Her Letters To Lovecraft: Jennie K. Plaisier

Further versified contributions are those of Mrs. Jennie M. Kendall and Dr. O. M. Blood. Mrs. Kendall’s ballad is marked by attractive animation and commendable correctness, but Dr. Blood should exercise more care in his use of rhyme and metre.

H. P. Lovecraft, “Department of Public Criticism,” United Amateur Sep 1918 in Collected Essays 1.205

She was born Jane Irene Maloney in 1882 (according to her grave marker)—but she was better known throughout her life as Jennie. The daughter of Irish immigrants and raised in Chicago, she was listed as a student in the 1900 Federal census, and the 1910 census gives her profession as a stenographer. Yet beyond her professional duties, Jennie Maloney was a noted amateur journalist involved with the National Amateur Press Association. She was elected as Corresponding Secretary of NAPA in 1905, and in 1908 she served as Historian under Official Editor Frank A. Kendall. In 1911, Jennie and Frank married; they both continued in amateurdom, and the union produced a daughter Betty.

In 1913, Frank Kendall was elected as President of NAPA. Unfortunately, on 23 November 1913, only four months into his term, he died from meningitis. Jennie Kendall was elected to fulfill the remainder of her late husband’s term, incidentally becoming the second female president of NAPA. By the time H. P. Lovecraft joined amateur journalism in 1914, her term would have ended. While raising her child as a single mother, Jennie would continue as an amateur journalist, and that is apparently how Lovecraft first knew her—as Mrs. Jennie Kendall. (See A History of the National Amateur Press Association.)

It is not exactly clear when Lovecraft and Jennie fell into correspondence, though it may have been as early as the 1920s. The Rainbow Vol. II, No. 2 (May 1922) by Sonia H. Greene (ed.) includes a poem “The Distant Forest” by 9-year-old Betty Jane Kendall, and precocious as that young amateur journalist might have been, it was probably her mother that stamped and mailed the poem in when Lovecraft & Greene needed material. No doubt Jennie and Lovecraft read of each other in amateur journals, but if they had any correspondence during this time, it has not come down to us.

In 1920, Jennie remarried to John Plaisier, a schoolteacher, and she took his name, becoming Jennie K. Plaisier. In 1935, Jennie, Lovecraft, and amateur Vincent B. Haggerty were elected to serve as a panel of judges for the awarding of the NAPA laureateships for 1935-1936…and there they ran into the bane of every small organization’s existence: petty politics.

My letter to Mrs. Plaisier was sent to Haggerty for reading & forwarding on Nov. 2; but he seems to have been slow in attending to the matter, since I’ve just had a note from Mrs. P. dated Nov. 6 & containing no sign of his having received my commiseration. Fortunately I had an extra carbon of my letter, which I’ve now sent her. […] Smith’s position is an extremely destructive one. A liberal attitude toward red tape regulations is all that has kept the National—or any organisation—a living institution—indeed, if this quibbling ultra-constitutionalism were retroactive, it would illegalise half our existing laureate awards & wipe out of technical existence the administration of some of our most useful & counterfeit officers! Rigidity is death to progress. I have fought legalism in amateur journalism for 20 years, & certainly don’t want to see it employed today for the gratification of a private grudge!

H. P. Lovecraft to Edward H. Cole, 19 Nov 1935, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 133

Two works in Ralph W. Babcock, Jr.’s amateur journal the Red Rooster (May 1935) were up for a laureateship; he had made an enemy of Edwin Hadley Smith. The quarrel was personal, but it played out in amateurdom: Smith brought up an obscure and unused rule in the NAPA constitution in an effort to show that Babcock’s publication with the items in question did not meet the legal definition of an amateur paper, and so were ineligible for any award. Smith wrote to Lovecraft to declare the works invalid; Lovecraft demurred. As Lovecraft put it:

I think I may have a fight on my hands—with our dear old pal Hadley. he has challenged the story & history laureate awards on the ground that they did not appear in a properly published paper—all of this of course being an effort to give Babcock a jolt, since the May Red Rooster is the paper in question. I disapprove of the use of virtually obsolete legal technicalities as adjuncts to private vengeance, hence as Exec. Judge will not give a decision until I have had proof that the original spring edition of the Rooster lacked the normal matter & circulation which would make it a paper. Smith is pretty well riled up about this, & would like to force my resignation if he could. Mrs. Plaisier is on his side, & Haggerty won’t vote because he was laureate judge of history.

H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 13 Dec 1935, O Fortunate Floridian 305

Old Hadley is trying to bulldoze me into giving an early decision in his favour—for it appears that my vote would be decisive. In response, I urbanely tell him to go to hell. Mrs. Plaisier—the chairman of the judges—seems to be in his favour, while Haggerty refuses to act because he was laureate judge of the disputed history entry.

H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 15 Dec 1935, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin et al. 304

Whether Lovecraft told Edwin Hadley Smith to go to hell or not, his letters to Jennie Plaisier were no doubt much more formal and cordial, as untangling the truth of the matter and negotiating the dispute with his fellow judges required an exchange of more than a few letters between Lovecraft, Plaisier, and Haggerty. Eventually, a compromise was reached: Babcock declined the history laureateships, while the other went to Richard Foster for his piece in the Red Rooster.

The final verdict was released in a joint letter by Lovecraft, Plaisier, and Haggerty titled “Report of the Executive Judges” and dated 25 Apr 1936, along with various other bits of business. It was, to put it simply, a busy year, and must have generated a fair bit of correspondence between Lovecraft and Plaisier. Most of this, however, has not come to light. The “Reporter of the Executive Judges” has been reprinted in the Collected Essays volume 1 and the volume of Miscellaneous Letters, but only a part of a single letter from Lovecraft to Plaisier has seen print.

This letter fragment is dated 8 Jul 1936, and deals exclusively with Lovecraft’s politics…and his shift in politics over the course of his life:

Dear J. K. P.:—

.. The background surrounding me (despite some wavering on my aunt’s part in response to my repeated arguments) is solidly old-guard Republican, whereas I myself have been increasingly a left-winger ever since the advent of the depression began to force me into real thought on the subject of economic and political trends.

I used to be a hide-bound Tory simply for traditional and antiquarian reasons—and because I had never done any real thinking on civics and industry and the future. The depression—and its concomitant publicisation of industrial, financial, and governmental problems—jolted me out of my lethargy and led me to reëxamine the facts of history in the light of unsentimental scientific analysis; and it was not long before I realised what an ass I had been. The liberals at whom I used to laugh were the ones who were right—for they were living in the present while I had been living in the past. They had been using science whilst I had been using romantic antiquarianism. At last I began to recognise something of the way in which capitalism works—always piling up concentrated wealth and impoverishing the bulk of the population until the strain becomes so intolerable as to force artificial reform. Sparta before Agis and Cleomenes. Rome before the Gracchi and Ceasar. Always the same story. And now accelerated a thousandfold through the unprecedented conditions of mechanised industry. Well—I was converted at last, and in the spring of 1931 took the left-wing side of social and political arguments for the first time in a long life. Nor has there been any retreat. Instead, I have gone even farther toward the left—although totally rejecting the special dogmatisms of pure Marxism, which are certainly founded on definite scientific and philosophical fallacies. I am all for continuous dvelopment and revolutions—and it seems to me that the nations with a natrually orderly and liberal tradition have a very fair chance of developing in the proper direction without any cataclysmic upheavals. Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries are far ahead of the United States, but even the latter is coming along despite its ingrained tradition of harsh acquistiveness. So today I am a New Dealer—perfectly conscious of the waste and bungling necessarily connected with experimentation, but convinced that open-minded experiment with all its faults is vastly better than efficient and economical progress toward the wrong goal.


Yrs. most sincerely,
H. P. L.

H. P. Lovecraft to Jennie K. Plaisier, 8 Jul 1936, Selected Letters 5.279-280

These views track with the development of Lovecraft’s politics over the course of his life; whether the subject came up as a result of the dispute of amateur constitutionalism or arose separately—other amateurs had noted the same shift in Lovecraft’s politics, which were very different in the mid-1930s than they had been during his days publishing his amateur journal The Conservative. Whatever the case, it seems clear that their correspondence continued for a little while after their mutual service on the Executive Judgeship was completed. They may have continued writing to one another as late as 1937, for Jennie K. Plaisier’s address is listed in Lovecraft’s 1937 diary (see Lovecraft Annual #6.171).

After Lovecraft’s death, Jennie wrote of their friendship:

I mourn him very much, as we had become very fond of each other during the Executive Judgeship days that you caused us so many gray hairs. I shall miss his letters and his helpfulness a great deal. I have quite a bit of his work on hand that he had sent to me and it may be valuable material. We shared the same political outlook. He was won over to my “modern revolution” theor from an old rock-bottom republicanism and during the last campaign had quite a time with his relatives and friends because of his attitude to the “new Deal.” These are not idle words when I say his passing is a grat loss for A.J.

Jennie K. Plaisier to Edwin Hadley Smith, 26 Mar 1937, MSS. Brown University Library

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

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Her Letters To Lovecraft: Myrta Alice Little

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

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

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

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

Dear Miſs Little:—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Lillian M. Galpin

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

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

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

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

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

George Kirk, Lovecraft’s New York Circle 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story unfolds in his letters:

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

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

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

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

Dear Mrs. Galpin:—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Kathleen Compere Hughes

Kathleen Compere was born in Dublin, Texas on 20 June 1904, a middle daughter in large family headed by Baptist minister Edward L. Compere. She graduated high school; newspaper accounts say she attended the College of Industrial Arts in Denton, TX, and graduated from Baylor College. In 1927, Kathleen married Herald Hall Hughes, becoming Mrs. H. H. Hughes—the name by which she would sign herself in letters to Weird Tales and to Lovecraft. By 1936, the Hughes were living in Lawton, Oklahoma, with their sons Harold (age 8) and William (“Billy,” age 4). Somewhere during that bare sketch of a life, she had gained an appreciation for weird fiction:

Weird Tales Sep 1936

Weird Tales has been reprinting “classics” of weird fiction and stories from earlier issues since 1928, a practice sometimes clamored for by fans who had no access to earlier issues, and sometimes derided by fans who wanted new material, not just reprints. Farnsworth Wright was no doubt glad to have a fan asking for such reprints. Presumably, it was Wright that put Kathleen Compere Hughes in touch with H. P. Lovecraft, probably forwarding a letter as he did with other fans wanting to get in touch with him.

We have scanty evidence for the actual correspondence between the two of them, one abridged letter tentatively dated c. October 1936 was copied into the Arkham House Transcripts, though the physical letter it was copied from was presumably returned and is not known to be extant. A second letter, dated 6 April 1937, survives among his papers at the Brown University Library. Sent after Lovecraft’s death and addressed “Dear Friend,” it isn’t clear if this is a letter to Lovecraft at all, although circumstantial evidence within the letter itself suggests it may be.

Taking all these facts together suggests that the correspondence of Kathleen Hughes and H. P. Lovecraft was notably brief and rather self-contained. There are no references to Mrs. Hughes by name in any of Lovecraft’s other published letters, nor is her address included in the list of his correspondents in his 1937 diary. This would not be unusual for a relatively new and minor correspondent for which there might be long gaps between letters.

Lovecraft’s letter to Hughes is published in Miscellaneous Letters, and begins much like some of his other letters to fans disabusing them of certain popular notions:

About these books on Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu—I regret to say that they all belong in the domain of charlatanry, semi-charlatanry, and self-delusion. There is absolutely no basis in fact for any of the assumptions they purvey—while on the other hand there is overhwelming evidence that none of the favulous “Vanished contiennts” ever existed since the appearance of mankind on the earth.

H. P. Lovecraft to Mrs. H. H. Hughes, c. Oct 1936, Miscellaneous Letters 369

In very typical Lovecraftian fact, this turns into a kind of mini-essay taking a materialist stance against lost continents and pre-human civilizations. Switching gears, Lovecraft then discusses travel, especially in Massachusetts (“Cape Cod is a bit overdone by tourists, and has always seemed to me somewhat overrated.” ibid 370-371), apparently in answer to a desire Hughes expressed to visit Newburyport, one of Lovecraft’s favorite towns (and, he mentions, an inspiration for “The Shadow over Innsmouth”) to which she had some family connection. He then does the typical explanation of the unreality of the Mythos:

As for the “hellish and forbidden volumes” mentioned by various Mu writers—the monstrous Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, the portentous Book of Eibon, the shocking Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, the Comte d’Erlette’s Cultes des Goules, Ludvig Prinn’s De Vermiss Mysteriis, the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Eltdown Shards, the unmentionable Ghorl Nigral, etc. etc.—they are all purely imaginary, like some of the “terrible tomes” mentioned in Poe, Bierce, Machen, Blackwood, Hodgson, etc.

H. P. Lovecraft to Mrs. H. H. Hughes, c. Oct 1936, Miscellaneous Letters 372

A typical answer to a typical fan question. The most interesting part of the letter is the last paragraph, however, which ends:

Incidentally I’m enclosing something about my writing methods which I prepared at the request of one of the young “fan magazine” editors. Please return it some time—for I’m not sure when the printed version will appear. About those snaps of “the gang”—I’ll lend them as soon as Finlay returns them. I don’t like to hurry him up, since he’s been ill.

H. P. Lovecraft to Mrs. H. H. Hughes, c. Oct 1936, Miscellaneous Letters 373

The reference to Weird Tales artist Virgil Finlay helps date the letter to Hughes; in his letters to Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft mentions getting a letter from Finlay in September 1936 (DS 651), and in a letter to Willis Conover, Jr. dated 31 Jan 1937 is a reference to Finlay returning pictures (LRB 416). That helps give a period in which Lovecraft must have sent Hughes this letter. The reference to an enclosure is interesting because it ties in with the April 1937 letter from Hughes:

While there’s no direct evidence that this was a letter from Hughes to Lovecraft, returning manuscripts jives with Lovecraft’s known generosity in lending out copies of his stories. Elsewhere in the same letter she asks for details on books on the continent of Mu, echoing the opening passages of Lovecraft’s letter.

Without more evidence, it’s impossible to say for sure. If she did send this letter to Lovecraft or to someone else within the Lovecraft circle like R. H. Barlow. If Lovecraft was the intended recipient, she would not have heard of his death on 15 March 1937, which wasn’t announced in Weird Tales until the June 1937 issue. Such a gap might not be unusual if their correspondence was broken up, with a month or months between letters…and one can imagine Lovecraft’s aunt, opening the mail that came in after her nephew’s death, having to pen a brief note regarding his death. Or perhaps Kathleen Hughes saw the notice in Weird Tales first, and realized then she would no longer receive any letters from 66 College Street in Providence.

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

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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Henriette Ziegfeld

“The Blind Prince,” by Henriette Ziegfeld, is an excellent juvenile tale involving a fairy story. The only serious objection is the undercurrent of adult comment which flows through the narrative. Particularly cynical is the closing sentence: “‘And here’s Mother,’ finished poor Auntie with a sigh of relief.” The ordinary fairy stories told to children are bits of actual Teutonic mythology, and should be related with a grave, absolute simplicity and naivete. However, as a psychological study of the typical childish auditor, the sketch as a whole is highly meritorious. We are inclined to wonder at the possible meaning of the strange word “alright,” which appears more than once in Miss Ziegfeld’s tale. It is certainly no part of our language, and if it be a corruption of “all right,” we must say that we fail to perceive why the correct expression could not have been used.

“Department of Public Criticism,” The United Amateur 15, no. 2 (Sep 1915), in Collected Essays 1.72

This was, as far as can be determined, Lovecraft’s first notice of the existence of Henriette Ziegfeld (1894-1976), an amateur journalist from Columbus, Ohio. According to census data, Henriette was the child of immigrant parents, her father Dutch and mother German, and one of 11 children that survived to be recorded. “The Blind Prince” was published in The Woodbee, the amateur journal of the Woodbee Press Club of Columbus, which was associated with the faction of the United Amateur Press Association that H. P. Lovecraft had joined the previous year.

Amateur journalism appears to have been something of a family affair for the Zeigfelds. Lovecraft’s editorials and a letter mention her brothers Arthur (1901-1971; CE 1.267, 302, 307-8) and Florenz (1888-1951; CE 1.88, 124; LRKO 87); a 1920 convention report also lists as voting members their siblings Emelie (Emily), Hilda, Alma, Oscar, and Mrs. Ziegfeld—presumably their mother, Pauline Ziegfeld (1859-1929). A 1921 accounting of officers of the Woodbees lists Arthur F. Ziegfeld as President and his sister Henriette as the Secretary and Treasurer (CE 1.267).

By coincidence, Florenz Ziegfeld shared his name with the impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (1869-1932), who staged the famous revue Ziegfeld’s Follies (1906-1930s), which featured dozens of elaborately costumed showgirls (popularly called “Ziegfeld Girls”) in an elaborate musical and visual tableau. Inspired by the coincidence, in 1921 Arthur F. Ziegfeld began producing his own amateur journal titled Ziegfeld’s Follies.

The only surviving correspondence between the two is a single letter dated 6 Nov 1920 from Lovecraft to Ziegfeld, thanking the Woodbee Club for the generous donation of $25 toward the United Amateur Press Association’s fund for the publication of The United Amateur. Presumably, Henriette was acting as treasurer and had sent the money and an accompanying letter or note, so this was Lovecraft’s official thank-you. He also included an official notice in The United Amateur, which contains another relevant detail:

The Woodbee Club, now doubly prominent in amateurdom through its possession of both the Presidency and the Secretary-Treasurership, continues to be the most active of local bodies. On Labour Day, September 5, a successful corn roast was held on the Frazier Farm, whilst on September 24 the third annual rummage sale took place. Of the proceeds of the latter, $25.00 will be very generously donated to the Official Organ Fund in five-dollar instalments. The latest event is a farewell party to Miss Henriette Ziegfeld on the eve of her departure for India.

“News Notes,” The United Amateur 21, no. 1 (Sep 1921) in Collected Essays 1.300

Whether she replied is unknown; but possible—someone had to have informed Lovecraft that Henriette was leaving for a teaching mission in India, and in subsequent issues Lovecraft offered brief updates of her progress, so someone was keeping him appraised:

Miss Henriette Ziegfeld of the Woodbee Club on November 12 sailed for India, where she will be engaged in missionary work at Nagercoil, Travancore, in the southernmost part of the peninsula.

“News Notes,” The United Amateur 21, no. 2 (Nov 1921) in Collected Essays 1.303

On December 24th the Club received the pleasing news that Miss Henriette Ziegfeld had safely reached her destination in India, despite two threatened onslaughts of mal de mer during the voyage; onslaughts which were cleverly defeated by means of judicious pedestrianism.

“News Notes,” The United Amateur 21, no. 3 (Jan 1922) in Collected Essays 1.308
Henriette Ziegfeld’s 1921 passport photo
Henriette Ziegfeld in India, 1923, Concordia Historical Institute

That is the last word in Lovecraft’s amateur journalism essays or letters on Henriette Zeigfeld. No doubt a good example of many brief correspondences with women in various positions of amateur journalism, most of which do not survive.

The letter from Lovecraft to Henriette Ziegfeld has been published in Miscellaneous Letters (2022). While the date given on the letter is 1920, the notice of the $25 donation occurred in 1921—either the Woodbee Club made two such donations, or the letter is from 1921 and was misdated or mistranscribed.

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: Bernice Nette (Leach) Barlow

The present household consists of Barlow & his mother; & of a mother & son named Johnston, from Virginia, who keep house & attend to various duties.

H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 13 May 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin &c. 171

On the second of May 1934, a little after noon, H. P. Lovecraft stepped off the bus into the Florida afternoon sunshine. He was met there by Robert H. Barlow—a young correspondent whose letters had first reached him via Weird Tales three years earlier. Lovecraft was shocked to find his friend, with whom he would be staying for several weeks during his Florida vacation, to be only 16 years old.

No account is given, in letters or memoir, of Lovecraft meeting his teenage friend’s mother, Bernice Barlow. That is rather typical for everyone involved; she was there—cooking meals, driving the car, and no doubt a million other things—but during his two trips to DeLand in 1934 and 1935, Lovecraft’s letters focused on his adventures with Bobby Barlow, and R. H. Barlow’s memoirs of the time focus on Lovecraft. Little interest was given to the woman who quietly held everything together.

She was born Bernice Leach in Leavenworth, Kansas on 12 May 1884. Her father Adoniram (“Nide”) Bostwick Leach was a schoolteacher associated with the Leavenworth Business College; her mother Myrtilla Emlin (Parker) Leach appears to have been a homemaker. Bernice was the third of five children, with her older sisters Mabel (b. 1877) and Minnie (b. 1879), and younger brothers Parker (b. 1888) and Elwood (b. 1889). Absent any biographies, much of her life has to be pieced together with census data and newspaper accounts.

Bernice graduated high school and continued to live with her parents. At about age 20 or 21, she met Lt. Everett Darius Barlow (b. 1881), who was stationed at Fort Leavenworth. Newspaper accounts report on the visits of Everett and his brother Warren with the family. In 1905, it was announced that Everett and Bernice were engaged; on 21 December 1907, after he returned from his first stint in the Philippines, they were married. About ten months later, their son Everett Wayne Barlow was born, on 10 October 1908.

Life for a military wife is hard, and hardly documented. Census data shows that in the ensuing ten years the family moved from one posting to the next. When E. D. Barlow shipped out to France in April 1918, Bernice was heavily pregnant with their second child. She would be with relatives in Kansas when Robert Hayward Barlow was born on 18 May 1918. We can only guess at the unspoken decade between child—miscarriages, stillbirths, long absences from home might have all played their part.

When E. D. Barlow returned from the Great War, he was not the same. Without his medical records it can be difficult to get at the heart of the matter, but there are suggestions that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which made family life difficult. Lovecraft, whose own mother had suffered a breakdown before her death in 1921, was sympathetic:

Glad to hear your father is somewhat improved, & hope he can arrange to make his gains permanent. These nervous breakdowns are no joke; no matter how much they may inconvenience & depress the bystanders, they are a damned sight worse for the victim himself.

H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 19 Mar 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 114-115

In 1934 when Bernice Barlow and H. P. Lovecraft met they had been living pillar-to-post for about twenty-six years. With E. D. Barlow’s retirement at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, the family ended up in rural Deland, Florida, far from family and friends. The house they built was named Dunrovin, and when Lovecraft arrived it was not quite finished. E. D. Barlow was up north, seeking medical treatment; Wayne Barlow had joined the army. So Bernice was on her own, with her precocious teenage son, and the Johnstons to help her out around the house. There is only one real anecdote about Lovecraft and Bernice from this period, but it bears repeating:

We had been in the habit of gathering blueberries beyond a shallow creek running between the swamp. Now HPL was no woodsman, as may be seen, and it was always perilous to trust his poor sight and lack of horse-sense. […] A series of recent rains had rendered the land very muddy, and the creek-channel had far overflowed, elaving a widespread thin puddle through which we had no choice but to wade. At the deeper creek had been placed a board to serve as bridge; and this was crossed without mishap. We spent some time gathering berries, but were through long before his dim eyes had attained even a half-basket. So we helped him filled it, and then all started home (Lovecraft, [Johnston], and myself). He lingered for possible other berried, and fearing just such a mishap, I stood uponthe makeshift bridge and called out its location to HPL.

[…] although I missed the scene myself (meeting him upstairs later) mother said he came in, soaking wet, and with most of his berries gone. In the God-awful rig he must have appeared very comical, thought it had also a tragic air about it. Promptly he said to mother, “I really must apologize!” She, amazed by this vision of a thoroughly wet HPL, said in surprise, “What for?”

He went on to explain he had been homeward bound when he came to the creek. Not seeing the board, he was abruptly pitched up to his neck into cold water. The berries were flung up and upset, most of them going on the slight current.

R. H. Barlow, “Memories of Lovecraft (1934)” in O Fortunate Floridian 406-407

The first visit lasted until 21 June 1934, about six weeks. Once in St. Augustine, Lovecraft posted a card to his gracious host:

It surely seems odd, after so many weeks of enjoyment of the Villa Barlovia’s hospitality, to be absent from the familiar table’s west end, & to forego the evening promenades on the moonlit Cassia road! I scarcely need reiterate how keen a delight my protracted visit gave me—& how profoundly I hope that I did not occasion any gortesque extremes of inconvenience with my wild hours & habitual absences from scnes of constructive endeavour.

H. P. Lovecraft to Bernice Barlow, postmarked 21 Jun 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 140

This is, as far as survives, the only piece of correspondence directly between Lovecraft and Bernice Barlow. No doubt any important news would have been shared through Lovecraft’s continuing correspondence with her son; there is a note on the envelope of one letter (“No news—Mother” O Fortunate Floridian 351) which may or may not be intended for HPL. Yet for the most part, Lovecraft seems to have quickly and firmly settled in as a family friend. On his 1935 visit, Lovecraft met Everett and Wayne Barlow and got along well with both of them.

Lovecraft did not write about the invisible stresses in the family—between husband and wife, father and son. R. H. Barlow would leave Florida for Kansas and the Kansas City Art Institute; Bernice and Everett would divorce in 1941. Yet Bernice was a survivor…she would continue to rebuild her life, and would eventually outlive her younger son. Perhaps in her waning years, back in Florida, she would remember the strange man who came to stay with them, how he would talk and the incident with the berries…and the card he sent, which she had kept for many years before it was donated with so many other documents of Lovecraft’s life to the John Hay Library.

The full text of Lovecraft’s postcard to Bernice Barlow is published in O Fortunate Floridian.

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 Telegram To Lovecraft: Wilhelmina Beatrice “Bess” Houdini

It seems that once Houdini was in Cairo with his wife on a non-professional pleasure trip, when his Arab guide became involved in a street fight with another Arab.

H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 14 Feb 1924, Selected Letters 1.311-312

In January, 1910, I had finished a professional engagement in England and signed a contract for a tour of Australian theatres. A liberal time being allowed for the trip, I determined to make the most of it in the sort of travel which chiefly interests me; so accompanied by my wife I drifted pleasantly down the Continent and embarked at Marseilles on the P. & O. Steamer Malwa, bound for Port Said. From that point I proposed to visit the principal historical localities of lower Egypt before leaving finally for Australia.

H. P. Lovecraft, “Under the Pyramids”

Most readers overlook the fact that Bess Houdini was briefly a Lovecraftian character—even if mentioned only briefly and in passing. Yet she was there from the beginning of Lovecraft’s relationship with Harry Houdini, and she would be there at the end, her final word a brief telegram.

Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner was born in Brooklyn in 1876, the daughter of Roman Catholic German immigrants. Her father died when she was young, and she worked at a brother-in-law’s tailor shop, then as a seamstress in a traveling circus, where she joined a song-and-dance act called the Floral Sisters with the name Bess Raymond. In 1894, stage magician Theodore “Dash” Hardeen of the Brothers Houdini act, arranged a blind date with two of the sisters for himself and his brother Erich…better known by his stage name, Harry Houdini. After a very brief courtship, Bess and Harry would be married. From then on, she would be his partner and assistant in his magical act as well as his wife (The Secret Life of Houdini 30-31).

Bess was no doubt Houdini’s assistant when H. P. Lovecraft first saw the Handcuff King on stage circa 1898, and she would have been on stage 27 years later when Howard and Sonia Lovecraft saw them at the Hippodrome in New York in 1925 (Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.238). For thirty-one years she had accompanied Harry Houdini around the world and been his wife and partner. By 1925, their act would have been as smoothly polished as it would ever be, and Lovecraft appears to have appreciated it. While there is no account of H. P. Lovecraft meeting Bess at this time, he did meet her husband at the show and visited the Houdini house in New York (Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.249). If Bess was present at this meeting, Lovecraft makes no mention of it.

In October 1926, the Houdinis performed at the Providence Opera House. Lovecraft attended the show, and afterward had a meal with both Harry Houdini and Bess. It may well have been their only meeting. Muriel Eddy provided an account of the trip:

When Harry Houdini came to Providence for the last time, we made up a theater party and attended the performance. It was a big production, and his wife Beatrice assisted him in his magic tricks and illusions. A niece, Julia, also was an assistant on the stage.

After the show, Houdini suggested that we go to lunch at a Waldorf restaurant. It was very late, and at the midnight hour we sat at a long table together, with Beatrice Houdini’s pet parrot perched demurely on her shoulder. Lovecraft got quite a kick out of watching the parrot…named Lori…sip tea from a spoon and nibble daintly at toast held by his polite mistress!

I remember that H.P. L. ordered half a cantalope filled with vanilla ice cream, and a cup of coffee. He was in great spirits and bubbled over with good humor, talking a blue streak about everything under the sun. Harry Houdini gazed at him admiringly. I am sure he liked H.P.L. as much as almost everybody did who had a chance to study and know him.

Muriel E. Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 21-22

Whether Lovecraft and Bess exchanged more than two words to each other, we may never know—but there was another consequence of that night:

Shortly after meeting with Eddy and Lovecraft, Bess was stricken with a non-specific form of poisoning, probably from food. Houdini immediately summoned Sophie Rosenblatt, a nurse who had worked fro the family previously; but by Friday, October 7, Bess’s condition had deteriorated so badly that Houdini stayed up all night comforting her. She improved a little the next day, which was the last day of the run, so Houdini arranged for her and Sophie to leave straight for Albany, the next tour stop, while he took a lat night train to New York, where he had meetings scheduled for Sunday.

William Kalush & Harry Sloman, The Secret Life of Houdini 502

At some point in October after he had met with the Houdinis, Lovecraft must have written to Harry Houdini in Detroit about a proposed work C. M. Eddy, Jr. and himself had been working on, The Cancer of Superstition. The answer, however, did not come via letter, not did it come from Harry Houdini himself.




Telegram from Bess Houdini to H. P. Lovecraft, c. 30 Oct 1926, Miscellaneous Letters 168

During his final days, Harry Houdini was still traveling and performing, but he was suffering from a broken ankle and acute appendicitis, which would swiftly prove fatal. Harry Houdini would die on 31 October 1926. As his widow, Bess was now in charge of Harry Houdini’s remaining business, which included unfinished work by C. M. Eddy, Jr.:

I haven’t yet attempted the task of convincing the Houdini heirs that the world needs his posthumous collected works in the best Georgian manner, but honest Eddy has gone the length of trying to collect the jack on an article for which the departed did not give his final & conclusive authorization, & which I consequently advised him not to write at the time! Well–I hope he gets it, for otherwise I shan’t feel justified in collecting the price–in typing labour–of my aid on the text in question.

H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 17 Nov 1926, Letters to James F. Morton 122

There is no record of Bess’s response, but given that nothing further appears to have come of this, it is clear that with Harry Houdini gone she declined to pursue the project. Lovecraft does not mention any further communication with Bess Houdini; while it is possible he sent her a note of condolence on her husband’s death, or that they exchanged a final note on The Cancer of Superstition, if that is the case those letters do not survive. All we have is a single telegram, the text of which is reproduced in Lovecraft’s Miscellaneous Letters.

For more on Harry Houdini’s relationship with H. P. Lovecraft, see Deeper Cut: Houdini & Weird Tales.

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: 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.

—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 land—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.

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.