Her Letters To Lovecraft: Jonquil Leiber

But first I must explain that my husband, Fritz Leiber, Jr, son of the Shakespearian actor, (who often played in Providence in time past) met Lovecraft through myself and formed a delightful friendship. We were the recipients of many letters now in the hands of the Wisconsin people, Eerleth [sic] et al. Many of the things you touched on in your article, we knew a little more in detail due to this correspondence – about his brief marriage for instance. And since I wa [sic] more interested in Lovecraft as a man or human than I was as a writer, (I lean to the Montague Rhode James, plus the weird man known as Summers type of mystery having been brought up in a draft old English castle – I’m an Englishwoman) so that I learned a number of things about him that his more well bred correspondents did. The man literally starved to death.
—Jonquil Leiber to William Townley Scott, 18 May 1944, MSS. John Hay Library

Jonquil Ellen Stephens married Fritz Reuter Leiber, Jr. on 18 January 1936. Fritz was working as an actor and pursuing a career as a writer; he had met and dated Jonquil at the University of Chicago in 1933-1934. They shared a love of supernatural fiction and poetry, and she encouraged her husband’s interests. On the 14th of October 1936, Jonquil wrote to Lovecraft.

Then in the late summer my wife, with a bold directness I had been unable to conceive for myself, wrote a letter to Lovecraft care of Weird Tales. A few days later the great man replied with what we thought was a long letter, until we had received some of his average-sized communications. That was the beginning of an orgy of letter-writing which lasted the few short months until his death. My wife wrote more letters herself and shortly we were joined by my friend and fellow enthusiast for the fantastic, Harry O. Fischer, then of Lousiville, Kentucky. Our letters were returned to us by Mrs. Gamwell afterwards. The entire correspondence was excerpted by Derleth for the volume of letters and later borrowed and retained, permanently as yet, by another individual who shall remain nameless here.
—Fritz Leiber, Jr. “My Correspondence with Lovecraft,” Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 375

Of the nine published letters from H. P. Lovecraft to Fritz & Jonquil Leiber, based off the Arkham House Transcripts created by August Derleth & co., four are addressed to “My dear Mrs. Leiber.” The originals letters, as far as I am aware, have not surfaced in the interim.

It is difficult to feel out who Jonquil was through these letters. As she told Scott, they show an interest in Lovecraft as a human being more than in his fiction; where Fritz and Lovecraft soon got deep into literary criticism and history, which would cause Fritz Leiber to revise his first Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser novella Adept’s Gambit, to her he answered questions on his life, who Lovecraft was and how he lived. Yet this was a real correspondence, a two-way channel of communication, and Lovecraft found out about her even as she was finding out about him.

It is interesting to know that you have a touch of piracy in your ancestry! I have a counterfeiter as a great-great-grand-uncle about whom I’ll tell you some time.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Jonquil Leiber, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 317

The best picture of her probably came from her husband, writing decades later after thirty-three years of marriage which only ended with her death due to a combination of alcohol and barbiturates. He remembered her as she was when they married:

She was small (four foot ten; best weight, ninety pounds), had bright blue eyes that were at times violet; she was fast (at Cyfartha Castle school in Wales she’d been a great scorer in field hockey; her method: get the ball and dodge your way to the enemy goal, no teamwork needed—you can always dodge big girls) and a good apache dancer; she had natural grace and artistry (early on she’d done illuminated manuscripts just as had the hero of Machen’s The Hill of Dreams); in America she posed for silk stocking advertisements; she was a great party planner and giver, a gifted fortuneteller, enthusiastic, and friendly, but capable of sudden vast dignified reserves, again just like a kitten.
—Fritz Leiber, Jr., “Not Much Disorder and Not So Early Sex: An Autobiographic Essay”
in The Ghost Light 334

Fritz talks about how cold winter was that January and February in Chicago, and how he read to Jonquil “At the Mountains of Madness” by H. P. Lovecraft from the pages of Astounding Stories (the first part appeared in the February 1936 issue, which might have been on the stands the month before). Their correspondence itself is almost lost in his account of their life together. It was, after all, only about four months—though it would influence Fritz for the rest of his life, help inform his work and make connections with the circle of Lovecraft’s correspondents, and he would return the favor with literary analyses and appreciations such as “The Works of H. P. Lovecraft: Suggestions for a Critical Appraisal” (1944), “A Literary Copernicus” (1949), “Through Hyperspace with Brown Jenkin” (1963), and “To Arkham and the Stars” (1966).

Throughout his life, Fritz Leiber, Jr. never forgot his debt to Lovecraft—or to Jonquil.

Because without Jonquil, none of it would have happened. Perhaps Fritz would have found his voice eventually; sold his stories and made his name. Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser may yet have helped inspire Dungeons & Dragons and played their part in the sword & sorcery boom of the 1960s and 70s; Fritz may even have written his homages to Lovecraft without that personal connection and communication. Yet because she had the courage to write to Lovecraft, a torch was passed from one generation of weird writers to another—and the effects of her letters to Lovecraft are still being felt today. They can still be read today, thanks to her: his final hopes to get a job, his painful economic necessities to scrimp on food. Not always pleasant reading, but the kind of insight which Lovecraft did not always share with every correspondent.

Lovecraft’s letters to Jonquil & Fritz Leiber were published in part in volume five of the Selected Letters (Arkham House, 1976), published more fully in Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark (2005, Wildside Press), and reprinted in Letters to C. L. Moore and Others (2017, Hippocampus Press).

To A Dead Lover

Your limbs lie quietly beneath the grey dust and mould
And I am done with you and all you were of old
The blind worms creep about that once lovely head
I held against my heart…once, when your blood ran red.

Long years ago I loved you, but now I smile
Having other men a long, long while
I have forgotten you, I say, and all you were….

….But why do I hear your slow step on the stair…
And wait, eyes closed, to feel your arms about me?
—Jonquil Stephens, Sonnets to Jonquil and All (1978) vii


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: Unnamed Salem Witch Descendant

The old gentry, representing the two or three armigerous families which came from Salem in 1692, have kept somewhat above the general level of decay; though many branches are sunk into the sordid populace so deeply that only their names remain as a key to the origin they disgrace. Some of the Whateleys and Bishops still send their eldest sons to Harvard and Miskatonic, though those sons seldom return to the mouldering gambrel roofs under which they and their ancestors were born.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror” Weird Tales April 1929

Among the Salem witches in 1692, ‘this Rampant Hag, Martha Carrier, was the person, of whom the Confessions of the Witches, and of her own Children among the rest, agreed, That the Devil had promised her, she should be Queen of Hell.
—Margaret Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) 47

Since 1924 when he first read Margaret Murray’s book on witches, H. P. Lovecraft had believed in the reality of the witch-cult, and that it had an American coven in Salem which had precipitated the famous witch-trials. So too, Lovecraft began to connect his stories with a fictional Salem diaspora, which included Joseph Curwen (“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”), the ancestors of Randolph Carter (“Through the Gates of the Silver Key”), Richard Upton Pickman (“Pickman’s Model”) and the unnamed narrator of “The Festival.” Lovecraft even hinted at the events in his “History of the Necronomicon.” Yet when Lovecraft wrote “The Dunwich Horror” and “them witch Whateleys” little did he know that he was about to have an encounter with a real-life descendant of Salem.

By the way—that tale has just earned me a highly interesting letter from a curious old lady in Boston, a direct lineal descendant of the Salem witch Mary Easty, who was hanged on Gallows Hill Aug. 19, 1692. She hints at strange gifts & traditions handed down in her family, & asks me if I have access to any ancient secret witch-lore of New England. Also, she wants to know if Dunwich & Arkham are real places! I shall answer the letter, & see if I can get the good old soul to relate some of the whispered witch-traditions! A story of Salem horror based on actual “inside dope” from a witch-blooded crone would surely be a striking novelty!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 22 Mar 1929, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 171

Mary Towne Eastey (or Este, Easty, & other variations) was 58 when she was hanged for witchcraft. Her case is less famous than some of the other victims; Arthur Miller barely names her in The Crucible (1952). Two of her sisters were accused as well, with Rebecca Nurse hanged a few months earlier, but Sarah Cloyce was released the following year. Among the victims of the Salem Witch Trials, Mary Eastey was remembered as one of the most pious and eloquent, and in the end begged the court not for her own life, but for the lives of her fellow accused.

Before she died, Mary Eastey had eleven children, and many grandchildren—and in the 237 years between her death and the letter that H. P. Lovecraft received from “a curious old lady in Boston,” there is room for hundreds of potential descendants. Lovecraft never identifies his correspondent by name, nor does he appear to have kept any of her letters, so this particular correspondent has never been identified, and may never be, so brief was their relationship—so as with many of his lesser-known correspondents, we have to piece together what we can not from the letters themselves, but from Lovecraft’s references in his letters to others.

By the way—the publication of “The Dunwich Horror” has just earned me a curious & interesting letter from an old lady in Boston, a direct lineal descendant of the Salem witch Mary Easty, who was hanged on Gallows Hill Aug. 19, 1692. She claims to have heard some strange traditions handed down in the family, & to possess certain powers of peering into the future which she cannot explain. A quaint old soul, apparently—I shall write & see if any of her “inside” witch traditions have fictional value. She wants to know whether Dunwich & Arkham are real places, since they don’t appear on ordinary maps of Massachusetts!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, c. 22 Mar 1929, Essential Solitude 1.189

It is likely that like many fans she wrote at first by way of Weird Tales, and that the editor Farnsworth Wright had forwarded the letter to Lovecraft, much as he would do with Robert E. Howard’s letter to Lovecraft the next year. Weird Tales had never shied away from tales of the Salem Witch Trials; Seabury Quinn had covered the trials in his series of nonfiction articles titled Servants of Satan, beginning with “The Salem Horror” (WT Mar 1925). Quinn, like Lovecraft in “The Dunwich Horror,” mentions tourists—Salem in the 1920s was beginning to appreciate its reputation as “witch country,” though not quite to the extant that it one day would.

While Quinn paints the victims of the Salem witch hysteria as innocent here, in his fiction he was more than happy to hint at real witches caught and burned by the trials. Lovecraft was far from alone in imagining a Salem witch diaspora, which caught on in the public imagination with films like I Married A Witch (1942) and eventually the television show Bewitched (1964-1972) and characters like Sabrina Spellman (Archie’s Mad House #22, Oct 1962). But at the time, these “real” witches of Salem were often depicted less positively, such as in Robert Bloch’s short story “Satan’s Servants” (written c. 1935) which Lovecraft had a slight hand in.

Yes—I may call on that venerable & genial witch-descendant before long. She is certainly the epitome of thoughtfulness & generosity—no sooner had I chanced to mention casually my long desire to read “The Wind in the Rosebush”, than the good soul sent it along as an unsolicited loan—she having owned it these 25 years, ever since it was published!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 1 Apr 1929, Essential Solitude 1.190

While we don’t know for certain what Lovecraft’s letter contained, his first letter would not doubt disabused her that any of his artificial mythology—including Arkham and Dunwich—were real, as this is what he always did whenever anyone asked him about the reality of of the Necronomicon, Cthulhu, et al. It is curious that Lovecraft would mention such a scarce volume as Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman’s The Wind in the Rose-Bush and Other Stories of the Supernatural (1903), but given that the unnamed correspondent was a reader of Weird Tales, it suggests she had some tastes in weird fiction, and Lovecraft had recently published his “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927), which mentioned Freeman’s book, so perhaps that formed a point of discussion.

Yes—that letter from a witch-descendant was rather unusual, & I am still hoping for dark data when she gets ready to unfold some real family history. It appears that her forbears were well acquainted with the Marblehead witches Edward Dimond & his daughter Moll Pitcher, (whose home, “The Old Brig”, still stands on Burying Hill) & that she herself, through the Easty or Este line, is a scion of the D’Estes of Ferrara, Italy, & a descendant of no less a malign character than Lucrezia Borgia! Some ancestry! The wildest progenitors on my own family charts seem pretty tame besides this array of glittering sinistrality.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 14 Apr 1929, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 172

Marblehead, Massachusetts, neighboring Salem, was a model for Lovecraft’s Kingsport just as Salem (or Salem Village, modern day Danvers) was the basis for “witch-haunted Arkham.” Edward Dimond was known as “the Wizard of Marblehead” or “Wizard Dimond”; his granddaughter Moll Pitcher gained some fame as a fortune-teller in nearby Lynn, and was the subject of a poem by famed poet John Greenleaf Whittier.

I’ve heard more from the Boston witch-descendant, who likewise turns out to be a lineal scion (through the Massachusetts Eastys, who were originally D’Estes of Ferrara, Italy) of Lucrezia Borgia & Pope Alexander the Sixth! Likewise, her forbears were intimately acquainted with Old Diamond & Moll Pitcher of Marblehead, about whom I told you some time ago. She has not yet related any specific dark tales transmitted down her family line, but still promises to do so.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 15 Apr 1929, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 56

The connection with the House of Este of Ferrara appears fanciful—many amateurs in genealogy make assumptions based on common names. If that is fancy, or an error, it may be that the entire witch-genealogy of this unknown correspondent was so. Certainly, it doesn’t appear that the “dark lore” was apparently ever passed to Lovecraft, or at least he makes no mention of further correspondence with her after 1929, nor are there any specific mentions of his visiting her in Boston at any point.

The Boston witch-lady & the Maine wizard prove rather interesting—the latter in a somewhat amusing way.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 4 May 1929, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 61

“The Maine Wizard” was a male occultist who corresponded with Lovecraft at roughly the same time and for roughly the same purpose: asking after the genuine lore behind the Necronomicon and all that. As with the “Boston witch-lady,” Lovecraft never gives his name, though the very few descriptions suggest he was not William Lumley, another occultist of Lovecraft’s acquaintance.

Both of these correspondents have in common that they wrote to Lovecraft, probably via Weird Tales, as essentially “serious fan letters”—and we might imagine their thrill at receiving a response from the author, even as we imagine their disappointment when Lovecraft revealed that it was all made up after all. In both cases it is possible that the correspondence continued for a time, turning to other subjects. While we never learn her name, we do learn her ultimate fate:

An old lady in Bostom whom I knew—& who died just a year ago—was a direct descendant of Mary Easty, one of the Salem witches hanged in 1692—& therefore a collateral descendant of the more famous Rebecca Nurse (Mrs. Easty’s sister), whose ancient house (built 1636) in Danvers, Mass. [near Salem—formerly called Salem-Village] is still in existence & open as a public museum (I saw it in 1923).
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 19 Mar 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 116

One thing we can be relatively sure of is that Lovecraft did not have her copy of The Wind in the Rose-Bush in later years, because he did not have a copy when Samuel Loveman gifted one to him in 1935. Lovecraft tended to be punctual in such things, and his last published recollection of his one-time correspondent shows it is no longer in his possession:

It’s an achievement nowadays even to read “The Wind in the Rosebush”, for scarcely any library has a copy. I never saw it till a year & a half ago, when a nice old lady in Boston lent a copy to Munn & me.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 14 Apr 1932, Essential Solitude 2.472

H. Warner Munn was a fellow weird taler from Athol, Massachusetts who had famously written “The Werewolf of Ponkert” (WT Jul 1925) following a suggestion from Lovecraft; the Rhode Islander also noted Munn’s extensive weird library. Curiously, when Loveman gifted Lovecraft with a copy of the rare book, he noted:

Loveman brought me a copy of “The Wind in the Rosebush” which he had promised me so long. Now you, Munn, & I are all equipped!
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 5 Sep 1935, O Fortunate Floridian! 291

Where did Munn get his copy? Did he have a bit of luck and buy one in the book store or—perhaps—was he one of those bastards that borrow a book and never give it back? That would certainly be another reason for the old witch lady to cut ties…but, we don’t know; perhaps she sold or gifted the copy to Munn.

That is all there is on Lovecraft’s correspondence with the unnamed descendant of Mary Towne Eastey, that innocent old woman killed in the witch-hysteria that gripped Salem Village in 1692. Seabury Quinn in “The End of the Horror” called the whole episode absurd and a tragedy, and so it was. Yet reading these lines over, I am given to wonder if in their brief correspondence Lovecraft did not touch on Mary Eastey’s sister Rebecca Nurse—and recalled a very singular experience he had in a trip to Danvers some years prior, before he read The Witch-Cult in Western Europe:

I now put the aera of Colonial refinement behind me, and hark’d back farther still to an age of darker and weirder appeal—the age of the dreaded witchcraft. Leaving Danvers, I struck out along the roads and across the fields toward the lone farmhouse built by Townsend Bishop in 1636, and in 1692 inhabited by the worthy and inoffensive old widow Rebekah Nurse, who was seventy years of age and wished no one harm. Accused by the superstitious West Indian slave woman Tituba (who belong’d to the Reverend Samuel Parris and who caused the entire wave of delusion) of bewitching children, and denounced blindly by some of the hysterical children in question, Goodwife Nurse was arrested and brought to trial. Thirty-nine persons sign’d a paper attesting to her blameless conduct, and a jury render’d a verdict of “not guilty”; but popular clamour led the judges to reverse the verdict (as was then possible), and on 19 July 1692 the poor grandam was hang’d on Gallows Hill in Salem for a mythological crime. Her remains were brought back from Salem and interred in the family burying-grounda ghoulish place shadowed by huge pines and at some distance from the house. In 1885 a monument was erected to her memory, bearing an inscription by the poet Whittier.

As I approach’d the spot to which I had been directed, after passing through the hamlet of Tapleyville, the afternoon sun was very low. Soon the houses thinn’d out; so that on my right were only the hilly fields of stubble, and occasional crooked trees clawing at the sky. Beyond a low crest a thick group of spectral boughs bespoke some kind of grove or orchardand in the midst of this group I suddenly descry’d the rising outline of a massive and ancient chimney. Presently, as I advanced, I saw the top of a grey, drear, sloping roof- sinister in its distant setting of bleak hillside and leafless grove, and unmistakable belonging to the haunted edifice I sought. Another turna gradual ascentand I beheld in full view the sprawling, tree-shadowed house which had for nearly three hundred years brooded over those hills and held such secrets as men may only guess. Like all old farmhouses of the region, the Nurse cottage faces the warm south and slopes low toward the north. It front on an ancient garden, where in their season gay blossoms flaunt themselves against the grim, nail-studded door and the vertical sundial above it. That sundial was long concealed by the overlaid clapboards of Gothic generations, but came to light when the house was restored to original form by the memorial society which owns it. Everything about the place is ancienteven to the tiny-paned lattice windows which open outward on hinges. The atmosphere of witchcraft days broods heavily upon that low hilltop.

My rap at the ancient door brought the caretaker’s wife, an elderly unimaginative person with no appreciation of the dark glamour of the ancient scene. This family live in a lean-to west of the main structurean addition probably 100 years less ancient than the parent edifice. I was the first visitor of the 1923 season, and took pride in signing my name at the top of the register. Entering, I found myself in a low, dark passage whose massive beams almost touched my head; and passing on, I travers’d the two immense rooms on the round floorsombre, barren, panell’d apartments with colossal fireplaces in the vast central chimney, and with occasional pieces of the plain, heavy furniture and primitive farm and domestick utensils of the ancient yeomanry. In these wide, low-pitch’d rooms a spectral menace broodsfor to my imagination the 17th century is as full of macabre mystery, repression and ghoulish adumbrations as the 18th century is full of taste, gayety, grace and beauty. This was a typical Puritan abode; where amdist the bare, ugly necessities of life, and without learning, beauty, culture, freedom or ornament, terrible stern-fac’d folk in conical hats or poke-bonnets dwelt 250 and more years agoclose to the soil and all its hideous whisperings; warp’d in mentality by isolation and unnatural thoughts, and shivering in fear of the Devil on autumn nights when the wind howl’d through the twisted orchard trees or rustled the hideous corpse-nourish’d pines in the graveyard at the foot of the hill. There is eldritch fascinationhorrible buried evilin these archaic farmhouses. After seeing them, and smelling the odour of centuries in their walls, one hesitates to read certain passages in Cotton Mather’s strange old “Magnalia (which you, little Belknap, shall see when you come to visit your old grandpa) after dark. After exploring the ground floor I crept up the black crooked stairs and examin’d the bleak chambers above. The furniture was as ugly as that below, and included a small trundle-bed in which infant Puritans (even as you, children) were lull’d to sleep with meaningless prayers and morbid hints of daemons riding the night-wind outside the small-paned lattice-windows. Poor little creatures! […]

I saw old Rebekah’s favourite chair, where she used to sit and spin before the Salem magistrates dragged her to the gallows. And the sunset wind whistled in the colossal chimney, and ghouls rattled ghastly skeletons from unseen attic rafters overhead. Tho’ it was not suppos’d to be open to the public, I persuaded the caretaker to let me ascend to that hideous garret of century’d secrets. Thick dust cover’d everything, and unnatural shapes loom’d on every hand as the evening twilight oozed though the little blear’d panes of the ancient windows. I saw something hanging from the wormy ridge-polesomething that swayed as if in unison with the vesper breeze outside, tho’ that breeze had no access to this funereal and forgotten placeshadows … shadows … shadows… And I descended from that accursed garret of palaeogean arcana, and left that portentous abode of antiquity; left it and went down the hill to the graveyard under the shocking pines, where twilight shew’d sinister slabs and rusty bits of fallen iron fence, and where something squatted in shadow on a monumentsomething that made me climb the hill again, hurry shudderingly past the venerable house and descend the opposite slope to Tapleyville as night came.
H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long and Alfred Galpin, 1 May 1923, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 247-249

What might she have made of that, if Lovecraft cared to retell that particular tale? Perhaps it would have thrilled her…or perhaps she would have taken more comfort in the lines of Whittier that adorn Rebecca Nurse’s monument:

O, Christian martyr! who for truth could die,
When all about thee owned the hideous lie!
The world, redeemed from superstition’s sway,
Is breathing freer for thy sake today.


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: Natalie H. Wooley

I should say that weird fans who have a taste in liking the outre in literature have a superior taste, rather than a morbid one, a sign of an inquiring mind, that is not satisfied with Wild West, Gangster, or sickly mediocre love stories. But to explore the hidden corners of things, whether it be the universe, the mind, or the supernatural, is providing that one’s mind is not smug or narrow. If this be madness, insanity, or morbidity, glory in it, you weird and fantasy fans. 
—Natalie H. Wooley,
The Fantasy Fan May 1934

Natalie Hartley Wooley wrote to Lovecraft by way of Weird Tales in c. June 1933, inquiring into the reality of the strange tomes and Mythos in his fiction. While we cannot say for certain what prompted her letter, Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House” was published in the July 1933 issue, which hit stands the month before. Lovecraft, as he always did, revealed that it was an artificial mythology. The correspondence went on from there.

She was 29 years old in 1933, and her son George was nine years old. Biographical details are scarce; very few of her letters appear to have survived, and we have only Lovecraft’s side of the the correspondence, amounting to 15 letters (or parts thereof) from 1933 to 1936. Wooley was also a member of Lovecraft’s late round robin letter group the Coryciani, of which 4 letters survive from 1934-1936. More of her own writing survives in early fanzines and amateur journalism.

It appears that through Lovecraft, Wooley was introduced to both amateur journalism and early science fiction fandom—and joined both. Wooley was a poet, and perhaps had aspirations to be a writer. Lovecraft’s letters give lists of weird fiction that a dedicated fan might read, sources for occult lore ranging from The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray to medieval grimoires and Theosophy, and advice on writing and being published. Perhaps aware of how he had advised revision clients like Zealia Bishop in the past, Lovecraft wrote:

However—don’t bother with weird fiction at all unless you feel a genuine inclination toward it. It is the most difficult of all material to market professionally, & the circle of those who truly enjoy & appreciate it is always discouragingly small.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Natalie H. Wooley, 6 Aug 1933, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 191

Marketable or not, Wooley tried her hand at it. Her short story of a murderer on death’s row feeling the ghostly revenge of another was published as “Spurs of Death” in The Fantasy Fan (Dec 1933). Acclaim was modest; Lovecraft’s letter in the January 1934 issue reads “All the stories are excellent and the departments are as interesting as usual.”; H. C. Koenig in the February issue wrote “this Wooley person certainly did a very nice job with her story.”

More effusive praise would come for Wooley’s poetry, much of it from Lovecraft himself. Still, she was in the mix and among the fans; her poems and fan-letters graced the pages of The Fantasy Fan and Marvel Tales in 1934 and 1935, and from Lovecraft’s responses it is clear that she read and commented on his fiction. Beyond that, Lovecraft appears to have recruited her to amateur journalism, where she had further outlet for her poetry and opinions:

A new voice in the National is that of Mrs. Natalie Hartley Wooley, whose brief, wistful lyrics strike one’s fancy with singular sharpness through certain faint overtones subtly suggesting magical vistas and dim regions beyond the confines of daylight reality. “Western Night”, in the Summer Goldenrod, has great charm and power; while “Flight”, in the October Sea Gull, unites with its general elfin quality a poignant human pathos.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Bureau of Critics” in the National Amateur (June 1934), Collected Essays 1.375

NATALIE HARTLEY WOOLEY, Kansas, is a member of both the National and United Amateur Press Associations and has contributed to Kansas City Star, Kansas City Journal-Post, Marvel Tales, The Fantasy Fan, and to The Christian Board of Publication periodicals. She wrote the lyrics for “Querida, a Spanish Serenade,” a song which may be heard on the radio.
“Who’s New,” Kaleidograph (Dec 1934), quoted in Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 10n7

As with most of Lovecraft’s letters, what began as a focus on weird fiction eventually grew broader. Wooley asked about Wiggam’s The Fruit of the Family Tree (1924), a popular work on eugenics, which led to a lengthy response from Lovecraft, touching on Nazi antisemitism and the 1933 law on compulsory sterilization, miscegenation and the color-line in the United States, and the rising power of and Westernization of Japan. Yet for the most part their letters concern weird fiction, fellow fans, and especially in the Coryciani letters, poetry. One such letter shows Lovecraft’s appreciation for her verse:

Mrs. Wooley’s contribution is rich in illuminating comments & examples. She is, it would seem, right in believing that both simple & involvedly mystical & allusive (within reasonable limits) verse have a definite & unchallengeable place in the aesthetic scheme. Like Mr. Adams’s, her preferences run to the philosophical—albeit in a somewhat less concrete fashion. A certain wistful, elusive mysticism—involving touches of the whimsical, the fantastic, & the delicately spectral—often characterises Mrs. Wooley’s own verses—as the columns of amateur journalism amply attest.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the Coryciani, 17 Mar 1935, Lovecraft Annual (2017) #11 136-137

As an example of her poetry, this bit of verse was squeezed in after a few verses of the Fungi from Yuggoth and before Robert E. Howard’s “Voices of the Night” in The Fantasy Fan (Jan 1935):

THE ALIEN
by Natalie H. Wooley

She is like living golden flame.
She knows not whence or why she came
       Into this world…and yet at times
I hear her call strange gods by name.

There is no warmth in her embrace,
Of human passions not a trace.
       She seems remote, a thing attuned
To summonings from outer space.

And on each starry, moonlit night
She gazes long in rapt delight
        Toward the skies…while I weep
Lest the message come, and she take flight.

Robert E. Howard was another author that interested Wooley. She must have read his Conan story “Beyond the Black River” (Weird Tales May-Jun 1935) with enthusiasm, and written to Lovecraft about him, for Lovecraft wrote back:

Yes—Robert E. Howard is a notable author—more powerful & spontaneous than even he himself realises. He tends to get away from weirdness toward sheer sanguinary adventure, but there is still no one equal to him in describing haunted cyclopean ruins in an African or Hyperborean jungle. He has written reams of powerful poetry, also—most of which is still unpublished.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Natalie H. Wooley, 28 Jun 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 205

Wooley excerpted a passage from “Beyond the Black River” for a brief critical work titled “The Adventure Story,” published in The Californian (Fall 1935). She praised the Texan as a writer—one of the few such critical assessments he would ever get in his short life.

There, my friends, is writing. A paragraph of less than a hundred words, yet combining description, menace, and a hint of action to come. Each word is carefully chosen. Note that artfully worded last sentence, with its intimation of impending conflict; sustaining the reader’s interest through what otherwise might be a rather colorless bit of description. Mr. Howard, well known adventure-fiction story writer, is one of the few who do not sacrifice beautiful narrative style for the action demanded in such stories, but combines the two masterfully.
—Natalie H. Wooley, “The Adventure Story,” reprinted in Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 441

Robert E. Howard received a copy of The Californian, and wrote back—though any further contact was cut short by his suicide in 1936.

Thank you very much for the copy of The Californian. I feel greatly honored that Miss Wooley should have quoted an excerpt from my serial “Beyond the Black River” in her article in your fine journal.
—Robert E. Howard to The Californian (Summer 1936)

Lovecraft’s friend and future literary executor R. H. Barlow moved to Kansas City to attend the art institute there in 1936; through their mutual friend and correspondent Barlow and Wooley got in touch. It is the only time that Wooley is known to have met with anyone else in the Lovecraft circle—or science fiction fandom in general.

No letters to Wooley or mention of her survives in Lovecraft’s correspondence past December 1936; no doubt his fatal illness curtailed their back-and-forth. We may get a sense of her side of the correspondence from a single letter that survives at the John Hay Library among Lovecraft’s papers—this was sent from Wooley to E. A. Edkins, who forwarded it to Lovecraft.

WooleyLetter

Wooley did not immediately disappear from view; The Fantasy Fan and Marvel Tales, her main outlets for fandom, had both faltered, but she was still active in amateur journalism for a time. A favorite example is her assessment of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922):

As erotica, the book is a disappointment. Some of Boccaccio or Balzac, or the modern writers Bodenheim and Donald Henderson Clarke outstrip it completely. As history, it is
insignificant. As a text-book of hitherto deleted words, it leaves little to the imagination.
—Natalie H. Wooley, “Well, I’ve Read It” in Nix Nem (Dec 1936), quoted in The Fossil 345

What did Lovecraft’s correspondence mean to Natalie H. Wooley? It encouraged her writing and poetry, helped her find new outlets to publish her work. She was, whether she knew it or not, in the thick of early fandom, and her voice was heard among writers who would grow to become legends—though she herself is nearly forgotten today, her poetry lives on.

Lovecraft’s letters with Natalie H. Wooley, along with a selection of her poetry and critical writings from amateur journalism have been published in Letters to Robert Bloch & Others (2015, Hippocampus Press); some of these letters had previously been published in volume 4 and 5 of the Selected Letters from Arkham House. The letters to the Coryciani have been published in Lovecraft Annual #11 (2017, Hippocampus Press).

Thanks and appreciation to Dave Goudsward for his help on this one.


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: Catherine Lucille Moore

Dear Mr. Lovecraft:

Your letter has impressed me tremendously. It’s awfully nice to be flattered, and Mr. Barlow’s compliments in particular have pleased me a great deal, but not until yesterday when I read your letter did it really occur to me that my “pulp”-published and extrav[ag]ant romances might actually, after all, contain a nucleus of worth which should be taken seriously.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 3 Apr 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 28

If C. L. Moore had never received a letter from Howard Phillips Lovecraft, she would still be known and regarded as one of the greatest Weird Talers of the 1930s. Yet they did correspond, from 1935 until Lovecraft’s death in 1937, and in that brief span of time that exchange of letters changed both of their lives.

Catherine Lucille Moore (1911-1987) was an employee at the Fletcher Trust Company in her native Indianapolis, Indiana, and engaged to be married. The Great Depression had caused her to leave Indiana University after only three semesters; she needed the $25 a week from her job as a typist to help support her parents and brother. On the sly, she read pulp magazines like Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, and Weird Tales—and she began to write, after hours. In 1933, she sold her first story: “Shambleau” (Weird Tales Nov 1933) was an instant hit among the readers of Weird Tales, receiving high acclaim from fans and pulpsters alike. To keep her bosses from finding out about her extra source of income, she was published under the name “C. L. Moore”—but her gender was an open secret, revealed in a fanzine in 1934.

That same year, Moore received her first correspondence from a member of Lovecraft’s circle: the young R. H. Barlow, then living in Florida, who had a habit of writing his favorite pulp writers and asking for copies of their manuscripts and artwork. Moore provided both, and through Barlow she was eventually put in touch with others, including E. Hoffmann Price, Robert E. Howard, and in 1935…H. P. Lovecraft.

On the subject of titles, I envy you your ability. The most painful part of writing, so far as I’m concerned, is naming the stories. Mr. Wright more or less takes it out of my hands sometimes, as in the case of a story scheduled for mid-summer sometime, which he is calling “The Cold Grey God”. I’m getting a regular spectrum of colored gods, starting with black and working slowly upward thru grey toward goodness knows what.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 7 May 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 34

With most of Lovecraft’s correspondents, the reader’s interest is on Lovecraft himself. His letters to them typically survive, and hopefully are published; Lovecraft himself rarely kept the letters of those who wrote to him, and many of those he did keep are lost. Volumes of his letters thus tend to be very one-sided affairs; we get only Lovecraft’s side of the conversation, his perspective—and generally, that is what people are interested in. Lovecraft’s correspondents are rarely as interesting to readers of today as the Old Gent himself.

More to the point, the vast majority of Lovecraft’s correspondents are not folks whose letters are often kept. Fans, often-forgotten pulpsters, agents at publishing companies; family, friends, and acquaintances personal and professional—these are some of the great, mostly silent masses of history who are little more than names on the page. When they die, their letters and journals are rarely kept or archived, much less read. Their literary afterlife is quiet, sometimes no more than a few lines on a census form or a government registry or a name in a family bible. Sometimes not even that.

Not so with C. L. Moore. Not only is there interest in her life and writing outside of and independent of her correspondence with Lovecraft, but a considerable portion of her side of the correspondence has survived and been published, so that we can actually read the back-and-forth between those two masters of the weird tale, which comes out to about 37 letters and 200 pages. A bit more of her correspondence with R. H. Barlow survives, though that remains unpublished. Other than that…a handful of letters buried in fanzines and pulps; interviews and introductions.

There has never been a volume of the Collected Letters of C. L. Moore. There might never be. How much of it still exists is unclear; there is no centralized archive of her papers at any university. The bulk of her published correspondence are her letters to Lovecraft, and those were published only recently. Letters to C. L. Moore and Others was only printed in 2017, though portions of Lovecraft’s side of the correspondence had been printed in his Selected Letters from Arkham House. So much of what we know about her life in the crucial period of 1935-1937 comes, then, from her letters to Lovecraft.

Things did happen in that brief period. In 1935, C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long collaborated on the round robin “The Challenge from Beyond.” Moore began corresponding with Robert E. Howard, praising his story “Sword Woman” who, like her own heroine Jirel of Joiry, was that rare female pulp protagonist. They talked writing, poetry, economics, politics…and of more somber subjects.

Thank you for your sympathy. I can’t yet dwell on the topic without becoming a bit maudlin, so had better change the subject.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 26 May 1936, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 112

On 13 February 1936, Moore’s fiance Herbert Ernest Lewis  a 28-year-old bank teller at the Fletcher Trust Company where Moore worked, died while nominally cleaning his firearm. The death certificate records it as a suicide. Lovecraft immediately rushed to reply:

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

In the wake of her grief after the fatal sundering of her long engagement, perhaps Lovecraft’s letters proved a distraction and a relief. A few months later, on 11 June 1936, Robert E. Howard would also take his own life using a firearm when informed of the impending death of his mother. It was Moore who received the news first, and quickly passed it to Lovecraft—who spread his bereavement at the loss of his friend and one of the greatest pulpsters the world had ever known far and wide. For her part, Moore would do as Lovecraft had done, and send Howard’s father a letter commiserating in the death of his son and consoling him. Dr. Howard had it published in the local newspaper:

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.
—C. L. Moore to Dr. I. M. Howard, 26 Jun 1936, Cross Plains Review 3 Jul 1936

Life went on. In less than a year’s time, Lovecraft himself would be dead. Yet he was inadvertently to set the stage for Moore’s future.

Henry Kuttner had just broken into Weird Tales in the March 1936 issue with “The Graveyard Rats,” but Lovecraft quickly adopted him as a new pen-pal, and set him to circulating some views of Marblehead, Mass. (the inspiration for Kingsport):

Keep these views—when they come—as long as you like; & when you’ve finished with them you may forward them to Miss C. L. Moore, 2547 Brookside Parkway, South Drive, Indianapolis, Indiana—the gifted creator of “Shambleau” having expressed a wish to see these glimpses of crumbling “Arkham” & “Kingsport”.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Henry Kuttner, 18 May 1936, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 240

It isn’t clear whether Kuttner had written to Moore before this, but when he did finally send her a letter in 1936, she recalled with amusement that he addressed it “Dear Mr. Moore.” By February 1937, they were collaborating on their first joint piece of fiction, “The Quest of the Star-Stone.” Lovecraft would not live to see it—nor would he be there in 1940, when C. L. Moore stopped working at the Fletcher Trust company and married Henry Kuttner, becoming half of one of the most prolific and noteworthy partnerships in science fiction during the 1940s and 50s.

Most of the fiction written after Moore & Kuttner’s marriage was under Kuttner’s name, or a shared pseudonym, regardless of how much or little each had contributed to the work. For this reason, to weird fiction fans Moore seemed to all but disappear just as Weird Tales was undergoing a period of transition—in 1940, Farnsworth Wright was fired and Dorothy McIlwraith took over, heralding many changes to the magazine she would helm for the next 14 years. Moore was not gone, nor forgotten; and she continued contact with other former correspondents of H. P. Lovecraft such as R. H. Barlow and E. Hoffman Price.

Their letters were not quite formal affairs, but they never got beyond “Dear Miss Moore” and “Dear Mr. Lovecraft”—though in her letters with Barlow later on, she would sign herself as simply “KAT,” and in his letters with Barlow, Lovecraft would dub her CLM, Doña Caterina, Catherine the Great, Katrinje, Sister Kate and Sister Katy, and Katie or Katey. She was accepted by Lovecraft as a peer, one of the group. What would Moore have done without that? How differently would life have played out, if each of them did not have such a crucial roll in the long series of events that were their lives!

Her last letter to Lovecraft was a long one, written in bits and pieces from 24 October to 15 December 1936, as was sometimes necessary due to the constraints of work and life. There she wrote:

A correspondent of mine, Thurston Torbett of Texas, friend of REH’s, has been regaling me with passages from books on the occult which state that all the dreadful things we imagine must have had origin or fact or we would be unable to picture them. If one reverses that, then by the very act of writing of Cthulhu (spelling right?) and Shambleau we must conjure them into vague life, and you will doubtless eventually wind up the victim of your own ingenuity. I hope that you aunt does not some morning find you a mass of black putrescence on the floor […]
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 11 Dec 1936, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 199

A gruesome little joke, but a fitting one. It is easy to think of Lovecraft smiling at the jest, planning his own riposte. Yet how fitting at at last Cthulhu and Shambleau, their two more popular and enduring creations, would be cast side by side at last. For those two would be remembered more for their pulp fiction than anything else they ever wrote or did later in life…and part of that was due to this correspondence.

Catherine Lucille Moore and H. P. Lovecraft’s correspondence has been published in Letters to C. L. Moore and Others (2017, Hippocampus Press); some of Lovecraft’s letters to Moore had previously been published in volume 5 of the Selected Letters V (1976, Arkham House).


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