Her Letters to Robert E. Howard: Catherine Lucille Moore

Dear Mr. Howard:

My blessing! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed “Sword-Woman.” It seemed such a pity to leave her just at the threshold of higher adventures. Your favorite trick of slamming the door on a burst of bugles! And leaving one to wonder what happened next and wanting so badly to know. Aren’t there any more stories about Agnes?
—C. L. Moore to Robert E. Howard, 29 Jan 1935, The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard 24

Catherine Lucille Moore burst into the pages of Weird Tales with “Shambleau” (Nov 1933). She was a secretary at the Fletcher Trust Company in her native Indianapolis, Indiana, and engaged to a bank teller named Herbert Ernest Lewis. During the Great Depression, jobs were scarce and her $25 a week was needed to support her family; married women were often expected to be homemakers, and this may be why Moore and her fiance had a long engagement—and it is why, when she began to sell her stories to the pulps for extra cash, she used her initials “C. L.” so that her employers would not discover she had an extra source of income.

By the time C. L. Moore hit the pages of Weird Tales, to immediate acclaim, Robert E. Howard had already become a fixture; his stories of Conan the Cimmerian were still going strong, interspersed with other weird tales and poems, as well as sales to Weird Tales‘ companion magazine The Magic Carpet, and he had just employed an agent, Otis Adelbert Kline, who would help Howard break into many other pulp markets.

Both Moore and Howard had correspondents in common, notably H. P. Lovecraft, but also R. H. Barlow and E. Hoffmann Price; Howard and Moore also shared a friend in Frank Thurston Torbett, a Texan fan of weird fiction. Yet there is nothing in the letters of either of the principles to their friends to suggest of a correspondence between two of the great fantasists of Weird Tales in the ’30s. All that is known to survive of their correspondence is a single letter, dated 29 January 1935…and from that, and a few inferences in the rest of their correspondence to others, is all that we can judge of their exchange.

To begin with, we know that Moore was a fan:

I’d like to read everything Robert E. Howard has ever written. The first story of his I read was WORMS OF THE EARTH, and I’ve been a fanatic ever since. And of course Lovecraft and Price.
—C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow, n. d. [early Apr 1934], MSS John Hay Library

In the October 1934 issue of Weird Tales, readers were treated to both the Conan story “The People of the Black Circle” and “Black God’s Kiss” by C. L. Moore—which introduced her character Jirel of Joiry, a redheaded French swordswoman in a fantastic medieval France. While not as heavy on the action as Howard, Moore’s weird imagination and the fiery disposition of her warrior made an impression on the readers, with comments printed such as:

I (and I’m sure many others) want to hear a great deal more of Jirel. She’s the kind of person I’d like to be myself. A sort of feminine version of Conan the Cimmerian. He, too, is one of my favorites.
—Mary A. Conklin, WT Dec 1934

The character of Jirel may become as famous to us as Conan. I vote her first place.
—Claude H. Cameron, WT Jan 1935

We don’t know exactly what began the exchange of letters; Lovecraft, Price, Barlow, or Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright could all easily have supplied the other’s address for the asking. Near the end of the letter, Moore writes:

Thanks for being flattering about “Black God’s Shadow,” and for letting me read “Sword-Woman.” So see if you can’t find some more about Agnes?
—C. L. Moore to Robert E. Howard, 29 Jan 1935, The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard 27

“Black God’s Shadow,” the second Jirel of Joiry story, was published in the December 1934 issue of Weird Tales, which would have hit the stands in mid-November. Few of Howard’s letters from this period survive, but a letter to August Derleth (11 Dec 1934) mentions the contents of the December Weird Tales. “Sword Woman” was an historical adventure story starring Dark Agnès de Chastillion, a red-haired female warrior-mercenary in 16th century France—with obvious parallels to Jirel of Joiry, although the two were conceived separately. “Sword Woman” is neither set in the East or a weird story, so it would seem unlikely that Farnsworth Wright saw and rejected it, unless it was intended for the never-published third magazine Strange Stories; possibly Howard had intended to send it to Action Stories.

We can only speculate who wrote first. What is clear is that the 29 January letter is not the first letter in the exchange; it is too involved in answering specific points from a previous letter, such as notorious bank robber John Dillinger, who had been shot to death on 22 July 1934:

About Dillinger, it’s not distinction in this part of the country to have known him—practically everyone did. Mooresville, his home town, is only a few miles south of here and happens to be my fiance’s birthplace too. I know several who went to school with him, and in Mooresville the sympathy with him ran very high.
—C. L. Moore to Robert E. Howard, 29 Jan 1935, The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard 24

Howard, who had a fondness for outlaws (at least of a certain sort), had been following news of Dillinger at least somewhat, since he had written to Lovecraft on 24 March 1934 that “Notice they haven’t caught Dillinger yet” (A Means to Freedom 2.724). Presumably he had responded to some comment that Moore had made, possibly regarding his death.

Much of the letter, however, focuses on a mutual love of both Howard and Moore: poetry. In keeping with the theme of warrior-women, Moore thanks Howard for “the original of Mary Ambree,” which suggests Howard copied out the ballad that begins:

WHEN captains courageous, whom death could
Did march to the siege of the city of Gaunt,
They mustered their soldiers by two and by three,
And the foremost in battle was Mary Ambree.

From Moore’s comments, the other snippets of poetry were taken from Kipling (the title of whose novel Captains Courageous is taken from the ballad); Howard had an edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Verse in his library at the time of his death. Other poems Howard quoted include Frederick I. C. Clarke’s “The Fighting Race” (“But his rusty pike’s in the cabin still, With Hessian blood on the blade.”) and G. K. Chesterton’s “The Ballad of the White Horse” (“That bore King Alfred’s battle-sword Broken in his left hand.”) Most, if not all, of the poems are about battle and war, suggesting that they were discussing the theme, possibly as an extension of Jirel and Agnès.

Well, I could go on and one forever on that line, but had better change the subject.
—C. L. Moore to Robert E. Howard, 29 Jan 1935, The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard 25

What’s left of the letter is largely concerned with Howard’s own fiction, especially Conan stories. She mentions “The Devil in Iron” (WT Aug 1934) and “A Witch Shall Be Born” (WT Dec 1934), saying of the latter:

That “Witch” story was pretty strong meat, but perfectly grand. Such a lustiness about your stories when you want them that way. And the witch herself was gorgeous. Odear, I’m consumed with jealousy.
—C. L. Moore to Robert E. Howard, 29 Jan 1935, The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard 24

There is a passing reference to “the new serial, with Conan among the frontiersmen,” which would be a reference to “Beyond the Black River” (WT May-Jun 1935) that Howard had just sold, and accepting his offer for a copy of “The Garden of Fear” (Marvel Tales June 1934). Howard wrote to Lovecraft ca. Dec 1934 a passage which he might have copied, in essence if not word-for-word, in his preceding letter to Moore:

My latest sales to Weird Tales have been a two-part Conan serial: “Beyond the Black River”—a frontier story; and a novelet dealing with Mississippi negroes, etc. “The Moon of Zambebwei”, which I understand will be changed to “The Grisly Horror.” In the Conan story I’ve attempted a new style and setting entirely—abandoned the exotic settings of lost cities, decaying civilizations, golden domes, marble palaces, silk-clad dancing girls, etc., and thrown my story against a back-ground of forests and rivers, log cabins, frontier outposts, buckskin-clad settlers, and painted tribesmen Some day I’m going to try my hand at a longer yarn of the same style, a serial of four or five parts.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, ca. Dec 1934, A Means to Freedom 2.817

Perhaps this precipitated one of the most interesting passages in Moore’s letter, the equivalent to asking Lovecraft if the Necronomicon is real:

Tell me, do  you really think it possible that mankind goes back as far, and thru as many changing times and topographies, as you write about? I understand Lovecraft, for instance, doesn’t take anything he writes at all seriously. But sometimes I have myself half convinced—as those times when I’m alone in the house late at night and am perfectly sure that the entire outside is one solid mass of vampires and were-wolves! It seems rather arbitrary to be hard-headed and say, “Nothing exists but what we can see or feel,” and yet it’s even worse to err on the side of credulity. What’s your opinion?
—C. L. Moore to Robert E. Howard, 29 Jan 1935, The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard 26

Quite a few people would love to read Howard’s answer to that question. This letter to Robert E. Howard predates Moore’s first letter from Lovecraft, so she was repeating what her friend and correspondent R. H. Barlow had said about the Old Gent in Providence. As far as can be ascertained, Howard never mentioned his correspondence with Moore to Lovecraft, Moore never mentioned her correspondence with Howard to Lovecraft, and Lovecraft never mentioned his correspondence with Moore to Howard, but discusses and alludes to his correspondence with Howard to Moore. Whether that means that Howard and Moore corresponded only briefly, and dropped each other after a time—or whether it carried on for the rest of Howard’s brief life, we don’t know.

The implication, from some of her letters to Lovecraft showing ignorance of Howard’s upcoming publications and travels in 1935, suggest that the correspondence may have been sporadic or intermittent (Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 68, 70). Years later, she recalled in an interview:

Do you remember anything in particular about your correspondence with REH?

Moore: We really had such a short period to correspond that I don’t remember much, except that he seemed interested and had a good mind. We had enough common background that we were able to talk to each other, on paper anyway. I think he would have been pleasant to know—just as Lovecraft would’ve.
Chacal #1, 31

On 13 February 1936, her fiance Herbert Ernest Lewis died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Though reported as an accident in the newspapers and in Moore’s letters, the death certificate lists it as a suicide. Moore was severely affected, and Lovecraft rushed to keep her occupied:

Despite my upheaved programme I at once started a letter of what I thought to be the most consoling & useful sort—with sympathetic remarks & citations of others who have bravely pulled out of similar bereavements) gradually giving place to the cheerful discussion of general & impersonal topics in which long time-stretches (thus placing local & individual sorrows at the small end of the telescope) are concerned—answering a letter received early in February. History was the main theme—the dominant topic being Roman Britain & its long decline, as brought up by C L M’s discussion of Talbot Mundy’s “Tros” stories. That, I fancy, is the kind of stuff a bereaved person likes to get from the outside world—sincere sympathy not rubbed in, & a selection of general topics attuned to his interests & quietly reminding him that there is a world which has always gone on & which still goes on despite personal losses. […] I managed to finish & despatch the epistle last Monday. But the tragic accident surely is a beastly shame—far worse than deaths which do not his promising young folk with everything before them.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 11 Mar 1936, O Fortunate Floridian 321

Talbot Mundy, whose Tros of Samothrace was serialized in the pages of Adventure, was a favorite author of Robert E. Howard. What is real is that on 11 June 1936, Robert E. Howard took his own life, also with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Frank Thurston Torbett told Moore; Moore told Lovecraft; Lovecraft told everyone. With Robert E. Howard dead, she wrote to his father Dr. Isaac M. Howard for confirmation…and he wrote back:

I have since received a letter from Dr. Howard, his father, enclosing a note dated May 14 which REH had apparently been saving to send to me. […] The news was like a blow in the face. It’s amazing how real he seemed even through the medium of his letters. I had hoped to see him next year when and if I get that much-talked-of car and make the California trip, but he could scarcely have become more vivid had I known him personally.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 24 Jun 1936, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 130-131

She wrote more to Lovecraft about Howard, but her most important letter was sent to his father:

It was a shock as stunning to me as if I had really known your son, for his letters made him very real to me. […] Nothing that I can say now would help you—I know, for four months ago I too suffered bereavement under very similar circumstances. The young man whom I was to marry this year was accidentally shot in the temple and instantly killed while leaning a gun which he thought unloaded. So I can understand what you are enduring now, and I know that nothing but time will help you find life worth living again. In one respect you are luckier than I, for you have memories of a full and happy life with your wife and son that nothing can take away. […] In the meantime, and until time has brought your comfort, as it is just now beginning to comfort me, there is nothing to say except that all over the United States we are grieving with you, and not only for you but for ourselves.
—C. L. Moore to Dr. I. M. Howard, 25 Jun 1936, The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard 52-53

The letter was published in the Cross Plains Review for 3 July 1936, although they misspelled her name.

We can only guess what else Howard and Moore might have discussed: poetry, philosophy, history, and action were all shared interests. Perhaps Howard showed her his other unpublished Dark Agnès works, or “Red Nails” with the pirate Valeria; perhaps she shared some of her own unpublished fiction, or they discussed Otis Adelbert Kline. Perhaps; unless some cache of letters surfaces, this is all we have…and perhaps we should be grateful that even this letter was saved from the ash heap of history.

The sole surviving letters to Robert E. Howard and Dr. Isaac M. Howard are published in The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard.


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Sonia H. Greene

I first met him at the Boston Convention when the amateur journalists gathered there for this conclave, in 1921. I admired his personality but frankly, at first, not his person.

As he was always trying to find recruits for amateur journalism he offered to send me some amateur literature not only form his own pen but also from the pens of others whose effort he felt was worthy of my perusal; works that appeared in the different amateur journals.

From then on we kept up quite a steady correspondence, and I felt highly flattered when he told me in some of his letters that mine indicated a freshness not born of immaturity, but rather a refreshingness because of originality and the courage of my convictions when I disagreed.

And I disagreed often, not just to be disagreeable, but because I wanted, if possible, to eradicate or partly remove some of his intensely fixed ideas.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 132

Sonia Haft Shafirkin was born to a Jewish family in 1883, in or near Ichnya, in the present-day Ukraine; then the Russian Empire. By the time Sonia was 7 years old, her father had left or deserted the family, and her mother obtained a divorce and emigrated westward. Sonia spent two years in the United Kingdom at school; her mother traveled on to the United States of America, remarried, and sent for her daughter. The homelife was not entirely happy, and her step-father soon put his new stepdaughter to work; Sonia was apprenticed to a milliner at age 13. At age 16, she married a 25-year-old Russian immigrant, Samuel Greene (ne Seckendorff). Her first child, a son, was born the next year and died in infancy. A daughter, Florence Carol Greene, was born in 1903.

The marriage did not last; Samuel Greene died in 1916. Sonia Haft Greene lived in New York continued to climb the ranks of the millinery trade, attended night schools and evening courses, raised her daughter, and helped to care for her mother (now separated from her husband) and two half-siblings. Sonia was draw into societies like the socially progressive Sunrise Club and the Blue Pencil Club, an amateur journalist affiliate where she met James F. Morton. Because of her connections with the BPC, Sonia attended the July 1921 amateur journalists convention in Boston, Massachusetts…and there, met H. P. Lovecraft.

It was not love at first sight, but there was a connection made, and the two began to correspond. We cannot say exactly what Sonia saw in Lovecraft, but consider her circumstances: a widow or divorcee, a single mother of an almost-grown daughter, financially self-sufficient, with literary interests…and here was an intelligent man who no doubt wrote her extremely gentlemanly yet challenging letters, probably filling pages on topics literary and philosophical…and Sonia apparently answered back. While many memoirs speak of Sonia’s beauty, few of them discuss her intelligence and wit…but Lovecraft did.

Lovecraft persuaded her to join the United Amateur Press Association, the amateur journalism group he was associated with, and she generously subscribed $50 to the fund (the equivalent of a month’s rent in many New York apartments at the time). These first letters do not survive, but based on the remarks that appear in Lovecraft’s letters at the time, and Sonia’s own comments, we can get an idea of some of the contents. For example, when Lovecraft wrote:

Galba, yuh’d orta hear what she says about you in her latest 12-pager! […] I never before saw a nut quite like Mme. Greenevsky—it must be Slavonic blood For pure hot air she may have rivals, but the joke is that there is sound sense and profound literary erudition beneath all the nonsense. So she thinks Grandpa is egotistical? Hell! That’s what she told me at the convention—and then added that she never would have wasted her valuable time in trying to convert me if I were not an unusual specimen, or something like that. Her worst trouble is an absent sense of humour—the poor fish thought it was serious egotism when I told her that I despise all mankind and consider myself a cosmic intelligence aloof from the race. In letters Mme. G. is not at all egotistical—I was surprised at the Uriah-Heepness of her written as distinguished from oral arguments. But Holy Yahveh, what floral rhetoric! However, let me not libel an honest and learned thinker, who is really the most remarkable accession which amateurdom has had for some time.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the Gallomo, 31 Aug 1921, Letters to Alfred Galpin 104

Alfred Galpin and Lovecraft had been reading and discussing Frederick Nietzsche (or related works like Schopenhauer’s Studies in Pessimism(1890), and Galpin’s essay “Nietzsche as a Practical Prophet”), and this had apparently spilled over into the letters with Sonia. At the same time that this July-August 1921 correspondence was taking place, Sonia and Lovecraft were planning out a new amateur journal, The Rainbow. The first issue (October 1921) contains a nominal essay by Lovecraft titled “Nietzscheism and Realism,” culled from excerpts from two of his letters to Sonia. It’s difficult to judge Sonia’s exact sentiments from Lovecraft’s letters, but some years later she wrote:

Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
In last evening’s Eagle I was amazed to find that Dr. M.P. McDonald has so far misinterpreted Nietzsche’s philosophy as to state that one “should trample his neighbor down,” and that this is so typically exemplified in the subway, where we find even the most modest girls flailing their arms to get into a much crowded car. I fear Dr. McDonald is interpreting the German professor literally.

The proper interpretation to put upon his philosophy is that if Nietzsche had his way, there would never be such crowded subways and there would be no need for trampling of any kind.

It is appalling how many people read Nietzsche and how few know how to interpret him. Any one who really wishes to understand him should read H. L. Menken’s [sic] “The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.” I would advise the biography by Frederic Halevy; after reading which, the reader will find Nietzsche as a practical prophet rather than a destructive one.

The average American girl or boy will answer, when asked about Nietzsche: “Oh, that’s the guy who is to blame for the war.” Upon further inquiry, “Have you read anything by Nietzsche?” you will hear: “Aw, no. I haven’t and I don’t want to! He’s no good to read about anyway!”

As with Caesar, the good is interred with Nietzsche’s bones, and all that appears evil in the eyes of the nonunderstanding majority is flagrantly and maliciously flaunted into the universe.
Sonia Haft Greene to the Brooklyn Eagle, 10 Feb 1931

In her memoir, Sonia also wrote:

Yet, in one of his earliest letters to me, part of which I incorporated in my second issue of the Rainbow, he indicates the true reasons for being kindly, humane, just and merciful.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 145)

Nietzsche’s work is also notably antisemitic, which may have tied into another subject that they discussed in their letters: the poet Samuel Loveman, who had been re-introduced to amateur journalism through Lovecraft’s efforts.

Long before H. P. and I were married he said to me in a letter when speaking of Loveman, “Loveman is a poet and a literary genius. I have never met him in person, but his letters indicate him to be a man of great learning and cultural background. The only discrepancy I find in him is that his of the Semitic race, a Jew.”

Then I replied that I was a little surprised at H. P.’s discrimination in this instance—that I thought H. P.. to be above such a petty fallacy—that perhaps our own friendship might find itself on the rocks under the circumstances, since I too am of the Hebrew people […]

It was only after several such exchanges of letters that he put the “pianissimo” on his thoughts (perhaps) and curtailed his outbursts of discrimination. In fact, it was after this that our own correspondence became more frequent and more intimate until, as I then believed, H.P. became entirely rid of his prejudices in this direction, and that no more need have been said about them.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 147-148

Lovecraft apparently urged Sonia to write to Loveman as well. At first, Sonia demurred. However, she had occasion to visit Cleveland, where Loveman lived, and met him there. They got on quite well; Lovecraft heard of the trip through Sonia’s letters:

When I wrote to him later I deplored the fact that he, too, could not have been with us; that his presence would have made my happiness complete for that evening, etc.

In reply I found a letter from him at home which was quite warm and appreciative, coming from him, but even the warmth was bountifully intermixed with reservations.

By this time I had two correspondents: H. P. and S. L.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 133

In September 1921, Sonia stopped in Providence while traveling on business, meeting Lovecraft and his aunts and putting the finishing touches on the first issue of The Rainbow, which was published to some acclaim the next month. Their 1921 letters no doubt discussed the contents, and their letters from October 1921 to early 1922 must have discussed the contents of the second issue, which would be published in May 1922:

I am grateful to Mrs. Greene for her editorial in support of my literary policies, as indeed for many instances of a courtesy & generosity seldom found in this degenerate aera. You may be assur’d that I shall not diminish the frequency of the epistles I send her, tho’ I am of opinion that S. Loveman & my grandchild Alfredus deserve much of the credit for her retention in the United. I regret that she hath suffer’d indignites from Mrs. Houtain; whose cast of mind, I suspect, is not exempt from the petty cruelty & fondness for gossip which blemish the humours of the most commonplace females.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 25 Jan 1922, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 194

However, Sonia also began to push another idea in her letters:

Her latest idea is to have a sort of convention of freaks & exotics in New York during the holidays; inviting for two weeks such provisional sages as Loveman, The Chee-ild [Frank Belknap Long, Jr.], & poor Grandpa Theobald [Lovecraft]! Only a sincere enthusiast could thus think of uprooting such outland fixtures from their native hearths!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 21 Sep 1921, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 192

The idea of an amateur get-together in New York was a bit bold, but then Sonia had met both Lovecraft and Loveman separately, and must have known from their letters that Lovecraft had never met Loveman and desired to do so. It took some considerable convincing…but Sonia had considerable charm, and perhaps a secondary motive:

It was his prejudice against minorities, especially Jews, that prompted me to invite H. P. and S. L. to spend some time in New York, so that if H. P. never met a Jew before, I was happy to know that for the first time he would meet two of them, both of whom were favorably cultured and enlightened, and that the favored of the race is not limited to this infinitesimal number.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 148

Lovecraft had met Jewish people before, and Sonia’s hope of curing his prejudices didn’t work. However, he did accept her invitation to visit New York in April 1922 (if only to meet Loveman and visit with friends), and his letters to his aunts go into great detail about the attractions of the city and the graciousness of Sonia as a host. Then he departed for home, and their correspondence resumed.

The second (and last) issue of The Rainbow has a cover date of May 1922; this received a bit less attention than the first, and yet it must have been an expensive production. We’ll never know if it was the lack of reception, the cost, busyness on the part of Sonia and Lovecraft, or something else that caused her to cease publication. Yet their relationship continued after Lovecraft’s first New York adventure—and deepened.

Sonia made occasional visits to Providence, and on a trip to Magnolia, Massachusetts in June 1922, she invited Lovecraft to come along. The visit lasted from 26 June-5 July and resulted in the composition of at least two stories: “The Horror at Martin’s Beach” and “Four O’Clock”, with a third tale apparently unpublished.

The trip also saw the start of a new correspondence circle, the Gremolo (Sonia GREene, James F. MOrton, and H. P. LOvecraft), similar to those that Lovecraft already participated in:

By the way—it looks as though the Galpinian cast-asides are going to found a scholastic salon of their own, for this a.m. there blew into the Magnolia P.O. two bulky duplicate letters for Mme. G. & myself, from good ol’ Mocrates [James F. Morton] in Madisonium. He calls the new circle the Gremolo, & doubtless intends it as the standard refuge for rejected second-raters.  […] Mo gives a cruel anecdote in the new Gremolo, which you must not repeat to SL on pain of death.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 30 Jun 1922, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 226

No letters from Lovecraft to the Gremolo (or Morton or Sonia to the Gremolo) have surfaced, so it’s not clear how long it lasted, or if it differed substantially from Lovecraft’s other letters to Morton. Judging by Lovecraft’s letters to other such correspondence groups, they would probably have focused on literature, philosophy, and amateur affairs of mutual interest. Certainly, Lovecraft would not include anything intimate to letters intended for both Morton and Sonia.

Lovecraft and Sonia had seen quite a bit of each other in those early months of 1922, and Sonia noted:

After my vacation in Magnolia we each went to our respective homes. Then our more intimate correspondence began which led to our marriage.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 138

We have very little idea of what this “intimate correspondence” might have looked like or consisted of. Some of it was no doubt cajoling Lovecraft into additional visits; he went down to New York to visit her again in September 1922. Some of it must have discussed the possibility of marriage, and we have a surviving excerpt from such a letter, which Sonia incorporated into an article as “The Psychic Phenominon [sic] of Love”; this was eventually published, at least Lovecraft’s portion, as “Lovecraft on Love” in the Winter 1971 issue of the Arkham Collector. Sonia notes on the manuscript:

It was Lovecraft’s part of this letter that I believe made me fall in love with him; but he did not carry out his own dictum; time and place, and reversion of some of his thoughts and expressions did not bode for happiness.

The September 1922 visit was another success; Sonia and Lovecraft both wrote to Providence encouraging the aunts to come, and the younger aunt Annie E. P. Gamwell took them up on it. When Lovecraft and his aunt returned to Providence, Sonia found opportunities to visit in October and November, and when passing through in July 1923 she dragged Lovecraft along to a visit to Narragansett Pier. All these visits suggest a deepening relationship, but they were no doubt precipitated and followed by letters and postcards. Another subject would rear its head in 1923: Sonia was elected president of the United Amateur Press Association.

I got a note from Mrs. Greene asking to be relieved of the unexpected & cataclysmic presidential burden, but have written back urging her to hang on for dear life until Saas, P. J. C., & I get the matter thrashed out. If she resigns, the office will automatically fall on that impossible creature Mazurewicz—1st Vice-Pres.—which of course means utter chaos. You see we have a definite presidential succession, unlike The National with its need for directorial action. But—I shall not try to do anything, or to ask S. H. G. to serve, unless I am absolutely assured of the active & strenuous cooperation of Daas & Campbell.
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 23 Sep 1923, Letters to James F. Morton 55-56

Sonia of course had a full-time job, and probably little to no idea what being president of an amateur press association entailed; no doubt her initial generosity had encouraged the votes for her. We have little idea of her personal life during this period, but she was traveling frequently and it appears that it was during this time period (1921-1923) that her daughter Florence (who Lovecraft had met during the 1922 visit) left her home to work as a journalist.

Weird Tales debuted in 1923, and Lovecraft immediately formed a rapport with the editor Edwin Baird and the proprietor J. C. Henneberger. He sold several stories, including Sonia’s “The Horror at Martin’s Beach,” which appeared in the October 1923 issue as “The Invisible Monster”—which was no doubt discussed between them. Sonia’s accounts of this period suggests that the correspondence was prolific and heavy:

I well know that he was not in a position to marry, yet his letters indicated his desire to leave his home town and settle in New York. […]

After two years of almost daily correspondence—H. P. writing me about everything he did and everywhere he went, introducing names of friends and his evaluation of them, sometimes filling 30, 40 and even 50 pages of finely written script—he decided to break away from Providence.

During our few years of correspondence and the many business trips I took to New England I did not fail to mention many of the adverse circumstances that were likely to ensure, but that we would have to work out these problems between us, and if we really cared more for one another than for the problems that might stand in our way, there was no reason why our marriage should not be a success. He thoroughly agreed.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 136

Strange as it may sound, Lovecraft’s prospects at this point were positive: he had a lucrative ghost-writing assignment doing a story for Houdini for Weird Tales (“Imprisoned with the Pharaohs”), there were possibilities for remunerative literary work in New York City, he was doing some considerable revision work for David Van Bush, Sonia had her well-paying job and savings, many of his friends were in New York…while the whole thing was a gamble, there were reasons to be optimistic.

So on 3 March 1924, Sonia H. Greene became Sonia H. Lovecraft.

Being, like me, highly individualised; she found average minds only a source of grating and discomfort, and average people only a bore to escape from—so that in our letters and discussions we were assuming more and more the position of two detached and dissenting secessionists from the bourgeois milieu; a source of encouragement to each other, but fatigued to depression by the stolid grey surface of commonplaceness on all sides and relieved only by such isolated points of light as Sonny Belknap, Mortonius, Loveman, Alfredus, Kleiner, and the like.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 9 Mar 1924, Letters to Family and Family Friends 1.102

When Sonia and Howard were living together, they had no need to writer letters to one another. Much of what we know about their marriage during this period comes from diary-like entries in Howard’s letters to his aunts, and occasionally to others. A full account of their marriage is beyond the scope of this article, but  it is notable that their period of cohabitation was not long. Health troubles landed Sonia in the hospital; financial troubles struck them as well—Sonia’s high paying job was gone, a hat shop venture failed, Howard’s efforts to secure employment failed consistently, and the new couple were forced to economize—and by December 1924, Sonia had determined that she had to take a position in the Midwest.

Howard would not follow.

Our marital life for the next few months was spent on reams of paper washed in rivers of ink.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 140

H. P. Lovecraft’s letters during 1925-1926 give our only insight into their married life. For most of that period, Howard remained in New York while Sonia worked in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Chicago, returning to New York for visits whenever she got the opportunity. His letters to his aunts give the flavor of what must have been their almost exchanges:

Her last letter to me before returning sheds so much light on the hard conditions preceding her loss of the post, that I think I will enclose it for you & L D C [Lillian D. Clark] to read.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie E. P. Gamwell, 26 Feb 1925, Letters to Family and Family Friends 1.254-255

In a letter just recd., S H suggests that I drown the memory of my losses in a trip to Saratoga the middle of next month, whilst her employers are away—possibly working a call on nice old Mr. Hoag.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 28 May 1925, Letters to Family and Family Friends 1.301

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, wrecked, & 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, 27 Aug 1925, Letters to Family and Family Friends 1.367

Another letter from S H, whose prospects seem unfortunately black. Conditions in new place are uncongenial owing to rivalry of those who sell on occasion. She advises me to move—but I stand by my vote & the results of the election & stay!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 22 Oct 1925, Letters to Family and Family Friends 1.457

For his own part, Lovecraft’s responses seemed to include terms of endearment:

For nearly two years our almost daily exchanges of letters consisted of each assuring the other of real appreciation. On his part it was a case of “Oh, it isn’t you, my dear, it is all the others.” “You don’t know how much I appreciate you!” etc. etc.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 149

Howard’s initial enchantment with New York had by this time soured. He had no job and was supported by money given to him by his absent wife and a few dollars from his aunts, living in a neighborhood of the city swiftly becoming a slum, and someone broke into his rooms and stole his clothes—and Sonia’s wicker valise. His letters to others showcase his increasingly xenophobic and racist sentiments regarding New York and its denizens, particularly Jews, immigrants, and Harlem. Profoundly unhappy, his aunts suggested he return home to Providence, and Sonia supported the move:

S H endorses the move most thoroughly—had a marvellously magnanimous letter from her yesterday. She may be in Cleveland 2 wks. Or more to come, so there’s no need of bothering her with the packing.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 1 Apr 1926, Letters to Family and Family Friends 2.585

For the next three years, Howard would remain in Providence, sometimes visited by Sonia, sometimes traveling down to New York to visit with her, sometimes for weeks as when Sonia again attempted to open a hat shop in Brooklyn in 1928. During such periods when they were together, their correspondence must have ceased, or perhaps been limited to cards as Lovecraft took the opportunity to travel to places within reach of New York in search of colonial antiquities. However, this shop failed too, and Lovecraft returned to Providence.

For the next several months we again lived in letters only. He was perfectly willing and even satisfied to live this way, but not I. I began urging a legal separation, in fact, divorce. […] I told him I did everything I could think of to make our marriage a success, but that no marriage could ever be such in letter-writing only; that a close propinquity was necessary for a true marriage. Then he would tell me of a very happy couple whom he knew, where the wife lived with her parents, in Virginia, while the husband lived elsewhere for reasons of illness, and that their marriage was kept intact through letters. My reply was that neither of us was really sick and that I did not wish to be a long-distance wife “enjoying” the company of a long-distance husband by letter-writing only.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 140-141

Howard protested, but eventually acceded to Sonia’s request. No-fault divorce was not available, but under Rhode Island law Howard could file for divorce on the cause of Sonia having abandoned the marriage, and her failure to respond would be proof of the abandonment. While this legal fiction was pursued, Howard failed to sign and file the final decree—so that they were technically still married, even though Sonia believed they were divorced, and Howard uniformly presented himself as such, in the rare occasions when he mentioned his marriage in later years.

After a year and a half of almost daily letter-writing, back and forth, we were finally divorced in 1929, but we still kept up correspondence; this time it was entirely impersonal, but on a friendly basis, and the letters were far and few between until in 1932 I went to Europe. I was almost tempted to invite him along but I knew that since I was no longer his wife he would not have accepted. However, I wrote to him from England, Germany and France, sending him books and pictures of every conceivable scene that I thought might interest him.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 141

Most of our information on Sonia’s life and her correspondence with Howard came through his letters. Now that they were divorced, their correspondence waned, and Lovecraft’s skittishness to talk about his marriage leads to gaps in the record. One rare reference on their correspondence from 1929-1930:

No—you hadn’t previously mentioned the relay’d greetings from the quondam Mme. Theobald; an incident which prompts the usual platitude concerning the microscopic dimensions of this planetary spheroid. My messages from that direction during the past two years have been confin’d to Christmas & birthday cards, but if occasion arises to exchange more verbose greetings, I shall assuredly add your respects & compliments to my own.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, c. Sep 1930, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 264

There must have been periods of greater activity; during Sonia’s 1932 trip to Europe, which led to Lovecraft compiling and revising her notes into a travelogue: “European Glimpses.” She wrote for him to join her in Connecticut in 1933. It may have been at this time that “Alcestis: A Play” was written, if not earlier. It was their last meeting.

After the Hartford and Farmington visit I did not see Howard again, but we still corresponded, on and off, after I came to California; it was here that I soon met Dr. Davis and remained there.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 145-146

Sonia H. Greene married Nathaniel A. Davis in 1936. It is not clear if she ever informed Lovecraft of the marriage, or if by that point they had fallen completely out of touch. Lovecraft’s lists of postcards sent from his Southern travels do not include entries for Sonia. She was apparently not informed of his death by his surviving aunt, Annie E. P. Gamwell, or by any of their mutual friends at that time, and did not learn about it until about a decade later, probably after the death of her third husband in 1946.

As in many cases when discussing Lovecraft’s correspondence, we do not have Sonia’s own letters to Lovecraft to go by. Whether he choose not to keep them or whether he did and they were not preserved after this death is unknown. Certainly, such intimate correspondence as a man might have with his wife might not be something Lovecraft wished preserved for posterity. However, unlike most of his other correspondents, we don’t have almost anything of Lovecraft’s side of the correspondence either.

In her memoir, Sonia states:

I had a trunkful of his letters which he had written me throughout the years but before leaving New York for California I took them to a field and set a match to them. I now have only the one in the Rainbow and one which I received from him after I returned from Europe. But there are still about a dozen picture postal cards that he sent me before our marriage, during and afterward. Some are still of some interest.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 145

As mentioned, Sonia had been largely if not completely out of contact with the world of things Lovecraftian since they parted in 1933. She was not immediately aware of his death, or of the efforts to preserve and publish his fiction and letters, the appointment of R. H. Barlow as his literary executor, the foundation of Arkham House for that purpose in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, or the beginnings of critical and biographical efforts in works such as W. Paul Cook’s In Memoriam: Howard Phillips Lovecraft (Driftwind Press, 1941) and Winfield Townley Scott’s “His Own Most Fantastic Creation: Howard Phillips Lovecraft” (1944). Ultimately, she was made aware of Lovecraft’s demise, posthumous fame, and began to reconnect with friends like Samuel Loveman.

Whether prompted by a friend or on her own initiative, Sonia composed a memoir of her late husband, the raw manuscript of what would become “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” and read part of it to August Derleth in New York in 1947. According to Derleth’s account:

Meanwhile, did I tell you Sonia Lovecraft Davis turned up with some laughable idea of cashing in on HPL’s “fame” and the desire to publish a “frank” book, entitled THE PRIVATE LIFE OF H. P. LOVECRAFT, and quoting generously from his letters. She read me part of the ms. in New York, and in it she has HPL posing as a Jew-baiter (she is Jewish), she says she completely supported HPL for the years 1924 to 1932, and so on, all bare-faced lies. I startled her considerably when I told her we had a detailed account of their life together in HPL’s letters to Mrs. Clark. I also forbade her to use any quotations from HPL’s letters without approval from us, acting for the estate. I told her by all means to write her book and I would read it, but it was pathetically funny; she thought she could get rich on the book. She said it would sell easily a million copies! Can you beat it! I tried to point out that a biographical book on HPL by myself, out two years, had not yet sold 1000 copies, and that book combined two well-known literary names. She thought she should have $500 advance on her book as a gift, and royalties besides! I burst into impolite laughter, I fear.
—August Derleth to R. H. Barlow, 23 Oct 1947, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

One salient point is “quoting generously from his letters.” Arkham House had begun the process of collecting and transcribing letters from Lovecraft’s correspondents for the Selected Letters project, but the first volume would not be published until 1964. The letters that Sonia was quoting must therefore have still been in her possession at least as late as 1947.

Post-World War II, and the exposure of the horrors of the Holocaust, public antisemitism was a vastly different manner than it had been during the interwar period. Derleth’s comments shows he was aware of the potential difficulty if Lovecraft’s antisemitism became well-known. While he did not necessarily speak for Lovecraft’s estate, he had received permission from Lovecraft’s surviving aunt Annie E. P. Gamwell to work with Barlow to publish Lovecraft’s work, and Derleth used this as license to be very protective of both Lovecraft’s intellectual property and his image.

Some correspondence from Sonia survives from this period that sheds light on what happened:

Am I to understand that letters HPL had written to me subsequent to our marriage and those he wrote to me afterwards are not my own private property to do with as I choose? That I must not use them in any way I wish? I am not using material he may have written to some else, only that which he has written to me and for; such as my stories & poems revised by him. Do these, too, belong to you?
—Sonia Davis to August Derleth, 13 Sep 1947, MSS. John Hay Library

To be clear: the writer of a letter still has copyright of the contents, even if physical ownership of the letter belongs to someone else. This seems to be the tack that Derleth was taking: in the pretense that he represented Lovecraft’s estate, he was forbidding her from quoting Lovecraft’s correspondence. This was technically a bluff, since Derleth had no such authority…but legal bluster can be useful to a canny businessman. Derleth must have replied in the affirmative, since Sonia wrote:

So upon reflection I wrote to Mr. Derleth telling him I would have my own publisher do the work and that I would use my story of the “Invisible Monster” as revised by H.P. of mine first as well as some very personal letters and poems of his revision.

In reply he shot back a spec. del. letter that all HP. material belong to the estate of H.P.L. and that “Arkham House” (ie. he) alone had full legal rights to its use; and that I was likely to find that the could would restrain the sale of the work, would confiscate & destroy it.

I have written him stating that I had already offered the material to you, but that I may have to retract the offer if I am to be punished for using letters that were addressed to me personally.

Perhaps I am quite ignorant of the law but I cannot see how these can belong to the Lovecraft estate, to Mr. Barlow (as he stated) or to himself! Personally I no longer feel an interest in my past. Other interests have developed since then. However, because Mr. D. & you and others clamored for HPL’s private life with me, I thought it might be a source of income, and at the same time tell some truths that would throw more light on his character and perhaps on his psychology.

Since I do not know the law regarding these matters and as I have no money to start any “fights” it might be the better part of valor to drop the matter altogether, since while I do not fear Mr. D’s veiled threats and open intimidation I’m not in a position to fight.

Mr. D’s method of “high pressuring” me into doing what he wants is not to my taste. It would be interesting to contact the county clerk in Providence and make sure my reasons to believe that H.P. died intestate. If so, how does the property belong to Barlow and Derleth?
—Sonia Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, 13 Sep 1947, MSS. John Hay Library

Legal intimidation is a tactic because it works; by this point Sonia was 60 years old and was apparently still in, or had re-entered, the workforce after the death of her third husband. Whether or not one chooses to believe that Derleth was acting in what he thought was Lovecraft’s best interests, his accounts of the affair at the time do not reflect well on him:

I’ve heard from various sources in town that Lovecraft’s wife has suddenly put in an appearance and is causing somewhat of a rumpus. Is this true, or is it, as usual, the kind of ill thought out gossip that is prevalent among the inept citizens of the L. A. Fantasy Society?
—Ray Bradbury to August Derleth, 19 Nov 1947, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

Lovecraft’s wife did turn up; she is now a Mrs. Sonia Davis, the widow of the husband (no. 3) she had after HPL. She wrote a biography called THE PRIVATE LIFE OF H. P. LOVECRAFT, and wanted to incorporate a lot of his prejudices as if they were major parts of his life, seen through her Yiddish eyes; she also wanted to include letters of Lovecraft, but we pointed out that the only way she could do that would be with our permission first. We have heard nothing further from her, though I had a talk with her in New York City.
—August Derleth to Ray Bradbury, 21 Nov 1947, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

Given the circumstances, Sonia made a possibly fateful decision:

Here is what I propose to do with the H.P. material. I’ll send you my version of his biography but not his letters. If you find this sufficiently interesting to review for your newspaper you may use it for whatever monetary consideration it is worth to you.

You may revise and edit it to suit yourself, of course, adhering to the general context, but as I shall wish to use it later for publication I trust there will be no trouble in so doing. That is, I wish to sell the story but not the rights to it. Nor do I wish Derleth to make use of any part of it without my permission.

He wants the story and the letters. And as he has stated that the letters belong to the H.P. estate he would probably copy them and return the original.

The entire story is not yet all typed but if you are still interested I shall type it and you may use what you wish.
—Sonia Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, 4 Nov 1947, MSS. John Hay Library

“The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” that we have today is a meandering document, often filled with random remembrances that occur on the page as they occurred to Sonia. Scott heavily edited this manuscript, reorganizing it into a basically chronological narrative of the marriage, retaining most of Sonia’s language and insights, but like the manuscript we have it contains few direct quotes from Lovecraft. The memoir was published as “Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him” published in the Providence Journal 22 Aug 1948. A notable omission in this version of Sonia’s memoir is that it makes no reference to burning a trunk of letters. She does show continued anxiety about the subject:

Derleth told me that I cannot & must not quote H.P. not only from his letters but not even anything he said that might not have been in letters. So that if you can manage to paraphrase, it may be alright. Otherwise Derleth will stop at nothing, to hurt me, even if he had to take me into court. And I’m not in a position to quarrel with him and win, for I have no income other than what I earn.
—Sonia Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, 6 Aug 1948, MSS. John Hay Library

Derleth had no way of knowing Sonia had submitted the manuscript to Scott, and apparently had not heard from her in some weeks after her had made his legal threats in early September 1947. So he wrote to her:

I have so far had no reply to my letter of 18 September. Meanwhile, I hope you are not going ahead regardless of our stipulations to arrange for publication of anything containing writings of any kind, letters or otherwise, of H. P. Lovecraft, thus making it necessary for us to enjoin publication and sale, and to bring suit, which we will certainly do if any manuscript containing works of Lovecraft do not pass through our office for the executor’s permission.

You will be interested to know that we now have in Lovecraft’s own letters to his aunts a complete and detailed account of how things went during his entire married life.
—August Derleth to Sonia Davis, 21 Nov 1947, The Normal Lovecraft 29

Derleth was describing the diary-entry letters, some of which do describe their married life in great detail, although certainly leaving out many things a man might say to his wife, and vice versa. Sonia apparently consulted her friends about what to do.

Enclosed is a letter from (August) Derleth. Do you think he is “shooting in the dark”? Bluffing? I answered, telling him as long as he has H.P.’s letters to his aunts he no longer needs my version of the story.
—Sonia Davis to Samuel Loveman, 30 Nov 1947, The Normal Lovecraft 28

Some of the Sonia/Derleth correspondence is not accessible to scholars at this point. Although the letters for the critical period at the end of 1947 exist, they are apparently in private hands. However, Lovecraft and Derleth scholar John D. Haefele quoted one such letter in one of his publications:

You are at perfect liberty to destroy those letters from Lovecraft without showing them to anyone. …. You are not at liberty to publish any part of them without our permission…
—August Derleth to Sonia Davis, 19 Dec 1947, Lest We Forget 15

This strongly suggests that the holocaust of letters Sonia describes may actually have happened at the end of 1947 or early 1948. There is apparently a reference to burning the letters written on the back of Derleth’s letter of 1 October 1965 (Arkham House Archive), but it is difficult to believe that Sonia would have waited until 1965 to burn a trunk of letters: she suffered a heart attack in Summer 1948, and in 1960 she broke her hip, forcing her to move into a nursing home. Late 1947 or early 1948 may have been the last period when Sonia was physically able to accomplish such destruction without assistance.

Sonia and Derleth reconciled, her Lovecraft memories and revisions printed in Arkham House books (except for Alcestis and European Glimpses), and they remained good friends until her death. Even with the destruction of these years of correspondence, one or two odd survivals apparently remained. “The Psychic Phenominon [sic] of Love” being one:

Before burning 400+ letters of H.P.L.’s I copied part of one, adding my own version. After many years, I came across it, and am sending you a copy for permission to try to sell it. I do not know where I can sell it; but if I may use it and am unable to sell it, I will use it as part of my biography which has been invited by the Library of Special Collections at Brown University which is publishing my late husband’s works, N. A. Davis.
—Sonia Davis to August Derleth, 29 Nov 1966, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

As for the cards that Sonia had sent to Lovecraft over the years, they suffered a similar fate:

Mrs. Gamwell also gave the children about a hundred picture postcards that Sonia had mailed to Howard. These all held  loving, spirited messages to H.P.L. from his sweetheart in New York. Not knowing their possible value in the far-away future, I did not hold on to any of these cards bearing Sonia’s signature, written in her breezy, happy handwriting. It was plain to be seen, from the messages on the cards, that this pretty woman of writing ability—among her other gifts—really liked H.P.L.! And the strange part of it all was that he had not once mentioned his love affair to us…and we were his very good friends.

The children played for hours with the cards, and they eventually went the way all children’s toys go…in the ash-heap!
—Muriel E. Eddy, The Gentleman From Angell Street 17

That is essentially the end of what we know for Sonia H. Greene’s letters to H. P.  Lovecraft. “Lovecraft on Love” and “Nietzscheism and Realism” are the major letter-excerpts that remain; the former has not been reprinted as far as I can determine, while the latter is available in several collections, notably Arkham House’s Miscellaneous Writings and the Necronomicon Press facsimile of The Rainbow.

In some of H. P. L.’s letters to me he often spoke of reincarnation, but I do not think he believed in it.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 150

We are so fortunate, as readers and scholars, that so many of Lovecraft’s letters have survived. Not only for what they tell us about Lovecraft himself, but about the people he interacted with, the lives and relationships he had with women like Sonia H. Greene. Through his surviving letters to his aunts and friends, we have a deeper, more complete idea of his marriage and his critical formative period in New York. She was a critical part of his life, and we would not know as much as we do about Sonia without his letters.

Yet, there is always that regret that we couldn’t know more. That decisions were made which cost us that inside glimpse at her life with Lovecraft, her love affair with a man who, while he would go on to become a legend, was at once just a husband trying to make the best of it in the big city…and things didn’t work out. They grew apart. The letters and postcards just stopped one day.

As they must. No one lives forever, no relationship lasts forever. Normally when we look at the correspondence with Lovecraft, the story we tell really stops when Lovecraft dies; but Sonia’s story went on…and her story and his are intimately intertwined, even in death.


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Annie Emeline Phillips Gamwell

My other aunt was yet a very young lady when I first began to observe events around me. She was rather a favourite in the younger social set, & brought the principal touch of gayety to a rather conservative household. To the sprightly conversation & repartee of this younger generation, I owe  my first lessons in the school of Pope. I could sense the artificiality of the atmosphere, & often strove to ape the airs & affectations of those whom I observed & studied. I extracted not a little celebrity & egotism from my mimicry of various types of callers; particularly one Edward F. Gamwell, who next to my grandfather was my ideal male. I was infinitely delighted when this individual (then a Brown student) decided upon a lasting affiliation with the family. The engagement of my aunt & Mr. Gamwell, & the customary levity of the younger set in their good-natured raillery of the two, imparted to me a curiously worldly cynicism regarding sentimental matters, & forever turned my Muse from the field which you so gracefully adore.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 16 Nov 1916, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 64

Anna Emeline Gamwell was the youngest of the five children of Whipple Van Buren Phillips and Rhoby Alzada (Place) Phillips. She was born 10 July 1866, the year after the American Civil War ended, and a decade after her oldest sister, Lillian Delora Phillips. Her formal education occurred at Miss Abbott’s School for Young Ladies in Providence, graduating in the class of 1885 at 19 years old. It is not clear if she was employed after graduating, but for the next twelve years Annie continued to live with her parents and family.

She was still present in the household when her second-oldest sister Sarah Susan Phillips married Winfield Scott Lovecraft in 1889, and when her nephew Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in the family home in 1890. Winfield was institutionalized for general paresis (late-stage syphilis) in 1893, and so Howard’s earliest memories of his aunt would have been from this period, growing up with her in the family home.

Alone, [Joel Dorman Steele] covered half the major sciences with his “fourteen weeks in Astronomy”, ditto Geology, Chemistry, Physics, Botany, Physiology, Zoölogy….& more, for all I know (these being the ones I have)….& in conjunction with his wife, Esther Baker Steele, he prepared for A. S. Barnes & Co. the series of histories (Ancient, Mediaeval-Modern, Greek, Roman, French, American, &c. &c.) known as Barnes’ Brief Histories. When my younger aunt was in school she had about all of these books, & I seized on them myself—as they reposed on attic shelves—when I was very young, later picking up a few which she had not preserved.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Wilfred Blanch Talman, Dec 1931, Letters to Wilfred B. Talman 190

She was still in the household in the 1890s when the family fortunes began to shift:

[…] the reminder of old events took her back in fancy to that trying period in the earlier 1890’s when the first dam broke. The telegram to my grandfather announcing the bad news came at midnight, & she was the only person in the house who was wakened by the doorbell. She signed for the message & waked my grandfather—& he did not get much sleep during the rest of the night!
—H. P. Lovecraft to F. Lee Baldwin, 23 Dec 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 119-120

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The Boston Glove, 4 June 1897, 9

On 3 June 1897, Annie married Edward Francis Gamwell, a newspaperman who worked as city editor of the Cambridge Chronicle (1896-1901), then editor and proprietor of the Cambridge Tribune (1901-1912), and editor of the Budget and American Cultivator (1913-1915). She moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband, and gave birth to two children: Phillips Gamwell in 1898, and Marion Roby Gamwell (1900), who died just five days after birth.

Early letters must exist from a young H. P. Lovecraft to his aunt’s household, for Howard was fond of his young cousin despite the eight years that separated them, but these letters are no longer extent. At some point in his teens, however, Phillip Gamwell contracted tuberculosis. In October 1916, Annie took her son to Roswell, Colorado to stay with her in-laws, in hopes that the climate would help arrest his illness. Phillips Gamwell died on 31 December 1916. Annie and her husband separated, and she returned to Providence to stay with her widowed brother Edwin Phillips.

In 1904 Whipple Phillips had died, and the family home had been broken up. Howard Lovecraft and his mother Susie lived together in a house on the same street, and were still there when Annie returned to the city. Lovecraft had failed to graduate highschool, or to find employment; but he had emerged into the world of amateur journalism, where his literary ability was quickly making a splash. Edwin Phillips died in 1918, and from this point on Annie appears to have lived in rented quarters in Providence. In 1919, perhaps driven by financial concerns, Susie Lovecraft’s health broke down, and she was confined to Butler Hospital, where Winfield Lovecraft had died in 1898. Annie and her elder sister Lillian began to keep house for their nephew; Annie also worked, the 1920 census records Annie Gamwell working as a public school teacher, and she was also librarian in Col. George Shepley’s private collection of Rhode Islandiana for at least some period.

The first surviving letter from H. P. Lovecraft to his aunt Annie Emeline Phillips Gamwell is dated 19 August 1921—four months after the death of Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft at Butler Hospital. Howard had gone to Boston for the National Amateur Press Association convention, his first trip away from home as an adult. The letters give a deep and in-depth account of the whole convention, though curiously he does not mention meeting Sonia Haft Greene, a divorced Jewish Russian immigrant who had joined amateur journalism.

Those early letters set the tone; when in Providence, Howard and his aunts were in close contact, when he traveled afar, they kept in touch by frequent, often detailed letters, which assumed a diary-like character. The courtship between Howard and Sonia proceeded across rivers of ink and a number of visits between 1921-1924. Lovecraft’s aunts met Sonia during this period, and it appears that Annie and Sonia became particularly close. Why isn’t exactly clear; Lovecraft’s letters contain frequent mentions of Annie’s friends and alludes to many social activities that suggest Annie was the more gregarious and outgoing of the two aunts, and the more able and prone to travel. Annie actually visited Sonia and Howard during a trip to New York, which occasioned Sonia to pen a note to her:

Darling,
Ten minutes after your special to Howard I am rushing this off to you. Gee! I’m so glad you can come! For the length of time you can stay, can be decided on after you get here.

It doesn’t make any difference about my own lack of time just now—because Howard and Belknap and maybe Morton can take you to places of interest in the daytime and you can rest comfortably in the evenings talking to me, while Howard can go out if he wishes or remain with us.

And on Saturday evening and Sunday the three of us can have a perfectly lovely time[.]

My Dear, I do hope you can stay a long time! Who knows? I’m a regular female Micawber—something unexpected may happen—pleasureable [sic] and beneficial so that you can remain here.

I just can’t wait until you get here.

With eager and pleasureable anticipation

I am
Lovingly Yours
Sonia
—Sonia H. Greene to Annie E. P. Gamwell, 24 Sep 1922, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.73

For his part, Howard noted:

For friendliness and generosity she sure beats hell—she is so stuck on my younger aunt Mrs. Gamwell, that she’s trying to get her to come to N.Y. and permanently share her abode! And strange to say, my aunt likes her immensely despite a racial and social chasm which she doesn’t often bridge.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 21 Jun 1922, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 102-103

Perhaps they just got along. Or perhaps Sonia was already thinking of Lovecraft as more than just a good friend and wanted to be friends with her potential in-laws. It might have been during this particular trip when Sonia alleges that Annie confided certain things to her about the family:

No doubt some sexual admonitions arose also, for the entire family, according to what Sonia recalls Annie Gamwell telling her, knew of Winfield Lovecraft’s paresis, and the adventures with prostitutes and women on his lengthy travels that gave him his affliction. In fact, Annie told Sonia prior to her marrying HPL that they could not have children—in fact this was a warning that Annie was giving to Sonia, and to me her choice of words was interesting—could not instead of should not.
—R. Alain Everts, Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Sex

How much we can trust Everts’ second- or third-hand information is unclear; Sonia herself does not make this statement in her memoir The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft, nor has it been published elsewhere, nor did Annie make any reference to it after Howard’s death. If Annie did confide this information, it did not stop the sudden engagement and marriage of Howard and Sonia in 1924—nor were Annie and Lillian informed until after the marriage had been completed.

Lillian and Annie were apparently in close contact during this period, and Lovecraft’s letters to both of his aunts are nearly interchangeable in picking up the diary where it had left off earlier. The elder sister, Lillian, was living at 598 Angell St., while Annie apparently kept her own separate quarters.

By 1926, Sonia and Howard separated, and he returned to Providence. Sonia in her memoir claims that the aunts made it clear that Sonia could not be seen to support her husband in Providence; it is not clear how to reconcile this with the apparently friendly relationship between Sonia and Annie c.1922-1925—but circumstances can change. Lillian was older, and possibly more conservative; Annie was more tied in to Providence’s social life, and thus perhaps more conscious of social status. We don’t know.

Initially, Howard apparently lived apart from both his aunts, but very soon after his return Lillian took ill and it fell on Howard to assist her until a nurse could be obtained. Why Annie could not fulfill this function is unclear (possibly age, she was 60 years old in 1926). If she was still employed at the time, it might explain why she left the care of her elder sister to her nephew. Soon, Lillian and Howard would combine households at 10 Barnes St., while his younger aunt continued to live in her own quarters.

Annie and Howard were not in any way distant, however. Like her nephew, Annie had the travel bug, and liked to visit places, either on her own or in the company of her nephew. In October 1926 they went on a tour of locations related to the family, including the village of Greene, Rhode Island which Whipple Phillips had renamed, the Ionic Lodge No. 28 he had founded, the house where Lillian was born, and other such sites connected to their family. On her own, Annie Gamwell would travel south to Atlantic City and Florida, and north to Ogunquit, Maine. It is apparent from Lovecraft’s letters that Annie would also write while on her travels, as he himself would do.

Annie was also, like her nephew, very attached to the family home and better days, which might be shown by two incidents, the first reported by Sonia:

Upon one of my trips to Providence before H. P. and I were married, Mrs. Gamwell and he took me to see the old homestead, with its beautiful, spacious grounds and huge stables (this was before it was turned into a modern office building), three sides of which today form a street with many houses. With still a great deal of regret and much pride Mrs. Gamwell showed me the horse-block at the cub, and lovingly ran her hand over it. It was twilight at the time and I was not quite able to see distinctly, but when she turned her head away, I think it was to hide the tears that welled up in her eyes.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 120.

Roughly a decade later, in 1932 the stables were torn down:

my surviving aunt, then a small girl, put a tin box of records into the unfinish’d walls, to be exhum’d & studied by the archaeologists of a fabulous posterity. Alas that she shou’d live to see its destruction & reclaim the records herself! Last summer, when the workmen had it partly razed, she went over & looked in the place where she had put the records 51 years before. They were still there—Harsford’s Baking Powder box rusted but intact, & the contents only slightly touched by the mould of intervening aeons. My aunt’s tintype, & that of a youthful friend (now dead) quite decipherable, & their messages to a future civilisation legible in every part. She still has the box—but alas, we have no hope of erecting another daily castle in which to reincorporate it with a XX century postscript!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 27 Oct 1932, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 272

In another letter, Lovecraft described the contents of the time capsule the 15-year-old Annie had secreted as “her tintype, a newspaper page, and a couple of ‘to whom it may concern’ letters” (LMM 311).

Lillian Delora Phillips Clark died on 3 July 1932. Her illness and the attendant costs had put a crunch on the family finances; Lovecraft brought in little money with his writing and revision work, and the residue of the monies inherited from Whipple Phillips & other estates must have been seriously depleted. Lovecraft wrote:

My aunt has always been the family banker, and now that she is down I have charge of all papers & accounts, & can see in stark plainness the utter desperateness of our financial situation.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 24 Jun 1933, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 292

For reasons of economy, Howard and Annie would need to find some joint residence. Relatively soon, they found one:

My aunt’s friend—a high-school teacher of German—had long wanted her to move in above her if ever the flat should be vacant. On May 1st it did become vacant, & my aunt was duly informed. We looked it over, found it would be ideal for both, & at once clinched the bargain.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 31 May 1933, Letters with Donald & Howard Wandrei 303

So Annie and Howard moved into 66 College St., which would be Lovecraft’s final home. He was very happy to at last be in a Colonial house, and family furniture was unearthed from storage and the household set up…but not without a snag.

On June 14, before the complete settlement of our new abode, my aunt broke her ankle through a slip on the stairs while descending to answer the doorbell during my absence. Doctors….ambulance to R. I. Hospital…..x-ray…..setting under aether…..plaster cast…..room in Ward K…..prospect of being in bed six weeks & on crutches several more…….& a financial strain utterly ruinous to us at the present juncture! Such is life. Of course there is no danger or actual illness, but the restriction to bed is accursedly unpleasant & productive of backaches. After another week my aunt will probably be brought home with a nurse. She reads, writes notes, & eats fairly well—very well, in fact, today. I call at the hospital each afternoon. Naturally the disaster has kept me overwhelmingly busy—with the house in its unsettled state & everything in the air.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 24 Jun 1933, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 289

She evidently mistook 2 steps (an isolated pair, before the staircase turns for the main descent) for one, & landed with a disastrous thud. For a long time she thought the trouble was only a sprain, so that she simply sat still on the staircase talking with her caller & waiting for the ache to subside. At last, however, the pain caused her to summon a physician “just to be on the safe side”–& he, diagnosing the matter at once, imparted the bad news & turned her over to a specialist. I fancy the patient will be walking on her own feet by Chistmas–though twinges & awkwardness will probably persist much longer.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 5 Oct 1933, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge  256

Howard was back to nursing an aunt again, with the concomitant disruption of his own writing and no ability to travel—but what else was there to do? They were all the immediate family that either had left. As before, Lovecraft tracked his aunt’s progressive recovery in his letters:

Her plaster cast came off last Thursday, but the doctor wishes her to remain in bed for a while before attempting locomotion or crutches.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 8 Aug 1933, O Fortunate Floridian! 72

Now that her cast is off, she has trouble about blood rushing to the injured foot when it is lowered from an horizontal position–hence is not yet about on crutches.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 21 Aug 1933, OFF 76

My aunt gave me a birthday present of a week’s emancipation from nursing responsibilities—by getting others to come in afternoons—& I have hastened to utilise my freedom in snatching at least one real trip from the brief & waning summer!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 3 Sep 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 437

My aunt is vastly improved—all around the house on a cane, & occasionally gets downstairs & out in the garden. The nurse went Sept. 13, & I am now much less tied down than I was. We’ve installed an electrical device for opening the front door from upstairs—which is very useful when I’m not available for bell-answering. Just now she is about to attempt a motor ride in a friend’s car—her first large-scale glimpse of the outside world since June 14.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, Sep 1933, OFF 79

I am glad to say that my aunt is now vastly better—out everywhere with a single cane, & all around the house with no cane at all. Since she has assumed charge of domestic matters, the house begins to look infinitely more home-like—curtains hung, more old family furniture brought out of storage, & so on.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Arthur Harris, 24 Dec 1933, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 288

Since my aunt is now wholly on her feet again, & able to be alone in the house, the one doubtful element at the end is finances.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 10 Feb 1934, OFF 106

Annie’s recovered mobility freed Lovecraft to travel, including his extensive trip to Florida in 1934 to stay with the Barlows in DeLand. We have little idea of her personal life, except through Lovecraft’s letters. She read newspapers and clipped articles for him, borrowed books from the library and read them, watched films at the cinema, listened to the radio, and took her meals from the nearby boarding house. When guests traveled to Providence to meet Lovecraft from 1932-1937, she would have met them—including R. H. Barlow, Helen V. Sully, Harry K. Brobst, and Kenneth Sterling. Her travels resumed, including trips to Ogunquit, Maine and Marblehead, Massachusetts.

By the end 1934, aunt and nephew were ensconced in cozy domesticity:

My aunt & I had an exceptionally pleasant Christmas, & I hope the same is true of yourself. We had a tree for the first time in over a quarter of a century. […] We began the day most auspiciously by listening to the British Empire broadcast—which I hope you did not miss. […] I turned down the dollar bill that was tied on top of one of my gifts […] Later in the day came a turkey feast at the boarding house across the back garden (home of the late Sam Perkins), a general unveiling of gifts, & a session of conversation & contemplation by candlelight & tree-light.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 29 Dec 1934, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 285

1935 went well too. Lovecraft made what would be his final trip to Florida. In the fall & winter, Annie and her nephew would attend a series of public speakers at nearby Brown University on a diverse array of subjects, some of which found their way into his letters. Lovecraft’s letters to his aunt while on his travels continue, but lose a degree of detail; perhaps the diary-entries were more important to Lillian, who was housebound for prolonged periods. Perhaps his correspondence had simply grown too unmanageable; increasingly, letters from 1935-1936 include portions copied between multiple correspondents, showing how Lovecraft was working swiftly.

In 1936 illness hit again.

Following my own attack of grippe my aunt came down with an infinitely severer version of the same curst malady, so that since Feby. 17 I have had no time to be aught save a combined nurse, butler, & errand boy. And no daylight in sight—indeed, complications seem likely to prolong the siege, & perhaps to necessitate my aunt’s sojourn at an hospital for a while…thus repeating the chaos of June-July ‘33.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 11 Mar 1936, OFF 320-321

Howard uniformly describes this illness as “grippe,” but Annie Gamwell quickly required hospitalization. Her death certificate notes that her right breast was surgically removed in 1936, suggesting that she was actually suffering from breast cancer and required a mastectomy, and subsequent stay in a convalescent home and nursing. During this time, Lovecraft gained closer contact with some of her aunt’s friends, notably Bertha Rausch, Mayte Sutton, and Marian F. Bonner, who would become correspondents. These women, at least, may have known the truth of Annie’s illness.

My aunt was in excellent spirits, & seemed to be making a fine recovery. She had just had an adequate duck dinner, & was completing the ice cream dessert when I arrived. Of course the whole experience is not a pleasant one—there has been pain (although the etherisation, conducted under modern conditions, was wholly free from unpleasantness & nausea), & there is still discomfort from the constant reclining in a fixed position; but everything is progressing according to schedule, & Dr. Kingman—whom I called up the other day—considers the case very satisfactory.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Marian F. Bonner, 22 Mar 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.1011

Let me say that my aunt is doing very well at the hospital—now taking good meals, & sitting up each day a little. Yesterday morning she was wheeled on the sun porch for a glimpse of the park-like grounds. I call on alternate days, but so far she has received no other visitors. She still has, of course, much discomfort—digestive stress, sleeplessness, & the irritation of reclining in one fixed position. The length of her stay is not yet certain—but she likes this hospital so much better than the one where she was in 1933 that she has not the same nervous anxiety to get away. Her present abode is on the same grounds as the other hospital, but is a wholly different building—only remotely connected with the R. I. Hospital proper. It is a select institution—the best hospital in the state—called the Jane Brown Memorial […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 27 Mar 1936, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 327

I believe you last heard from me in early March, when my aunt was about to go to the hospital. She went on the 17th—as it to celebrate the festival of Hibernia’s saint—& was there for three solid weeks. Meanwhile I had to act as her secretary, messenger, telephone-clerk, & what the hell—so that the confusion which I previously described increased to the utter, ultimate breaking-point. […] Well—my aunt left the hospital April 7, & spent two weeks at a convalescent home—returning to 66 a week ago yesterday. She is much better, & takes walks every pleasant day with my assistance; but it may be some time before her health will let her perform all the chores of 66 without coöperation.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 29 Apr 1936, OFF 327

On Tuesday, April 7, at 4 p.m., the patient left the gas-house district by motor to complete here convalescence at Dorcus Convalescent Home, 32, Blackstone Blvd. (cor Irving Ave.) (Tel. PL 3485), an extremely prepossessing private retreat whose domestic atmosphere & favourable situation ought to aid greatly in promoting rapid recovery. After a trial of a ground-floor room (which proved too noisy), the patient is now settled in a really delightful second-floor room at the front of the house, with a door leading out upon a screened porch which commands a fine view of the boulevard. The edifice is a relique of the 189’s, but makes up in comfort what it lacks in taste. The patient, though missing the detailed & instantaneous service provided by the hospital, is getting to like it better & better—& indeed finds the cuisine even superior to Aunt Jane Brown’s. When I called yesterday afternoon she seemed in fine shape indeed, & ate her dinner at a table while seated on the edge of the bed. She continues to welcome callers–the best hour being in the morning at any time after 10, & the second-best being in the afternoon betwixt 3 & 4. The mid-day period is devoted to a siesta—a habit she ought to continue after her return to the Garden House.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maran F. Bonner, 9 Apr 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.1019

My aunt continues to improve, but I am about ‘all in’—on the verge of some sort of nervous collapse, & with the worst digestive trouble since the autumn of 1934.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 24 Jun 1936, Letters with Donald & Howard Wandrei 351

Once again, Lovecraft’s letters track his aunt’s recovery…but he had no real ability to travel, and his own health continued to worsen. Due to the fact that they were seeing each other practically every day, there are very few letters for 1936-1937, though he kept up a diary for his aunt for the period of her hospitalization. They had a Christmas tree again for 1936, and one mutual friend wrote:

At Christmas time, I would get his help to “smuggle in” my present to his aunt. I can clearly remember the three of us sitting around their tiny Christmas Tree.
—Marion F. Bonner, “Miscellaneous Impressions of H. P. L.” (1945) in Ave Atque Vale 433

His illness worsened in 1937, which he described to his friends as “the grippe,” though in truth it was cancer in its terminal stages. In his 1937 letters, Lovecraft continues to refer to his aunt:

My aunt has also suffered from a touch of grippe.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 17 Feb 1937, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 398

About 79 letters, notes, and postcards from H. P. Lovecraft to his aunt Annie Gamwell survive at the John Hay Library and in the Arkham House Transcripts. Only three of these letters were published, in abridged form, in the Selected Letters (Arkham House), a few in Letters from New York (Night Shade Books). 364 letters between Lovecraft and his aunts, all that are known to survive, are published in the two volumes of Letters to Family & Family Friends (2020, Hippocampus Press).

Two letters from Annie to Lovecraft survive: 12 June 1935 and 21 July 1935; in addition to this, Annie has signed a number of joint notes and letters. Two letters is not much by which to judge her side of the correspondence, but the letters seem to reflect a similar attitude toward letter writing as Lovecraft himself expressed in his letters to her: full of details of daily life, interesting encounters, homely minutiae.

I’ll shut up now.
All love & best wishes
Aunt Annie
—Annie Gamwell to H. P. Lovecraft, 21 July 1935

More of Annie’s correspondence survives from after her nephew’s death. As the heir to his estate, she became the focus of interest from August Derleth & Donald Wandrei (who would found Arkham House to publish Lovecraft’s work), R. H. Barlow (who would be his literary executor), and Lovecrat’s myriad correspondents. The positions of aunt and nephew were now reversed, with Annie now having to handle Lovecraft’s correspondence, as he had done for her during her hospitalizations in 1933 and 1936.

I know how much store Mrs. Gamwell set by him, and how much she missed him after his death.
—Marion F. Bonner, “Miscellaneous Impressions of H. P. L.” (1945)

With the death of her own children and now her nephew, the branch of the family descended from Whipple Phillips and Rhoby Place was coming to its end. Annie’s heirs would be cousins, the bits and pieces of family property distributed among them. Annie Emeline Phillips Gamwell died 29 January 1941. She was buried in the family plot at Swan Point Cemetery, with the remains of her children.


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Lillian Delora Phillips Clark

The children of Whipple and Rhoby Phillips are Lillian D., now wife of Dr. Franklin C. Clark of Providence; Sarah S, mother of the autobiographer; Edwin E.; and Anna, now wife of Mr. Edward Gamwell, Associate Editor of The Boston Budget and Beacon. My mother and Aunt Lillian were both educated at the Wheaton Seminary in Norton, Massachusetts, and are both accomplished landscape painters in oil. My Aunt Lillian also attended the State Normal School, and was for some time a teacher.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 1 Jan 1915, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 43-44

The story of the correspondence of H. P. Lovecraft and his aunt Lillian Delora Phillips Clark is the story of Lillian herself; for almost everything we know about her, beside some impersonal records and statistics, come from their correspondence, and from Lovecraft’s mentions of his aunt in his letters to others. In many ways, we can only see Lillian through Lovecraft—as he saw her, and presented her to his friends and loved ones.

Lillian Delora Phillips was born on 20 April 1856, the eldest of the five children of Whipple Van Buren Phillips and his wife Robie Alzada Phillips (née Place). She was educated at the Wheaton Seminary (1872-1873) and attended the State Normal School (c.1874-1875), although there is no record that she took a degree. Nineteen years old, intelligent and educated, Lillian apparently began work as a teacher, although records of where and when she was employed are no longer extant. She lived with her family for several through at least 1881. She was likely still living at home in 1889 when her younger sister Sarah Susan Phillips married Winfield Scott Lovecraft, and when her nephew Howard Phillips Lovecraft entered the world. Letters from Lovecraft’s grandfather in 1895 and 1899 both refer to “Lillie,” attesting to her continued presence in, or at least near the household.

All of Lillian’s surviving younger siblings (Emeline Phillips died in childhood) married before her (although strangely, brother Edward married his wife Martha in 1894 and 1903), but in 1902 at age 46 she married Dr. Franklin Chase Clark—and no doubt, finally moved out of the family household, if she hadn’t already. The death of her father Whipple Phillips in 1904 caused the breakup of the household at 454 Angell St. in Providence—Susan and Howard Lovecraft moved to 598 Angell St., and most of the family furniture and assets of Whipple’s estate were broken up among the surviving children. Still, “Aunt Lillian” remained young Howard Lovecraft’s closest relative beside his mother, and no doubt they kept in touch with visits or cards over the next fifteen years, as Howard grew. Her husband, Dr. Clark, was one of the few men of his generation left to stand as a parental figure for Lovecraft. Of these childhood years, Lovecraft would write:

My two aunts presented rather a contrast. The elder was (& still is) a devotee of science & literature. She was a potent influence, I think, in turning my fancy toward the classics, while my old love of chemistry also arise from her remarks on that science. She was (though she has ceased to paint now) an artist of great power. When she married Dr. Clark, she proved the means of introducing me to the most substantial classical element of all! […] My predilection for natural science, fostered by my Aunt Lillian, took form in a love for chemistry.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 16 Nov 1916, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 64, 69

In 1915, Dr. Clark died. The marriage was childless, not surprising given their respective ages. Lillian moved into a series of rented rooms; much of this period (1915-1919) is unclear as to what she was doing, or if she had any occupation in Providence. In 1919, Susie Lovecraft suffered a breakdown and was admitted to Butler Hospital; her sister Annie Gamwell moved into 598 Angell St. with Lovecraft, and Lillian must have been by as well, although 1919-1920 she was working and living as a caregiver or housekeeper at 135 Benefit St., which Lovecraft visited. This house would be the model for “The Shunned House.”

The death of Lovecraft’s mother in 1921 precipitated his travels, first to Boston and then to New York, on amateur affairs and his first letters to Lillian and Annie are from this period. It was during this period when Lovecraft was courting Sonia H. Greene that age and affliction began to tell on Lillian:

My aunt (not the one you saw, but the elder & 598-governing one) became prostrate with grippe the very day after I wrote you—I guess the two shows were two or too much for her—& Fortune depressed the dignity of a Theobaldus to the ignomin of domestick exertion. In fine, I had to serve as a sort of composite nurse & housekeeper, even descending to the depths of preparing food & cleansing & dehydrating china & silver….but let us not think of such demeaning practicalities.
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 25 Mar 1923, Letters to James F. Morton 31

As with many cases of “la grippe,” in Lovecraft’s letters regarding his aunts, it isn’t clear if this was influenza or some other illness. The 67-year-old aunt was the principal recipient of Howard’s surviving letters to his aunts, describing in detail his first and subsequent visits to New York…and no doubt tremendously surprised in early 1924 when her nephew announced via letter his marriage to Sonia H. Greene, and consequent move to New York City. Lovecraft’s letters to his aunts quickly assume a diary-like character, interrupted only when one or the other of the aunts was actually down there visiting Howard, and hence there was no need to write.

I startled her considerably when I told her we had a detailed account of their life together in HPL’s letters to Mrs. Clark.
—August Derleth to R. H. Barlow, 23 Oct 1947, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

Howard and Sonia separated in 1926, and Howard returned to Providence. The timing would prove to be fortunate; Lillian’s health had begun to decline:

On May 16 my elder aunt—Mrs. Clark—got tooken with a spasm of intercostal neuralgia; & although at no time in any danger, was confined absolutely to her bed until a day or two ago. At first, before a good nurse could be obtain’d, I had to stay over at her place day & night; going home only to collect my mail; but eventually we got a competent daughter of Hygeia—a h’elderly Cockney lydy nymed Missus ‘Arrrison, oo’s ‘ad mooch h’experience a-treatin of sech cyses—so that all I have to do now is bring in meals, run grocery & pharmacy errands, & stick around for three hours in the h’arfternoon, w’en Mrs. ‘Arrison tykes ‘er h’outin’. A coupla days ago my aunt sat up for the first time, & yesterday she staged a pedestrian experiment which might be called quite successful if you don’t judge it by your Pat. Ramblers. Within a month I hope she will be able to move over here.
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 10 Jun 1926, Letters to James F. Morton 108

Howard and Lillian would combine households at 10 Barnes St. from 1926 through 1932. Lovecraft’s letters to others are unspecific about Lillian’s illness; sometimes attributing them to intercostal neuralgia, lumbago, and digestive troubles, but they obviously occasioned considerable pain, limited movement, and during the worst spells required constant nursing. Some of Lovecraft’s letters to Elizabeth Toldridge give the flavor of this period and his accounts of it:

My aunt had another acute spell lately, & is helped by a nurse each day. She has, however, just secured a new physician who is to administer some ray treatments about which he is highly optimistic.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 30 Aug 1930, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 155

My aunt seems much better than in July—due largely to a new physician who gives ultra-violet ray treatments. A nurse, however, is still necessary.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, late Aug/Sep 1930, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 157

My aunt’s health is decidedly better, & she no longer requires the nurse. The coming of furnace heat & its dryness is a good thing for her, I think.
—H. P. Lovecraft
to Elizabeth Toldridge, 24 Oct 1930, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 163

My aunt, I am glad to say, seems to continue her improvement; & I hope to be able to drag her out to a good Thanksgiving dinner at the nearest restaurant.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 23 Nov 1930, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 167

My aunt shews no signs of any recurrence of the acute trouble of last summer, though of course she cannot undergo much exertion, or make trips outside except on special occasions.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 25 Jan 1931, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 172

My elder aunt has been unusually well—for her—this summer, so that I shall try to get her outdoors more upon my return home.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 19 Jul 1931, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 186

My aunt is better again—coming down stairs occasionally.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 31 Oct 1931, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 192

I succeeded in getting my aunt out again to a Christmas dinner, & she seems none the worse for it. Hope her confidence in her travelling ability is now so much restored that she will attempt occasional excursions without the excuse of a holiday.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 16 Jan 1932, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 197

My aunt’s health continues on a reasonably encouraging though scarcely active level.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 26 Feb 1932, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 207

My aunt, though not going outdoors, has had no relapses of acute trouble during the winter.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 20 Apr 1932, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 210

In periods when Lillian was well, or well enough, Howard traveled as his means allowed—notably his 1931 trip to Florida, where his letters and postcards to his “elder aunt” overflow with description, detail, and matters of historical interest. Many of these letters are signed something along the lines of: “My dear daughter Lillian”—a joke on Lovecraft’s pretense at being the “Old Gent”—and signed something along the lines of “Yr aff: nephew & obt Servt” (“Your affectionate nephew & obedient servant”).

Lillian was apparently well enough in the early summer of 1932 that Lovecraft made another trip down South…but he had to hurry home.

When I reached here at seven-thirty p.m. Friday my aunt was in a painless semi-coma, & it is doubtful whether she recognised me. Doctor & nurse, however, were leaving nothing undone; & Mrs. Gamwell was coöperating valiantly. General weakening & collapse of the whole organic system, caused by the long strain of arthritic pain & precipitated by an unprecedentedly severe attack, had brought about a sinking from which the doctor gave no hope of recovery. Saturday brought no change, save a period of difficult breathing in the morning which Dr. Brown interpreted as a bad sign—predicting ultimate disaster within twenty-four hours. Sunday the melancholy prediction was fulfilled, & 1932 was irrevocably entered as a black year for this household. The end was so peaceful & unconscious that I could not believe a change had occurred when the nurse declared it final.

Services will be held tomorrow at the Knowles Funeral Chapel on the ancient hill not far from here—& close to where my aunt & Dr. Clark lived in & around 1910. Although Mrs. Clark had no more use for orthodox cant & childish immortality myths than I, the services will be conducted in the ancient Church of England tradition by the Rev. Alfred Johnson, a venerable friend of both Phillips & Clark families who also officiated for my mother in 1921. My aunt would have preferred him, since the poetry of the Anglican ritual is a thing of eternal beauty aside from its hollow meaning, whereas the jargon of the Baptists (her immediate ancestral tradition) & other Evangelicals contains only the hollowness without the beauty. She had no patience, intellectually, with any sects save the Anglican and Unitarian; though she was still technically on the rolls of the old first Baptist Church.

Internment will be in the Clark lot at Swan Point Cemetery—the same cemetery which contains the Phillips lot where I shall be interred. I waived rights in the Lovecraft lot at Woodlawn (N.Y.) a decade ago, since I wish to be permanently merged with Old Providence.

Mrs. Gamwell will appreciate your expressions of sympathy. The present event is, despite its inevitability, a blow of the first magnitude to both survivors—especially to me, since my aunt was the real animating spirit & homemaking nucleus of 10 Barnes. The suddenness of the event is both bewildering and merciful—the latter because we cannot yet realise, subjectively, that it has actually occurred at all. It would, for example, seem incredibly unnatural to disturb the pillows now arranged for my aunt in the rocker beside my centre-table—her accustomed reading-place each evening. The earlier newspapers piled up during my absence contain interesting annotations in her hand.
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 5 Jul 1932, Letters to James F. Morton 299-300

The death of Lillian led to a major shakeup in Lovecraft’s life; he had been surviving on the residue of his and his mother’s inheritance from the estate of Whipple Phillips, as commonly doled out by his aunts. Now with Lillian’s death, the family’s finances were burdened by final medical and funeral costs, and it became necessary for them to combine households—they moved in together to 66 College Street. A large painting of the Rocks at Narragansett Pier by Lillian D. Clark was placed above the stairway.

My dear Aunt Lillian:

In replying to your recent & highly appreciated epistles, let me first thank you for sending the suit & minor accessories.
— H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 29 Sep 1922, Letters to Family & Family Friends 75

There must have been letters from Aunt Lillian to her nephew, certainly during the 1924-1926 period in New York, Lovecraft mentions receiving small stipends of money and communications from his aunts. Yet none of them survive. We have only Howard’s side of the correspondence, as first he kept in touch with his elder aunt, and then he took care of her through her painful, semi-invalid days…but of the inner self of Lillian D. Clark, we can only hazard a guess. Having no children of her own, Howard must have been the closest thing to a son to her, and their relationship was clearly precious to them both, and his letters from afar were no doubt a lifeline during the “semi-invalid” period when Lillian was confined to her bed or indoors.

His letters to her show that Lovecraft was more open to exclamations on race to letters to his aunt than he might have been to others; if Lillian, who was barely nine when the American Civil War ended, had her own prejudices and shared them with her nephew, it would not be a great surprise. It is more difficult to read the things that are not in Lovecraft’s letters, such as Sonia’s suggestion in The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft that the aunts were against the marriage. Certainly, when the time came to fetch Lovecraft back to Providence in 1926, it was Lillian that went down to New York to help arrange the details of the move…but there was never a word of reproach about this in Howard’s letters to or about his aunt.

About 285 letters, postcards, and notes to Lillian Clark from Lovecraft are known to survive at the John Hay Library in Providence, and many are transcribed in part in the Arkham House Transcripts. 27 of these letters had been previously published in abridged form in the first three volumes of the Selected Letters (Arkham House), and of the 76 letters in Letters from New York (Night Shade Books), 69 are to Lillian. 364 letters between Lovecraft and his aunts, all that are known to survive, are published in the two volumes of Letters to Family & Family Friends (2020, Hippocampus Press).


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

Her Letters to Lovecraft: Elizabeth Toldridge

Dear Judge Lovecraft,

So pleased to have your wonderful letter today, which will have to be pondered over more than ours! Am hastening to send this out, closed cuttings, for fear they will become untimely, although they are not very astonishing, I do fear me! Am frankly delighted you liked some of my last ones sent—it makes me very proud and happy […]

I am, faithfully yours,

E. Toldridge
4 June 1935, MSS. John Hay Library

In 1924, H. P. Lovecraft—who at this point was well-known in amateur journalism circles for his poetry and poetry criticism—was invited to be a judge for a poetry contest held by the League of American Penwomen. One of the participants was Elizabeth Augusta Toldridge (1861-1940), a graduate of the Maryland State Normal School (now Townson University) who had worked as a clerk at the U.S. Treasury, and the author of two collections of poetry: The Soul of Love (1910) and Mother’s Love Songs (1911). She had also published a fair amount of poetry in newspapers, sometimes under the name of her father Barnet Toldridge.

By 1928, Toldridge was 67 years old, and apparently living alone in the Farragut building in Washington, D.C. There is no evidence she ever married or had children, and seemed to live alone. Toldridge was presumably retired from her work as a clerk, and apparently had recently suffered an accident of unknown severity; Lovecraft later described her as “crippled and shut in,” although newspaper accounts suggest she was still relatively active in the American Poetry Circle in D.C.

anthology

Evening Star, 9 June 1929
Lovecraft’s library included a copy of American Poetry Circle Anthology (New York; Leacy N. Green-Leach, 1929; LL 25), inscribed “to Judge H. P. Lovecraft” from Toldridge. 

Lovecraft’s first letter to Elizabeth Toldridge is dated 16 August 1928; he was answering her inquiry about the long-ago poetry competition. What followed was a correspondence that would last the rest of Lovecraft’s life; 103 letters survive from 1928 to 1937 representing Lovecraft’s side of the correspondence which Toldridge had dutifully kept. Her own letters, kept by Lovecraft, amount to only five plus some miscellaneous cards, preserved among his papers at the John Hay Library. So, as with many of Lovecraft’s other women penpals, most of what we know about their correspondence comes from his letters…and what he mentioned of her in letters to others.

Just before leaving town I shall have to telephone the good old lady amateur poet Miss Toldridge, who (though learned & interesting in letters) is probably a bore, but who would naturally be offended if she heard of my passing through without a word on the wire.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 6 May 1929, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.792-793

Upon my return I gave my duty telephone call to the old lady—Miss Toldridge—& she cordially insisted that I pay at least a brief call in person. She is a somewhat stately & intelligent gentlewoman living amidst family portraits & reliques in a pleasant apartment-house in Farragut Park. After a short call—less boresome than I had anticipated—I returned to my hotel & spent the later evening reading.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 7 May 1929, LFF 2.795

Over the next eight years and change, Lovecraft and Toldridge would discuss poetry, writing, ancient history and anthropology, and modern politics. On his trips to the American South, Lovecraft dutifully sent back travelogues and postcards, and Toldridge followed the careers of Lovecraft and his contemporaries in the pulps. A particular aspect of their correspondence was Toldridge’s tendency to send Lovecraft cuttings from newspapers on subjects she thought he would be interested in—anthropology, literature, the British royal family, etc.—which would often serve as meat for Lovecraft’s next dutiful letter. It is from these remarks that we get some of Lovecraft’s most interesting comments on contemporary anthropology during the 1930s…and perhaps they gave him ideas as well.

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This cutting, for example, was sent with Toldridge’s letters of 1 July 1935, MSS John Hay Library. While it’s probably a bit much to say this could have been part of the inspiration for “An Heir to the Mesozoic” (1938) by Hazel Heald, if Lovecraft did have any hand in that work, maybe Toldridge’s clipping proved an inspiration…or perhaps not; there is too little evidence to say anything definite.

What we can say is that Lovecraft continued to keep in touch—and while Toldridge continued to address her letters to “Judge Lovecraft,” he began to affectionately refer to her (at least in his letters to others) as “Aunt Lizzie” or “Aunt Liz.” In 1934 when traveling through Washington, D.C. he stopped by to see her again, and encouraged his young friend R. H. Barlow to do likewise:

By the way—try to get time to call on that good old lady who addresses me as “Judge”—the poetess Miss Elizabeth Toldridge, The Farragut, Farragut Sq. (Telephone District 5870) She is crippled & shut in, & welcomes any pleasant breath from the outside. She’s heard all about you, & hopes to see you. You’ll find her really very cultivated  interesting underneath a veneer of Victorian mannerisms. A kindly & admirable soul, all told.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 1 Sep 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 174-175

Hope you’ll look up Miss Toldridge before long—in the Farragut apartment house at Farragut Square. The poor old soul will probably have to move soon, though she’s lived there 32 years; since the owners want to transform the edifice into a medical building.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 26 Oct 1934, OFF 186

Glad you’ve called on good old Miss Toldridge, & hope he moving will be as easy as possible. It was really a crime to dislodge the amiable old soul from her shelter of 30 years—but I trust she’ll find the La Salle not less comfortable after a while.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 1 Dec 1934, OFF 193

Glad you took nice old Miss Toldridge to see “Don Quixote”—she seems to get around very little nowadays, with lameness & natural timidity acting in conjunction.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 24 May 1935, OFF 275

In 1934, Barlow and Lovecraft perpetrated a hoax, anonymously mailing out copies of “The Battle That Ended The Century” to their friends—which were mailed from Washington, D.C. Toldridge was one of Lovecraft’s few acquaintances in the city at the time, but there is no record of her being the D.C. end of the hoax in their extant correspondence. More likely it was one of Barlow’s friends in the area who mailed off the bit of fun…and the association of Barlow, Lovecraft, & Toldridge had other benefits. Toldridge submitted some of her poetry to Barlow for use in his amateur journals The Dragon-Fly and Leaves, where her poem “H. P. Lovecraft” (1937) was eventually published. When Lovecraft visited her in D.C. in 1935, they discussed the possibility of Barlow publishing a collection of her poetry:

Well—I called on Aunt Liz, but she doesn’t seem to want to name the definite contents of any book yet. Says she wants to write some more & “better” poems for it! Didn’t get a chance to talk amateurdom—-another old lady was there most of the time discussing this & that. You’ll be sorry to hear that Lady Macdonald died last month. Her daughter sent Miss T. the sand news. Aunt Liz sent you all sorts of regards, & said she thought you were the nicest boy she had ever encountered. She marvels at the maturity of your mind.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 1 Sep 1935, OFF 289

A manuscript for a collection of her poetry titled Winnings was left behind after her death.

Periodic references to Toldridge appear in Lovecraft’s letters to Barlow, and Barlow in Lovecraft’s letters to Toldridge, as they all three appear to have kept in touch from in 1935-1937. Lovecraft’s letters appear to show a growing awareness of her own mortality, as age and health issues continue to be referenced, and in late 1936 Lovecraft received an unexpected gift:

Yesterday I received from Aunt Lizzie that heirloom ring which she’s talked so much about. I had tried my best to stop her sending it—she ought to snap out of that “not long for this world” attitude. Hope you drop her occasional cheering letters. I try to do so.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 11 Dec 1936, OFF 384

By the time you have the letter in which I acknowledge—most gratefully & appreciatively—the delightful & memory-surrounded ring which arrived on Thursday. It is pleasant indeed to know its history, & the source of that attractive [“]planetary system” of diamonds. Let me repeat my thanks for this honour of custodianship—& my assurances that the heirloom is at your complete disposal whenever you wish to have it with you again. I am sure that the kinsfolk in the mother land will appreciate most profoundly the other reliques sent to them—although in this case also you really ought to have retained the article for your own enjoyment. No apologies are necessary for the ‘un-shined’ state of the ring—indeed, I always prefer a certain appearance of mellowness in any object to utter, sapolio-suggesting spic-&-span-ness. So once more let me attest my sincerest appreciation & gratitude!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 21 Dec 1936, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 349

Elizabeth Toldridge sticks out as a bit of an oddity among Lovecraft’s correspondents: she doesn’t appear to have had any direct relationship with amateur journalism until relatively late in life, when Lovecraft got her into the National Amateur Press Association, nor was she a fellow pulpster, a fan, family, or a family friend. Little to no mention of her is made in Lovecraft’s letters to anyone except Barlow and his aunts.

Yet she wrote to him in 1928; Lovecraft was too much of a gentleman not to answer. So she kept writing, and he kept answering…and so grew their correspondence and friendship over a period of years. Whether he was humoring her because of her age, or whether she was really lonely and desperate for contact is impossible to say at this juncture, but as with many folks, Lovecraft’s initial assessment became much more positive once he had a chance to meet and talk with her face to face. Their correspondence on poetry certainly appears to have helped Lovecraft away from his strict adherence to meter (he once proclaimed himself a “metrical mechanic”) to the more evocative verse of his “Fungi from Yuggoth.”

Lovecraft’s last letter to Toldridge is dated 7 January 1937. He was glad to hear that the copy of The Shadow over Innsmouth, published by Visionary Press, had arrived to her safely. He included a poetic tribute to his friend Clark Ashton Smith, “To Klarkash-Ton, Wizard of Averoigne”—and he signed off simply:

All good wishes

Yrs most sincerely,

H P Lovecraft

Of the one thousand abridged letters in the Selected Letters, 84 were selected from Lovecraft’s letters to Elizabeth Toldridge; in part, no doubt, to the breadth of the subject matter of their correspondence. The full 103 letters from Lovecraft to Toldridge were published in Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge and Anne Tillery Renshaw in 2014. The few surviving letters and cards from Toldridge to Lovecraft, along with many poetry manuscripts she sent, may be read online for free at the John Hay Library—although the faint pencil strokes and the yellowing from the acidic newsprint cuttings laid in with the letters make them difficult to read.


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Anne Tillery Renshaw

Having finally broken away from Dorchester & attained Copley Square, I at last met in person the celebrated leader of United affairs whom I have known in letters for seven years—Mrs. Anne Tillery Renshaw of Rocky Mount, N.C., & Washington, D.C. In aspect stout & homely, she is in conversation pleasant, cultivated, & intelligent; with all the force of mind & speech becoming a philosopher, poet, & professor of English, drama, & public speaking. […] At the School of Expression the only amateurs were Mrs. Renshaw & her travelling companion Miss Crist—a colourless young woman who acts as her secretary, typist, & general caretaker; reminding her when she leaves her handbag behind or fails to put on her hat—for Mrs. R. has all the absent-mindedness of genius. […] The conversation consisted almost exclusively of philosophical argument, in which Mrs. R. has all the facility & urbanity of James F. Morton Jr. […] Mrs. McMullen played & sang her “Bumble Fairy”, & Mrs. Renshaw sang two songs (of which she wrote the words) in an excellent controlato, with Miss Crist as accompanist. […] Mrs. Renshaw, who had evidently acquired some of that flattering tendency which is inherent in the air of country villages like Boston, insisted that I ought to write a textbook on English—offering to see to its publication & introduce it in classes at Research University, where she is not head of the English Department. This rather reminded me of the high-flown pipe-dreams of Alnaschar—but another of her commercial suggestions was really practical so far as appearances go. This latter was a plan for me to correct & criticise by mail a number of English themes each week—the exercises of Mrs. R’s classes at the University. Such a procedure would, if the price were sufficiently high, be rather less horrible than Bush work—but there was no time that evening to discuss details. Plans with financial features usually fall through, so I am not yet planning what make of automobile I shall purchase with the fortune gained by text book authorship & associate professorship!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 19 Aug 1921, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.37-40

In 1914, Anne Vyne Tillery and H. P. Lovecraft first encountered each other in the pages of amateur journalism. They were of an age; Tillery was born in 1899, and Lovecraft in 1890, and had both been recruited to the United Amateur Press Association, the smaller and younger of the two nationwide amateur journalism organizations in existence at the time, and from the first Lovecraft wrote admiringly of her poetry:

“A Garden of Silence and Roses” introduces to the firmament of amateur journalism a new star, in the person of Miss Annie Vyne Tillery, author of professionally published books and poems. Miss Tillery’s style is at once deep and delicate, pervaded throughout with a poetic fervour seldom observed in products of the youthful pen.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Department of Public Criticism” United Amateur 14, no. 2 (Nov 1914), CE 1.14

“The Dirge of the Great Atlantic”, by Anne Vyne Tillery Renshaw, is a grim and moving bit of verse, cast in the same primitively stirring metre which this author used in her professionally published poem, “The Chant of Iron”. Mrs. Renshaw possesses an enviable power to reach the emotions through the medium of the written word.
—H. P. Lovecraft “Department of Public Criticism” United Amateur 14, no. 3 (Jan 1915), CE 1.20

Anne Tillery was educated at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., attended school in Baltimore and Dr. Curry’s Professional School (presumably Curry School of Expression, now Curry College). She had published a collection of verse, Moods, Mystical and Otherwise (1914), and was actively engaged as a writer and educator specializing in public speaking (then called “expression”) and English.

On 10 December 1914, Anne married Joseph Wilroy Renshaw, a lawyer, and became Mrs. Anne Tillery Renshaw. Her husband was either already involved in amateur journalism or became involved in it soon after, because in 1915 they launched their joint amateur journal Ole’ Miss (Anne having been raised in Mississippi, and both she and her husband were Southerners.) Lovecraft wrote of the new journal:

Ole’ Miss for March, edited by Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Renshaw, easily falls into the very front rank of the season’s amateur journals. In this number Mr. Joseph W. Renshaw makes his initial appearance before the members of the United, producing a very favourable impression with his pure, attractive prose. The introduction, credited in another column to Mr. Renshaw, is of graceful and pleasing character, recalling the elusively beautiful atmosphere of the Old South which is too soon passing away.
—H. P. Lovecraft “Department of Public Criticism” United Amateur 14, no. 5 (May 1915), CE 1.40

Both Lovecraft and Mrs. Renshaw quickly began to rise in the ranks of the United; when Lovecraft was elected first vice president in 1915, Renshaw was elected second vice president, and the two collaborated on efforts to recruit new members to the cause of amateur journalism. He also served as assistant editor to Renshaw in the amateur journal Credential, which was aimed at new members (the first piece published by a new member was referred to as their “credential.”)

Despite being perhaps Lovecraft’s oldest and longest-lasting woman correspondent who was not a member of his family, the surviving letters between Lovecraft and Mrs. Renshaw are few. However, we know they must have had a fairly robust correspondence for the first few years of their acquaintance, because aside from amateur affairs  Lovecraft had joined with Renshaw and her friend Mrs. J. G. Smith in the Symphony Literary Service, a revision service where Lovecraft handled verse. It isn’t clear how long this service lasted, but it seems to have been Lovecraft’s foot in the door to freelance revision work and ghostwriting, which would become one of his major sources of income in life. The first few letters we have from Lovecraft and Renshaw date to the 1918 period, a mix of amateur affairs, poetical disputes (Lovecraft disliked free verse, while Renshaw was an advocate for free expression), and current affairs.

Lovecraft supported Renshaw during her successful candidacy in 1919 as Official Editor of the United, and she seems to have been otherwise keeping busy in teaching and publishing:

Mrs. Anne Tillery Renshaw, with characteristic energy, has transferred her interests from State College, Pa., to Washington, D.C. During the autumn she was circulation manager of The Suffragist, a large illustrated monthly, whose subscription department she practically revitalised with her efficient management. She has now accepted a chair at Research University, becoming head of the English Department with the title of Professor. Mrs. Renshaw receives the sympathy of the Association upon the death of Mr. Renshaw in November, and upon the illness of her mother at the same time.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “News Notes” United Amateur 20, No. 2 (Nov 1920), CE 1.265

J. W. Renshaw died in November 1920, probably of pneumonia. We know little of their marriage; they had no children, and Mrs. Renshaw would never remarry. After his death, she was located primarily in Washington, D.C.; she met Lovecraft for the first time in 1921 in Boston. The suggestion she made that Lovecraft revise student work was apparently acted upon, because sometime later Lovecraft wrote:

Amateur journalism’s connexion with Penn State (circa 1919-22, if memory serves aright) was established through one of our members—a Mrs. Anne Tillery Renshaw, now head of a school of elocution in Washington—who went there as an associate professor. She organised her classes into a literary club connected with the United Amateur Press Association, hence we of the Association handled a good deal of their work & assisted them to some extent in a critical way. [Fred Lewis] Pattee was there at the time, & Mrs. Renshaw sometimes spoke of him—indeed, she sent me a copy of his weird novel, “The House of the Black Ring.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 13 Feb 1935, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 258

Lovecraft and Renshaw met again in 1925 when he came as a tourist to Washington, where she drove him about on a sightseeing tour:

[…] our attention was distracted by a hail from the road, where was fast approaching the Renshaw car, with its owner, Sechrist, and a prepossessing gentlewoman of early middle age as occupants. Mrs. R. had, it seems, arriv’d at the Monument immediately after our departure; and having pickt up Sechrist, follow’d us along the course we had told him we wou’d take. With the years this lady hath become a person of much importance in Washington, being now a select teach of dramatic and oratorical method, and prominent in female political circles. (Republican) She is, however, wholly unspoilt; and shew’d extreme kindness in absenting herself from most of her guests and spending the whole day in the guidance of our party, despite the protests we mixt with our profound thanks. […] The car, being small, seated just the five persons present: Mrs. R. (Driving) and Miss D. in font, and myself, Sechrist, and Kirk (reading left to right) on the rear seat). […] There, in the mellow glow of an afternoon no longer young, Mrs. Renshaw deposited Kirk, Christ, and me upon the pavement for a pedestrian finale; herself driving off toward her ome with Miss Dashiel, accompany’d by the most profound and sincere gratitude of the voyagers. We apologised for our inability to accompany her and meet her other guests, as she had wished; but I regret that I have so far fail’d—amidst the rush of the past week—to write her and Sechrist those expressions of thanks and pleasure which urbanity demands.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian Clark, 21 Apr 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.274-275, 286

We hear little of the Renshaw/Lovecraft correspondence over the next few years; both of them drifted away from the central role they had held in amateur affairs, and Mrs. Renshaw was herself busy with teaching and running her own school in Washington, D.C., where public speaking and oratory were key skills for politicians. It is possible that there were gaps in their correspondence, which might account for why so few letters survive; or that many of them simply concerned business matters which neither considered worth preserving; Lovecraft used the backs of some letters for writing drafts of his stories.

Still, she must have continued to push at least occasional revision work Lovecraft’s way:

[…] our old-time fellow-amateur Mrs. Renshaw has reappear’d on the horizon with a lot of overflow theme papers from her school to be criticis’d and graded. All this means cash for coach-drivers, of course—but it also means workand nothing repels and discourages me more than the latter.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 14 Mar 1930, Selected Letters 3.130

While revision didn’t pay much, the amounts that Lovecraft did receive no doubt helped in part to fund his excursions to Florida, Louisiana, and Quebec.

It is hard to say at this point what exactly the relationship was between Anne Tillery Renshaw and H. P. Lovecraft. They were friends, certainly, but they do not appear to have had the sort of mentor-mentee relationship that Lovecraft had with some of the younger women writers, professional or amateur, that he would get to know. There is little doubt that Lovecraft saw Renshaw as a peer, and if they did not agree on everything, he seems to have respected her intelligence and the force of her arguments. Unfortunately, it is difficult to say what common ground they might have shared being writing & poetry in general, as Renshaw does not seem to have had any particular interest in weird fiction.

The commercial side of their dealings is harder to pin down, although it would become the focus of their final and most substantial surviving communications. Anne Tillery Renshaw was at this point dean of the Renshaw School of Speech, whose curriculum was based on the Curry Method (a system of public speaking that included a combination of technical exercises and encouragement to express real emotion and natural gestures), and she availed on Lovecraft to help write a textbook for a new course—much as she had proposed some fifteen years earlier, when they first met in Boston.

Lovecraft was already busy with other jobs in 1936, but agreed to take the work on—he needed the money. 

I now made an attempt to go on with the one revision job which I have not yet returned—in the hope that I might be able to perform at least part of it & receive remuneration therefor. Results remain doubtful, since the more original parts will need leisure & concentration. It is a text-book on English usage by Mrs. Renshaw—& most of my time today was spent in straightening out historical & mythological errors in the section where certain familiar allusions are explained.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie E. P. Gamwell, Diary for 29 March 1936, LFF 2.991

Notes on the massive revision job reoccur in Lovecraft’s letters throughout 1936, and the stress built up as Lovecraft required extensions on the original deadline.

I had a hell of a siege getting that Renshaw ghost-writing job done on time—the deadline having been extended a bit. The last chapter—where I had to dope out a complete reading course in literature, the sciences, & the arts, mentioning the latest text-books in fields covering the rapidly changing sciences–was the really killing part. At the end I had to work 60 hours without sleep—but I finally got the damn thing into the mails. There may be more to do on it yet—& the trivial detail of price is not yet settled. If Mrs. Renshaw tries to drive me under 200 bucks, she’s a cheap skate!
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 30 Sep 1936, O Fortunate Floridian! 363

As a matter of fact, owing to the lateness, Lovecraft only requested $100 for the massive job…and got it.

RenshawLetter

Read the whole letter at the John Hay Library

In fact, much of what Lovecraft had written was seriously abridged or cut from the final book, which was published as Well-Bred Speech (1936). Lovecraft performed the final revisions amiably enough:

Well—I am still working on that Renshaw text-book. The manuscript, considerably abridged, came back once more for revision, & now (am reading the printer’s proofs & catching a number of errors therein.) The job is being handled by the Standard Press of 930 H. St., N.W.—perhaps you know of it. It will have to be done & delivered by Nov. 5th, since the course involving the book opens on the 6th. Haste has made this job more difficult than it would otherwise have been.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 29 Oct 1936, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 344

RenshawLetter2

Read the whole letter at the John Hay Library.

It is not clear whether Lovecraft and Renshaw corresponded during the final months of his life remaining to him, although his last, unfinished letter to James F. Morton in 1937 includes reference to the ordeal of getting the manuscript together.

Anne Tillery Renshaw continued to teach, lecture, and write until her death on 24 June 1944.

For twenty-two years of correspondence (1914-1936), very little survives. Ten letters from Lovecraft to Renshaw are published in The Letters of Elizabeth Toldridge and Anne Tillery Renshaw, along with the previously unpublished sections of Well Bred Speech that Lovecraft wrote but were cut from the final product. Portions of six of these letters were previously published in the Arkham House Selected Letters. Eight letters & cards from Anne Tillery Renshaw to Lovecraft, all dating from 1935-1936, have been scanned and may be viewed online at the John Hay Library website.


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

Her Letters to Lovecraft: Josephine Evalyn Crane Blossom

In 1934, H. P. Lovecraft traveled down the Eastern seaboard of the United States by bus to Florida, where he visited with R. H. Barlow and his family in DeLand for some weeks. While on this trip, Lovecraft sent out dozens of postcards to familiar correspondents like his aunt Annie Gamwell, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Farnsworth Wright, Zealia Bishop, and Natalie H. Wooley—we have a list in the Collected Essays, “[List of Correspondents to Whom Postcards Have Been Sent]” identifying who got cards from where—and near the bottom of the list, receiving postcards from St. Augustine, DeLand, and Nantucket, is “Blossom.” (Collected Essays 5.267) In Lovecraft’s 1937 diary, a “J E C Blossom, 117 Church St., Rutland, Vt” is given among the list of addresses; Lovecraft scholar Ken Faig identifies this individual:

Josephine E. Crane Blossom was born 17 July 1861, Mayatta KS, and died 4 January 1952, Rutland VT. In the 1900 U.S. census, she was recorded in Shrewsbury, Rutland Count, VT in the household of her husband William R. Blossom, born April 1854 VT of VT-born parents, a physician. THey had then been married twenty-one years and Josephine was the mother of seven children, of whom five were then living all of them in the paternal household: Elsie C. (b. August 1885 VT), Ethel C. (b. March 1889 VT), Fay E. (b. August 1890 KS), Franklin O. (b. August 1890 KS), and Wilhelmina J. (b. August 1896 VT). Josephine Blossom was active as a poet in amateur journalism. (Lovecraft Annual #6 165)

No letters or cards from J. E. C. Blossom/H. P. Lovecraft correspondence are known to survive, so Lovecraft’s list is the only remaining evidence that testifies that they were in touch by mail; Blossom’s activity in amateur journalism is the one suggestion for why they might be in touch. The rest of Lovecraft’s published letters do not mention a Josephine Blossom directly…however, this is one letter in 1934 which may have bearing on their relationship:

Nor do I grudge old Ma Blossom of Vermont (a professional client) the newspaper praise of “her” verse which is giving zest to her sunset days.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 25 Sep 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 179-180

This is the only direct mention of Blossom as one of Lovecraft’s revision clients; although S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz believe this is the individual alluded to in W. Paul Cook’s memoir of Lovecraft during one anecdote of Lovecraft’s efforts at revising the poetry of others:

A woman, very earnest, very soulful, writing by the yard but unable to achieve anything printable. All of a sudden, in a fair eruption of glory, she began to get into print here, there, and everywhere. Editors, instead of rejection slips, returned requests for more. I was puzzled. This stuff was too good for her to do. One day, in a purely incidental manner and in connection with something else, the secret slipped out. She commenced to suffer from enlargement of the ego, vulgarly called “Swelled head.” Why should she pay a revisionist when she was some poet all by herself. Accordingly, she dropped Lovecraft, neglecting, if not refusing, to pay his last fee. No more of her work appeared in print. In time something or other penetrated her consciousness, and it was in a state of considerable deflation that she sent Howard what she owed him together with a mass of manuscript. The manuscript came back, unrevised, with a note to the effect that Mr. Lovecraft was so busy, and would be for the next nine months, that he was unable to advise about her work. The deflation continues to all this day. So far as I know, she never published another poem. How do I know all this? Not from Lovecraft, although he later conceded enough to furnish proof.
—W. Paul Cook, “In Memoriam: Howard Phillips Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 75

Cook is not always the most reliable of reporters, and in this anecdote he frankly admits that he’s working to a degree from speculation and inference—but there are some interesting facts that might support part of his anecdote. In November 1931, Josephine Evalyn Crane Blossom began to have her poems published in the Rutland Daily Herald, and the poems received lavish praise including from Lovecraft’s friend Walter J. Coates, an amateur journalist who published The Driftwind, which included some of Lovecraft’s own work. The article of 9 November 1931 would end:

We can say, in addition, that Mrs. Blossom, who is now 70 years old, is still composing verse and we have before us another contribution in her own handwriting, which shows many characteristics of the foregoing “Autumn,” which is, as our experts have said, something of a masterpiece.

Have we, by chance, been living along side of a real genius?

It really looks that way.

In 1932, Blossom’s poetry becomes much more scarce in the newspaper, and the praise dries up—although Cook appears to be wrong, and she was published again, periodically. Did Lovecraft revise her poetry? If so, one of the pieces he may have had a hand in is “Dream World,” published 23 Nov 1931:

Dream World

Through dust and quiet comes the dawn-like glow
Of visioned vistas gay with roseate light;
Gardens more beautiful than we can ever know,
With fadeless flowers and golden fruitage bright.

Across dim twilight seas of fragrant dreams
A white ship bears us soundless to that shore,
Moved by the wordless music-hinting streams
Of soft, still winds that purple skies outpour.

Green banks expand with calm, Hesperian grace
And latent wonder beckons and revives;
Here may we shed the last encumbering trace
Of pains and cares that weight our waking lives.

The sunlit fields are starred with asphodels;
The forests echo to an endless song
Beyond the plains a violet mountain swells,
While in bright valleys brooklets wind along.

A world unspoiled, that shapes us all anew
As down its leaf-lined path our spirits stray:
How longs the heart to hold it clear in view.
And glean the joys of its eternal day!

Interested readers might compare this prose with Blossom’s later published work, such as “The Last Act” in the Rutland Daily Herald for 22 Sep 1943. Lovecraft himself downplayed the extant or quality of his poetry revision work:

Really, of course, the boost given to these old souls is very trivial. After all, one merely makes their jingles technically acceptable. The basic inanity remains, & no really exactly critic takes the doggerel seriously even when it is revised.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 25 Sep 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 180

If it is the case that Lovecraft revised J. E. C. Blossom’s poetry, then their lost correspondence must have included at least discussion on that issue, and possibly something more on amateur affairs. Sadly, we don’t know how that impacted her…seventy years of age, homemaker and mother and wife, getting her poetry published in the newspapers along with rather lavish praise…and here in the mail comes postcards from Florida and Nantucket from her friend H. P. Lovecraft to brighten her day. That he continued to send her cards in itself suggests that it was still a friendship, whether or not there was a business end to it.

Thanks to Dave Goudsward for his help and assistance on the elusive Mrs. Blossom.


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Hazel Heald

I am very sorry that I did not keep his letters, but moving around from place to place made it impossible. As some of them were personal I did not wish them to be around for others to read perhaps after I left this earthly life. Letters are sometimes left that seem sacred to the owners, but others see it in a different light.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 31 Mar 1937, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

Hazel Drake Heald was arguably H. P. Lovecraft’s most successful and prolific revision client. Between 1932 and 1937, five weird tales appeared under the name of Hazel Heald, the last of them being published only a month or so after his death, and all of them having Lovecraft’s hand in them to a greater or lesser extent. Yet for all that, relatively little is known about their correspondence: Lovecraft does not appear to have kept her letters, and she did not keep his. So once again we are left with a bit of detective-work, piecing together what we can of their relationship through Lovecraft and Heald’s other correspondence…and the framework of their relationship seems built around the timeline of their stories:

In this same year, 1932, I formed a little New England writers’ club of my own, and one of my members, a divorcee was very anxious to succeed in the weird writing field. She sent me an original manuscript with a very passable plot, yet told unconvincingly and amateurishly. I let Lovecraft read it when next he came over to our house on Pearl Street, and he agreed that it did have possibilities.

I wrote to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, club-member and told her about H.P.L., adding that he, too, was divorced. Would she like to have him look over her manuscript, “The Man of Stone”? She would! So I gave Lovecraft a note of introduction to Hazel Heald and another chapter in his life was soon taking place.
—Muriel C. Eddy, “The Gentleman from Angell Street” 22-23

I was a beginner and happened to be lucky enough to find HPL who certainly was the best to be found. He was a severe critic but I knew that if I finally suited him in my work that the editor would usually accept it. For example— I had to rewrite “Out of the Eons” six times before he was completely satisfied!
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 25 Mar 1937, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

In 1932, Hazel Heald was 36 years old, divorced, and working as a clerk or bookkeeper; but she had aspirations to be a writer. Her friend Muriel Eddy put her in touch with H. P. Lovecraft. We do not know exactly when and how Lovecraft and Heald began to correspond, although it seems likely to have been early 1932. The first mention of one of their stories in Lovecraft’s published correspondence is from August 1932 (Essential Solitude 2.497), in reference to “Winged Death”—but the first published story was “The Man of Stone,” which hit the stands in September of that year.

Given publishing times in the pulps, this tells us two things: that at least two stories had been written prior to September 1932, and that the stories seem not to have been submitted directly to Weird Tales—because “The Man of Stone” was published at Wonder Stories, and “Winged Death” was first submitted to Harry Bates at Strange Tales of Mystery & Terror. If Lovecraft followed his normal mode for revision clients, their initial letters would have involved many notes on the story or stories involved, genteel discussion of rates and terms, and suggestions for where and how to market the story. Having been subject to the capricious whims of Farnsworth Wright in the past, it wouldn’t be surprising if Lovecraft initially recommended other pulps who might pay more, and more promptly, than his “old standard.”

In September 1932, Lovecraft took advantage of a special low-cost ticket to visit Montreal and Quebec (Sep 2-6). Traveling on the cheap, Lovecraft gave little thought and less money to food and amenities:

Early the following Tuesday morning, before I had gone to work, Howard arrived back from Quebec. I have never before nor since seen such a sight. folds of skin hanging froma  skeleton. Eyes sunk in sockets like burnt holes in a blanket. Those delicate, sensitive artist’s hands and fingers nothing but claws. The man was dead except for his nerves, on which he was functioning. that evening he had a dinner appointment in Somerville with a woman for whom he was doing some revision, and he had plans for things he wanted to do during the day.
—W. Paul Cook, “In Memoriam: H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 59

The dinner appointment was with Hazel Heald. Muriel Eddy gives her version of events:

She invited him up to her house for Sunday supper and arranged to have everything that H.P.L. liked best on the menu. they ate by candlelight, and he was greatly intrigued by her thoughtfulness in not having a household of people to greet him. He used to say he could think better when there were not too many people around to disturb his train of thought.

He tactfully explained to Hazel that her story, though very good, really needed a little touching up here and there, something to stir the reader’s imagination. Would she allow him to do it for her? He’d consider it an honor and a privilege. She agreed.
—Muriel Eddy, “The Gentleman from Angell Street” 23

Eddy must have her dates wrong, because by September 1932 “The Man of Stone” was already written and accepted by Hugo Gernsback at Wonder Stories. But they might well have discussed other revisions, since one had already been submitted and accepted. Heald would describe their revision process in this way:

Lovecraft helped me on this story as much as on the others, and did actually rewrite paragraphs. He would criticize various paragraphs and pencil remarks beside them, and make me rewrite them until they pleased him. I certainly slaved on that story—my first! But all of my later stories he revised in the same way. I was so elated when it was accepted. They said I would have to send them a photograph of myself. I had special pictures taken, then when the magazine came out, there was a caricature of myself that even my mother wouldn’t recognize! I felt so hurt that the readers would think of me like that, and HPL was a good one to ease that hurt in his kind way. He said that no one ever recognized themselves from their artist’s drawing. He also advised me to get a lawyer for the payment of my check.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 30 Sep 1944, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

While Lovecraft does not discuss any specific meetings with Heald in his letters, in her own letters she suggests that he made at least one, if not more visits to her corner of Massachusetts:

I was interested in Paul Cook’s account of Lovecraft’s Boston visit, and how he made him rest up before coming over to my house. He certainly did not act tired, and ate very well, although Cook said he gave him a good meal before he came. I wonder if he thought that he would be starved at my house? He seemed to enjoy himself a lot. Soon after that he came again, and we visited all of the museums together. That was where I conceived the idea for OUT OF THE EONS.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 14 Oct 1944, MSS Wisconsin Historical Society

It is not clear which museums they might have visited, or when this might have occurred, although both the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Semitic Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts are possibilities, with collections of Egyptian artifacts and mummies that might have inspired the fictional Cabot Museum.

“Out of the Æons” might have been conceived over dinner in early September, but “The Horror in the Museum” was finished by October:

I’ve just ghost-written a tale for a client in a fashion amounting virtually to original composition—about a waxwork museum or chamber of horrors where there is a rumour that not all of the fabulous monsters displayed are artificial. I’ve included Tsathoggua among the blasphemies.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 28 Oct 1932, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 394

In any case, Farnsworth Wright accepted “The Horror in the Museum” by mid-November 1932 (DS 397)—but by February 1933 a problem had arisen where Gernsback did not pay Heald for “The Man of Stone” (DS 404). At this point, Lovecraft had written at least three stories with or for Heald (“The Man of Stone,” “Winged Death,” and “The Horror in the Museum”), and one had been accepted and published, one rejected, and one accepted pending publication; but we don’t know if Heald had paid Lovecraft for any of them. Without their letters, we don’t know the exact details of their business arrangements—but the lack of payment from Gernsback could not have helped the business side of their relationship.

Still, Lovecraft must have had some confidence in his client, because by the time “The Horror in the Museum” hit the stands, “Out of the Æons” was written, submitted, and accepted by Weird Tales:

Glad you enjoyed the Witch House and Museum story. Another tale which I revised for the “Museum” author, and which Wright has accepted, brings in von Juntz and his black book as almost the central theme. It concerns a mummy found in the crypt of a Cyclopean stone temple of fabulous antiquity; volcanically upheaved from the sea.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 24 Jul 1933, A Means to Freedom 2.619

Weird Tales paid only on publication, and in the 1930s as the Depression worsened, often the payment was long after publication. It seems quite likely that by this point, Heald must have been in arrears to Lovecraft—and perhaps found a way to make up for it in kind:

Meanwhile (my hatred of the typewriter being stronger every day) I have had a delinquent client type the story I wrote last August, & have started the carbon on the rounds of the gang—beginning with Dwyer.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 8 Nov 1933, Letters to J. Vernon Shea &c. 175

I lately had a client type my story of last August—”The Thing on the Doorstep” (which isn’t very satisfactory), & am circulating the carbon amongst the gang (you’ll get it in time).
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 12 Nov 1933, O Fortunate Floridian! 85

HPL helped me in return for typing his tale “Dreams at Witch House.” I also typed his “The Thing on the Doorstep.” His writing was familiar to me, so it was much easier than for strangers.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 31 Mar 1937, MSS Wisconsin Historical society

Heald also eventually, at Lovecraft’s suggestion, contacted New York lawyer Ione Weber to sue Gernsback for her money, and got it by November 1933 (DS 404).

Although Lovecraft does not mention it, “Winged Death” must eventually have been submitted to Wright at Weird Tales and accepted for publication; it hit the stands in the March 1934 issue…and that appears to have been pretty much the end of the professional side of Heald and Lovecraft’s relationship:

“Winged Death” is pretty much a ghost-written Ech-Pi-El-ism. All that honest Mrs. Heald had to start with was a cloudy idea about somebody killing somebody with bugs. Then she got a medical friend to shed some light on poisonous African insects, & decided to give the tale an African cast. That was all I had to go on. The plot—with the idea of transferred personality & the returning & ceiling-writing death-envoy—is entirely my own. But it doesn’t pay to do this sort of work—when one could have just as good chances of full pay with a piece nominally as well as actually one’s own. I’ve cut it out now—though the last two reliques of my collaboration (one more Heald opus & the collaboration with Sultan Malik) are yet to be printed.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 9 Mar 1934, DS 544

The “one more Heald opus” is presumably “Out of the Æons,” which Wright would hold onto without publishing (or paying for) until 1935. Still, though Lovecraft gave up ghostwriting and fiction revision as a business in 1934, his stories with Heald had a bit of an afterlife that they would have discussed in their letters: “The Horror in the Museum” was reprinted in the Not at Night anthology Terror by Night (1934), and reprinted in the Not at Night Omnibus (1937).

As far as the writing of “Out of the Æons” goes, Lovecraft would write when it was published:

Regarding the scheduled “Out of the Æons”—I should say I did have a hand in it…..I wrote the damn thing! The original museum-mummy story submitted for revision was so utterly lousy (some crap about a Peruvian miner trapped underground) that I had to discard it altogether & prepare a fresh tale. But it’s really foolish to attempt jobs so extensive, when with the same amount of work one could write an acknowledged story of one’s own. This is the last collaboration of the sort I shall ever attempt—indeed, I’ve turned a deaf ear to all further suggestions from Sultan Malik, Mrs. Heald, Kid Bloch, & others.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 26 Mar 1935, DS 594

Glad you like “Out of the Æons”—which is, as I may have mentioned, virtually an original story of mine. All that survives from the initial Heald outline (worthy Mme. H. never bothered to write out any actual text for it!) is the basic idea of a living brain discovered in an ancient mummy.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 11 Apr 1935, DS 603

Ironically, fan response to Heald’s stories in Weird Tales were often more vocal than for Lovecraft’s contributions under his own name.

We can only speculate as to what might be in Lovecraft and Heald’s letters between 1934 and 1937; her name is notably absent from his 1934 list of correspondents to whom he was sending postcards on his travels (Collected Essays 5.267), but we know she wrote to him while he was in Florida in 1934 (thanks to a surviving envelope), so it’s likely they would have discussed their lives, travels, and writing. The best evidence for their continued correspondence was that in January 1937, Lovecraft still had a current address for her when fan John Weir asked for submissions for a new fanzine:

Sorry I can’t dig up any more material at the moment—am wallowing in a morass of tasks & staggering under what seems like a variant of grippe. Hope you can assemble sufficient copy for #1, & am glad you have an illustration for future issues.[…] Glad you’ve received at least some material from those I recommended. Come to think of it, you might get a short story (fairly long as such things go) from Mrs. Hazel Heald, 15 Carter St. Newtonville, Mass. Ask her for “In the Gulfs of N’Logh” or some other tale which didn’t land professionally.
—H. P. Lovecraft to John Weir, 28 Jan 1937, MSS. John Hay Library

“Some other tale” is where things get interesting. In her letters to August Derleth and elsewhere, Hazel Heald mentions “In the Gulf of N’Logh” (193?) and “Lair of Fungous Death” (193?), and her story “An Heir of the Mesozoic” was eventually published by Weir in his fanzine Fantasmagoria. Were any of these were stories that Lovecraft had a hand in, either through offering revision comments or fully ghostwriting, between 1932 and 1934? We don’t know, but their very existence suggests a correspondence that was more busied and complicated than just the four stories mentioned above would indicate—much like his correspondence with another revision client, Zealia Bishop.

H. P. Lovecraft died on 15 March 1937; it’s not clear when Heald became aware of his passing, but she wrote to Weird Tales shortly after:

Hazel Heald writes from Newtonville, Massachusetts: “I want to express my sorrow in the passing of H. P. Lovecraft. He was a friend indeed to the struggling author, and many have started to climb the ladder of success with his kind assistance. To us who really knew him it is a sorrow that mere words cannot express. His was the helping hand that started me in the writers’ game and gave me courage to carry on under the gravest difficulties. But we must try to think that he is ‘just away’ on one of his longest journeys and that some day we will meet him again in the Great Beyond.”
Weird Tales, “The Eyrie” Jun 1937

Mrs. Hazel Heald writes from Newtonville, Massachusetts: “A brain like H. P. Lovecraft’s seldom was found—uncanny in its intelligence. He was ever searching for more knowledge, gleaning by endless hours of study a richer and fuller understanding of people and of life. Being a great traveler, he reveled in the study of old cities and their hidden lore and would walk many miles to inspect some historic spot. He was a real friend to all who knew him, always ready to give his valuable time to aid some poor struggling author—a true guiding star. He was very partial to dumb animals, especially cats, signifying that interest in several of his tales. He would step out of his way to pat some forlorn alley cat and give it a friendly word, and the kittens of a neighbor furnished him unbounded enjoyment. He was an ardent lover of architecture and all the fine arts, and a day spent in a museum with him was time well spent. By endless hours of toil eh worked far into the night giving the world masterpieces of weird fiction, sacrificing his health for his work. Lovecraft was a gift to the world who can never be replaced—Humanity’s Friend.”
Weird Tales, “The Eyrie” Aug 1937

In the May 1937 issue of Weird Tales, Heald’s fifth story was published: “The Horror in the Burying Ground.” Without Lovecraft around to comment, we know nothing of when or how it was written, although it is popularly supposed from internal evidence that he had a hand in it. If he did write it, or at least revise it, sometime around 1932-1933, it would be one more example of the fruitfulness of their creative endeavors…and of the quiet failures and rejections that were masked by their successful sales.

My HORROR IN THE BURYING GROUND was rejected once by Wright, then several years later I rewrote it in several places and he accepted it. He said I had too much dialect to read easily.
Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 14 Oct 1944, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

Little is known of Hazel Heald’s later life; her letters to August Derleth fall off after 1937, but pick up again in the early 1940s as he sought to obtain permission to republish her stories among Lovecraft’s revision tales. She continued to attempt a literary career, mentioning efforts to publish stories in the pulps without success, but for regular employment was forced to be a housekeeper.

Heald 1944Hazel Heald to Winfield Townley Scott, 8 Sep 1948, MSS. John Hay Library 

What did Lovecraft mean to Hazel Heald? What little correspondence that survives from Heald in library archives is entirely because of her connection to Lovecraft, in one form or another. In truth, we might not remember Heald at all if not for her position as Lovecraft’s revision client, and it could well be she knew that it was the Lovecraft connection which was responsible for the small attention she got from fans like John Weir and editors like August Derleth. Unlike Zealia Bishop or Adolphe de Castro, she never seems to have had the resources to consider seriously self-publishing, didn’t have the writing chops to get accepted by commercial magazines, and had no connection with fanzines beyond Weir’s Fantasmagoria. She sold a couple manuscripts to a dedicated fan, and apparently kept in touch with the Eddys, but that is about as far as the Lovecraft connection took her.


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Winifred Virginia Jackson

I see that I need to don armour against a curious fate that concerns itself with bringing loss to me. The loss of Mr. Lovecraft’s letters also touches you.

May the California sunshine restore you to perfect health.

Very sincerely,
—Winifred Virginia Jackson to R. H. Barlow, 11 Nov 1938, MSS. John Hay Library

Winifred Virginia Jackson was born in 1876 (although dates vary), attended county and public schools, and then attended college at the Eastern State Normal School and the Curry School of Expression (now Curry College) in Boston, and was sometimes employed as a librarian. She married her husband Horace Jordan in 1915, so that when she joined amateur journalism shortly after she was known as Winifred Virginia Jordan.

We know that Winifred was recruited to the United Amateur Press Association in 1915 by Lovecraft’s friend and correspondent Anne Tillery Renshaw. Winifred must have written to Howard Phillips Lovecraft in late 1915 or early 1916, because her poem “Song of the North Wind” appears in Lovecraft’s own amateur journal The Conservative in the January 1916 issue. They continued to write to each other until at least 1921 or 1922, when references to her fade from Lovecraft’s correspondence. Yet for that 5-7 years of letter writing, all that remains are six letters from Howard to Winifred dated from 1920 to 1921, near the tail end of their relationship, and we must reconstruct what is left from Lovecraft’s other letters.

As a poet, she was successful in getting published in amateur journals and newspapers. At the United Amateur Press Association convention of 1917, Howard was elected President and Winifred was elected vice-president, so their correspondence for the next few years would have included much official business as well as any personal news. She also held various editorial positions, including the United Women’s Press Club of Massachusetts official organ The Bonnet, and published her own amateur journal Eurus. Some unsigned pieces in The Bonnet are believed to be from Lovecraft, so their letters must have included details about the journals she edited as well.

Around early 1918, Winifred was stricken with influenza—probably the “Spanish Flu” pandemic—and one of Lovecraft’s letters from the period suggests she required a nurse at home to care for her, and that she had to dictate her letters to Lovecraft through the nurse:

Mrs. Jordan’s recovery has not been as rapid as one might wish, but a copy of The London Daily Mail lately came from her, addressed in her own handwriting instead of her nurse’s, hence I assume she is much improved. In the last letter she dictated, she related an amusing recruiting incident.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 5 May 1918, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 110

This formed the nucleus of what would become Howard and Winifred’s first collaboration, “The Crawling Chaos” (1921). Around the same period (1918-1919), Howard’s mother Sarah Susan Lovecraft experienced a nervous collapse that in 1919 required her to be committed to Butler Hospital. Lovecraft’s admiration for Jordan as a poet was growing, and includes his appreciative editorial “Winifred Virginia Jordan: Associate Editor” (Silver Clarion 3, No. 1, April 1919).

Also in 1919, Howard shared a dream in a letter; Winifred replied with her own, complete with a map, and suggested he make a story out of it. This became in 1920-1921 their second collaboration, “The Green Meadow” (1927). Both of these collaborations used her pen-name “Elizabeth Berkeley”, which Howard himself used twice himself. Perhaps at this time their correspondence became a touch more intimate; in late 1920 he wrote On Receiving Ye Portraiture of Mrs. Berkeley, Ye Poetess, indicating that she had sent him a photo. At this time, Winifred’s marriage likewise disintegrated, ending in divorce. She retook her maiden name, and in Lovecraft’s letters “Mrs. Jordan” became thereafter “Miss Jackson.” Lovecraft wrote to her:

From your amended, or restored, signature, I assume that your court case hath come to a successful termination; a circumstance which will cause universal rejoicing because of the inevitable suspense & tension from which it doubtless relieves you.
—H. P. Lovecraft to W. V. Jackson, 25 Dec 1920, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 329

Rumors of a romantic relationship between Howard and Winifred derive Winifred Virginia JacksonLovecraft’s Lost Romance (1976) by George T. Wetzel & R. Alain Everts, a scarce chapbook which repeats a good deal of decades-old gossipsome of it provably wrong; despite assertions by Wetzel & Everts that Horace Jordan was African-American, his birth certificate and draft card both list him as white. So too, Lovecraft and Jackson were not always in perfect agreement: while Lovecraft was an ardent Anglophile and supported the British during World War I and the Irish War of Independence, Jackson supported Sinn Fein:

I first heard of the organisation from Mrs. Jordan, who is so devoted to the cause that she does secretarial work at the offices two or three days every week without remuneration.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the Gallomo, Apr 1920, Letters to Alfred Galpin 85

Despite these political differences, Howard mentions continuing to see Winifred at various amateur get-togethers, and he even published a critical appreciation: “Winifred Virginia Jackson: A ‘Different’ Poetess” (United Amateur, March 1921). Her appreciation for Lovecraft also appears to have been real; on one visit to her house he noted:

[…] I found my worthless poetical attempts predominating in her old scrap books which date back to a time when their inspection by me was probably never anticipated.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Sarah Susan Lovecraft, 17 Mar 1921, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.33

Susie Lovecraft died 24 May 1921 at Butler Hospital, after complications from gallbladder surgery. Howard would write:

My dear Miss Jackson:
It may indeed be said with justice that you have lost a friend in my mother, for although you never heard directly from her, she may be reckoned among the earliest and most enthusiastic admirers of your work. As I recall her especial appreciation of your poems, from the very first she saw, I regret the more that you did not know her personally, either by letter or meeting.
—H. P. Lovecraft to W. V. Jackson, 7 June 1921, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 330

That July, Howard and Winifred both attended the National Amateur Press Association convention in Boston—where Lovecraft met a new amateur from New York, Sonia Haft Greene. Everts reports that in a 1967 interview Sonia told him “I stole HPL away from Winifred Jackson.” Maybe it was so; references to Sonia increase in Howard’s letters at the same time that references to Winifred decrease—yet the correspondence between HPL and WVJ did not cease immediately. If there was a romantic rivalry, it’s not clear that Lovecraft was even aware of it…and there was another factor.

William Stanley Braithwaite was a prominent African-American poet and editor; Lovecraft was not immediately aware of his race (Braithwaite’s parents were both mixed race) until 1918, when Braithwaite was awarded the Springarn medal, this occasioned one of the most intemperate outbursts of racial prejudice in Lovecraft’s letters (Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 112). In the Twentieth Anniversary Number (1921 annual of the Bibliophile Society in Boston), Braithwaite wrote an introduction “The Poetry of Winifred Virginia Jackson”—and the two would soon begin a much more substantial collaboration. In 1921 Braithwaite and Jackson would found the B. J. Brimmer publishing company, which published Braithwaite’s annual anthologies of magazine verse and several works associated with the Harlem Renaissance. The latter connection with African-American literature is no doubt why Winifred was mistakenly identified as black in Colored Girls and Boys’ Inspiring United States History: and a Heart to Heart Talk about White Folks (1921). Wetzel & Everts assert that Jackson and Braithwaite were having an extramarital affair, but there is no evidence for this.

Lovecraft by 1921 was certainly aware that there was some association between Jackson and Braithwaite; his last extent letter to Winifred mentions Braithwaite, whom Lovecraft also named a black kitten after (Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 334); and there are scattered other references in his letters, mostly to Braithwaite writing about Jackson’s poetry or mentioning The Conservative in connection to it (Letters to Family & Family Friends 37, Letters to Maurice W. Moe & Others 106). Whether Lovecraft was aware of them being business partners is unclear; the references to her in his correspondence drop off precipitously in 1921-1922. A single letter from Lovecraft to Braithwaite survives, dated 7 Feb 1930, where HPL is pleased to hear about WVJ, so they must have been out of touch by that date.

Which need not have been anything more elaborate than two friends drifting apart. Winifred Virginia Jackson was spending more time with her new business and less with amateur affairs; H. P. Lovecraft was spending more time with Sonia H. Greene, whom he would marry in 1924. For the lack of their surviving correspondence, Lovecraft gives a clue:

She has a fad for destruction, and wishes all her epistles burnt without exhibition, though they are in truth far less slanderous than the presumably preserved GALLOMO. I usually comply with the wish, though in this case had to save this one sheet for the sake of the story.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the Gallomo, 31 Aug 1921, Letters to Alfred Galpin 109

What did her letters to Lovecraft mean, to Winifred? Certainly he supplied encouragement and enthusiasm for her poetry; they shared dreams and collaborated on two stories; and their period of correspondence was marked by major life events for both of them: disease, divorce, & death. They shared a close professional correspondence as the lead administrators of the United Amateur Press Association…and if there was anything more, we can only guess at it.

The six surviving letters consist of one draft among Lovecraft’s papers, and five letters that R. H. Barlow transcribed and submitted to August Derleth; only an excerpt from the first letter was published in Selected Letters I. Presumably, these were all of the letters that Winifred was able to unearth when Barlow contacted her c. 1938.

All six letters have been published in Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others.


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Zealia Brown Reed Bishop

Dear Mr. Lovecraft :—

Your letter of the 20th just arrived. I shall be only too glad to have your friend have The Mound for sale or to see—especially that since it offers an opportunity to partially discharge my already disgracefully lengthened debt to you— (You are so patient about money—especially when you need it so very much.)
—Zealia Brown Bishop to H. P. Lovecraft, 26 May 1934, The Spirit of Revision 177

In 1927, Zealia Margaret Caroline Brown Reed turned 30 years old. She had been married at seventeen to James P. Reed (1891-1935); a son (James Reed, Jr.) was born seven months after the wedding. The state of her marriage in 1927 is unknown, but three years later she would be listed on the U.S. Census as “divorced.” Living at the time in Cleveland, Ohio, Zealia Brown Reed worked as a court reporter and sold stories and articles to support herself and her son, but was looking to improve her writing. Via Samuel Loveman, she got in touch with a friend of his that did revision work and dispensed writing advice: H. P. Lovecraft.

I wrote to Lovecraft and he replied immediately that he would be glad to examine any of my work I cared to send and offer what assistance he could.

Thereafter I became an established recipient of the famous Lovecraft letters. He wrote regularly, sometimes fifty and sixty page letters, in a fine spidery script which often counted five hundred words to the page. These letters were filled with the strictest rules of rhetoric and meaty literary advice.
—Zealia Bishop, “H. P. Lovecraft: A Pupil’s View” in Ave Atque Vale 254

The correspondence of Zealia and Howard would last for the final decade of Lovecraft’s life. It would result in three weird tales: “The Curse of Yig” (written 1928, published 1929), “The Mound” (written 1929, published 1940), and “Medusa’s Coil” (written 1930, published 1939). Lovecraft also had a hand in revising a number of Zealia’s non-weird manuscripts, none of which are known to have been published or survive. As with some of his other revision clients, Lovecraft’s correspondence goes much beyond the simple “business” side of things. Writing apparently every week or two, his letters would be filled with advice on writing, suggested readings, remarks on articles or newspaper cuttings that Zealia had sent. One letter from Lovecraft to her son James survives, showing how friendly and familiar that the two had gotten, although Lovecraft never failed to address his letters as “Dear Mrs. Reed,” or “Dear Mrs. R”—at least until 1930, when Zealia remarried to Dauthard William Bishop, Sr. and the letters were sent to “Dear Mrs. Bishop.”

As is the case with many of Lovecraft’s correspondents, the bulk of the surviving correspondence are his letters to Zealia, which makes it difficult to get a read on the woman herself. What is apparent from Lovecraft’s responses to her is that she was not primarily interested in weird fiction, being more focused on stories of relationships, real life, and human interest—and apparently sold at least one story “One-Man Girl” the confession pulp Cupid’s Diary (26 Dec 1928). While Lovecraft was always polite to Zealia in his letters to her, to his other correspondents he would occasionally gripe:

And the light diversion wherewith I’m paying it off is the most deodamnate piece of unending Bushwork I’ve ever tackled since the apogee of the immortal Davidius himself—the sappy, half-baked Woman’s Home Companion stuff of a female denizen of once illustrious Cleveland whose pencil has hopelessly outdistanc’d her imagination. Gawd bless the money-orders, but Pete sink the manuscripts!
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 23 May 1927, Letters to James F. Morton 138

David Van Bush was a prolific early revision client of Lovecraft’s who specialized in mediocre poetry and pop-psychology essays; any revision work that that was especially tedious became “Bushwork.” While that might well be the case for some of Zealia’s more romantic fiction, it’s difficult to say that the same should apply to their weird fiction—Lovecraft himself noted that “The Curse of Yig”: “gave me quite an opportunity to practice up on my old creative processes” (Letters with Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 206); and the extensive narrative of “The Mound” stands as one of Lovecraft’s longest stories, based on a very bare premise, so he could hardly have had no interest in it. There is a lacunae in the extent Lovecraft/Bishop correspondence around the time “Medusa’s Coil” was written, and because it was never published almost no references in Lovecraft’s other letters, so it is unclear what his feelings were toward that work.

Zealia herself, however, seemed overall very grateful for the long friendship in letters. When August Derleth contacted Bishop after Lovecraft’s death, looking for his letters and any unpublished stories, she noted:

You see when I first began writing I was prone to be too schoolgirlishly romanticHPL snapped me out of that & made me infinitely ashamed of myself. My sister has a ranch in Okla & while visiting her over a period of many years I have studied & learned much of Indian folklore. The Mound & Yig are both based on actual stories throughout the locality of my sister’s ranchMedusa’s Coil might also interest you?

I am sending you a few letters which cover minutely Howard’s principles of revision instructions–one is the first letter ever received from him in ’27 on this subject. Yes he helped me on nearly everything I’ve done in some mannerthe storiesYigThe MoundMedusa’s Coilwere my first real stories of their kindthe novelThe Adopted Sonwas carefully corrected by HPL & revised where he felt necessaryhe suggested the method of rhythmwhich I endeavored to carry out& which you will catch when you have time to read it.
—Zealia Bishop to August Derleth, 14 Apr 1937, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

For all that the correspondence between Zealia and Howard seems to have run for about a decade, and is mentioned in her memoir “H. P. Lovecraft: A Pupil’s View”, surprisingly little of it survives. In part, this appears to be a factor in Zealia’s re-marriage and moves. When Derleth contacted her about the Lovecraft letters project, she apparently sent some of the letters in her possession. Eighteen of these became part of the Arkham House Transcripts; fourteen of them appear in Selected Letters II (1968). In her correspondence with Derleth, she hinted at other surviving letters:

My yet unfinished tale is one with Aztec mythology woven through it and I think Howard was well pleased with the progress I made without his supervision…even as he was with three of my novels. Sometimes I shall send you the letters he wrote about them…telling me how I had progressed with structure and the choice of words.
Zealia Bishop to August Derleth, 13 Jan 1950, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

These letters appear to have never made it to Derleth, but some of it did survive; in 2014, it came to light that 36 letters (including the letter from Lovecraft to her son Jim, and one surviving letter from Zealia to Lovecraft) had been in the possession of Zealia’s great niece. This, combined with the letters that Arkham House transcribed and biographical materials on Zealia’s life and her correspondence with Lovcraft, were annotated and published as The Spirit of Revision (2015) by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

The correspondence is still very incomplete; the fifty-four published letters covers a period of 1927-1930, 1934, and 1936. In addition to this, there is one letter which Zealia quoted from in writing to August Derleth, which has not been published:

But I do want you to know that under H.P.L. I most certainly had the finest fundamental training one could ever receive in years at any university.

Thus as example: “I am genuinely astonished by Wright’s attitude toward your last story. It only confirms my opinion of his capriciousness and lack of all objective standards in judging stories. This tale was not so long as the one he accepted the week beforeand I don’t see where it could be any less “convincing”. But Wright’s Wrighthe will have his self-important ex-cathedra personal reactions. I give him up! In fact I gave him up long ago. It would take some superhuman and veteran behaviourist like Thomas H. Uzzell to fathom the intricacies of his psychology.”
Zealia Bishop to August Derleth, 6 Apr 1949, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

This would presumably be a reference to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright rejecting either “The Mound” or “The Curse of Yig.”

One aspect of Zealia’s letters to Lovecraft that has mostly gone unremarked are the dealings she had with the other authors in Lovecraft’s circle. Samuel Loveman has already been mentioned; the two do not appear to have any lengthy correspondence. At the time she began to engage Lovecraft’s revision services, he was in partnership with Frank Belknap Long. “Sonny” Long may have revised and/or typed some of her manuscripts, and acted as literary agent in trying to get “The Mound” published after it was rejected by Weird Tales. In addition to Long, Zealia got in touch with Robert H. Barlow, the avid fan who later became Lovecraft’s literary executor, in 1934.

Dear Mr Barlow:-

After so long a time I generally get around to accomplishing the thing I’m supposed to. Today I am expressing The Mound to you and am also enclosing a copy of Medusa’s Coil for you to read, then I wish you would please send it on to Mr Frank B. Long of New York (230 West 97th Street) as I’m going to give him a chance to dispose of it unless you would particularly like to have it. Anyway, you may advise me. I have no idea what the Londodn [sic] Publishers will offer. They have asked to see it and are the publishers who made a reprint of The Curse of Yig. […]

Mr Lovecraft must have had a marvelous time at your home and on his trip. Isn’t he a wonderful person? I feel deeply indebted to him for anything I have and may ever accomplish. His letters are always sources of great inspiration to me.

My fingers are getting buttery so shall stop, but wanted you to know that the manuscripts go forth today. Sorry I’ve been so negligent.
Zealia Bishop to R. H. Barlow, 11 Jul 1934, MSS. John Hay Library

Barlow collected manuscripts from pulp writers, and eventually had an eye toward publishing them in his amateur journals The Dragon-Fly and Leaves. Her correspondence with Barlow would be relatively brief, but Barlow would form an important link in the chain to eventually getting all of her weird revisions published in Weird Talesand eventually by Arkham Housealthough this involved a bit of miscommunication and misunderstanding:

Am glad you liked The Moundaltho’ I wonder if you saw Medusa’s Coil after HPL revised it? The partial copy I sent you was the original before his revision? I was shocked at young Barlow’s claim–for it was untruthful from the starkas I believe one of Lovecraft’s to me proved. HPL wrote me of a “young chap in Florida” who was interested in printing on “his own machine some weird stories” & asked me if I would let Barlow “use” my stories for his “private collection”or something like thatlater Barlow wrote me asking my permission & even asking me to let him use the pictures used by Wright in the Curse of Yig!I hope I’ve proved that the stories are mine? Barlow never found the stories in Lovecraft’s effects& has no claim on them. Every one of the three talesThe Curse of YigThe Mound & Medusa’s Coilis based on material acquired on my travels around my sister’s ranch in Oklatho Medusa’s Coil was written around another location. Tell Barlow for mehe’s a poor sport!

The revision prices on all stories were duly noted when HPL had finished, tho’ I owed him either 18.00 or 21.00 at the time of his death on some work done last yearWhatever Wright or anyone else will pay for either or both tales please arrange that half (regardless of the indebtedness) be paid to Mrs. Gamwellin appreciation for all HPL did for me.
Zealia Bishop to August Derleth, 11 May 1937, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

H. P. Lovecraft mentioned Zealia in several letters to his various other friends and correspondents, usually in relation to “The Curse of Yig” or to the other stories her revised for her, but it doesn’t appear that many of them attempted to actually get in touch with her. Besides Derleth, who contacted Zealia after Lovecraft’s death and seems to have remained in touch with her off-and-on for most of the rest of her life. The only other possible contact she had was with Lovecraft’s friend and fellow pulpster E. Hoffmann Price:

It was just before Bill’s and my brother’s tragic deaths, that H. Hoffman Price (maybe I have that first initial wrong) turned me over to his agent August Lenniger. At that point when he was advising me my heart and mind seemed suddenly to stand still. […]
Zealia Bishop to August Derleth, 24 Apr 1949, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

August Lenniger was Price’s literary agent; it’s not entirely clear when they got in contact, if it was in the 1930s, there is no reference to any correspondence in Price’s letters with Lovecraft, nor in Price’s memoirs of other pulp writers.

As a writer, Zealia Brown Reed Bishop seems to have found little professional success in terms of sales—her “confession” pulp stories are long forgotten, her novels remained unpublished—except for those stories revised, to the point of being ghost-written, by H. P. Lovecraft. This work is not without distinction: The Curse of Yig (1953, Arkham House) is the first volume of Mythos fiction published under a woman’s name, and the weird fruit of Zealia’s correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft continues to be published and re-published. While many fans may find The Spirit of Revision principally of interest because of the light it sheds on Lovecraft’s revision practices, it should be noted that their correspondence covered much more ground than just that—and Zealia’s letters may yet prove more valuable as a record of their personal and professional relationship.

ZealiaBishopc1945

I could mention one thing more, however, which can hardly be considered of minor importance. Mrs. Bishop was a woman of great charm and quite exceptional beauty.
—Frank Belknap Long,
Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Nightside xiv


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