness. Alfie, you know, has no nonsense about him, but is a gruff reg’lar feller with disordered hair, clothes likely to be out of press, and a brusqueness of gesture and expression which says more than harsh words . . . . On the whole, I think my Alfredus-grandchild can show contempt without words better than any other living mortal. Then too, Galpin unmistakable liked Crane—though acquainted in advance with the darkest side of his character—better than he did the sisters. Crane has at least the external appearance and actions of a man, and for that much Alfredus respected him. Crane didn’t like Alfredus, as that precocious child soon learnt through the mediation of Samuelus, but he was not so intolerable a spectacle as his mincing foes. On the whole, Alfie didn’t make much of a hit in Cleveland, because the gang there were affected and sissified to the last degree–sentimental, emotional, and given to absurd expressions of the arts they studied in the lives they led.

H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, Feb 1924, Selected Letters 1.291-292

“The darkest side of his character” and “at least the external appearance and actions of a man” is the only suggestion in all of Lovecraft’s correspondence that he might have been aware that Hart Crane was gay. Loveman himself confirmed Lovecraft’s perception of Crane’s demeanor, noting about Crane that “He prided himself on his appearance of masculinity” (Hart Crane: A Conversation with Samuel Loveman 21), and expanded on that in another interview:

[John Unterecker]: You told me also about his once telling you that he deliberately schooled himself to appear masculine.

SL: He told me once . . . Now, Hart was a very masculine person. He smoked cigars. He chewed tobacco—I thought an abominable vice, a filthy vice—and spat, and it was revolting. But had had a stride, a very masculine stride. So he told me that he deliberately, as you say, schooled himself to adopt this to avoid any feeling of resentment against him on the score of masculinity or non-masculinity. […] He could not tolerate feminine people.

“Conversations with Sam” in Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 402

Prejudices surrounding non-gender-conforming and non-heterosexuality in the 1920s were blatant and pervasive, and the distinction between feminine behavior and homosexuality was often blurred in public understanding. Lovecraft’s reaction was not uncommon, and violence was a perpetual threat that LGBTQ+ folks lived with. Whether Crane’s posture was a defensive one to protect himself from discrimination, or an aspect of his identity, in Lovecraft and Galpin’s case it seemed to work. Despite Hart Crane’s sexuality, Lovecraft appeared to have no difficulty interacting with him during their brief encounters, at least not on that score.

In 1948, Loveman gave his own brief account of Lovecraft’s visit:

He visited me in Cleveland, where I procured a room for him close to where I lived. There were wonderful walks at night and a marvellously brilliant but solid exchange of conversations. I had, in Cleveland, become the friend of Hart Crane, and it is one of the singular occurrences among not a few in my life, that these two men of genius met on a personal basis. Neither cared for the other. Crane demoded Lovecraft old-fashioned and the soul of pedantry; Lovecraft, on the other hand, sardonically and not without mimicry, disparaged Crane’s modernity as well as his morality. Both settled with tolerance for one another, during an entire evening devoted to a coruscating glorification of the heavenly comsogeny; Lovecraft’s knowledge of astronomy was phenomenal.

Samuel Loveman, “Howard Phillips Lovecraft” (1948), in Ave Atque Vale 90

In this snapshot account, Loveman leaves out mention of Alfred Galpin, whose own account of the trip in his memoir of Lovecraft adds a few details, particularly about his own interactions with Crane, but on the Lovecraft/Crane interaction Galpin does more to address Loveman than add anything new:

In his own memoir in Something about Cats, Loveman mentions that Howard and Crane were mutually rather hostile that summer, Howard disapproving of Crane’s morals (of which Loveman had prudently warned me before I came). I had rather the impression that Loveman had not even mentioned them to H. P. L.; if he did, it would have made little difference, for any suggestion of sex seemed equally repugnant to Howard. […] At any rate, with respect to Crane, I recall no expression of distate on Howard’s part, and considering the lengths to which he permitted himself to go in berating modernism in writing, I feel that he was quite cordial in his attitude; one should remember also that, of course, Crane took no particular interest in Howard, who was at this time accustomed to a select circle of friends, most of whom tended to adulate him.

Alfred Galpin, “Memories of a Friendship” (1959), in Ave Atque Vale 200

The best that can be said is a general agreement that while Lovecraft and Crane were polar opposites in many ways, they had friends in common and could be cordial to one another—a cordiality that would extend to their next encounters.

New York, 1924-1925

In March of 1923, Hart Crane left Cleveland and his mother to live in New York City. A year later in March 1924, H. P. Lovecraft moved from Providence, R. I. to New York to marry Sonia H. Greene and try his luck in the great metropolis. Lovecraft knew from Loveman’s letters that Crane was in New York (Letters to Maurice W. Moe and Others 498), but the two had no reason to seek each other out and apparently did not encounter one another right away. Another mutual friend, the bookseller George Kirk, moved from Cleveland to New York in August 1924. As Lovecraft reported to his aunt:

Most of Loveman’s friends, including George Kirk, Hart Crane, and Gordon Hatfield, are already in the metropolis; and he now means to follow—fortified by the virtual certainty of the literary success and recognition for which he has so long striven.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 1 Aug 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.144

While literary success might not have been guaranteed, Loveman did soon arrive in New York (c. 8 Sep 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.156). Not long after Loveman got settled, Lovecraft took his friend to see the sights, which involved a great deal of tromping into the early hours of the morning. This was reported in the first of the few references to Lovecraft in Crane’s published letters:

I have just come back from a breakfast with Sam, and he has left to spend the rest of the day with the widow of Edgar Saltus (whom you must have heard him talk about enough to identify). I have been greeted so far mostly by his coat tails, so occupied has Sambo been with numerous friends of his here ever since arriving; Miss Sonia Green and her piping-voiced husband, Howard Lovecraft, (the man who visited Same in Cleveland one summer when Galpin was also there) kept Sam traipsing around the slums and wharf streets until four this morning looking for Colonial specimens of architecture, and until Sam tells me he groaned with fatigue and begged for the subway!

Hart Crane to Grace Crane & Elizabeth Belden Hart, 14 Sep 1924, Hart Crane: Complete Poems & Selected Letters 396
Also published in: Letters of Hart Crane and His Family 342-343, The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932 187, and Oh My Land My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane 195

There are no diary-like letters from Lovecraft during most of September 1924, but he alludes to this incident in a later letter, where Lovecraft encountered Crane again:

After dinner we walked down to the Brooklyn Heights section to call on his friend Hart Crane in Columbia Heights, with whom he had stopped till he moved up to Kirk’s in 106th St., Manhattan. […] We found Crane in & sober—but boasting over the two-day spree he had just slept off, during which he had been picked up dead drunk from the street in Greenwich Village by the eminent modernist poet E. E. Cummings—whom he knows well—& put in a homeward taxi. Poor Crane! I hope he’ll sober up with the years, for there’s really good stuff & a bit of genius in him. He is a genuine poet of a sort, & his excellent taste is reflected in the choice of objets d’art with which he has surrounded himself. I would give much for a certain Chinese ivory box of his, with panels exquisitely carved into delicate pastoral scenes in high relief—every detail of landscape & foliage standing out with that absolute beauty & amateurly assured perfection for which the best Chinese art is distinguished. After some conversation we all went out for a scenic walk through the ancient narrow hill streets that wind about the Brooklyn shore. There is a dark charm in the decaying waterfront, & the culmination of our tour was the poor old Fulton Ferry, which we reached about 9 o’clock, in the best season to enjoy the flaming arc of Brooklyn Bridge in conjunction with the constellation of Manhattan lights across the river, & the glimmering beacons of slow-moving shipping on the lapping tides. […] Thence we returned to Crane’s, threading more old streets, & incidentally looking up rooms for Loveman in Columbia Heights. […] I can’t, though—& I think I’ll get in touch with Crane and ask him about the smaller $5.00-per-wk. Rooms which he was likewise recommending to Samuelus.

Leaving Crane’s about 10:30,Samuelus & I proceeded to the subway, crossed the river, emerged at Wall St., & prepared to finish that nocturnal tour of colonial sights which his fatigue cut short last September.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 4 Nov 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.190-191

The room was 110 Columbia Heights, in Brooklyn; the same room where, by coincidence, Washington Roebling had watched the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and where Crane would conceive and begin to write his modernist epic The Bridge. The drinking binge Crane supposedly bragged about is not attested in his letters, but there are many anecdotes of Crane’s drunken antics in memoirs and biographies.

The reference to the hunt for cheap rooms or apartments is also typical; in a letter to his mother dated 20 April 1924, Crane mentioned “What I pay here is about the lowest on record,—six dollars a week. The back room will cost 2 more, but that will be very reasonable.” (“Hart Crane and His Mother: A Correspondence” in Salmagundi #9 (Spring 1969), 85). In another letter, where separation with his wife was imminent and Lovecraft needed an apartment of his own while she was out-of-town, he remarked:

In that latter case, the neighbourhood of Brooklyn Heights—where Hart Crane lives, & which I shewed to A E P G—would appeal most strongly to me.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 17 Nov 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.222

Loveman would, at various times, live in the same building in Columbia Heights as Crane and with Lovecraft at 169 Clinton Street. Hart Crane, writing home, would note wryly:

It’s amusing how Sam has finally got all his circle, including Kirk and Lovecraft, located over here now, right nearby. I really think he’s as happy as he ever will be, and he wants to be a little miserable, you know.

Hart Crane to Grace Crane, 29 Jan 1925, Letters of Hart Crane and His Family 387

During this time in New York, Lovecraft met Crane at least a few more times. The exact number is a little unclear; Hart Crane’s letters of the period are not encyclopedic, and Lovecraft’s letters, for all that they were often detailed day-by-day entries to his aunts in Providence, still have a few gaps. However, Lovecraft’s 1925 diary lists two encounters, the first of which is:

[26] up noon–Tel. Mrs. Long Sonny call–GK call–RK call–SL with Keats Mask–Leeds–out for walk over bridge to Downing St–closed–Sheridan Sq–Crane–back to 169–Lamb meeting–Sonny lv.–all adjourn Scotch Bakery–SL lv. Disperse–write and retire (rest)

Lovecraft 1925 Diary, Apr 1925, Collected Essays 5.157

There are two accounts of apocryphal meetings between Crane and Lovecraft. One is recounted by John Wilstach in “The Ten-Cent Ivory Tower” (1946), and is probably fictitious; the other is by Frank Belknap Long, Jr., which deserves consideration:

Loveman, Howard, and F. B. L. dropping in at a cafeteria on Seventh Avenue for coffee and doughnuts, a rather stocky figure arising from a table near the door.

“Howard, how are you? Sam didn’t tell me you were in New York!”

“Good evening, Hart.”

That tied it! I had never met Hart Crane, but that afternoon, at the library, Sam had showed me one of his poems in manuscript.

Howard had never seemed more depressed—he was writing such lines as these: “My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration I found only a sense of horror and oppression. Instead of the poems I had hoped for there came only a shuddering blankness and ineffable loneliness.”

His pallor and emaciation that night were alarming, and as he shook hands with Crane a line from the poem I had read at the library (I remembered Sam’s words as he handed me the poem–“Here’s something by Hart. You’ve never seen his stuff, have you?”)—a line from the poem flashed across my mind: “And when they’ve dragged your weary flesh through Baltimore—did you betray the ticket, Poe?”

It strains coincidence, but it happened, it happened—and I’m setting it down for the record because it sems somehow tremendously significant. That line actually crossed my mind, and at the time I thought: “No greater single line was ever written about Poe?”

Now consider this. I never saw Crane again, and neither did Howard. (Howard had met Crane briefly in Cleveland two years previously.) Both men were completely unknown at the time. Both now seem destined to have a place in American letters. Samuel Loveman, who was present at that meeting, knew Bierce, knew George Sterling (21 Letters of Ambrose Bierce: Published by George Kirk, circa 1927—a voluminous correspondence with Sterling, with whom I had also corresponded). Crane was a boyhood friend of Loveman’s. Crane professed to admire Poe above all other figures in American literature. Upon Howard’s shoulders the mantle of Poe had indubitably descended. The inner circle of his friends sensed it even then. […]

Frank Belknap Long, “Some Random Memories of H. P. L.” (1944) in Marginalia 334-335

The situation is plausible: Loveman was friends with Lovecraft, Crane, and Long, and Lovecraft mentioned in his letters how he would go out to cafeterias and automats with his friends. However, the timing is a bit hinky. Crane certainly knew that Lovecraft was in New York since September 1924 (because of the letter that mentions Lovecraft dated 14 Sep 1924, quoted above). The quoted passage from is from Lovecraft’s “He” was probably not written until August 1925. The line from Crane’s poetry which Long misquotes comes from section VII of The Bridge, which reads:

And when they dragged your retching flesh,

Your trembling hands that night through Baltimore—

That light night on the ballot rounds, did you,

Shaking, did you deny the ticket, Poe?

Hart Crane, “The Tunnel,” part of The Bridge (1930), in Hart Crane: Complete Poems & Selected Letters 69

It is known that Crane was editing “The Tunnel” in 1926 (The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932 274-275), so he must have written it earlier, probably in 1925; it isn’t impossible that Loveman had access to an earlier version in manuscript. On the face of it, this presents a contradiction, since Long claims the meeting occurred in 1924. Possibly, after twenty years, Long’s memory became slightly confused. It’s not implausible for Long to have met Lovecraft and Crane at a cafeteria, it’s just that the details don’t quite match up. A much more well-attested meeting is mentioned in Lovecraft’s diary later in 1925:

[14] up early–write letters–out to barber’s–back & downtown–see SL & MK–RK arr–dinner automat–sub. To 169–with dishes &c. Via Scotch Bakery to SL’s. Morton there. Crane drop in–discussion–out for coffee–refreshments–wash dishes & discuss, pack up & disperse–in 169 & write–retire [In margin: RAIN]

Lovecraft 1925 Diary, Oct 1925, Collected Essays 5.170

Lovecraft gave an account of this in his letter:

At one time Loveman had a caller in the person of his bibulous fellow-poet Hart Crane, (formerly of Cleveland) who was just back from the country & only about ¼ “lit up” by his beloved booze. Poor Crane! A real poet & man of taste, descendant of an ancient Connecticut family & a gentleman to the finger-tips, but the slave of dissipated habits which will soon ruin both his constitution & his still striking handsomeness! Crane left after about an hour, & the meeting proceeded.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 15 Oct 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.448

This was the last account in Lovecraft’s diaries or letters of Crane during the time they both lived in New York, and for part of that period (1924-1926), Crane had returned to Cleveland and visited friends in Pawling, New York (“Tory Hill”—the country spot Lovecraft had mentioned).

A Final Meeting, 1930

Samuel Loveman was the sole factor that had brought Lovecraft and Crane together in 1922, and during the 1924-1925. Yet in 1926 Lovecraft left New York to return to Providence, and Crane was already off on a series of voyages, from the Isle of Pines to California and France, passing through New York periodically. Hart Crane’s career as a poet can be said to have taken off with the publication of White Buildings (1926) and The Bridge (1930). Yet drinking and solicitation formed two of Crane’s continued vices; borrowing money and drunken antics alienated his friends; the revelation of his homosexuality to his mother occasioned a break from her. All of these issues dogged Crane and sapped his creative energies.

Yet Lovecraft had not forgot Crane, and mentions him a few times in his letters:

Loveman knows this Allen Tate—or is at least slightly acquainted with him. He is, I believe, one of the Greenwich Village clique of which Hart Crane, E. E. cummings, & Waldo Frank are other members—not a very promising milieu for the rendering of Baudelaire.

H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 5 Jun 1929, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 176

Lovecraft even noted the publication of The Bridge:

I note the item about Hart Crane’s new poem with much interest, since Crane is a friend of my friend Samuel Loveman. He comes from Cleveland, & when sober—as he is once or twice a year–is an admirably attractive chap. I have met him several times, for he lived in Brooklyn when I did—having a room in an old house on the harbour side of Columbia Heights, within sight of the spidery arc of Brooklyn Bridge, which formed the subject of his then-nascent chef d’ouevre. If he doesn’t die of delirium tremens before another decade is over, he will form one of the standard figures in the poetry of the younger generation. He is part of the semi-Greenwich-Village crowd which includes E. E. Cummings, Waldo Frank, John Dos Passos, & other well-known modernists.

H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 24 Apr 1930, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 143

It happened that in May 1930, Lovecraft was passing through New York and visiting Samuel Loveman when Hart Crane arrived. What followed was their last meeting, and perhaps Lovecraft’s best picture of the poet:

About 8 o’clock the bell rang, & there appeared that tragically drink-riddled but now eminent friend of Loveman’s whom I met in Cleveland in 1922, & once or twice later in New York—the poet Hart Crane, whose new book, “The Bridge”, has made him one of the most celebrated & talked-of figures of contemporary American letters. He had been scheduled to speak over the radio during the evening; but a shipwreck off the coast (demanding the use of the ether for important messages) had cut off all local radio programmes & left him free. When he entered, his discourse was of alcoholics in various phases—& of the correct amount of whiskey one ought to drink in order to speak well in public—but as soon as a bit of poetic & philosophic discussion sprang up, this sordid side of his strange dual personality slipped off like a cloak, & left him as a man of great scholarship, intelligence, & aesthetic taste, who can argue as interestingly & profoundly as anyone I have ever seen. Poor devil–he has “arrived” at last as a standard American poet seriously regarded by all reviewers & critics; yet at the very crest of his fame he is on the verge of psychological, physical, & financial disintegration, & with no certainty of ever having the inspiration to write a major work of literature again. After about three hours of acute & intelligent argument poor Crane left—to hunt up a new supply of whiskey & banish reality for the rest of the night! He gets to be a nuisance now & then, dropping in on Loveman for sympathy & encouragement, but Loveman is too conscious of his tragic importance & genuine genius as a man of letters to be harsh or brusque toward him. His case is surely a sad one—all the more so because of his great attainments & of the new fame which he is so ill-fitted to carry for any considerable time. He looks more weather-beaten & drink-puffed than he did in the past, though the shaving off of his moustache has somewhat improved him. He is only 33, yet his hair is nearly white. Altogether, his case is almost like that of Baudelaire on a vastly smaller scale. “The Bridge” really is a thing of astonishing merit. In connexion with this poem—which is on Brooklyn Bridge—a very surprising coincidence was brought to light. It seems that the house in Columbia Heights where Crane lived in 1924 when beginning the poem *& which I visited with Loveman at the time, my first sight of the illuminated Manhattan skyline being from its roof!) turned out—though he did not know it when he lived there—to be the old Roebling house, where the builder of the bridge dwelt when construction was in progress; & furthermore, that Crane’s own room (a shabby, $7.50 per week affair) was actually the room from which the crippled Washington A. Roebling watched & superintended the work with the aid of a telescope! And to heighten the coincidence, Crane swears that he finished the poem (while in Jamaica, knowing nothing of what was happening in the outside world) on the day that Roebling died at his final New Jersey home in 1925 . . . . which also happened to be Crane’s own birthday! Personally, I think the matter of finishing the poem on that date is an imaginative exaggeration of Crane’s although his birthday is certainly the day on which Roebling died. The coincidence of the house is certainly genuine—& it amuses me because my own first glimpse of the bridge & skyline from a window was from Crane’s window—undoubtedly the one which had been Roebling’s! Crane, by the way, was interested to hear of my liking for Charleston; &, though he has never seen it, talked of going there himself as a refuge from a New York he has come to detest. But alas! I fear it would take more than Charleston to bake the alcohol out of him! After Crane’s departure the conversation continued till a late hour—the rain meanwhile having stopped.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 24 May 1930, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.848-849

Lovecraft’s praise for The Bridge is notable in no small part because Lovecraft was not himself keen on modernist poetry at all, having once written a satire of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1922) titled “Waste Paper: A Poem of Profound Insignificance” (1923). When he read a critique of Crane’s poetry, Lovecraft was obliged to agree:

It is the same tendency which has worked to the advantage of poor Crane & made him such a symbol of the poetic present. I can agree with Mr. Untermeyer regarding Crane’s unintelligibility, & am myself convinced of the unsoundness of any symbolism whose key rests with the author alone. You may have seen an article—largely based on Crane, &including an image-by-image interpretation (furnished by the poet on request) of one of his shorter verses—on this subject some few years ago in Harpers . . . “Poets talking to Themselves”, by Max Eastman. He conceded that Crane’s obscure allusions are not capricious or irresponsible, but expressed strong doubts of the value of associative processes so purely dependent on the contents & workings of one person’s mind.

H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 20 Jun 1930, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 332

Perhaps Lovecraft found something in the images of The Bridge that spoke to more than just Crane’s own experience.

Port Mortem, 1932-1937

Hart Crane would apply for a Guggenheim fellowship in August, and with that money would go to Mexico. On the return trip to the United States, Crane would commit suicide on 27 April 1932 by leaping off the cruise ship and into the Gulf of Mexico. Samuel Loveman, who was a close friend of his mother Grace Crane, worked with her to dispose of Hart’s library and belongings, and became literary executor for Hart Crane’s estate. Lovecraft noted:

I lately heard of Contempo from Loveman—they wanted him to do, on very short notice, a critical & biographical sketch of the late poet Hart Crane; (he was practically Crane’s only remaining close friend among normal & wholesome people—Crane’s mother now wants him to edit an edition of her son’s collected shorter pieces) but he decided the proposition was too hurried to be feasible.

H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 12 Jun 1932, Essential Solitude 2.486

Lovecraft himself went on voyages, traveling down to New York to visit friends, and bus trips to the southern United States. Like Ernest Hemingway and Hart Crane, Lovecraft visited Key West on the southern tip of Florida, though he did not stay there. A Christmas visit to Loveman in New York gave Lovecraft physical relics to remember Crane by:

Well—at 1 a.m. I broke away from Middagh St. & returned to 230 . . . . bearing with me two valuable antique gifts which Loveman insisted on my accepting. Wait till you see them! One is a very primitive & prehistoric idol of stone—about 4 inches tall, & meant to lie on is back—found in Mexico, & probably made by the Mayas before their rise to civilisation 4000 or 5000 years ago. The sketch on the left gives an idea of its general nature. The other antique is an equally primitive flint chisel in an ivory handle—from Africa, & perhaps a relique of tribes forgotten by all the world. Both items were the property of poor Hart Crane, & were given by his mother to Loveman. Loveman ought not to be giving them away–but who can stop that generous soul when he sets out to exercise his generosity?

H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 27 Dec 1932, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.952-953

I also went over to Loveman’s new flat at 17 Middagh Street—where for the first time his various art treasures are adequately display’d. My generous host presented me with two fine museum objects (don’t get envious, O Fellow-Curator!)—to wit, a prehistoric stone eikon from Mexico, & an African flint implement, with primitively graven ivory handle; both from the collection of the late Hart Crane, which Crane’s mother turned over to him.

H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 12 Jan 1933, Letters to James F. Morton 308

It is not clear if this was a tourist tchotchke or something else that Crane had picked up on his travels; while there is mention of Crane participating in a brief archaeological dig, all they reportedly found were “some very interesting chips and pieces of the true Aztec pottery” and “one of those incredible sharp fragments of obsidian, part of a knife blade” (The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932 379-380), neither of which seem to match.

Were these actual artifacts from Crane’s collection? Samuel Loveman would “authenticate” Hart Crane’s sombrero, and Grace Crane would give or sell him Hart Crane’s bookplates, which Loveman would apply to other books and sell as if they came from Hart’s own library. In later life, he developed a reputation for these kinds of swindles, as mentioned by Walter Goldwater, Robert A. Wilson, Joe Nickell, and others. Yet why would Loveman lie to Lovecraft?

Crane continued to pop up occasionally in Lovecraft’s letters throughout the last years of his own life, never often but showing that the poet was not forgotten:

Your defense of personal & clique codes sounds admirable in theory—& of course one cannot be dogmatic one way or the other—but I saw Hart Crane go to pieces little by little in the years after 1922, & reserve the right to maintain an old gentleman’s quizzical skepticism.

H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 7 Apr 1933, Essential Solitude 2.557

And on New Year’s eve he wants me to attend a gathering at his place as I did last year. One of those present will be the mother of the unfortunate Hart Crane. I met her—& Crane’s grandmother also—in Cleveland in 1922. This gathering, I fear, will tend to be something of a bore; but I can’t politely evade it.

H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 26 Dec 1933, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.957

Later in the evening I started for the New Year gathering at Loveman’s, which was attended largely by the same group that was there last year. The mother of the late Hart Crane was present—looking vastly older than when I mer her in Cleveland in 1922.

H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 1 Jan 1934, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.964

I saw the old year out at the Loveman flat—amidst a small gathering which included the mother of the late poet Hart Crane.

H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, c.8-11 Jan 1934, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 509

I read some of the Eastman papers in Harper’s a couple of years ago. There is something in what he says—for when a poet gets too subjective & individual he certainly ceases to have a message for anybody else. Poor Hart Crane (his mother, now visibly an old lady, was at Loveman’s New Year’s gathering) probably justified Eastman’s strictures. Did you notice the analysis of “At Melville’s Tomb”? One can hardly do otherwise than concur with Eastman in his estimate.

H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 4 Feb 1934, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 233

The latter a reference to Max Eastman, “Poets Talking to Themselves,” Harper’s 163, No. 5 (October 1931), which quotes the entirety of Hart Crane’s poem “At Melville’s Tomb” (1926). “Poor Hart Crane” appears to have been Lovecraft’s feeling in truth, for while Lovecraft was a teetotal and homophobic, he seemed to have felt a genuine pity for Crane’s suffering and his end, at least what he knew of it, but not just for Crane himself but what he took Crane to represent: the waste of potential, the decline and degeneration from tremendous promise to self-destruction. In his final reference to Hart Crane in his letters, Lovecraft wrote:

The race will always breed its pitiful odds & ends, & these will always be doubly pitiful when their aberrations are linked with lofty heritage or distinguished intellectual or aesthetic capacity. We weep at a tragedy like the late Hart Crane—but find a saving grain of comedy when aberration is linked with stolidity or mediocrity, as in the case of my unwashed Dunkard caller of an hour ago. What a piece of work is man!

H. P. Lovecraft to Helen V. Sully, 28 Jun 1934, Letters to Wilfred B. Talman 373-374

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late—but
wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.

William Shakespeare, HAMLET, Act 2, Scene II

Samuel Loveman would survive both of his more famous friends, and would be there at the bedside of Grace Crane during her final hour, as she lamented her son. He was there too when, in accordance with her final wishes, her ashes were released from the Brooklyn Bridge which has become a part of Hart Crane’s memory and legend.

The Literary Afterlife of Lovecraft & Crane

The publication of Lovecraft’s letters has probably done greater service to Hart Crane than vice versa; while there are a number of mentions of Crane, including some detailed accounts of their meetings, in Lovecraft’s correspondence, Crane either did not bother to record his side of the experience or he did and those letters are lost to us. After their deaths, both men achieved a kind of fame that eluded them in life, and once again Samuel Loveman was the bridge between both men, a source of memoirs and reminiscence—although regrettably, most of these happened rather long after their deaths, and Loveman’s recollections are not always so full or detailed as might be hoped. To give an example:

JU: […] Somewhere in here Lovecraft comes in, doesn’t he?

SL: Yes, that was a feud. Hart took a dislike to him, and Lovecraft, as a I said a few minutes ago, was a prig and prissy in his choice of language—you would imagine that the vocabulary of the Queen’s English had been manufactured for him for his sole use. I could see where Hart disliked him.

JU: That was in Cleveland where he first met him.

SL: Yes. Then they came together one evening at my apartment on Colombia Heights with that miraculous view [of] the river and New York, and they began to talk astronomy. Lovecraft was very conversant with the subject, had been writing for years a weekly diatribe on the austere heavens. He discussed it with Hart and Hart listened to him, and I thought to myself, “Well, this should do a lot to cement an acquaintanceship, certainly not a friendship.”

Well, after they left, separately each said to me that both were amazed at one another. I don’t know whether Hart’s attacks on Howard Lovecraft were before or after this incident, as the letters convey in the Brom Weber book, but he certainly attacks him.

JU: Yes, he does. Well, Lovecraft didn’t have any great affectation for Crane.

SL: No, no.

JU: But that first time in Cleveland, Lovecraft did seem to like Crane. Was it Lovecraft and you and someone else… Galpin… went down to hear. . . .

SL: Another prig.

JU: You went to hear a concert of music by [Ernest] Bloch, wasn’t it?

SL: Oh, did I? Well, I’ve forgotten that.

JU: At least there’s a letter that says that you and Galpin and Lovecraft and Hart went to hear this concert.

SL: That has escaped me. You see, what seventy-six years does.

“Conversations with Sam” in Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 392-393

Yet it was the brush of greatness which interested biographers. Crane’s biographies tend to mention Lovecraft, Lovecraft’s biographies end to mention Crane. The accuracy of these mentions varied considerably. For instance, compare:

Loveman introduced Lovecraft to members of his literary circle. One was (Harold) Hart Crane (1899-1932), who in his short life earned a repute as a major poet. Like Lovecraft, Crane had a monster-mother—sexually frigid, foolish, possessive, erratic, and unpredictable. Crane himself, when sober, was a man of great charm—a fascinating talker and a born storyteller.

Crane was, however, a drunkard and an active homosexual, who cruised bars to pick up sailors and was sometimes beaten up for his pains. Because of his charm, he was always being asked to people’s houses. When he got drunk, however, he became an appalling guest. He would run naked through the house, screaming threats and obscenities; he chased one hostess with a boomerang, trying to brain her. Or he would pick up his host’s furniture, or throw it out the window. During Lovecraft’s visit to Cleveland, however, Crane was on good behavior.

Another member of the circle was Gordon Hatfield, with whom Crane was feuding; the two spent the evening needling each other. Unlike Crane, Hatfield proclaimed his deviation by patently effeminate mannerisms. Lovecraft later wrote: “Have you seen that precious sissy that I met in Cleveland. . . . I didn’t know whether to kiss it or kill it!”

L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography 172

H. P. Lovecraft, a Cleveland native, writer of horror stories and Gothic tales, fastidious friend of Sam Loveman’s—that “queer Lovecraft person,” Crane called him—had his own assessment of Crane. He’d known Hart Crane in Cleveland back in 1923, and—seeing him here in New York—noted that he seemed now “a little ruddier, a little puffier, and slightly more moustached.” Neither man really cared for the other, and Crane, with his bristling hair, brawling strength, and fox-glint eyes, no doubt frightened Lovecraft as he frightened others. “An egotistical young aesthete,” Lovecraft noted condescendingly, “who has attained some real recognition in The Dial and other modernist organs, and who has an unfortunate predilection for wine when it is red.”

And five weeks later, in early November, on another visit to 110 Columbia Heights to see Sam Loveman, Lovecraft was surprised to find Crane the legend actually sober, but “boasting over the two-day spree he had just slept off, during which he’d been picked up dead drunk off a street in Greenwich Village by the eminent modernist E. E. Cummings—whom he knows well—and put in a homeward taxi.” Poor Crane, Lovecraft summed up, “I hope he’ll sober up with the years, for there’s really good stuff & a bit of genius in him.” “Who asks for me, the Shelley of my age,/Must lay his heart out for my bed and board.” The words, meant for Crane, are Robert Lowell’s, written thirty years later, and give a better sense than Lovecraft’s of who Crane was, this Catullus redivivus, this stalker of sailors, seducing his prey, then scattering “Uncle Sam’s/phony gold-plated laurels to the birds.”

Crane’s two-day spree, if it happened, would have taken place in late October. After all, he had a way of telling the most outrageous stories on himself deadpan for the sake of people like Lovecraft. In any case, he did not record this spree in the letters he sent home.

Paul Mariani, The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane, 165-166

De Camp tends to distort his subject by emphasizing the most extreme anecdotes; for him, Crane and Lovecraft are both freaks. Mariani is more balanced, though he makes a few mistakes—Lovecraft was a Providence native, for all that he met Crane in Cleveland in 1922—and perhaps it is for the best that when James Franco adapted his biography of Crane into a film project (The Broken Tower, 2011) they left Lovecraft out of it.

In truth, Crane scholars seem most interested when Lovecraft’s letters from New York give a glimpse of Crane during that critical period that might be otherwise lacking, while Lovecraft scholars are more interested in the first encounter in Cleveland. The “kiss it or kill it” moment about the “sissy” Gordon Hatfield is the most explicit statement of homophobia that Lovecraft would ever make in his life, and the whole emphasis on masculine vs. feminine behavior—the confusion of gender identity and sexuality—is critical in understanding Lovecraft’s views on sex and gender.

Much of Lovecraft’s reputation as a homophobe rests on that one encounter in Cleveland. It is not a subject that ever comes up in his relation to Hart Crane in New York, with gay friends like Samuel Loveman or R. H. Barlow, and there are only vague intimations when discussing amateur associates like Elsa Gidlow. While there should be no doubt that Lovecraft was homophobic, the scantiness and diffusiveness of the evidence, spread out as it is over three decades worth of letters, is something that sometimes eludes people—but “kiss it or kill it” is clear, concise, and easy to quote.

To understand Lovecraft’s homophobia is also to understand Crane’s homosexuality. Both men were caught up in the early 20th century ideas of maintaining the appearance of masculinity. They both understood (and misunderstood) the social issues of sexuality and gender identity during the 1920s and 30s, a time when simply being homosexual, or gender non-conforming was often not just illegal and met by violence. While it is easy to quote “kiss it or kill it,” this relationship between their views is something that only emerges from the aggregate whole of their published correspondence—to read not just selected quotes from individual letters, but to understand how both Lovecraft and Crane were acting out their roles within a larger social context.

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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