Her Letters To Lovecraft: Georgina de Castro

Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

Illness (cold) prevents Dr. de Castro writing or doing anything at present, but Dr. de Castro hopes to see Mr. Lovecraft soon.

Faithfully,
—Mrs. G. de Castro

The above note is, as far as is known, the only communication by card, letter, or note between Georgina de Castro and H. P. Lovecraft. Who she was, and how they came to share this brief correspondence—and an acquaintanceship that stretched a bit beyond that—involves the complicated and murky marital history of her husband, Adolphe Danziger de Castro, in whose adventures she shared for twenty-eight years.

Born in Poland in 1859 as Abram Dancygier, when he emigrated to the United States in 1883 he used the name Gustav Adolphe Danziger—with variations in spelling in various documents as Gustave, Adolph, Adolf, or simply G. A. Danziger. He practiced as a dentist, rabbi, and writer, though his English was at first imperfect, which led to a collaboration with Ambrose Bierce. In 1888, Danziger became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and married Bertha R. Levy. She bore two children by him: Beatrice Danziger (b. 1892) and Nathan Moses Danziger (b. 1895).

In 1900, Danziger left for New York, without his family. Whether this was intended abandonment or some other reason is not clear. He became enmeshed in local Republican politics in New York, and became acquainted with Ida Silbert, who worked as stenographer. Danziger’s politicking bore fruit: in 1903 he was off to Madrid to fulfill a post as Vice-Consul. In Spain he met and apparently became secretly engaged with Lucy M. White Watts. Their relationship was carried on long-distance, by letter and telegram, and was cut off abruptly when she married the Baron von Thielen. Danziger served for a time as Vice-Consul in Aberdeen, Scotland, but by 1906 was back in the United States.

1906 is a complicated year in the life of Adolphe Danziger. According to newspaper accounts, during that year he married Ida Silbert in a Jewish ceremony officiated by a rabbi and before witnesses; I have not yet been able to find any marriage license or registration, but the bride presumptive changed her name to Ida Silbert Danziger. Subsequent to this, Adolphe sued for divorce from his wife Bertha. In response, Bertha charged him with bigamy. It is known that Danziger’s divorce suit was dismissed.

According to Ida, they stayed together for a year before he left for Europe on business, from which he did not return. By that time, Ida was already pregnant. The 1910 census lists Ida Danziger living with her parents and siblings, along with a two-year-old Martha Danziger.

Adolphe Danziger was by this point back in California, working as a lawyer among various other ventures, which makes tracking his movements with any precision difficult. Apparently c.1907 he met and fell in love with Georgina McLelland, a 34-year-old Irish immigrant who had come to the country in 1895.

Ida S. Danziger sued for divorce from Adolphe in 1910, and asked for child support; Adolphe answered by claiming that they had never been married. In 1915, Bertha Danziger sued for divorce from Adolphe, and she alleged he was living with a woman with bleached blonde hair. That may well have been Georgina.

Documentation on Georgina and Adolphe’s life is scarce, and in places flawed or contradictory. Among Adolphe’s surviving papers is the manuscript for a book that consists of love-letters from himself to Georgina, dating from 3 April 1907 to 22 January 1935—however, there is evidence that these letters have been edited, and it isn’t clear if these are all authentic or partially written after the fact with the aim of collection or publication. It is not known when or if they ever legally married, but a document in Adolphe’s papers titled “Transfer of Patent of invention in the Incandescent Lamps from Adolphe Danziger to Georgina de Castro-Danziger of LA, 11/27/17″ is the first indication that they either married or were presenting themselves as man and wife.

Adolphe Danziger’s legal career hit a snag in 1917 when he was sued by a client for embezzlement; the allegation was that unnaturalized German immigrants were concerned that the United States government might seize their funds or property during the war with Germany, and that Danziger had sheltered the money for them…and then not given it back. While Danziger was eventually acquitted, it would have been a scandal. For this or some other reason, in 1921 he legally changed his name from Gustave Adolphe Danziger to Adolphe de Castro. If the hope was to save his legal practice, it failed: de Castro was disbarred in 1922.

Adolphe moved to Mexico, where he became a journalist; Georgina was apparently with him, at least part of the time. In 1925, the couple left Vera Cruz for New York. The arriving passenger list gives her age as 39, though she was really 52 at the time; the 1930 U.S. Census (which transcribed her name as “Georgeanna” gives her age as 40. This might have been a scribal error…or, perhaps not; many women have been 39 for a few more years. They settled in New York City, and in 1927 Adolphe got a bit of a break when an article he wrote about Ambrose Bierce was picked up nationally. He hoped to further his success by republishing some of his old stories…and to this end, he sought someone to revise them for publication. So he came into contact with H. P. Lovecraft…and Lovecraft met Georginia de Castro.

References to “Mrs. de Castro” in Lovecraft’s letters are few; they apparently met in person at least once, when Lovecraft visited Adolphe de Castro in New York, and Adolph himself writes in a later letter:

Lovecraft and the late Mrs. de Castro and myself were at dinner at the Styvensen in New York. He had been revising a short story for me, the scene of which was laid in my native land, Poland. There had been some difference of opinion regarding the plot – made by correspondence. In response to his last letter I – stante pede, as it were, made a new plot and sent it to him. Thereupon he flattered me by saying that it was not likely I had so quickly made so new and excellent a plot. My reply was, “come to New York and we’ll discuss it.” At an elaborate bit of dinner we talked the matter over.

Adolphe de Castro to John Stanton, 9 Mar 1949, MSS Wisconsin Historical Society

This dinner would have taken place in 1928, and the work discussed is believed to be the lost “third revision” after “The Electric Executioner” and “The Last Test,” now probably non-extant, but based on “In the Confessional” (1892) by Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

One notable point about Lovecraft’s revisions for Adolphe is that in “A Sacrifice to Science” (1893) the name of the female lead is Alvira; when Lovecraft revised this story into “The Last Test,” it was changed to Georgina.

Lovecraft’s references to Georgina de Castro pick up in 1934, in response to some comments in Adolphe’s letters:

He is aged, infirm, & absolutely penniless—& believes he is slowly going blind. And his wife is in an advanced stage of tuberculosis.

H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 25 Sep 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 181

Given Lovecraft’s own brief experience caring for his sick wife, he was sympathetic with what Adolphe and Georgina were going through:

I am surely sorry to hear that recent years have dealt you so many blows, & hope most profoundly that Mrs. de Castro’s health my presently take a turn for the better. It is easy to understand the anxiety you must feel—& with your own ocular troubles the burden is further aggravated.

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 14 Oct 1934, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 357

References to Adolphe and Georginia pop up here and there in his letters, part of the normal pulp grapevine. Lovecraft never gives any indication he was aware of Adolphe’s other wives, but the older man apparently kept him up to date…including when Georgina was admitted to the hospital as her condition worsened.

I am tremendously sorry to hear that Mrs. de Castro’s illness is necessitating an hospital sojourn—but hope that observation & treatment there may afford decidedly favourable results. Sometimes the expert care & continuous medical attention in such a place produces unexpected upturns in cases which seemed very discouraging at home. […] Again expressing the hope that Mrs. de Castro’s health will soon respond favorably to treatment—I remain yrs most sincerely

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 6 Nov 1934, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 367, 372

To others, Lovecraft was more pragmatic and pessimistic:

Old de Castro is in severe straits now, & almost paralysed with grief over the probably fatal illness of his wife—an advanced consumptive who lately went to the hospital, perhaps never to return.

H. P. Lovecraft to F. Lee Baldwin, 23 Dec 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 116

Yet when Lovecraft wrote to Adolphe, he sought to be optimistic and reassuring:

Let me express my sincerest sympathy regarding your recent illness—which I trust may not soon be repeated. Considering the nervous strain you must be under, I can hardly wonder at the attack—but the rest obtained through the collapse will probably help to ward off another. I hope that, upon reflection, you will not take the tactless pessimism of that nun too seriously. A mere nurse is not a physician, and the lesser fry around an hospital sometimes acquire a casual outlook greatly subversive of accuracy. It does not do to give up hope prematurely in anything as potentially controllable as tuberculosis. As I have mentioned, there are thousands of persons living with lungs impaired to a vast degree—for once the spread of the trouble is checked, a surprisingly small fraction of the pulmonary apparatus can serve to carry on the vital processes.

So if I were you I wouldn’t be totally discouraged. A spirit as indomitable as that of Mrs. de Castro is itself a great bulwark against disease—you may recall that in vast epidemics the psychology of the patients is so influential that the most hopeful and determined are usually the ones to pull through. It is certainly tremendously lamentable that this affliction has had to come—but at the same time it is far too early to conclude that it will not safely pass over and lead to a pleasanter outcome. Don’t believe all the croakers—they’ve had many a person mentally in his tomb, who is today hale and hearty again!

With renewed thanks for the acrostic, and with every good and hopeful wish for you and Mrs. de Castro, I remain, Yrs most cordially

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 26 Jan 1935, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 374

Well wishes, however, could not stave off the inevitable.

Melancholy note—old de Castro’s wife died Jan. 23 at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I dropped Dolph a line of sympathy & told Price & Belknap to do the same. The poor old boy is considerably broken up—he had a two-week’s nervous collapse earlier in January, so that we might have been able to see him had we called during our metropolitan sojourn.

H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 10 Feb 1935, O Fortunate Floridian 206-207

Barlow and Lovecraft had been in New York for New Years, but had apparently missed visiting Adolphe. Find A Grave gives a different date for her death, but the New York State death certificate confirms she died on 23 January 1935 from pulmonary tuberculosis (although it gives her name as “Georgia,” and lists her age as 45). Among Adolphe’s papers is a poem manuscript titled: “L’amour ne Peut pa Mourir” (“The Love That Cannot Die”), with the note “written three days after the passing of Georgina—my first love which lasted for twenty-eight delightful years.”

Georgina was, inadvertently and posthumously, to set the stage for another of the small episodes in Lovecraft’s life. Her expressed last wishes had been, apparently, to have her ashes cast into the ocean—presumably toward her native Scotland—and this Adolphe de Castro finally did, choosing to take the bus up to Boston to do so. On his way back, he stopped into Providence to see Lovecraft, who was at the time hosting R. H. Barlow as his guest:

Another social event was the sojourn of old Adolphe Danziger de Castro early in August. You’ve probably heard me speak of old Dolph—the semi-charlatanic chap whose biography of Bierce Belknap adorned with a preface, & whose stories I used to doctor up. He was here for 5 days at the Hotel Dreyfus—on his way back to N.Y. from Boston, where he had been to scatter his late wife’s ashes on the sea in accordance with her last wishes. Old Dolph vainly tried to saddle me with some wholly unprofitable revision work, & is now pestering Kleiner about the same stuff. On one occasion we all—he, Barlow, & I—sat on a tomb in the hidden hillside churchyard & wrote rhymed acrostics on the name of Edgar Allan Poe—who 90 years ago used to roam that selfsame necropolis when on visits to Providence.

H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 29 Aug 1936, Letters with Donald & Howard Wandrei 354

Adolphe de Castro actually managed to sell his acrostic to Weird Tales; the others saw publication in fanzines and poetry collections over the years. Lovecraft and de Castro stayed in touch, even as Lovecraft’s own terminal illness took hold, and one of his final letters is a word to the grieving old man, who had left New York for California once again:

I am glad that you have some of the pictures and other things collected by yourself and Mrs. de Castro, and feel sure that their ultimate effect will be one of consolation rather than melancholy.

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 17 Feb 1937, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 397

Lovecraft would die. Adolphe de Castro would live on, and marry again for the “third” time (presumably, he had decided Ida didn’t count) in 1947, to pass away at the age of 99 in 1959.

Who was Georgina McClellan de Castro? Sadly, in death she is largely attested to only as “Mrs. de Castro,” and that one among many. We know almost nothing of her background or habits, her interests or activities, and that is a direct reflection of the fact that Lovecraft himself no doubt knew little to nothing of these things. Their lives intersected only once or twice, in a note to explain an absence or a seat at a dinner table, connected as they were only by their association with Adolphe de Castro, who had brought them into proximity and contact. What little remains of Georgina’s memory rests now amid his papers…aside from a few scattered references in the voluminous letters of H. P. Lovecraft.

Thanks to Dave Goudsward for help and assistance on this piece.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Marian F. Bonner

Home via Point St. Bridge & Benefit St., & then proceeded to write the promised notes to Miss Bonner & “Aunt Enda” [sic].
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie E. P. Gamwell, 22 Mar 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.985

Dear Miss Bonner:—
I called on my aunt at the hospital for the first time this afternoon, & she wished me to drop you a particular line of thanks for the many works of consideration extended—the pansies which arrived almost simultaneously with herself, the flowers arriving since then, & the bottle of eau de cologne, all of which were profoundly appreciated.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Marian F. Bonner, 22 Mar 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.1011

In 1933, H. P. Lovecraft and his surviving aunt Annie Gamwell moved into 66 College St. Across the backyard was a boarding-house at 53-55 Waterman St., called the Arsdale—where Annie Gamwell took her daily meals, where Lovecraft would join her on occasion, especially holidays. Among the boarders at the Arsdale from 1922-1936 was Marian Frederika Bonner (1883-1952).

“Miss Bonner” was the seventh and youngest child of English immigrants; five of her siblings survived childhood. She attended Brown University for a year (1902-1903), and by 1905 was working for the Providence Public Library, where she became head of the periodicals room. She lived with her parents until her father’s death in 1898, and with her widowed mother until her death in 1913, when she began to live in boarding houses. She never married or had children, and continued to work at the Providence Public Library until her retirement in 1947.

We can only guess at the friendship of Marian Bonner and Annie Gamwell; Lovecraft’s aunt was some 17 years older, but they would have both been adult single women of limited means and literary interests, and from Lovecraft’s letters as well. The earliest references to Bonner in Lovecraft’s letters are in 1934; these do not give her name, but the inference is strong that this is she. In one she is described as providing the surnames for the neighborhood cats:

As for the name—an old lady at the boarding house started the Perkins business last February when Betsey & her 2 brothers were born. For some reason or other—perhaps because “Perkins” has a kind of quaint, old-fashioned sound—she named the black & white kitten “Betsey Perkins”, though leaving the others (slated for presentation to a family across the city) undesignated. I, however, called the little fellows “Newman Perkins” & “Ebenezer Perkins” after ancestors of my own—for I have a Perkins line. When the black kitten appeared, I went back along my Perkins ancestry & called him Samuel, after a forebear who fought in King Phillip’s War in 1676. If there are any more kittens later on, I shall probably keep going back along my Perkins line (which is traceable to 1380 in Shropshire & Warwickshire) for names—John being the next in order.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 10 Aug 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin &c. 200

In another 1934 letter, Lovecraft says:

One of my aunt’s best—or likely-to-be-best—friends is a gentlewoman whom she met only last year!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Helen V. Sully, 15 Jul 1934, Letters to Wilfred B. Talman &c. 383

In a letter dated 13 March 1935, Marian F. Bonner is described as “my aunt’s closest friend” (Letters to J. Vernon Shea 258-259). Not surprising when Bonner and Gamwell may have seen each other almost daily at the dining room in the Arsdale for something like three years—until March 1936, when Annie Gamwell was hospitalized to undergo a mastectomy to treat breast cancer. At which point H. P. Lovecraft, who probably knew her casually, began to correspond with Bonner on his aunt’s behalf. No doubt Lovecraft did this as well for Evelyn M. Staples, another friend of his aunt’s and Arsdale resident for whom no letters from Lovecraft survive, and “Aunt Edna”—Edna Lewis, who was Annie Gamwell’s cousin, close friend, and eventually one of the heirs to her and her nephew’s estate.

Lovecraft’s correspondence with Marian Bonner is thus brief: only 14 letters survive from 22 March 1936 until 9 December 1936. Part of the reason this correspondence continued was, no doubt, because Marian Bonner had moved out of the Arsdale in June 1936 to live in another boarding house, which would have prevented many of the little daily encounters Lovecraft may have had as he crossed the lot to retrieve a meal for his aunt. We can actually follow some of the correspondence with the diary-like letters recorded for his aunt during her hospitalization. Ultimately, their friendship continued in letters for almost the entire year.

The first letters are mostly concerned with Lovecraft’s aunt and her health; from Lovecraft’s reply of 25 March 1936, it seems that Bonner expressed her concerns for how Annie Gamwell was getting around and whether she was receiving sufficient care, to which Lovecraft responded:

Have you ever, by any chance, attempted to stop the present patient from doing anything she was determined to do?
—H. P. Lovecraft to Marian F. Bonner, 26 Mar 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.1012

It was no doubt rare for Lovecraft to find someone who could commiserate on his aunt’s willful temperament. A chance use of the word ailurophile (cat-lover) led to one of Lovecraft’s didactic mini-essays, including carefully written out Greek, and an introduction of Miss Bonner to “Kappa Alpha Tau” (ΚΑΤ), the fraternity of neighborhood cats who often dozed in the sun on the shed in the backyard of 66 College St., which Lovecraft could observe through his window. While unable to afford to keep any of them as a pet, Lovecraft would keep track of the extended Perkins clan, and even borrow a kitten for a while in his study at times.

Kappa Alpha Tau would be an ongoing part of Lovecraft’s remaining letters to Marian Bonner, demonstrating his rare humor in full flower—and, weirdly enough, his artistic skills as he chose to hand-illustrate many of the letterheads.

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Besides cats they spoke of books, of Marian F. Bonner’s part in a play, local words, old Providence street names, the articles of local Providence journalist Bertrand K. Hart, bits and pieces of their daily lives (including R. H. Barlow’s 1936 visit); he lent her some books (and noted the irony, given that she was a librarian) and a copy of Weird Tales that contained his story “The Outsider” (either the Apr 1926 original printing or the Jun-Jul 1931 reprint), and she even asked questions about weird fiction, which Lovecraft dutifully answered:

Regarding the difference betwixt “myster” & “fantastic” fiction, as these terms are commonly used—I believe that by the former only detective tales & their close congeners are usually meant. Some striking event or situation of unknown cause, but with a natural explanation deductively reached, is the usual so-called “mystery” pattern. On the other hand fantastic fiction involves the impossible & incredible, admitting supernatural causation of every sort. It is, in its purest form, simply the projection or crystallisation of a certain type of human mood. Its truth is not to objective evnets, but only to human emotions. In this genre the greatest masters—in addition to Poe—are Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, Montague Rhodes James, Walter de la Mare, William Hope Hodgson, & to some extent the present incumbent of Lord Minto’s erstwhile vice-regal seat at Ottawa [John Buchan]. Many of the finest specimens, though, are the work of writers who do not specialise in this field—for example, “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, & “The King in Yellow” by the late popular hack Robert W. Chambers.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Marian F. Bonner, 9 Apr 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.1021

Marian Bonner’s move to a boarding house at 156 Meeting St. in June 1936 occasioned one of Lovecraft’s bright spots of 1936: the street had formerly been “Gaol-Lane,” and he addressed the envelope as such—and someone at the Providence post office either knew their history or deciphered his meaning, for they delivered it to the correct address.

There is a break in the letters from mid-June to mid-November 1936; no doubt these were lost sometime in the intervening decades, and probably Bonner continued to visit 66 College St. to speak to Annie Gamwell and Lovecraft, but the correspondence does not seem to have ended, as it continues on without apology. Most of the last few letters deal almost exclusively with Kappa Alpha Tau, but it seems that Lovecraft may have made Marian Bonner something of a convert to supernatural fiction:

As orally expressed before, we rejoice that you have located “The Witch-Cult in Western Europe” & have thereby become familiar with Sabbats, Estbats, Covens, & all the other attributes of the festering horror which brroded over mediaeval & renaissance Europe & perhaps over colonial Salem. And we apologise that our nominated guide Sir Walter failed to mention Sabbats at all—as he really should have done, since the term was well-known from constant repetition at witch-trials long before the actuality of any subterraneous cult was suspected.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Marian F. Bonner, 9 Dec 1936, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.1043

Of the latter part of their friendship, little is written. Lovecraft’s 1937 diary lists “Miss Bonner calldiscuss—lighted tree” (CE 5.241) on 1 January 1937, so apparently she came to visit Annie Gamwell & her nephew, and may have stayed to see the candles lit on the small tree they had for the holiday season.

After his death, Marian F. Bonner was approached to contribute to a memorial volume; the effect was “Miscellaneous Impressions of H.P.L.” in Rhode Island on Lovecraft (1945), where her name is mispelled as “Marian F. Barner.” Her brief account, only two pages, are accurate according to the letters that survive—and, more importantly, give us some of her understanding of things:

Some of his letters to me were in pen and ink, and bore a leter head of cat’s face. […] His handwriting was not easy to read, as he used, among other things, the old fashioned long “s.” Realizing his weakness, he would often compare his manuscripts very carefully with the type. […] It seems there is a postal law enabling one to write on most of the address side of a picture postcard. Mr. Lovecraft took a fiendish delight in covering every bit of a postal that he could, with the message. he was the despair of the postal authorities. hose postals were crazy-looking things! […]

I now how much store Mrs. Gamwell set by him, and how much she missed him after his death.
—Marian F. Bonner, “Miscellaneous Impressions of H.P.L.”, Ave Atque Vale 433

Excerpts from nine of Lovecraft’s letters to Marian F. Bonner were included in volume 5 of the Selected Letters (1976, Arkham House), and all known surviving letters in Lovecraft Annual #9 (2015, Hippocampus Press) and the second volume of Letters to Family & Family Friends (2020, Hippocampus Press). Many of the letters are available to view online at the Brown University Library website.

For the biographical information on Marion F. Bonner I am indebted to Kenneth W. Faig, Jr., whose essay “Lovecraft Was Our Neighbor: The People of The Arsdale” is included in Lovecraftian People and Places (2022, Hippocampus Press).


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Ella Larson Nelson

Dear Mrs. Nelson:⁠—

I was indeed pained and shcoked to hear last July of your son’s sudden and untimely death⁠—the news coming from my friend R. H. Barlow, whom I was then visiting, and whom you had notified. Every now and then I have been on the point of dropping you a line of sympathy for what must be a devastating blow indeed.
⁠—H. P. Lovecraft to Ella Larson Nelson, 19 Sep 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 221

Ella Larson was born in Sweden in 1889. According to the 1920 U.S. Census she arrived in the United States in 1908; in 1911 she married another Swedish immigrant, Elmer Nelson. In 1912 she gave birth to Robert William Nelson, the couple’s only child. Practically nothing of her life and thought have come down to us; her correspondence with Lovecraft is known from a single letter, sent to her as a condolence on her son’s death.

I had heard from Robert as late as July 3d, when he mentioned he might some time travel through the east and stop in Providence to see me. In replying I told him how glad I would be to welcome him in this ancient town—but the next I head was the sad news which Barlow transmitted to me.

I had been hearing from Robert at irregular intervals for a period which must add up to three years or more. Meanwhile I had noticed with appreciation the clever and increasingly competent verses and prose-poems which he had in media like WEIRD TALES and THE FANTASY FAN. I presume you have a file of this material. His promise in this field of literature seemed to me very consdierable; for despite the marks of youthful contraction—indefiniteness or overcolouring now and then—his work had a distinct imaginative richness and atmospheric power which was rapidly improving through criticism and self-discipline. I expected to see him develop like other youths whose careers I have watched—August W. Derleth, Donald Wandrei, Frank B. Long, etc.—who are now well-established figures in the world of weird writing. Barlow shos me the unpublished “Lost Excerpts” which you sent him, and which will sooner or later be published in some appropriate medium. These all have touches of the brilliancy and power which were becoming characterstic of their author. needless to say, you will receive copies of whatever magazine publishes them. Barlow, by the way, was prompt in informing the “fan” magazines of the unfortunate occurrence, so that at least one has printed a brief notice.
⁠—H. P. Lovecraft to Ella Larson Nelson, 19 Sep 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 221-222

Robert W. Nelson graduated from St. Charles High School in June 1930; he apparently then spent a year at university studying journalism. In 1931, his first letter was published in Weird Tales; he would have four more published in WT from 1933-1935, as well as two letters to its sister magazine Oriental Stories The Magic Carpet Magazine, and in the pages of The Fantasy Fan. A keen amateur poet, Nelson also published his verse in Weird Tales and this fanzine. The “brief notice” appeared in the August 1935 issue of Fantasy Magazine.

We don’t know exactly what Nelson’s parents thought of their son’s involvement with fandom or poetry. In a letter to Emil Petaja, Lovecraft wrote “He was a neurotic, ill-adjusted type, & often had considerable friction with his parents” (LWP 451), and Nelson himself wrote:

I read your letter aloud to my parents, and, I am happy to say, it changed their attitude somewhat. However, they are still insisting that I secure immediate employment, and this I am doing my utmost to do.
—Robert Nelson to Clark Ashton Smith, 8 Mar 1934,
quoted in “Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Nelson: Master and Apprentice (Part 2)” by Marcos Legaria in Spectral Realms #10 (Winter 2019) 113

Robert Nelson reiterated the difficulties of finding employment in subsequent letters, and wrote to Smith that “Living with my parents is becoming more and more unbearable” (ibid. 116), and:

I just secured employment. But it is only temporary, and is scheduled to last until the middle part of May or the first part of June. But even so, it has changed entirely the whole aspect of my parents’ attitude towards me. ANything in which to ‘make money’ is their idea! In truth, all those who seek for riches and personal gain are, at better, both low in intellect and morals. The highest man in finance and business are the lowest in true intellect and good morals.

As I have said before, I have never understood (and admired) my parents), and likewise they have never understood (and admired) me. My parents possess that complete lack of logical and human understanding of their children, to the sense that they (the children) are their ‘own flsh and blood,’ and can, threfore, be molded into the sort of beings that they (the parents) ‘intend to have all the right to expect.’ All of which, of course, is plain unmitigated blah.
—Robert Nelson to Clark Ashton Smith, 3 Apr 1934, ibid. 117

Literary interests often run up hard against practical ones, and one can imagine a staid blue-collar immigrant couple exasperated at their only child’s unwillingness or inability to find work, Great Depression or not—and the same adult son’s exasperation with his parents who do not share his education or interests. This concern with unemployment is reflected in Robert Nelson’s obituary, which no doubt came from his parents:

Worry and discouragement played a large part in his illness, causing a nervous breakdown which ended in death. Idleness irked him and he was unable to get employment…. […] He made many attempts to secure work which probably would have given him courage to go on, but he was unable to find employment. He had several of his poems accepted but the market was overcrowded and his discouragement affected his health and brought on the breakdown from which he was not able to rally.
The St. Charles Chronicle, 25 July 1935, quoted in Sable Revery 9

Reading between the lines, one might see a bright young man with hopes of literary achievement dashed by harsh realities: it was the middle of the Great Depression, and even great poets like Clark Ashton Smith struggled to find publication in the pulp field, much less enough to maintain a livelihood. Ella Nelson no doubt saw her son’s discouragement at rejection and how his hopes were dashed at his seeming inability to launch a literary career…but there was nothing she could do about it. Robert moved out of the home for a short time in late 1934, and there was a brief reconciliation with his parents, but perhaps none of the underlying fundamental issues of unemployment and unhappiness had been resolved.

My correspondence with Robert was not of a business nature, but had more to do with points of criticism connected with weird literature. We discussed standards, methods, and individual sories and poems off and on; and I believe I once or twice offered suggestions in connexion with lines of his. I remember the pains I took to make clear the gulf between cheap magazines stories (the WEIRD TALES sort in general) and the genuine weird literature like the book of Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and M. R. James. He appreciated this difference more, I think, than the average follower of the popular magazine press. In all of his letters he showed an admirable courtesy and considerateness. Himself obviously very sensitive, he went to almost elaborate lengths to avoid giving offence whenever his opinion differed from that of his correspondent. He was liked by all the persons to whom he wrote—and by the one member of the group (Charles D. Hornig, editor of WONDER STORIES and THE FANTASY FAN) who had the pleasure of meeting him in person. Hornig was particularly saddened by the news of his premature departure.
⁠—H. P. Lovecraft to Ella Larson Nelson, 19 Sep 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 222

The surviving Lovecraft-Robert Nelson correspondence consists of four letters from 1934-1935; how much more there might have been is conjectural. Lovecraft wrote to Petaja: “I was not well acquainted with him, & probably never wrote him more than 4 or 5 letters in all” (LWP 451). The last letter was sent c. January 1935, so probably the fifth and final letter that Lovecraft wrote to him is non-extent. When asked to provide a tribute for The Phantagraph, Lovecraft wrote:

About Nelson—I had so little correspondence with him that I really feel inadequate as his biographer. The fact is, I scarcely know anything about him. The place to get data on his life is his home—indeed, I think his mother (Mrs. Elmer Nelson, 1030 Elm St., St. Charles, Illinois) would be glad to further information. She has been writing those whose names she has found on her son’s correspondence list. […] I’ll be glad to give Nelson a writeup if you’ll get the necessary biographical data from his mother.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Donald A. Wollheim, 20 Sep 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 314

Lovecraft never wrote a memoir on Robert Nelson; presumably the data was not forthcoming. We can only guess what it must have been like for Ella Nelson, going through her son’s papers, sitting down to write or type out letters to people she didn’t know. She sent some of his poems to R. H. Barlow, who intended to publish them—though this project, like so many of Barlow’s, never materialized. In her son’s obituary it was noted:

Before the last shock of his illness; he confided to his mother that he wished to burn many of his poetic writings, which he did, though many of his articles are preserved. He lived among his books, owning a choice selection.
The St. Charles Chronicle, 25 July 1935, quoted in Sable Revery 9

The actual cause of death is engimatic in Lovecraft’s letters; he claimed that Robert Nelson died “after an illness of 17 days” (LRB 150), which data Ella Nelson provided to R. H. Barlow, who passed it on to Lovecraft during his visit with the Barlows in Florida in 1935.

Dear Mr. Barlow,

I am enclosing some writings of Robert Nelson’s which he enclosed in an envelope to be mailed to you on Friday July 5. On the same evening he took sick and gradually grew worse until his death on Monday July 22. Below I am writing a duplicate of the letter he addressed to you. Naturally we wish to keep the original as a keepsake of one of the last things he wrote.

Somehow he sensed his passing when the first signs of illness appeared and remarked that everything would be for the best.

P.S. We are enclosing an envelope in case it meant for these to be returned. You evidently knew the usual procedure.

Regrettably,
Mrs. Elmer Nelson
—Ella Larson Nelson to Robert H. Barlow, 26 Jul 1935, courtesy of Marcos Legaria

Lovecraft was under the impression Robert Nelson suffered from tuberculosis (LFB 279), but the general belief is that Robert Nelson probably attempted suicide, was placed under treatment at the Elgin State hospital, and died as a result of his attempt (Sable Revery 9-10). Lovecraft’s last known letter to Robert Nelson is reminiscent of those he wrote to Helen V. Sully during her period of despondency, sympathizing with his “nervous tension” and counseling him to take things easy.

Robert W. Nelson died 22 July 1935, one day before his twenty-third birthday.

If Ella Nelson chose not to share the details of his death with strangers, it is hardly surprising.

So once more let me express my profound sympathy—at the same time emphasizing the fact that Robert did not lack for appreciation and esteem despite the tragic brevity of his life and writing career. Only the other day I had a letter from young Petaja—out in Montana—reiterating his sorrow at the loss.

With every good wish, and the hope that time and philosophy will help to lessen the acute pain which you and Mr. Nelson must now fel, I am

Yours most sincerely,

H. P. Lovecraft
⁠—H. P. Lovecraft to Ella Larson Nelson, 19 Sep 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 222

Perhaps Ella Larson Nelson appreciated Lovecraft’s letter of condolence; perhaps she wrote a note back to thank him. Yet there are no further references to her in Lovecraft’s letters, so we must assume that no new correspondence resulted. It was a sad letter for Lovecraft to write, but we can only hope it eased Ella Nelson’s grief, at least a little, to know that her son was remembered.

Robert Nelson has been remembered—and so has Ella Nelson, if for no other reason than Lovecraft’s letter to her, and because she had sent out her son’s poetry to those who would preserve it for ultimate publication.

In 2012, W. H. Pugmire published the poem “In Memoriam: Robert Nelson” in tribute to him, and the same year Douglas A. Anderson finally collected Nelson’s poems, fiction, and letters (including Lovecraft’s letter to Ella Nelson) in Sable Revery: Poems, Sketches, Letters. The letters from Lovecraft and Robert Nelson’s poetry were published again in Letters to Robert Bloch and Others (2015).

Marcos Legaria published an article in three parts in the weird poerty journal Spectral Realms titled “Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Nelson: Master and Apprentice” (2018-2019), tracing their correspondence and association, and I thank him for his help with source materials for this piece.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Mayte E. Sutton

As for Sutton (1879-1968), she lived at 100 Spring Avenue in Tory, N.Y. She stated in a letter to August Derleth that she had corresponded with Lovecraft “for nearly ten years,” but Lovecraft’s first extant letter to her dates to the fall of 1933, when, shortly after moving into 66 College Street, Annie had broken her ankle and took months to recover. He speaks of meeting Sutton and her daughter, Margaret Morgan, on his visit to New York during the Christmas period of [1933-1934], but his comments suggest that he found them rather tiresome and strove to avoid direct contact. Nonetheless, Lovecraft continued writing to Sutton until as late as 1936.
⁠—S. T. Joshi & David E. Schultz, Letters to Family and Family Friends 1.21

The_Ithaca_Journal_Mon__Sep_30__1968_

Some of Lovecraft’s correspondents are not well-attested in the record. Mrs. Mayte E. Sutton, for example, is known only from one surviving letter and a fragment of another. Very little reference to their correspondence was made by Lovecraft in his letters to others, though this is not particularly unusual. What we have, then, is a very incomplete picture—we have no particular idea of the full length of their correspondence, or how it started, or why.

If Sutton’s letter to Derleth is correct, she and Lovecraft had been corresponding since c.1928 or 1929; but the sole surviving full letter from Lovecraft is dated 2 November 1933 (MS. John Hay Library). It does not appear to be a first letter; but discusses Lovecraft’s upcoming Christmas visit to Frank Belknap Long, Jr. and his family in New York City; his aunt Annie Gamwell’s recovery from a broken ankle.

The invitation to visit Mayte E. Sutton—who lived with her adult daughter, Margaret Morgan—was issued in August 1933 (LFF 2.957). Finally, after Christmas, Lovecraft paid his call:

This was not the bore I expected it to be. Old Mrs. S. is very pleasant & cordial, & the daughter Miss Morgan is highly intelligent, learned, cultivated, & acute in debate. Her political & economic views are socialistic, but she does not duplicate Sonny’s total bolshevism. They are both enthusiastic antiquarians. I shall call again—if possible, with Sonny & Wandrei, whom they want to meet. They had a wood fire—but no irons!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 27 Dec 1933, LFF 2.959

Margaret Morgan (sometimes as Margaret C. Morgan or Christine Margaret Morgan) was either a nursing student or trainee nurse in the 1930 census, so by 1930 if she stayed the medical course was probably a nurse. Mayte’s youngest daughter Terrace Dorathea Morgan had graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Home Economics, had married in 1931 and was out of the home. On the 30th, Lovecraft brought his friends Frank Belknap Long, Jr. (“Sonny”) and Donald Wandrei to meet Mrs. Sutton and her daughter.

Sonny & I then went down to 23d St. to meet Wandrei & make the Sutton-Morgan call. All were very cordially received—but Wandrei had to leave at 10:30 p.m. Sonny & I stayed till 1 a.m. discussing philosophy with our hosts. Mrs. S. is rather blindly orthodox, but Miss M. is keenly analytical & intelligent—more so, I must admit, than Little Belknap himself. They are invited to 230 for dinner Tuesday evening.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 1 Jan 1934, LFF 2.963

Before the dinner date could happen, Lovecraft and Belknap had a little surprise for Mayte:

Rose noon, lunched at Sonny’s, & thereafter accompanied him down to the flat of the people (Mrs. Sutton & Miss Morgan) who were to have been to dinner last night. He wanted to take them some old andirons which he had promised during our call of last Saturday—for they have a fine fireplace. The andirons are not colonial, but late-Victorian brass. Not at all bad, on the whole. We found Mrs. S. in, & the andirons look splendid in place—although the lack of a set of fire irons & bellows like yours is regrettable. According to present plans, Mrs. S & Miss M. are coming to dinner here Saturday evening.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 4 Jan 1934, LFF 2.966

The dinner date then went off as planned:

In the evening Mrs. Sutton & Miss Morgan came for dinner, & much interesting conversation followed. At 11 p.m. the guests left, but a sick fish in the aquarium kept the Longs up till midnight.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 8 Jan 1934, LFF 2.968

The only other surviving letter fragment from Lovecraft to Mayte E. Sutton is dated 6 August 1936, and discusses a heat spell which restored his energy and digestive troubles, and comment on his aunt’s condition—Annie Gamwell having been hospitalized for breast cancer and a mastectomy.

There are no other references to “Mayte E. Sutton” in Lovecraft’s published letters…but there are two references to a “Mrs. M. E. Sutton” or “Ma Sutton”:

Another favor solicited for an aspiring struggler—an old lady who wants to place a saccharine tale of a haunted house (involving a conventional lunatic & a happy marriage at the end) in some magazine. Is there any rural publication which would consider accepting such an 1875 relique with or without pay? The thing is not really crude from the standpoint of a half-century ago. You might mention any possible medium to me–or drop a kindly line to the author, Mrs. M. E. Sutton, 505 W. 167th St., New York City. Thanks in advance for any name you can conveniently furnish.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 22 Aug 1936, Essential Solitude 2.745

Additional thanks for the names of naive markets for Ma Sutton’s 1875 pieces. I’ll pass ‘em on with acknowledgements.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 23 Sep 1936, Essential Solitude 2.749

Lovecraft’s 1937 diary gives an address for “Sutton-Morgan, 505 W 167 NYC” (Lovecraft Annual 6.175; Ken Faig’s biographical note on Sutton is worth reading for anyone interested), which seems to confirm the connection.

Given which, the “1875” date Lovecraft gives is a bit strange, since Mayte E. Sutton was born in 1879—but perhaps he didn’t know her true age and was guessing. We do know is that Mayte E. Sutton was a writer who in the 1960s published several short stores in the New York Folklore Quarterly, including “Old Sasparilla” (1961), “The Cursed Peach Orchard” (1961), and “Grandmother’s Story” (1963), mostly recalling bits of lore from her childhood. Whether a tale of a haunted house would fit into this corpus or not is hard to say, but Lovecraft is known to have had a soft spot for helping older correspondents place tales, so the effort would have been completely in-character for him.

Through census and newspaper accounts we can draw an incomplete sketch of Mayte E. Sutton’s life—her marriages, her daughter’s marriages, her work—but we have no real insight into her personal life, or what drew her into correspondence with and meeting Lovecraft. Was she an amateur journalist? A revision client? A friend of his aunt Annie, perhaps, who then fell into correspondence with him when he was obliged to answer mail on her behalf? Perhaps a friend of a friend? The letter-and-a-fragment we have are too little to go on to say much of anything for certain, except that they were friendly correspondents.

Excerpts from the two Sutton letters were first published in Selected Letters IV and V. Both of these have been reprinted in full in Letters to Family and Family Friends volume 2.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Genevieve K. Sully & Helen V. Sully

Genevieve K. Sully, who wrote to you, is the mother of Helen Sully. Helen met HPL in 1933, and also met Donald [Wandrei]. Donald, in his visit to California, spent much time at the Sully home. HPL’s letters to the Sullys, from what I have seen of them, are marvelous and show a slightly different and most lovable angle of his multi-sided personality, together with amazing knowledge of California history and western sorcery.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 13 Apr 1937, Eccentric, Impractical Devils 255

Genevieve Knoll was born in 1880. She married James O. Sully in 1903, the same year she graduated from the University of California – Berkeley. James Sully is listed in the 1910 U.S. Census as a year older, self-employed, and an English immigrant who had been naturalized. The Sullies had two daughters: Helen V. (b. 1904) and Marion (b. 1911). Not much is known about their life and marriage; the 1920 U.S. Census lists two Genevieve Sullies in California, with daughters Helen and Marion, one in Berkeley (with James as head of household) and one in Auburn (without), and one suspects that they were separated at this point, perhaps for economic reasons (more work in Berkeley)—there are suggestions in Clark Ashton Smith’s letters that Genevieve was splitting her time between Auburn and Berkeley, and was married at least as late as 1925 (Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 75). By the time of the 1930 U.S. Census, Genevieve and James were listed as divorced. While in Auburn, the Sullies met a young poet, artist, and day-laborer named Clark Ashton Smith who cared for his two aging parents:

It was in the fall of 1919 that we first met Clark and became interested in his poetry. We were all congenial from the start. We also took many walks in the foothills near Auburn, enjoying the woods, rocks and flowers, Clark Always adding to our love and appreciation of Nature.
—Genevieve K. Sully, Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography 190

Genevieve was 39 in 1919; Clark Ashton Smith was 26. They remained friends—and perhaps more than that—for decades. We get only scattered references to her in Smith’s letters, and a handful of letters to her are reprinted in the Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith, showing that they were close friends and she was an admirer and promoter of his art. While no letters yet published have explicitly referred to a sexual relationship, their acquaintence has long been considered an affair, and at one point he had even made out a last will and testament bequeathing her his library, paintings, and art objects (EID 309). One of her most significant impacts on Smith, as far as weird fiction fans are concerned, was apparently encouraging Smith to write for Weird Tales:

One hot summer—that of 1927—when we were all wilted and tired of the heat, we invited Clark to go with us on a camping trip to the moutnains in the Donner Peak-Summit region. In order to take this trip, CLark had to make complicated arrangements for the comfort of his parents. […] It is hard for anyone to believe the primiaitive way in which the SMiths lived—no running water or electricty, and a kichen stove as the only means of heat and cooking. […]

After a few days of short walks, we proposed a longer walk—to Crater Ridge—where we had gone many times in the past, but now we were going with a companion who came under a spell of strange thought, transforming the scene into a foreboding and grotesque landscape, which Clark later used in his now famous story, “The City of the Singing Flame.” Clark wandered about among the boulders, studying the rocks and general terrain. We could all see that he was deeply affected by the place.

Later in the afternoon while Clark was still feeling a strange influence, after we had sat down to looka t the views which combine to make this place especially beautiful, I suddenly sugested that he use his powers of writing for fiction, which would be more emuneratie than poetry. His financial situation at the time was critical, and some practical advice seemed in order.
—Genevieve K. Sully, Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography 190

Whether it was this exact trip or another, something like this certainly happened, for Smith confirmed it:

About eighteen months ago, I was taken to task for idleness by a woman-friend, and pledged myself to industry. Once started, the pledge has not been hard to keep.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, c. Jan 1931, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 297

Relatively less is heard of Helen and Marion during this period, though both women graduated highschool and apparently university, with a focus on music. Both of them would also have heard of H. P. Lovecraft, for during one trip Smith read aloud one of his stories to them by campfirelight:

By the way, I read your “Picture in the House” aloud one evening by the light of our campfire in the mountains; and it was received with great enthusiasm by my hostess Mrs. Sully and her daughters.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, 22 Aug 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 227

In 1933, Helen was a 29-year old and working as a teacher of music and art at the Auburn highschool, when she decided to take a trip by boat through the Panama Canal, with a stop in Cuba, and then New York, Providence, Quebec, and Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair. Smith was conscientious to write ahead to Providence and New York so that Helen V. Sully would have a warm welcome.

My aunt & I will be greatly pleased to welcome your friend Miss Sully if she visits Providence, & can undoubtedly display enough historic & antiquarian sights to fill a sojourn of any duration. If the East is new to her, she will find in its many evidences of long, continuous settlement a quite unique fascination.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 14 Jun 1933, DS 420

I think a day will enable Miss Sully to see most of the historic high spots of urban Providence, & I shall be glad to exhibit them when she arrives. Tell her to let me know exact place & date of arrival, & I will be on hand—trusting to ingenuity in establishing identification. When she is in New York she ought without fail to look up the Longs—230 West 97th St. They are in a better position to entertain her than any other “gang” family, having a pleasant apartment, a lavish table, a car, & a servant. Sonny Belknap is one of your staunchest admirers, whatever may be his lapses as a correspondent. The Longs’ telephone is Riverside 9-3465.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 29 Jun 1933, DS 423

I trust Miss Sully’s trip is proving pleasant; & shall, unless contrarily instructed, be on the lookout July 19 at 6 a.m. at the Colonial Line pier . . . . which lies right in the lee of the ancient hill’s southerly extremity, on a waterfront having considerable picturesqueness. The yellow poppy ought to facilitate identification—though it’s too bad you couldn’t have furnished some of your typical nameless vegetation from Saturn & Antares! A second day in Prov. would enable many picturesque suburbs, (& perhaps ancient Newport) as well as the city proper to be covered; thus affording an extremely [good] picture of R.I. I hope that young Melmoth & Sonny Belknap [take] part in displaying seething Manhattan to the visitor—[& if she is] not already provided with Bostonian guidance, I think that [W. Paul] Cook would be delighted to shew off the Athens of America. I [envy] Miss Sully her coming sight of Quebec—to which I fear I can’t get this year, since my aunt’s accident will probably prevent any long absences on my part.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 12 Jul 1933, DS 425-426

Hope I haven’t bored Klarkash-Ton’s gifted emissary with colonial sights. We tried a new boat today–a rival to the old Sagamore. Yr obt Grandsire
Melmoth III
and Helen
—H. P. Lovecraft and Helen Sully to Donald Wandrei, 20 Jul 1933, LWP 306

Elsewhere in his letters, Lovecraft joked that his young friends Frank Belknap Long, Jr. and Donald Wandrei nearly fought a duel over the right to host Miss Sully:

By the way–a very gifted & prepossessing friend of Klarkash-Ton’s in Auburn is touring the east (after a trip through the Panama Canal & to Cuba) for the first time, & looking up his various friends & correspondents….a young gentlewoman, a teacher of music & drawing, named Helen V. Sully. She looked up Wandrei & Belknap in N.Y., & the Longs brought her here in their car when ound for Onset last Wednesday. After seeing Prov. & Newport she has gone on to Gloucester & Quebec. On the return trip she will pass through Chicago & look up Wright–& if you can get down there (about Aug. 8 or 9–I’ll let you known when she decides & notifies me), she would like very much to meet you. Try it if possible.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 23 Jul 1933, Essential Solitude 2.595-596

Sorry you won’t be in Chicago during Miss Sully’s brief stay there–she is an extremely intelligent & prepossessing young person, & Wandrei & Sonny Belknap nearly fought a duel (2 syllables, not rhyming with cool!) over the question of precedence in escorting her about New York during her sojourn in the place. Whether her predetermined tourist itinerary will permit of a side-trip to Sauk City I don’t know, but I’ll pass your invitation on when writing her next momentary address. She gives quite an interesting picture of good old Klarkash-Ton–who would seem to be sorely hadnicapped by poverty, parental dominance, & a generally uncongenial environment.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, late Jul 1933, Essential Solitude 2.598-599

Helen didn’t manage to get to Sauk City to see Derleth, but she met Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright in Chicago before returning home.

news

The Placer Herald, 22 July 1933

The 1933 trip is perhaps more remembered by Lovecraft fans for her brief memoir of the visit, “Some Memories of H. P. L.” (originally published as “Memories of Lovecraft: II” in 1969), where she wrote that he insisted on paying for all the expenses of her brief stay in Providence, despite his economic circumstances…and for one anecdote in particular:

That night, after dinner, he took me down into a graveyard near where Edgar Allan Poe had lived, or was he buried there? I can’t remember. It was dark and he began telling me strange, weird stories in a sepulchral tone and, despite the fact that I am a very matter-of-fact person, something about his manner, the darkness, and a sort of eery light that seemed to hover over the gravestones got me so wrought up that I began running out of the cemetery with him close at my heels, and with the one thought that I must get up to the street before he, or whatever it was, grabbed me. I reached a street lamp trembling, panting, and almost in tears and he had the strangest look on his face, almost of triumph. Nothing was said.
—Helen V. Sully, “Some Memories of H. P. L.” in Ave Atque Vale 365-366

She apparently shared this sensation with Lovecraft, as he later wrote to her:

About the hidden churchyard of St. John’s—there must be some unsuspected vampiric horror burrowing down there & emitting vague miasmatic influences, since you are the third person to receive a definite creep of fear drom it….the others being Samuel Loveman & H. Warner Munn. I took Loveman there at midngiht, & when we got separated among the tombs he couldn’t be quite sure whether a faint luminosity bobbing above a distant nameless grave was my electric torch or a corpse-light of less describably origin! Munn was there with W. Paul Cook & me, & had an odd, unacountable dislike of a certain unplaceable, deliberate scratching which recurred at intervals around 3 a.m. How superstitous some people are!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Helen V. Sully, 17 Oct 1933, Letters to Wilfred B. Talman and Helen V. and Genevieve Sully 305

More important, however, was what that visit led to: a correspondence between Lovecraft and the Sullies.

The next day, I left. I wrote to thank Mr. Lovecraft for all his kindness. […] Our correspondence dated from my first letter to him. My impulse was to answer immediately. But he, in turn, always answered almost by return mail. His letters were so voluminous and must have taken so long to write and I felt his talents should be used elsewhere: and always felt guilty that he should spend so much time on me. The result was that I deliberately became less punctual about writing, to my present regret, because I do not think now that I was taking his time from more valuable work. My writing became more and more sporadic, but I think we corresponded up to a time near his death.
—Helen V. Sully, “Some Memories of H. P. L.” in Ave Atque Vale 366

The surviving correspondence consists of 25 letters, dating from immediately after Helen’s note of thanks in July 1933 until July 1936. As Clark Ashton Smith said, the letters are full of Lovecraft’s typical erudition, ranging widely in subject, going over his travels and politics, Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams and Howard Wandrei’s artwork among many others. She in turn wrote of her hiking trips and visits to Clark Ashton Smith, her friends and other issues…and, perhaps, opened up to him a little about her inner life.

By mid-1934, Helen had confided to Lovecraft a sense of melancholy or oppression about life—in fact, thoughts of death, and perhaps suicide—exactly what she said is unclear, as we only have Lovecraft’s side of the correspondence, but there is a thread in their correspondence on happiness and the meaning of life where Lovecraft portrays both a sort of objective optimism about life and death, which lasted over a year. The culmination of this line of thought was in 1935, where he seems to quote from her own letters about feeling “hopeless, useless, incompetent, & generally miserable” (LTS 423)—to which Lovecraft responded by pointing out how gifted she was, and how much more miserable he should be in his own circumstances, and finally says:

So—as a final homiletic word from garrulous & sententious old age—for Tsathoggua’s sake cheer up! Things aren’t as bad as they seem—& even if your highest ambitions are never fulfilled, you will undoubtedly find enough cheering things along the road to make existence worth enduring.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Helen V. Sully, 15 August 1935, LTS 431

This is a side of Lovecraft that is rarely seen; the closest point of comparison is probably in 1936 when Lovecraft did his best to keep C. L. Moore occupied after the death of her fiancé. Perhaps it even helped; Helen V. Sully lived a long, full life. In remembering him in 1969, she ended:

Anyone who came into contact with him could not fail to realize that here was a rare and unique person, of great refinement and brilliant intellect, and one who combined the genius which produced his finest writings and the attributes of a true gentleman.
—Helen V. Sully, “Some Memories of H. P. L.” in Ave Atque Vale 366

There is far less to say about the correspondence between Lovecraft and Genevieve K. Sully. Only four letters from Lovecraft to her are known to survive, dating from 1934 to 1937, and Lovecraft may have conveyed respects to her through his letters to Helen V. Sully and Clark Ashton Smith rather than corresponding with her directly for the most part. The 1934 letters apparently were sent to commemorate trips that Mrs. Sully had taken and included gifts including an “elongated, acorn-like object which somewhat baffles my botanical ignorance” (LTS 473)—probably an immature Redwood pine cone. She also reported on Donald Wandrei’s visit to see Clark Ashton Smith in November 1934, during which Wandrei was hosted by the Sullies.

The final letter, dated 7 February 1937, is a belated response to a 1936 Christmas card or letter that Genevieve K. Sully had thought to send to him, and includes a copy of his poem “To Klarkash-Ton, Wizard of Averoigne” and reports on the local cats, and on coming into acquaintence with Jonquil & Fritz Leiber Jr. Perhaps there were other letters, now lost; the genial tone and subjects of the last epistle suggests they might have kept up a sporadic correspondence. Lovecraft signed off with: “Best 1937 wishes for all the househould.—Yrs most sincerely—H. P. Lovecraft” (LTS 487).

Nor did the Sullies forget Lovecraft in later years. Clark Ashton Smith wrote to August Derleth in the 1940s:

Don’t forget my extra copy of Beyond the Wall of Sleep. The one you sent me will go as a slightly overdue birthday gift to Mrs. Sully’s daughter Helen (Mrs. Nelson Best) who met Lovecraft through my introduction back in 1933.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 30 Nov 1943, EID 342

Can you send me another copy of Something About Cats and add it to my bill? I want it for a girl who once met Lovecraft.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 7 Dec 1949, EID 412

Many fans may only know Helen V. Sully as “a girl who once met Lovecraft,” but that rather understates the relationship. Taken together, Lovecraft’s correspondence with Genevieve K. Sully and Helen V. Sully was fairly substantial, and covered aspects of geography and philosophy which he did not broach with any other correspondent. While we can only speculate what it meant to a young woman who felt depressed in her daily life to receive a letter from a kind older man who write to her about cats and to “for Tsathoggua’s sake cheer up!”…perhaps it helped. What more can any human being do for another, when they’re feeling down?

Fourteen letters and postcards to Helen V. Sully were excerpted for volumes IV and V of the Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft; all twenty-five pieces of correspondence were published in full, along with the four letters from Genevieve K. Sully, in Letters to Wilfred B. Talman and to Helen V. and Genevive Sully. Several of the original letters can be viewed online.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Margaret Sylvester

Dear Miss Sylvester:

[…] Regarding the Necronomicon–I must confess that this monstrous & abhorred volume is merely a figment of my own imagination! Inventing horrible books is quite a pastime among devotees of the weird, & ….. many of the regular W.T. contributors have such things to their credit–or discredit. It rather amuses the different writers to use one another’s synthetic demons & imaginary books in their stois–so that Clark Ashton Smith often speaks of my Necronomicon while I refer to his Book of Eibon..& so on. This pooling of resource stents to build up quite a pseudo-convincing background of dark mythology, legendary, & bibliography–though of course none of us has the least wish actually to mislead readers. ….

Yrs. most cordially & sincerely,

H. P. Lovecraft
—H. P. Lovecraft to Margaret Sylvester, 13 Jan 1934, Selected Letters 4.344-346

Margaret D. Sylvester was born in 1918, which made her fifteen years old when she wrote to H. P. Lovecraft, care of Weird Tales, in late 1933 or early 1934. We know little about her life: at the time she was living in Denver, Colorado with her parents and two younger brothers, no doubt going to school and reading pulp magazines for entertainment. She seems to have had a taste for the macabre, and like many fans that wrote to Lovecraft, found that he wrote back. While we don’t know how regular their correspondence was, Lovecraft included her on his list to mail postcards to during his travels, and on his list of correspondents in his instructions in case of decease.

That letter from 13 January 1934 may well be the first; it has something of the tone of an answer, and questions about the Necronomicon was common early on in correspondence with Lovecraft. A long passage before this discusses the witch-cult and Walpurgisnacht, with Lovecraft borrowing from The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray in his answer. “The Dreams in the Witch House” had been published in the July 1933 issue of Weird Tales, so perhaps that had precipitated the teenaged Margaret to pen a letter to him, filled with questions.

The best insight we have into Margaret Sylvester’s early correspondence with Lovecraft is in the few letters where he mentions her to others; in particular a long passage from mid-1934:

Am still shudderingly admiring the saponaceous monolith–& before I forget it, let me pass on a request for your charitable sculptorial services which I fancy you may wish to grant. A very bright young western correspondent–a damsel of precisely your own years who wrote me through W.T. & is interested in everything weird, especially art–has seen many of your drawings & the Cthulhu photograph (but not Ganesa), & has heard of your powers in clay-modelling & marionette work. Needless to say, her admiration of the Lord Ghu is boundless. Now it happens that she is herself an inveterate puppeteer, having given performances of “Dracula” & other horrors with figures made by herself; & contemplating such future triumphs as “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” & “Beauty & the Beast.” Here is where you come in. Filled with respect for your fertile fancy, she will not be content till she gets a hellish clay head of your conception & workmanship for the Beast figure of “Beauty & the Beast.” Evidently she prefers a typically Barlovian nameless Thing to any conventional phiz. I’ve told her to write you direct–but if she doesn’t, & if you think the honour of representation & credit in an undoubtedly clever & probably oft-repeated marionette show would be sufficient reward for the sculptural effort, you’d better drop her a line yourself asking for mechanical particulars & further ideas. Address: Miss Margaret Sylvester, 4515 East 25th Ave., Denver, Colorado. I’d do it if I were you–since such modelling is an intrinsic pleasure. You’ll probably find this kid an interesting correspondent, too–very bright, though not a writer so far as I know. And a great admirer of your cinema hero Singor Lugosi.
H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 22 Aug 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 166

“Lord Ghu” was one of Lovecraft’s nicknames for Barlow, who had taken to modeling figures in clay, including a tablet-image of Cthulhu and a statue of the Hindu god Ganesha. “Singor Lugosi” would be actor Bela Lugosi, whose filmography included Dracula (1931), Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), White Zombie (1932), Chandru the Magician (1932), The Black Cat (1934), and The Return of Chandru (1934).

As it happened, Barlow declined the project. However, Barlow did agree to loan “Little Maggie” his copy of Gustav Meyrinck’s The Golem, which was currently being read by Catherine Lucille Moore; one can imagine the young Margaret Sylvester’s surprise to get a package from Weird Tales author C. L. Moore in the mail one day. Margaret Sylvester would in turn forward the book to Lovecraft’s correspondent Duane W. Rimel when she was done with it.

In about May 1935, a chain letter was sent to Lovecraft—Margaret Sylvester is the name immediately before Lovecraft’s. He forwarded the chain letter, including a few judicious remarks, to Barlow for his amusement.

So you’ve had several of the chain things come, eh? I’ve seen only two so far–Bro. Hadley’s & Little Maggie’s. The latter child seems to be in the business–indeed, according to press reports it started in her town.
H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 24 May 1935, O Fortunate Floridian 275

No doubt the letters in 1935 would have included mention of her poetry:

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Angelus, 1935 East Side High School Yearbook, page 135

There are some indications that Lovecraft may have recruited Margaret for the National Amateur Press Association c. 1936, but if she ever published her “credential”, it is not known where or when. No doubt the letters from 1934-1936 were filled with a mix of Lovecraft’s typical accounts of news & travel and whatever topics that the two found of interest to share and discuss…such as Margaret Sylvester’s graduation from North Side High School in Denver, Colorado, and her aims at higher education.

You missed little Maggie Sylvester by only a few days, since she set out for the metropolis on the 11th. I’m telling Leedle Meestah Stoiling to extend her a welcome. Her address is now 157 E. 57th St., N.Y.C.
H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 16 Sep 1936, O Fortunate Floridian 360

And little Maggie Sylvester of Denver is in New York for an art course or something–to be addressed at 157 E. 37th St.
H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 29 Sep 1936, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 649

Leedle Meestah Stoiling cut the Harvard Tercentenary in order to stay longer in N Y with his parents. He tried to see little Maggie, but had to proceed to Cambridge before he could find her at home.
H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 30 Sep 1936, O Fortunate Floridian 363

“Leedle Meestah Stoiling” was Kenneth Sterling, another of Lovecraft’s young correspondents, with whom Lovecraft would collaborate on “In the Walls of Eryx.” It is not clear where in New York Margaret Sylvester attended art school, but her 2010 death certificate reads: “Some college credit, but no degee.” so for whatever reason she did not graduate. Perhaps she found a job; we know that in 1940 she married Frank Ronan, and took his name as Margaret Ronan. She was employed by Scholastic Publications as a critic, writer, and editor, publishing both anthologies and nonfiction books with a distinct horror bent aimed at the children/young adult market. In 1971 she edited The Shadow over Innsmouth and Other Stories of Horror, which may have been many a teen’s first introduction to Lovecraft, and there she wrote:

With his correspondents, Howard Lovecraft could relax. His letters, written in tiny, crabbed writing, are full of sly humor. Instead of a return address and a date, they could bear such headings as “Black Marsh of Gthath, Hour that the Ooze Stirs,” or “Black Cylinder Floating between Two Universes, Hour of the Burning Galaxy.” In one letter he sent to me, he refers to a description of himself given by a mutual friend: “As it happens, several points in Mr. Sterling’s word-picture are misleading. It is out of my right, not left shoulder that the ropy tentacles grow. What grows out of the left shoulder is one of my four eyeless heads. This head is not to be confused with the one growing out of my right elbow (the one with the green fangs).”
Margaret Ronan, “A Word to the Reader”

An extract from a single letter to Margaret Sylvester (13 January 1934) was published in Lovecraft’s Selected Letters IV. Arthur S. Koki obviously contacted Margaret Ronan, because he cites and quotes from several of her letters in his 1962 M.A. thesis “H. P. Lovecraft: An Introduction to His Life and Writings.” Most of these are fairly small and give little of the flavor of their correspondence, but two fragments stand out, the first on the death of Robert E. Howard (which occurred on 11 June 1936) and the second on the issue of marriage:

I doubt whether there was any definite cause aside from Mrs. Howard’s approaching death. As I see it, it was simply the disastrous combination of a certain kind of temperament with one sharp blow. Probably it would never have occurred if good old Two-Gun hadn’t been watching sleepless by his mother’s bedside for endless weeks. He was nervously & physically exhausted by those weeks of overwork, sleeplessness & tension–brooding deeply (as shown by poems like ‘The Tempter’) even though putting up a brave front to the outside world. Then came despair–& the consciousness that the fight for his mother’s life was hopeless. With no energy to resist the shock–no fund of healthy life-clinging, nerve-twisting strain–poor REH reacted in what must have seemed the shortest & simplest way. And what a damned shame! But of course I suppose general temperament was a factor. Despite his violent, assertive contempt for the “artistic attitude,” Two-Gun was essentially of the neurotic aesthetic type–that is, a person filled with imaginative concepts of certain conditions unrelated to reality which he would like to see around him, & correspondingly resentful of the pressure of the actual world.
H. P. Lovecraft to Margaret Sylvester, October 1936, Koki 298-299

I do not regard marriage as a social superfluity, but believe it has extreme stabilizing value in the organization of a state Its advantages are numerous & varied–& are indeed so apparent to the unbiased anthropologist that even Soviet Russia (where no traditional institution is kept up for tradition’s sake alone) is beginning to urge its systematic maintenance & more faithful & universal practice.
H. P. Lovecraft to Margaret Sylvester, n.d. (Jan 1937?), Koki 212

Presumably, most of the surviving letters from Lovecraft to Margaret Sylvester are in private hands. It is known that there are three letters at the John Hay Library, including the full 13 January 1934 letter that is excerpted in the Selected Letters. Also included is a letter believed to date from February 1937—one of the last letters that Lovecraft would write—with the address given as “Cave of the Crumbling Bones.” A copy of this letter was in the collection of actor Christopher Lee, who brought it out during the episode “Demons” on the series 100 Years of Horror (1996).

We can only speculate how much the correspondence with Lovecraft shaped a young Margaret Sylvester’s life. No doubt she was already on her macabre path, but no doubt too that he gave her encouragement to pursue those interests.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: H. P. Lovecraft’s Other Aunts

Howard Phillip Lovecraft’s father Winfield Scott Lovecraft was committed to Butler Hospital in 1893, and died there five years later. Sarah Susan Lovecraft and her son returned to the home of her parents in Providence, Rhode Island, and it appears that little connection was retained between Howard and his father’s side of the family—but there was at least some correspondence between members of the extended Lovecraft clan and their nephew in Providence. While none of this correspondence is known to survive, and there are too few mentions in HPL’s published correspondence to guess much at the real scope of it, we can at least confirm he did share some communication with his aunts…and they are interesting women, worth taking a look at.

Eliza Allgood (b. 1833 d. 1898)

Winfield Scott Lovecraft’s was the son of George Lovecraft (b. 1814 d. 1895) and Helen (Allgood) Lovecraft (b. 1820 d. 1881); census records for 1860 and 1880 show that three of Helen’s sisters (who would be Winfield’s aunt and HPL’s great aunts) were living with the Lovecraft family: Eliza Allgood, Sarah Allgood, and Augusta Charlotte Allgood (b. 1842? d. 1884). Richard D. Squires in Stern fathers ‘neath the mould: The Lovecraft Family in Rochester suggests that George Lovecraft may actually have adopted Augusta, but the census doesn’t record this. The 1880 census does record an adopted daughter Rosa Ramesdal, but how she fit into the family and what became of her is unclear. In any case, of Lovecraft’s great aunts, the only two who may have interacted with Lovecraft were Eliza and Sarah—Augusta died before HPL was born, and it isn’t clear what happened with Rosa.

Little is known of Eliza’s life. There is no record of her marrying, and she is listed in the 1880 census as a schoolteacher, which suggests some education. She had no children.

While it is possible a young H. P. Lovecraft might have sent a holiday card or letter to his great-aunt Eliza, there is no record of this. However, Eliza had not forgotten her nephew or grandnephew. In 1895 she registered a will that on her death Winfield S. Lovecraft would receive $1,000—and that if he was dead, this money was to be paid to Howard Phillips Lovecraft. So we know the family was at least still aware of the young HPL. Both Eliza Allgood and Winfield S. Lovecraft would pass away in 1898, within a few months of one another.

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Sarah Allgood (b. 1830? d. 1908)

H. P. Lovecraft’s other great-aunt was Sarah Allgood, was a teacher in Mt. Vernon, New York for sixty years before retiring. Like her sister Eliza, she never married and had no children. Sarah lived with her sister’s family for what appears to be most of that time, having particularly close relations with her nieces, the sisters of Winfield S. Lovecraft: Emily (“Emma”) Jane Lovecraft and Mary Louise Lovecraft.

SAllgood

Yonkers Statesman, 19 Jul 1906

While we may speculate as to whether H. P. Lovecraft ever wrote to Eliza, we know that when he was 14 or 15  years old he wrote to his great-aunt Sarah for geneaological information, which the elder Allgood provided:

There was a chart—one of those partitioned, compartment affairs with broad spaces for one’s parents and little narrow spaces for one’s remote forbears. I had copied it from my late great-aunt Sarah Allgood’s chart (plus a chart of the Lovecraft side) in 1905, and it had nearly fallen to pieces.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, Nov 1927, Selected Letters 2.179

While the information about the famly tree doesn’t appear to have made much of an impact on Lovecraft in 1905—he was going through a rough period following the death of his grandfather Whipple Van Buren Phillips and he and his mother’s forced relocation into smaller quarters in 1904—it’s interesting to note that the information would later be of much greater interest and important to Lovecraft. All of the Celtic connections in his family tree are through his father’s side of the family; and given Lovecraft’s anti-Irish prejudices during World War I (being a lifelong Anglophile, he was on the side of the British during the Irish War of Independence 1919-1921), this may have something to do with a gradual lessening of his prejudice in that regard. How much other family lore that Sarah may have passed on to her grand nephew is unclear; the legend of the “Luck of Edenhall” that HPL might have picked it up anywhere, but one particular anecdote had to have come from someone on the Allgood side of the family:

The only duel in my family of which I have any knowledge was fought in 1829, in upper New York State, by my father’s maternal grandfather William Allgood (of the Allgoods of Nunwick and Brandon White House, near Hexham—an old Roman station not far south of Hadrian’s Wall—in Northumberland)—who was born in England in 1792, graduated from Oxford, and came to the U.S. by way of Canada in 1817. The affray, as reported by family tradition, was the outgrowth of unpleasant remarks on national differences (memories of the War of 1812, in which the Americans vainly tried to conquer and annex Canada, were then fresh in Northern N.Y.) exchanged with a citizen of Rochester. Pistols were used, both participants were slightly grazed, and everybody appears to have been satisfied, since no more of the matter had been reported to posterity. It appears that my forebear was the challenger in this matter—though not without reasonable provocation. He died a peaceful natural death in 1840.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 10 Nov 1932, A Means to Freedom 1.480

In 1903, Sarah Allgood registered a will dividing her property among her surviving nieces and nephews, which included George Lovecraft Taylor (son of Augusta Allgood and John Lovecraft Taylor), Emma Jane (Lovecraft) Hill, Mary Louise (Lovecraft) Mellon, and Howard Phillips Lovecraft—who, being a rather distant grandnephew, was bequeathed the modest sum of $50. It is unclear how long any correspondence with her grandnephew lasted before her death in 1908.

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Mary Louise (Lovecraft) Mellon (b.1855 d. 1916)

The younger sister of Winfield S. Lovecraft, Mary Louise Lovecraft was a teacher, like her aunts Sarah and Eliza. Unlike them, she married: her husband was Paul Mellon (b. 1863 d. 1910), and they were married 8 July 1893 in Illinois. We can only speculate what kind of a marriage it was; Mary L. Mellon was listed as living with her aunt Sarah Allgood and cousin George Lovecraft Taylor in New York in 1900, and when Paul Mellon died he was in California. A clue to the strained nature of the relationship may be read in Eliza Allgood’s 1895 will, where she specifies as a condition of inheriting any property that:

[…] shall forgeit the principal thereof in event she shall give or devise any part of said estate or proceeds to Paul Mellon her husband.

Whether or not this condition ever came into play is unknown; perhaps Paul Mellon skipped out on the marriage, or was dissolute in some fashion. Mary L. Mellon remained with her surviving aunt Eliza until the latter’s death, probably as her caretaker. Mary herself would pass away in 1916. While I have not been able to find a copy of her will, L. Sprague de Camp write in H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (156) that on her death she left $2,000.00 to her nephew H. P. Lovecraft. As with the other bequests, there is no record of this in Lovecraft’s letters, but 1916 isn’t a particularly well-attested year in the letters, and he might be forgiven for not mentioning the death of distant relatives with whom he may not have been in regular contact to such friends as he had. Like her aunts, Mary L. Mellon died without children.

Emily (“Emma”) Jane (Lovecraft) Hill (b. 1849 d. 1925)

My paternal grandfather, George by name, (whom I never saw) emigrated to Rochester, N.Y., in the first half of the nineteenth century, and engaged in a remunerative occupation. He later removed to Mount Vernon, N.Y., and married Helen, daughter to Lancelot Allgood, Esq., another English emigrant, of a family whose ancestral seat is the manor of Nunwick, near Hexham, in Northumberland. This union was blessed with three children: Emma, now wife of Mr. Isaac HIll, Principal of the Pelham, N.Y. High School; Mary; and Winfield,  father of the present writer.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 1 Jan 1915, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 43

Like her aunts and sister, Emma Lovecraft was a schoolteacher. On 13 Sep 1872 she married Isaac C. Hill, who would become principal of the highschool in Pelham, N.Y. Their daughter, Mary Ida Emily Hill, was born in 1874…and being sixteen when Howard was born, it is perhaps not surprising that there’s no indication the cousins were ever close. Indeed, HPL may have been unaware of his cousin, since he wrote:

George also had daughters, whose childless next generation complete the dead-ending.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 5 Apr 1931, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 294

In 1899, Ida married David Lyon, and the joint Allgood-Hill-Lovecraft-Lyon plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Mt. Vernon, New York is the resting place for several members of the family.

The only suggestion that HPL was in correspondence with his aunt Eliza is the date of her death. Rather later in life, Lovecraft wrote:

His whereabouts were unknown in 1921, when I was last in correspondence with such paternal relatives as survive.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Edward H. Cole, 24 Oct 1934, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 96

HPL was referring to another male relative who had disappeared out west some decades before; he believed himself at the time to be the only male member of the Lovecraft family to still carry the name. Since his last communication was 1921, that would rule out his aunt Mary (d. 1916), so the most likely suspect was his aunt Emma (d. 1925)—while it is possible he was in touch with his cousins Ida Lyon or George Lovecraft Taylor, their general absence in his sketches of the Lovecraft/Allgood side of the family suggests against it. At least, if he was in touch with Ida, he should have at least received notice at the death of her mother in 1925. More than likely, his aunt Emily’s death severed the final strand of connection with between H. P. Lovecraft and his father’s side of the family.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft

My first memories are of the summer of 1892—just before my second birthday. We were then vacationing in Dudley, Mass., & I recall the house with its frightful attic water-tank & my rocking-horses at the head of the stairs. I recall also the plank walks laid to facilitate walking in rainy weather—& a wooded ravine, & a boy with a small rifle who let me pull the trigger while my mother held me. At that period my father was alive & in business in Boston, so that our residences were around the Boston suburbs—Dorchester & Auburndale. In the later place we stayed with my mother’s friend, the rather famous poetess Louise Imogen Guiney, pending the construction of a house of our own. That house was never built—for my father was fatally stricken in April 1893, & my mother & I moved back to the old maternal Providence home where I was born.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 4 Feb 1934, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 219 

Sarah Susan Phillips was born 17 October 1857, the second child and second daughter of Whipple Van Buren Phillips and Rhoby Alzada (Place) Phillips. As with her older sister Lillian, Susie was educated at the Wheaton Seminary in Norton, MA. Unlike her older sister, Susie never seems to have been engaged in any kind of employment outside the home. She was likely active in Providence society, like her sister Annie, and aside from Louise Imogen Guiney also claimed some familiarity with Charlotte Perkins Gilman. On 12 June 1889 at 31 years old, Susie married Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a commercial traveller for the Gorham Silver Company of Providence, and left her parents home for Massachusetts. A little over a year later, she returned to the family home in Providence to give birth to her sole child, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, on 20 August 1890.

We know very little about Susie’s early life and marriage. There is no information on how she came to meet her husband, or any details of their courtship. It can be assumed, because of W. S. Lovecraft’s work he must have traveled extensively; and it would not be surprising if she grew homesick, especially when she found herself pregnant. Still, there was no reason to think that the marriage was necessarily unhappy. W. S. Lovecraft had purchased a home lot with the idea of building them a home, they had a son…and the young child was a prodigy, speaking and even reading at a precious age. As for her other interests, Lovecraft would write:

My mother was, in all probability, the only person who thoroughly understood me, with the possible exception of Alfred Galpin. She was a person of unusual charm & force of character, accomplished in literature & the fine arts; a French scholar, musician, & painter in oils. I shall not again be likely to meet with a mind so thoroughly admirable.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 1 Jun 1921, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 364

In 1893, W. S. Lovecraft was placed under the legal guardianship of a lawyer and on 25 April committed to Butler Hospital in Providence; an anecdote recounts that he had an hallucination on a business trip to Chicago, and had to be put under restraint and returned to Providence. His medical records indicate further hallucinations, and the records show that Winfield Scott Lovecraft suffered from “general pareisis”—late-stage syphilis. Additional rumors and anecdotes suggest that this was contracted before or outside the marriage from sexual encounters with other women, perhaps sex workers (see “The Shadow of Syphilis” in Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos).

This brings up a difficult point in any discussion of Susie Lovecraft: we have basically nothing about herself from her own hand. There are several references to his mother in H. P. Lovecraft’s letters, but relatively few of his letters from before her death survive. What we have left are passing references in other memoirs of her son’s friends and acquaintences who met her only briefly, a letter from Susie’s neighbor Clara Hess, and a good bit of speculation and gossip, passed on from second- and third-hand. So when, for example, we read that:

H. P.  used to speak of his mother as a “touch-me-not” and oncebut once onlyhe confessed to me that his mother’s attitude toward him was “devastating.” […] his mother, probably having been sex-starved against her will, lavished both her love and her hate on her only child….
Sonia H. Davis, “Memories of Lovecraft I” (1969): Ave Atque Vale 152-153

It has to be remembered that Sonia never met Susie, that she’s repeating things she claims to have heard from H. P. Lovecraft over thirty years before, and that she was publishing this after twenty years of Lovecraft scholarship and criticism had already made something of an ogre of Susie Lovecraft, blaming her overprotectedness and coddling for some of her son’s traits. So…how much of that is accurate, and how much of that reflects a tradition?

We don’t know for sure.

What we do know is that after her husband’s medical confinement, Susie and her son moved back into the family home in Providence. The lot and the dream of a house of her own was gone, and she presumably focused on raising her young son and caring for her parents. In 1896, Rhoby Phillips would die; in 1898, W. S. Lovecraft would pass away, leaving a small estate to his widow and son. In 1904, Whipple V. Phillips would die, and the state of the family finances made it unfeasible to keep the house. Susie and her son moved into smaller quarters on the same street…and there they stayed, through all the trials and tribulations of H. P. Lovecraft’s schooling and afterwards.

The period of 1904-1914 is one of the most poorly attested in Lovecraft’s life. We know he suffered various illnesses, that he failed to graduate highschool, that he attempted a correspondence course, read voluminously, kept odd hours, etc. How much of this was due to his mother’s permissiveness or particular parenting is unclear. What she occupied herself with is also unclear. One incident that stands out:

My mother was, in the year 1906, thrown to the floor of a car which started prematurely; & sustain’d a nervous shock whose effects never wholly left her. The company made a moderate settlement out of court, after a litigation had been prepar’d against them.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 13 Dec 1928, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 191

This may or may not be the earlier “breakdown” that Lovecraft mentions in another letter (Letters to Rheinhert Kleiner & Others 134). Money issues were no doubt a major issue on Susie’s mind; as a young man Lovecraft seems to have been both rather spendthrift, had failed to obtain an education, and showed no inclination of getting a job. Neither is there any record of Susie Lovecraft obtaining any sort of employment; perhaps a reflection of her clinging to her family’s social status in Providence. So they were living solely off the slowly-diminishing funds at hand, and that included a sharp downturn in 1911 when her brother lost a chunk of the inheritance money, presumably on a failed business venture or bad investment (LMM 295).

It was presumably during this period that Susie might have participated in suffragette meetings:

Our acquaintence with the Lovecraft family stemmed through my husband’s mother’s having once met Sarah Lovecraft at a women’s suffrage meetings, although I never learned whether or not Howard’s mother really believed in equal rights for women. Mrs. Lovecraft had confided in my mother-in-law that her son was a truly gifted writer, and someday she knew he would be famous. She raved about him.
—Muriel E. Eddy, “The Gentleman from Angell Street” (1961)

In 1914, H. P. Lovecraft became involved with amateur journalism, and amateurs began to show up at their rooms, and met Mrs. Lovecraft. Some of these individuals, Susie apparently did not approve of, others she warmed to. We get only bits and pieces, never a complete picture; the majority of visitors were more interested in Howard than they were in Susie.

I was greeted at the door of 598 Angell Street by his mother, who was a woman just a little below medium height, with graying hair, and eyes which seemed to be the chief point of resemblance between herself and her son. She was very cordial and vivacious, and in another moment had ushered me into Lovecraft’s room.
—Rheinhart Kleiner, “A Memoir of Lovecraft” (1949): Ave Atque Vale 99

In 1919, Susie suffered a nervous breakdown of some sort, and went to stay with her sister Lillian. While we do not have any confirmed accounts from this period, her neighbor Clara Hess wrote an account in a letter, later published as “Lovecraft’s Sensitivity,” which has become the source of many rumors and allegations, part of which reads:

Later when she moved into the little downstairs flat in the house on Angell Street around the corner from Butler Avenue I met her often on the Butler Avenue cars, and one day after many urgent invitations I went in to call upon her. She was considered then to be getting rather odd. My call was pleasant enough but he house had a strange and shutup air and the atmosphere seemed weird and Mrs. Lovecraft talked continuously of her unfortunate son who was so hideous that he hid from everyone and did not like to walk upon the streets where people could gaze at him. […]

I remember that Mrs. Lovecraft spoke to me about weird and fantastic creatures that rushed out from behind buildings and from corners at dark, and that she shivered and looked about apprehensively as she told the story.

The last time I saw Mrs. Lovecraft we were both going ‘down street’ on the Butler Avenue car. She was excited and apparently did not know where she was. She attracted the attention of everyone. I was greatly embarrassed, as I was the object of all her attention….
—Clara Hess, Letter to Winfield Townley Scott (1948) in Ave Atque Vale 165-167

Scott, who later gained access to Susie’s medical records, would write:

A psychiatrist’s record at Butler Hospital expresses this another way: it says she was “a woman of narrow interests who received, with a traumatic psychosis, an awareness of approaching bankruptcy.” She entered the hospital March 13, 1919, and at that time Dr. F. J. Farnell found disorder had been evidenced for fifteen years; that in all, abnormality had existed at least twenty-six years. There is only a mention of her husband’s death in the hospital record of her case, but the reader will note that twenty-six years before was the date of the establishment of a legal guardianship for Winfield Lovecraft, the year Howard (“Have been in execrable health—nervous trouble—since the age of two or three”) was three years old.

She suffered periods of mental and physical exhaustion. She wept frequently under emotional strains. In common  lingo, she was a woman who had gone to pieces.
—Winfield Townley Scott,  “His Own Most Fantastic Creation: Howard Phillips Lovecraft” (1944) in Lovecraft Remembered 15-16

Whether or not Scott’s presentation of Susie is accurate or not, Scott’s appraisal of Susie is almost unrelentingly negative. For a woman who had suffered considerable personal losses, possibly been exposed to sexually transmitted disease and the resulting social stigma, and lived under mounting financial strain, in a social situation which made many solutions possibly untenable—even if she had been willing and able to work (a large if, considering her apparent mental health issues), it is not clear what work would have been available for a widow with no prior experience in the 1910s. Susie appears to have been all-too-keenly aware of financial disaster.

This might have been the first time in Lovecraft’s 28 years when he was not in regular daily contact with his mother, and while they had exchanged notes, birthday cards and the like before this—Lovecraft apparently had a habit of writing her poems for her birthday, some of which survive—this is the true start of their correspondence:

My mother, feeling no better here, has gone on a visit to my elder aunt for purposes of complete rest; leaving my younger aunt as autocrat of this dwelling. My aunt does splendidly—but you above all others can imagine the effect of maternal illness & absence. I cannot eat, not can I stay up long at a time. Pen-writing or typewriting nearly drives me insane. […] I am assured, however, that my mother’s state is not dangerous; that the apparent stomach trouble is neurotic & not organic. She writes optimistic letters each day, & I try to make my replies equally optimistic; though I do not find it possible to “cheer up”, eat, & go out, as she encourages me to do. Such infirmity & absence on her part is so unprecedented, that it cannot but depress me, despite the brightest bulletins of her physician—whom, by the way, she writes that she is now well enough to dismiss.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 18 Jan 1919, LRKO 129

By March, her condition had gotten to the point that Susie was admitted to Butler Hospital, the same mental health facility where her husband had died. Lovecraft probably never visited the hospital building itself—at least there is no record of it—but would visit her on the wooded grounds, and continued to write her letters. Two of his letters to Susie survive from this period, and give an idea of what their correspondence must have been like:

My dearest Mother:

I was greatly pleased to received your letter, and thank you in addition for the small primroses,—which still adorn this apartment—the Weekly Review, the banana, and the most captivating cat picture, which I shall give a permanent place on the wall.

The Amateur Journalists’ Conference of Tuesday, February 22, was a most distinguished success in every way […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Sarah Susan Lovecraft, 24 Feb 1921, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.25

With Susie absent from home, Howard began to make day-trips to Boston to visit with his amateur friends. Much as he would later describe his travels in detail to his aunts, Howard gives a blow-by-blow account of the Boston conference—although he left out meeting Sonia H. Greene.

My dearest Mother:

I was glad to receive your letter of Sunday, and must thank you exceedingly for the Reviews, apples, and beautiful picture of the Taj Mahal, which reminds one of the fabulous Oriental edifices in Lord Dunsany’s tales. Just now I am taking a breathing spell before plunging into a fresh sea of Bush work—he has snet a new rush order which ought to bring in a considerable sum […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Sarah Susan Lovecraft, 17 Mar 1921, LFF 1.30-31

One has to wonder if the reference to Lovecraft’s revision work for David Van Bush were a way he had of trying to alleviate, if only a little, her economic stress. Very unusually, both of these letters are closely typed rather than handwritten; perhaps this made it easier for his mother to read than his handwriting.

While his letters to his mother are bright and chipper, Howard’s references to his mother in letters from 1919-1921 show his genuine concern at her health and prolonged absence from the home. At the hospital, Susie underwent surgery for the removal of her gallbladder. She succumbed to an infection a week later, and died on 24 May 1921. Her son had not visited her during this final illness, but it was not known that it would be fatal until too late.

Despite my mother’s nervous illness & presence at a sanitarium for two years, the fatal malady was entirely different & unconnected—a digestive trouble of sudden appearance which necessitated an operation. No grave result was apprehended till the very day before death, but it then became evident that only a strong constitution could cause survival. Never strong or vigorous, my mother was unable to recover. The result is the cause of wide & profound sorrow, although to my mother it was only a relief from nervous suffering. For two years she had wished for little else—just as I myself wish for oblivion. Like me, she was an agnostic with no belief in immortality, & wished for death all the more because it meant peace & not an eternity of boresome consciousness. For my part, I do not think I shall wait for a natural death; since there is no longer any particular reason why I should exist. During my mother’s lifetime I was aware that voluntary euthanasia on my part owould cause her distress, but it is now possible for me to regulate the term of my existence with the assurance that my end would cause no more than a passing annoyance—of course my aunts are infinitely considerate & solicitous, but the death of a nephew is seldom a momentous event.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 1 Jun 1921, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 364

Susie’s son did not take his own life—and managed to shake himself out of the grief of his bereavement. Howard involved himself deeper into amateur affairs, and in his growing correspondence with Sonia H. Greene. For the rest of his life, H. P. Lovecraft would cherish the memory of his mother, and wrote with all sincerity that:

It takes no effort at all—especially when I am out in certain woods and fields which have not changed a bit since my boyhood—for me to imagine that all the years since 1902 or 1903 are a dream…… that I am still 12 years old, and that when I go home it will be through the quieter, more village-like streets of those days—with horses and wagons, and little varicoloured street cars with open platforms, and with my old home at 454 Angell St. still waiting at the end of the vista—with my mother, grandfather, black cat, and other departed companions alive and unchanged.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 9 Aug 1933, O Fortunate Floridian! 73

Lovecraft’s oldest surviving note to his mother—a little poem asking her to let him sleep in instead of dragging him to his aunt’s for Thanksgiving dinner—was published as the first “letter” in the Selected Letters published by Arkham House. This note and two surviving letters from Howard to his mother are published in Letters to Family & Family Friends volume 1; they have also been digitized and can be read online at the Brown University Library website.

For more information on Sarah Susan Phillips and Winfield Scott Lovecraft, see Kenneth W. Faig Jr.’s excellent essay “The Parents of Howard Phillips Lovecraft” in An Epicure in the Terrible.


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

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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).