“Not All Anglo-Saxons” (1911) by Herbert O’Hara Molineux

H. P. Lovecraft grew up in a culture where racism was relatively commonplace, and prejudices with regard to race, ethnicity, language, and cultural heritage dominated the national discourse. 135 years after the Declaration of Independence and 46 years after the end of the American Civil War, people still argued about who was a “real” American, or who could be.

In the New-York Tribune for 30 June 1911, an anonymous editor filled some column inches with the article “‘American’ Is Right,” which reads in part:

New_York_Tribune_Fri__Jun_30__1911_

The article argues in favor of the continued use of “American” as a demonym for citizens of the United States, and “American” as an adjective related to the United States of America and its people—and in common use, the term continues to carry that meaning into the present day.

Buried as it is on page 6 of a slim 14-page daily newspaper, the “‘American’ Is Right” elicited little immediate attention. Some months later, however, reader John L. M. Allen wrote in to the editor concerning the article, and this letter was published in the 10 September 1911 New-York Tribune as “Wants An American Language”:

New_York_Tribune_Sun__Sep_10__1911_

The years before World War I were marked by increasing nationalism in the United States and abroad; relations between the United States and the United Kingdom were undergoing a change, as close economic relations, common language and culture, racialist ideas, shared history, and similar political ideologies fostered a Great Rapprochement between the two nations. Still, anglophobia remained in the United States, and ultranationalists emphasized the differences rather than the commonalities between United States and United Kingdom culture, a sentiment especially strong in immigrants or those with ties to Ireland or British colonies.

In September 1911, H. P. Lovecraft was in his seclusion; the death of his grandfather in 1904 had forced his mother Sarah Susan Lovecraft and himself to move out of the family house where he had grown up and into smaller quarters; nervous illness in 1908 forced his withdrawal from high school, so that he did not finish his formal education or receive a high school diploma. Twenty-one years old and unemployed, he seems to have largely made his own hours, and filled them in part by reading extensively in newspapers and magazines. As this was some years before Lovecraft’s joining amateur journalism or any regular correspondence that has come down to us, there is little data to go on. However, we know that Lovecraft read “Wants An American Language”—because the opinionated young man wrote his own letter to the editor“The English Language” was published in the 21 September 1911 New-York Tribune:

New_York_Tribune_Thu__Sep_21__1911_

Lovecraft was a lifelong and ardent anglophile, a point which would in a few years bring him into contention with the Irish-American amateur journalist John T. Dunn, first with regards to Lovecraft’s support of the United Kingdom in World War I, and then with regard to the Irish War of Independence. As a lover of the English language, Lovecraft was also in favor of British (and, to a point, British Colonial) spelling, as is evident in many of his letters and stories. It would not be out of line to suggest that Lovecraft saw himself as essentially English except in certain trifling legal definitions, and saw the English language as his own:

I deny flatly that American civilisation is composite, or in any way otherwise than Anglo-Saxon. This land was bleak, Indian-haunted wilderness when England found it. England made it what it is. […] If this nation ever becomes really composite; if the polyglot lower elements ever rise to the surface and direct the destinies of the whole people, then the United States will have undergone intellectual and moral death, and must be content to take its inferior place beside Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and other decidedly immigrant nations. […] If other nationalities are now represented here, it is only on sufferance. They are charity boarders, as it were. For this is an Englishman’s country.
—H. P. Lovecraft to John T. Dunn, 14 Oct 1916, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 166

I stick to the civilisation my blood & people belong to—the Old English civilisation of Great Britain, New England, & Virginia. To that, & to the language & manners characteristic of it.
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 8 Jan 1930, Letters to James F. Morton 215

At this point in his life, Lovecraft’s white supremacist notions (“Anglo-Saxons […] by their racial superiority”) and nativist bias (“polyglot mass of sodden foreigners”) were likely as yet unperturbed by broad travel, first-hand experience, or vocal opposition.

Lovecraft’s use of the term “Anglo-Saxon” as synonymous with “English” in this instance is worth examining. “Anglo-Saxon” is an often misunderstood and misused term that found its place in racial hierarchies because it fit the narrative of an “English race” that the people at the time wanted to impose on their understanding of history—the idea of a homogenous, and above all white, population that was distinct from the indigenous Gaelic peoples of the British Isles or from the British Empire’s colonial possessions. When Lovecraft uses the term “Anglo-Saxon,” he is specifically invoking that idea of racial and cultural unity and the added implications of white supremacy.

By comparison, while “American” has gradually become a term to refer to all citizens of the United States regardless of race or ethnicity, during Lovecraft’s time it was still predominantly seen as a synonymous term for “white” — the default assumption was that “American” referred to someone descended from Northern Europe, probably British, and English-speaking — “Anglo-American” was used when Lovecraft or others felt the need to specify such descent to differentiate from other ethnicities, but even this sometimes involved pushback. After a visit to New Mexico, Robert E. Howard wrote:

The native population is, of course, predominantly Mexican. Or as they call them out there, Spanish-Americans. You or I would be Anglo-Americans according to their way of putting it. Spanish-American, hell. A Mexican is a Mexican to me, wherever I find him, and I don’t consider it necessary for me to hang any prefix on the term “American” when referring to myself.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, c. Jul 1935, A Means to Freedom 2.872

Lovecraft, Howard, and many others during this period were inculcated in the use of racialist language to both define and promulgate the ideas of white supremacy. To Lovecraft, the use of “Anglo-Saxon” was a technical and specific term to emphasize the English people he felt himself a part of, biologically and culturally. Even though the idea that “Anglo-Saxon” race and culture are essentially pseudo-scientific and historical fictions, they were commonly accepted as real at the time, and used by folks like Howard and Lovecraft to define their own identities. While we don’t have much material from the period of 1910-1912 to work with, based on Lovecraft’s later letters this kind of comment slipping would probably have been relatively common—after all, “Anglo-Saxon” and “Anglo-American” were the prevailing paradigm. Who was going to correct him?

An answering letter to the editor appeared as “Not All Anglo-Saxons” in the 25 September 1911 New-York Tribune:

New_York_Tribune_Mon__Sep_25__1911_

This is an impressive turnaround time…all the more so since Lovecraft’s letter was published on the 21st, yet Herbert O’Hara Molineux’s reply is dated the 20th! What likely happened is that the next day’s paper was sold in the late night or early morning of the 20th/21st, and Molineux was incensed enough to write a letter to the editor immediately, complete with date (or else there was an error somewhere in the transcription and printing). Even with Molineux in New York at the time, it must have been delivered and read by the editor within a day or two, who then chose to publish it only a day or two after that, so only four days after Lovecraft’s letter was published there was an answer. This small controversy in letters foreshadows Lovecraft’s later disputes-by-mail in the letters column of the Argosy and All-Story in 1913-1914.

Not much is known Herbert O’Hara Molineux (sometimes Molyneux); a number of short articles and letters to the editor were published by that name, mostly between 1910-1914 in New York papers, often on subjects of Ireland and Irish or “Celtic” peoples in newspapers, and those same articles describe him as an antiquarian and a member of the Gaelic Society of New York. Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans in the United States were still often discriminated against in the early 20th century and its racialist schemas, but the rise in nationalism had affected Ireland and the Irish diaspora too, with a renewed interest in Irish language and culture called the Gaelic Revival, which would precede and inform the broader Celtic Revival of the 1920s and beyond.

It is not surprising to see in this letter that Molineux’s hibernophilia or celtiphilia ran up hard against Lovecraft’s anglophilia. The most notable point in Molineux’s argument is not his assertion that most Americans are Celts, but his deriding Lovecraft for his racial prejudice. If Lovecraft read these lines, it might be the first denunciation of his racism he had ever seen in print—predating “Concerning the Conservative” (1915) by Charles D. Isaacson by some years.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Lovecraft ever read this rebuke. This period of Lovecraft’s life is simply too poorly documented; where we would normally turn to his letters to find some reference to Molineux or the brief affray in letters, there is nothing in the indices to shed any light on the subject. It is interesting to speculate how Lovecraft might have responded; in 1915, private correspondence with friends and peers ultimately tempered and muted Lovecraft’s instinct for a vicious reprisal in print, and even his poetic rejoinder went unprinted. Interestingly, there is a poetic barb aimed at Herbert O’Hara Molineux, but it is from several years later, in a different newspaper, and not at all in Lovecraft’s normal style or signed by one of his known pseudonyms.

In the context of Lovecraft’s other letters, this brief exchange doesn’t share much of anything new in terms of his prejudices—we knew he was a nativist and an anglophile—but it is a data point that extends our understanding of how Lovecraft’s views on race were received during his own lifetime. While white supremacy prevailed in the United States, even down to the terminology of history and science, it was not the sole viewpoint. Lovecraft would learn, as he emerged from his period of relative obscurity into the company of amateur journalism and then pulp writing, there were many people who did not agree with the prejudices he had long accepted as facts, and other perspectives of history and biology that would challenge his preconceptions. 

As with several of his other letters, Molineux’s “Not All Anglo-Saxons” was picked up and published in at least one other paper, which can be found in an online newspaper database; from there the chain of letters-to-the-editor can be traced back through papers whose scans don’t include sufficiently accurate optical character recognition to search for specific names. Otherwise, this small affray in letters might have gone unnoticed.


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.

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

His daughter, the wife of Shelley, was much more successful; and her inimitable Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) is one of the horror-classics of all time. Composed in competition with her husband, Lord Byron, and Dr. John William Polidori in an effort to prove supremacy in horror-making, Mrs. Shelley’s Frankenstein was the only one of the rival narratives to be brought to an elaborate completion; and criticism has failed to prove that the best parts are due to Shelley rather than to her. The novel, somewhat tinged but scarcely marred by moral didacticism, tells of the artificial human being moulded from charnel fragments by Victor Frankenstein, a young Swiss medical student. Created by its designer “in the mad pride of intellectuality”, the monster possesses full intelligence but owns a hideously loathsome form. It is rejected by mankind, becomes embittered, and at length begins the successive murder of all whom young Frankenstein loves best, friends and family. It demands that Frankenstein create a wife for it; and when the student finally refuses in horror lest the world be populated with such monsters, it departs with a hideous threat ‘to be with him on his wedding night’. Upon that night the bride is strangled, and from that time on Frankenstein hunts down the monster, even into the wastes of the Arctic. In the end, whilst seeking shelter on the ship of the man who tells the story, Frankenstein himself is killed by the shocking object of his search and creation of his presumptuous pride. Some of the scenes in Frankenstein are unforgettable, as when the newly animated monster enters its creator’s room, parts the curtains of his bed, and gazes at him in the yellow moonlight with watery eyes—“if eyes they may be called”. Mrs. Shelley wrote other novels, including the fairly notable Last Man; but never duplicated the success of her first effort. It has the true touch of cosmic fear, no matter how much the movement may lag in places. Dr. Polidori developed his competing idea as a long short story, “The Vampyre”; in which we behold a suave villain of the true Gothic or Byronic type, and encounter some excellent passages of stark fright, including a terrible nocturnal experience in a shunned Grecian wood.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927)

We don’t know when H. P. Lovecraft first read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, though it was sometime before 1920, and quite possibly was read as a child, from a copy found among the books in the family library. During his life, Lovecraft would perceive the growing influence of this critical work of science fiction and horror in pop-culture: the first film adaptation, starring Boris Karloff as the Monster, was released in 1931 and Lovecraft would see it in the theatre; and Weird Tales would serialize Shelley’s novel between May and December 1932 as part of its “Weird Reprints” series, and Lovecraft would read it then too. Various writers in the pulps, including Lovecraft himself, would show the influence of Shelley’s creation, and Lovecraft was sure to include her in his survey of weird fiction “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”

Lovecraft would not quite live to see Frankenstein’s Monster become the icon—and stereotype—that he turned into in the 1940s and 50s; for him, Shelley’s novel would always have precedence over other depictions.

The Book (1818)

By the way—my F. is a 9 ¼ x 5 ½ volume–2 columns & very thin. The date is missing, but from the typography I’d tend to place it in the 1830s. That would seem a bit late for the first Am. ed. of a  volume issued in 1818. My copy has been re-bound. On the title-page the author is very explanatorily listed as “Mrs. Mary W. Shelley, wife of Percy Busshe Shelley the Poet.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 20 Apr 1935, O Fortunate Floridian! 238

There are two main editions of the text of Frankenstein: the original edition issued in 1818, which was revised in 1823; and then heavily revised again for the 1831 one-volume edition. The 1831 text has been the most popular version of the text, and the version that ran in Weird Tales. While Lovecraft dated his personal copy to the 1830s, the details he gives—an American edition in two columns and with that byline—point to the 1845 edition by H. G. Daggers of New York.

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Title page of the 1845 H. G. Daggers edition.

Of the novel itself, Lovecraft does not write much in his letters, so we are largely left to his notes in “Supernatural Horror in Literature” as to his thoughts on the work. Nor is there any real evidence that he read The Last Man (1826) or Shelley’s other novels. There is one interesting highlight however:

As for weird reprints—I agree that short items are best. “Frankenstein” undoubtedly drags in places, yet has its tense & terrible moments—especially when the monster first comes to watch its creator at night.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 31 Mar 1932, O Fortunate Floridian! 28

It is notable that Lovecraft cites this very same scene in his entry for “Supernatural Horror in Literature”—and, perhaps tellingly, this very scene is quoted in Dorothy Scarborough’s The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction (1917), which Lovecraft consulted before writing that essay. Which suggests either that either both Lovecraft and Scarborough were struck on the same passage…or that, perhaps, Lovecraft relied on Scarborough rather than re-reading the entire novel while composing his essay.

I saw—with shut eyes but acute mental vision—I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put togheter. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life. . . . The artist sleeps but he is awakened; and behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, looking on him with watery, yellow yet speculative eyes!
—Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley,
quoted in The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction 14

If Lovecraft cribbed a little, it was not because he hadn’t read or didn’t appreciate Shelley’s masterwork—quite the opposite. For example, when his friend Elizabeth Toldridge used the name “Frankenstein” in a poem she was writing, Lovecraft wrote back with a correction that would be echoed by generations of horror nerds:

In the next line remember that Frankenstein (in the novel, a Swiss medical student, Victor Frankenstein) means the creator of a destroying monsternot the monster itself. If you have that intention, it’s all right. If you mean the monster itself, better change to hydra-shapes or some equivalent.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 17 Oct 1933, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 257

The poem, which survives in manuscript, is titled (at Lovecraft’s suggestion) simply “Poetry”, and the line reads:

Come match your strength with steel, meassure your will with iron, your speed try out with the stars! For thine were Frankenstein hydra-shapes man-wrought foes to bear—

And powers of evil, loose in the world, shall reel and titter, in a giant juggler’s roust—

The Film (1931)

The success of Universal’s Dracula in early 1931 spurred the studio on to produce more horror films. Frankenstein was produced and hit theaters by December of the same year, with Boris Karloff in the iconic role—and the distinct heavy-lidded flat-top make-up—of the Monster. The film takes considerable liberties with Mary Shelley’s novel; Victor Frankenstein becomes Henry Frankenstein, and much of the original plot, atmosphere, and motivation is lost. Lovecraft saw the film within the first week of its opening on the East Cost, and wrote:

I haven’t been able to get around to any cinemas except “Frankenstein”—which vastly disappointed me. The book has been altered beyond recognition, & everything is toned down to an insufferable cheapness & relative tameness. I fear the cinema is no place to get horror-thrills!
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 9 Dec 1931, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 85

Also saw “Frankenstein” last month & was vastly disappointed. The film absolutely ruins the book–which indeed it scarcely resembles!
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 23 Dec 1931, O Fortunate Floridian! 18

“Frankenstein” was the only cinema I attended during the autumn of 1931, & I was woefully disappointed. No attempt to follow the novel was made, & everything was cheap, artificial, & mechanical. I might have expected it, though—for “Dracula” (which I saw in Miami, Fla. last June) was just as bad.
H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 28 Jan 1932, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 344

Lovecraft was, like many science fiction and horror fans, a bit of a purist who regretted the changes made to the material in its translation from the page to the silver screen. Time did not really mollify this opinion:

I saw the cinema of “Frankenstein”, & was tremendously disappointed because no attempt was made to follow the story. However, there have been many worse films–& many parts of this one are really quite dramatic when they are viewed independently & without comparison to the episodes of the original novel.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 10 Jul 1932, O Fortunate Floridian! 33

As a thorough soporific I recommend the average popularly “horrible” play or cinema or radio dialogue. They are all the same–flat, hackneyed, synthetic, essentially atmosphereless jumbles of conventional shrieks and mutterings and superficial, mechanical situations. The Bat” made me drowse back in the early 1920s–and last year an alleged “Frankenstein” on the screen would have made me drowse had not a posthumous sympathy for poor Mrs. Shelley made me see red instead. Ugh!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Farnsworth Wright, 16 Feb 1933, Lovecraft Annual 8.28

Most radio and cinema versions of classics constitute a combination of high treason and murder in the first degree—I’ll never get over the cinematic mess that bore the name (about the only bond of kinship to the book!) of “Frankenstein”.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 8 Apr 1934, A Means to Freedom 2.761

Keep in mind that Lovecraft lived before the home television and VCR revolution; his only experience of Frankenstein and other Universal horror films was if he could catch them in the theater—it was re-runs and rentals which cemented these as classic films, endlessly influential and copied. Lovecraft only caught the very beginnings of that…and, of course, he was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as well.

The Dream (1920)

I had a vivid dream a few nights ago–involving the possession of another distinct personality. The period was 1864, & the crux of the dream was a horror in a doctor’s secret laboratory. Think the dream-doctor was going to shew me an artificial man like M. Frankenstein’s uncomely creation, but premature waking robbed the dream of its climax. In this dream I was Dr. Eben Spencer; an army surgeon home on a furlough. The sinister experimenter was a colleague of mine, Dr. Chester. Some dream!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 23 Jan 1920, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 154

In 1920, Lovecraft was finally coming out of his seclusion through the auspices of amateur journalism, and had built up a fairly robust correspondence with some friends. Weird Tales was still three years away from its debut issue, but he was well into his first major period of fiction which included dream-inspired stories such as “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (The Vagrant May 1920). In addition to this brief recap of the dream to Kleiner, Lovecraft included a much fuller version of the dream to his correspondence circle The Gallomo (Alfred Galpin, H. P. Lovecraft, and James F. Morton):

Speaking of the “Carter” story, I hae lately had another odd dream—especially singular because in it I possessed another personality—a personality just as definite and vivid as the Lovecraft personality which characterises my waking hours.

My name was Dr. Eben Spencer, and I was dressing before a mirror in my own room, in the hosue where I was born in a small village (name missing) of northern New York State. It was the first time I had donned civilian clothes in three years, for I was an army surgeon with the rank of 1st Lieut. I seemed to be home on a furlough—slightly wounded. On the wall was a calendar reading “FRIDAY, JULY 8, 1864”. I was very glad to be in regular attire again, though my suit was not a new one, but one left over from 1861. After carefully tying my stock, I donned my coat and hat, took a cane from a rack downstairs, and sallied forth upon the village street.

Soon a very young man of my acquaintence came up to me with an air of anxiety and began to speak in guarded accents. He wished me to go with him to his brother—my professional colleague Dr. Chester—whose actions were greatly alarming him. I, having been his best friend, might have some influence in getting him to speak freely—for surely he had much to tell. The doctor had for the past two years been conducting secret experiments in a laboratory in the attic of his home, and beyond that locked door he would admit no one but himself. Sickening odours were often detected near the door…and odd sounds were at times not absent.

The doctor was aging rapidly; lines of care—and of something else—were creeping into his dark, thin face, and his hair was rapidly going grey. He would remain in that locked room for dangerously long intervals without food, and seemed uncannily saturnine. All questioning from the younger brother was met with scorn or rage—with perhaps a little uneasiness; so that the brother was much worried, and stopped me on the street for advice and aid. I went with him to the Chester house—a white structure of two stories and attic in a pretty yeard with a picket fence. It was in a quiet side street, where peace seemed to abide despite the trying nature of the times. In the darkened parlour, where I waited for some time, was a marble-topped table, much haircloth furniture, and several pleasing whatnots covered with pebbles, curios, and bric-a-brac. Soon Dr. Chester came down—and he had aged.

He greeted me with a saturnine smile, and I began to question him, as tactfully as I could, about his strange actions. At first he was rather defiant and insulting—he said with a sort of leer, “Better not ask, Spencer! Better not ask!” Then when I grew persistent (for by this time I was interested on my own account) he changed abruptly and snapped out, “Well, if you must know, come up!” Up two flights of stairs we plodded, and stood before the locked door. Dr. Chester opened it, and there was an odour.

I entered after him, young Chester bringing up the rear. The room was low but spacious in area, and had been divided into two parts by an oddly incongruous red plush portiere. In the half next the door was a dissecting table, many bookcases, and several imposing cabinets of chemical and surgical instruments. Young Chester and I remained here, whilst the doctor went behind the curtain. Soon he emerged, bearing on a large glass slab what appeared to be a human arm, neatly severed just below the elbow. It was damp, gelatinous, and bluish-white, and the fingers were without nails.

“Well, Spencer”, said Dr. Chester sneeringly, “I suppose you’ve had a good deal of amputation practice in the army. What do you think, professionally, of this job?” I had seen clearly that this was not a human arm, and said sarcastically, “You are a better sculptor than doctor, Chester. This is not the arm of any living thin.” And Chester replied in a tone that made my blood congeal, “Not yet, Spencer, not yet!”

Then he disappeared again behind the portiere and emerged once more, bringing another and slightly larger arm. Both were left arms. I felt sure that I was on the brink of a great revelation, and awaited with impatience the tanalisingly deliberate motions of my sinister colleague. “This is only the beginning, Spencer,” he said as he went behind the curtain for the third time. “Watch the curtain!”

And now ends the fictionally available part of my dream, for the residue is grotesque anticlimax. I have said that I was in civilian clothes for the first time since ’61—and naturally I was rather self-conscious. As I waited for the final revelation I caught sight of my reflection in the glass door of an instrument case, and discovered that my very carefully tied stock was awry. Moving to a long mirror, I sought to adjust it, but the black bow proved hard to fashion artistically, and then the whole scene began to fade—and damn the luck! I awaked in the distressful year of 1920, with the personality of H. P. Lovecraft restored!

I have never seen Dr. Chester, or his younger brother, or that village, since. I do not know what village it was. I never heard the name of Eben Spencer before or since. Some dream! If that happened to Co [Edward H. Cole], he would be surely seeking a supernatural explanation; but I prefer actual analysis. The cause of the whole is clear—I had a few days before laid out Mrs. Shelley’s “Frankenstein” for re-reading.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the Gallomo, Apr 1920, Letters to Alfred Galpin 71-73
[The original lacks paragraph breaks; these were inserted for ease of reading.]

Lovecraft never fleshed out and finished this story. However, the next year, in the fall of 1921, Lovecraft would write another story that would involve two friends, doctors, with grisly experiments in reanimation which seemed strongly inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—the serial “Herbert West—Reanimator.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

news

The Placer Herald, 22 July 1933

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Margaret Sylvester

Dear Miss Sylvester:

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

Yrs. most cordially & sincerely,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yearbook_full_record_image

Angelus, 1935 East Side High School Yearbook, page 135

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Deeper Cut: Hugo Gernsback

Unfortunately, the prevailing approach in science fiction studies has been to dismiss the Gernsback magazines as embarrassingly simplistic, tasteless, and even detrimental to the eventual emergence of a mature literature. This is an ironic and all-too-casual judgment of a Jewish immgirant who throughout his life was in search of the respect as a technologist and editor that always seemed to elude him. A certain tone seems to have been set early on by the spectacularly racist H. P. Lovecraft’s moniker for Gernsback: “Hugo the Rat.”
—Grant Wythoff, The Perversity of Things (2016), 8-9

Hugo Gernsback is a central figure in the development of science fiction pulp magazines and on science fiction fandom. His direct dealings with Lovecraft were very few, mostly limited to the purchase of “The Colour Out of Space,” which ran in the September 1927 issue of Gernsback’s magazine Amazing Stories. Yet Gernsback’s reputation among Lovecraft and his circle of correspondents was low, and the moniker “Hugo the Rat” which Lovecraft coined has continued to stick, in fan-circles and to a degree among scholars, for decades.

Hugo Gernsback was Jewish; H. P. Lovecraft was an antisemite. Many readers and even scholars might take it as a given that Lovecraft’s prejudices were at play in his antipathy to Gernsback, and there is some truth to that. The real history of why and how this antipathy came about is a bit more complicated than it might first appear, and Lovecraft was not the only pulp writer involved with Gernsback in the series of exchanges that turned Hugo Gernsback into “Hugo the Rat.”

It’s not a pretty history; the most critical events in this narrative take place against Hitler and the Nazi’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, and antisemitic language in the period letters will be presented as it was, uncensored. Reader discretion is advised.

Gernsbacher & Modern Electronics

Hugo Gernsbacher was born in Luxembourg in 1884, into a Jewish family. His father was a successfull wine wholesaler and Hugo had been educated by private tutors, able to read, write, and speak German, French, and English fluently, and had attended L’Ecole Industrille et Commerciale in Luxembourg and the Technikum in Bingen, Germany. Before the age of 18 he had developed a significant amount of practical experience with electricity (even receiving a papal dispensation to complete the telephone wiring of a Carmelite convent), and had a penchant for invention. In 1904 at age 19, the industrious young man emigrated to the United States of America and simplified his name to Hugo Gernsback.

For the next several years, Gernsback was notable as an electrical experimenter, inventer, and businessman. The full scope of his engineering and business enterprises is too long to go into here, but chief among them was co-founding the Electro Importing Company in 1905, the foundation of Modern Electronics magazine in 1908, and the creation of the Wireless Association of America in 1909. Gernsback encouraged amateur experimentation with electricity and especially with early radio, profited from the sale of wireless sets and other components, helped spread technical knowledge of electricity and radio, and invested his profits in further developments of the technology.

Modern Electronics was Gernsback’s first magazine. Nominally, Modern Electronics was a mail-order catalog for the Electro Importing Company, but it carried much more than a list of goods for sale and their prices. The magazine was designed for the amateur enthusiast, full of practical technical knowledge in plain English, with the occasional fiction clearly marked and entertaining. Gernsback’s first science fiction novel was Ralph 124C 41+serialized in the pages of Modern Electronics from 1911-1912.

In 1913, Gernsback began publication of a new magazine, The Electrical Experimenter, which dropped the catalog and focused on a combination of science fact and fiction. Modern Electronics continued until 1914, when it was merged with Electrician and Mechanic (1890-1014) to form Modern Electrics and Mechanics—which in 1915 changed its title to Popular Science Monthly, which is still published today.

By 1915, the Electrical Experimenter was published through Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing company. Hugo’s older brother Sidney Gernsback had emigrated to the United States and joined his brother’s businesses c.1913. In addition to the magazine, Experimenter Publishing published a number of correspondence courses for electricity, and proved successful enough that he introduced a new magazine, Radio News, in 1919. “Scientific stories” (science fiction) had their place in the Electrical Experimenter as well, and Gernsback encouraged the readersamateur experimenters, mostly—to imagine new possibilities and write and submit stories. In 1920, the Electrical Experimenter became Science and Invention, but the solicitation of science fiction continued despite the new title.

Science fiction already existed, but Hugo Gernsback was set to popularize it.

Lovecraft & Amazing Stories

If there is one issue that clings closest to the memory of Hugo Gernsback it is that he was very bad at paying authors.
—Mike Ashley & Robert A. W. Lowndes, The Gernsback Days (2004), 123

Pulps like The All-Story had been running “scientific romances,” such as Edgar Rice Burroughs novels of John Carter of Mars, since the 1910s. In 1920, the Argosy and All-Story combined to form The Argosy All-Story; the consolidated magazines meant one less market for prospective science fiction in the pulps.

Weird Tales was founded in 1923, and H. P. Lovecraft quickly found a place in the magazine, making several sales to editor Edwin Baird and owner J. C. Hennenberger. The first year or so of the magazine was unstable, with an irregular schedule and changes in size and format; in 1924 the magazine was reorganized. Baird was out, and Farnsworth Wright assumed the editorial role. While still favoring Lovecraft, Wright was more cautious in what he would buy, and would end up rejecting many of Lovecraft’s stories—but Weird Tales did run science fiction on occasion, putting it into slight competition with Science and Invention.

In 1924, Gernsback tested the waters for a new, all-science fiction pulp magazine, with the proposed title Scientifiction. Response was lukewarm, and the idea was set aside as Gernsback focused his attention and money on a new project—WRNY, a radio station (with occasional television broadcasts) which raised its antenna in 1925. Once the station was successful,  Amazing Stories was issued by Hugo Gernsback’s Experimenter Publishing company beginning in 1926. It was the first pulp magazine devoted entirely to science fiction (“scientifiction”), although the term was so new and ill-defined that could mean almost anything; Amazing’s first issue included stories from H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe. In practical business terms, however, instead of per-word rates Gernsback and Amazing Stories preferred to pay on a per-story basis. Mike Ashley and Robert A. W. Lowndes noted in The Gernsback Days (123-130) that the rates Gernsback offered were reminiscent of the many writing contests his magazines would run with cash prizes for the winners, ranging fro $100 to $1.

It is difficult to talk about exact rates, since Amazing Stories seemed to negotiate on a per-piece basis except when it had contracted for a number of stories at once, but it appears short stories typically went for up to $50, and novels for $100. Depending on the exact wordcount, this could be either very fair or very bad. For example, if a 1,000 word “short” story sold to Amazing for $50, then ther effective per-word rate of 1/2¢ per word—the “average” rate for Weird Tales (cf. The Weird Tales Story 2)—not terrible if a pulp writer has no where else to place a science fiction story, and possibly good if they can turn out several short pieces in quick succession, but you would rarely reach Weird Tales’ top rate of 1¢ or 1.5¢ per word…and Weird Tales’ rates were relatively low compared to other pulps. If a 60,000 word novel is sold to Amazing for $100, however, the effective per-word rate is 1/6th of a cent per-word, below Weird Tales‘ lowest rate—and that was the price Gernsback paid to reprint H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in Amazing Stories Aug-Sep 1927 (The Gernsback Days 125).

In March 1927, H. P. Lovecraft had completed “The Colour Out of Space,” a 12,000-word novelette (Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 127). By June, it had been submitted and accepted by Amazing Stories (DS 134). Lovecraft duly reported this to his friends, which occasioned a bit of scuttlebutt:

Congratulations on having sold “The Colour Out of Space”. I wish it had been W.T., because Amazing Stories pays poorly, and is not going so well as its backers believed it would. But it will probably extend your audience by some thousands.
—Donald Wandrei to H. P. Lovecraft, 6 July 1927, LWP 136

As for “The Colour Out of Space”—Wandrei tells me that Amazing Stores doesn’t pay well, so that I’m sorry I didn’t try Weird Tales first.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 15 July 1927, DS 136

There are a few things to unpack here: first, we have no idea where Wandrei was getting his information on Amazing Stories. None of his own fiction appeared in its pages up to 1927. The second is that “it is not going so well”—this is a point that Ashley & Lowndes delve into in The Gernsback Days, and it is true that Hugo Gernsback claimed that Amazing Stories was not yet on a paying basis in 1927, despite a circulation in excess of 100,000 (much more than Weird Tales)…and came to the conclusion that Hugo Gernsback was using the profits from his magazines to fund his lifestyle and prop up his radio station WRNY (130-132).

What this meant in practical terms was that in 1927 the rates per story were low:

Amazing Stories, being still in its infant stage, our rates per story are hardly based on the story’s merit—rather on the extent of our budget for the year. Our rates for short stories just now range from $15 to $30 per story…
Amazing to Edmond Hamilton, 28 Sep 1927, quoted in The Gernsback Days 129

So whomever was the source of Wandrei’s data on Amazing Stories, it jived with what Amazing was telling its own authors. There are a two more points which are tied up together: payment was supposed to be on publication, and both Wandrei and Lovecraft suggest that Lovecraft tried “The Colour Out of Space” on Amazing first, instead of Weird Tales. This is significant because of a point of confusion that arose later:

“Colour out of Space” was sent to Gernsback because of Wright’s rejections of other things which L. esteemed, and in anger at this! It brought only $25.00, and that after three dunning letters!
—R. H. Barlow, “Memories of H. P. Lovecraft” (1934), O Fortunate Floridian! 404

Here, Lovecraft’s friend Barlow appears to be misinformed—Lovecraft apparently did not send “Colour” to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales—and he suggests that Lovecraft was not paid promptly. This latter issues seems to be confirmed by other letters:

The cheque ought to be very respectable, since the text covered 32 pages.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, June or July 1927, Essential Solitude 1.98

[…] “The Colour Out of Space” appears in the current Amazing Stories. They sent me two copies of the magazine, but I am still awaiting my cheque.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 6 Aug 1927, LWP 143

Speaking of payment—beware of Amazing Stories! I haven’t received anything yet for “The Colour out of Space”, & shall have to make inquiries soon.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, November 1927, Essential Solitude 1.114

Amazing Stories has just promised to remit before the end of this month—though I fear, from what everyone tells me of their rates, that it won’t be an impressive sum.
H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 13 Jan 1928,Essential Solitude 1.125

[…] I haven’t forgotten that his skinflint magazine gave me only $25.00 (& that after long months & repeated requests!) for a story (“The Colour Out of Space”) of the same length as one for which Weird Tales paid me $165.00.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 10 May 1928, LFF 2.655

$25.00 at 12,000 words works out to a little over 1/5¢ per word—the other story that Lovecraft mentions is “The Call of Cthulhu” (Weird Tales Feb 1928), which at 11,200 words was being paid the top rate of 1.5¢ per word. So even if Barlow was incorrect about Lovecraft submitting “Colour” to Weird Tales, all the other particulars check out…and we can well imagine Lovecraft begrudging the “skinflint” magazine that paid him so little, and so late.

We can only speculate for Amazing’s part of the whole business. $25 would have been just in line with the rates quoted in the 1927 letter to Hamilton; and in keeping with their general policy of paying relatively low rates for fiction. The lateness of the payment could be anything from a clerical error, unethical business practices, or a temporary shortage of funds…we have no idea. What we do know is that Lovecraft wasn’t the only one: creditors were piling up, and authors were going unpaid:

I never collected a single payment on time, and when it got so that they ran several months behind, and I had a tip they were on the verge of bankruptcy and changing hands, I quit.
A. Hyatt Verrill to Forrest J. Ackermann, quoted in The Gernsback Days 132

What’s notable is at this point Lovecraft was not directing any animosity at Hugo Gernsback, either as the magazine’s publisher or as a Jew. Lovecraft’s letters from this period don’t mention Gernsback, which is easily understandable when Lovecraft wouldn’t have been dealing with him at all, but with the editor C. A. Brandt. Whatever the case, Lovecraft made no effort to submit to Amazing Stories again.

Clark Ashton Smith & Wonder Stories

Hugo Gernsback’s creditors moved in, and in 1929 they forced Experimenter Publishing into bankruptcy. This was the end of Hugo Gernsback’s involvement with Amazing, but not Amazing Stories itself:  the creditors re-invested in the company, recognizing the sci-fi pulp as a viable business, and Amazing would outlast Gernsback and the pulp era.

For his part, Hugo Gernsback was not done with science fiction. As the bankruptcy was proceeding, Gernsback was already planning three new magazines: Radio-Craft, Air Wonder Stories, and Science Wonder Stories. The two new publishing companies, Stellar Publishing and Techni-Craft Publishing, were family affairs, with his brother Sidney, with his wife Dorothy and her sister Harriet Kantrowitz. David Lasser, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and a recent M.I.T. graduate, became editor. Lasser knew little of science fiction, but he knew science and writing, and Hugo Gernsback still saw his magazines as primarily educational as well as entertaining.

In addition to regular monthly magazines, Amazing Stories had published a companion quarterly issue; Stellar Publishing continued this practice with Science Wonder Stories and also issued a Science Wonder Quarterly from Fall 1929 to Spring 1930; in May 1930 Air Wonder Stories and Science Wonder Stories merged into a single magazine titled Wonder Stories, and Science Wonder Quarterly became Wonder Stories Quarterly. In that last Spring 1930 issue of Science Wonder Quarterly before the merger took place, Lovecraft’s friend Frank Belknap Long, Jr.’s story “The Thought Materializer” appeared.

As for Wonder Storieshave you seen anything of Belknap’s in that lately? He had one story accepted, but has not been paid—hence assumed that it had not appeared. Dwyer, however, says he distinctly recalls such a tale 2 or 3 months ago—though his memory is indistinct about it. The matter forms quite an enigma. Apparently Gernsback continues his old financial habits in his new company!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 23 Jun 1930, DS 220

Thanks for the definite information about Belknap’s tale in the Wonder Stories Quarterly. I had just received a letter from the firm stating that they had never carried any Long story in any of their publications, when your news arrived. I at once wrote again—& finally they admitted that the tale was published. I have now sent a half dollar for the magazine, & am hoping for the best. Meanwhile Belknap has received no cash. Undoubtedly this Gernsback outfit is something which it is well to have as little as possible to do with!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 17 Jul 1930, DS 222-223

What you tell me about Belknap’s experience with the Gernsback crowd is indeed amazing. I don’t see how they do business on a basis of that sort. Certainly Dr. Keller, Arthur B. Reeve, Starzl, and a lot of other people whose work they use aren’t writing just for the glory of seeing their names in print. I suppose their game is to cheat the more obscure or occasional contributors, if they can “get away” with it. There ought to be some way of getting at them. Anyway, let me know how the affair works out! They have not yet reported on my “Andromeda” (after nearly two months) and I am writing to make a rather curt inquiry.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, 30 Jul 1930, DS 224

I’ve lately received the Wonder Quarterly with Belknap’s tale, but he has not yet heard from the editors despite a fresh inquiry on his part a fortnight ago. As you suggest, it probably takes real prominence to get satisfactory dealings from the Gernsback organisation! Good luck with “Andromeda”!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 6 Aug 1930, DS 225

Clark Ashton Smith had achieved early recognition as a poet in California, but had never been able to translate that into financial success. Living with his aged parents and doing considerable seasonal work to make ends meet, Smith was able to sell several stories and poems to Weird Tales in the 1920s, and determined to try his hand as a full-time pulpster, sending stories to several outfits, including Wonder Stories and another Gernsback magazine, Amazing Detective Storiesand his stories were accepted.

What had changed from Lovecraft’s initial encounter with Amazing is that Wonder Stories could not be differentiated from Hugo Gernsback; the bankruptcy had thrust his name prominently into the news in science-fiction and science-fiction fandom circles. While the market for science fiction pulps was now growing, with fiercer competition, Lovecraft and Smith were focusing on Hugo Gernsback as the personality behind Wonder Storiesnot the editor David Lasser. This was a very different relationship than both men had with Weird Tales and its editor Farnsworth Wright.

As it happened, though Smith was cautious, Wonder Stories bought “Andromeda” at 3/4¢ per word (not great, but not bad either), and sent a check promptlywith a request for more. Smith conveyed this information to Lovecraft…with one more note:

By the way, the Gernsback outfit has just remitted a sizable check ($90.00) for “Andromeda”, and they seem anxious to see the new story, which I am now submitting. They may have taken me for a compatriot, from the tone of my letter to them! And they are saying to each other, “We will not bamboozle our Jewish brother even if we could.”
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, Sep 1930, DS 232-233

In some previous letters to Smith, Lovecraft had made some antisemitic remarks regarding Jewish people in New York, so Smith may have felt “safe” in expressing this opinion. As it happens, this is the first reference in the extant letters that either Smith or Lovecraft made to the Wonder Stories staff being Jewish. Explicit here is the stereotype of Jewish greed or unethically sharp business practice; certainly uncalled for considering that Smith had been paid in full and fairly promptly.

Smith needed the money and was happy to write if they would buy, though the relationship was not always so enthusiastic. No one else could write like Smith, his poetic language and prodigious vocabulary were inimitable, and his mind tended more toward the weird and horror than to bright shining futures or action-adventure space operas. Editorial requests from Lasser thus brought about a bit of friction:

The Jews want some more “ekshun” in the first part of “The Red World”, which they criticize as being “almost wholly descriptive”. It looks as if they were trying to compete with “Astounding Stories.”
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, c. 21 Oct 1930, DS 251

Astounding Stories had begun publication in January 1930, an immediate competitor to both Amazing Stories and Science Wonder Stories, and those three magazines would top the science fiction pulp market for the rest of the 1930s. The syndication of the Buck Rogers comic strip in 1929 spurred readers interest for space opera, and the pulps responded; Smith himself was asked to write such stories, and his Captain Volmar tales “Marooned in Andromeda” (Wonder Stories Oct 1930) and “A Captivity in Serpens” (Wonder Stories Quarterly Summer 1931, under the title “The Amazing Planet”) are examples of this type. However, action (“ekshun” to mimic a New York Yiddish accent phonetically) was not Smith’s strong type…and Lovecraft was not one to correct Smith about “the Jews.”

So Meester Gernspeck vants someding more should heppen by de “Red Voild” a’ready! Oy, should ah poor men pay oudt good money by ah story vere efferyding stend still ent dunt say it nuddings? I fear that I shan’t find the gentleman’s periodical much of a haven for my stuff—though he did take my “Colour Out of Space” in the old Amazing days . . . . paying all of 25 dollars like the generous philanthropist he is!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 30 Oct 1930, DS 252

Which reminds me that I am beginning another Volmar yarn for the Jews—“Captives of the Serpent.” I’ll give them their “action” this time!!!
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, 10 Nov 1930, DS 266

I hope I may soon see “Captives of the Serpent”, in spite of the specially ordered overdoses of “ekshun”. Which reminds me that young Belknap is meditating a complaint to the Author’s League concerning the dishonesty of Meestah Goinspeck’s outfit. They haven’t paid him a cent for his story of last spring, & utterly ignore the courteous inquiries he has written them. I advise him to make a final try for payment by sending Gernsback an advance carbon of his letter to the League—announcing that the original will be despatched if no satisfactory word is received within five days.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, Nov 1930, DS 268

I am glad that Belknap is planning to bring a complaint against that gang of Yiddish highbinders.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, c 17 Nov 1930, DS 271

The rhetoric was already getting very acerbic. Perhaps encouraged by Lovecraft’s response, Smith would begin to write more openly of these prejudices to others as well.

No, I have not signed (and could not be induced to sign) a contact with that Gernsback gang of Yiddish high binders. They merely suggested the writing of a series of astronomical tales, dealing with the adventures of a space-ship and its crew; and they have paid ¾ a cent per word for such material of mine as they have used. My chief grievance against them is that they are putting so many restrictions on my work, and have shown themselves utterly oblivious or disregardful of literary values.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 22 Nov 1930, EID 30

I have been feeling rather punk lately, and have done nothing but hack-work—another piece of junk for the Jews. I’ll recommend the Gernsback outfit for quick action in publishing material—the novelette that I wrote for them in December is out in the issue (April) now on the stands. But if I were a vain person, I’d sue them for criminal libel because of the alleged picture of me that they are using. It makes me look as if I had been on a forty-day debach; of all the cock-eyed caricatures!
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 8 Mar 1931, EID 39

Ashley & Lowndes in The Gernsback Days noted an apparent misapprehension of the situation on the part of Wonder Stories: Lasser thought with his directions and prompts he was helping to develop Smith as an author, while Smith thought he was churning out hackwork for an illiterate bunch of moneygrubbers (173-175). This and other editorial high-handedness such as changing titles arbitrarily were slowly alienating Smith from Wonder Stories.

Yet they continued to pay in full and on time, so Smith kept writing. However, at this point the idea of Gernsback’s personal involvement, his supposed sharp business practices, and the lack of any pushback on antisemtic comments meant that the latter were continuing to spread:

Glad “Beyond the S.F.” landed with Shylock ben Gernsback. I shall have my eyes open for the Novr. W.S.—for I must own this tale, in conjunction with its predecessor.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 11 Sep 1931, DS 322

Beginners have far more chance with the Shylock Gernsback outfit-chance to “land”, that is, not chance of getting prompt or adequate remuneration.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 13 Sep 1931, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 49

“The City of the Singing Flame” (Wonder Stories July 1931) and its sequel “Beyond the Singing Flame” (Wonder Stories Nov 1931) by Clark Ashton Smith are two genuine classics of the period, but Lovecraft’s depiction of Gernsback as quite literally the stereotype of a greedy Jew show that he was fixed on Gernsback as personally responsible for both his own issues with Amazing Stories and Frank Belknap Long’s issue with Science Wonders Quarterly. Isolated incidents and existing prejudice had come together…and then there began to be a delay of payments.

Too bad about the delay in your checks. Even at that, the Clayton system is vastly preferable to that of Gernsback, who doesn’t seem to have any time-limit at all on the settlement of arrears. The blighter still owes me about 250 djals.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 10 Feb 1932, EID 97

Gernsback has taken a hunk of tripe, The Invisible City, which is scheduled for appearance in the June Wonder Stories. They certainly take the palm for promptness in printing accepted matter—but they make up for it on the payment end.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 15 Mar 1932, EID 105

As it happened, circumstances weer a bit different than when Amazing Stories began delaying payments in the late 1920s. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 which started the Great Depression took time to hit the pulp market, but it did; Weird Tales suffered considerable delays in paying authors after its bank closed, owing some authors hundreds of dollars (see Scott Connor’s “Weird Tales and the Great Depression” in The Robert E. Howard Reader for details).

In December 1932, the bank for Stellar Publishing closed, delaying payments to many authors, including Smith. The problem was compounded by in mid-1932 when the Eastern Distributing Corporation, which was the distributor for Wonder Stories, went bankrupt. The result was that Gernsback’s publishing companies likely lost a vast chunk of money, taking a substantial hit to their liquidity (The Gernsback Days 202-203). Nevertheless, Smith continued to sell to Wonder Stories in the hopes of being paid.

Gernsback has written to tell me that he can’t pay for any of my material at present, since he claims to have lost huge sums of money through the bankruptcy of a firm that had been distributing his magazines. All this helps to make the financial outlook as bright and sunny as a cloud of sepia fifty fathoms down in the undersea.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 5 Apr 1933, EID 171

Assessments of Gernsback/Wonder Stories in the letters of Lovecraft & co. were not uniformly negative during 1932-1933, but were often hedged with casual antisemitism, e.g.:

Glad the Invisible City is due in the near future, & that Gernsback has some appreciation of what he is offering. It’s odd, but in spite of that damn’d kike’s financial remissness & sharp dealings, I really think he offers a better & more vital range of scientifiction than either of his two competitors. He is not quite so rigid in his demand for the commonplace & the stereotyped.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 4 Apr 1932, DS 360

The Chance story offers infinite possibilities. And so the eckshun-luffing management of W.S. suggested the idea! I’m hanged if those damn kikes aren’t brighter & more sensible in many ways than the philistines controlling Astounding & the technologists in charge of Amazing! Really, there is little doubt but that Wonder is the most generally interesting of the scientifiction magazines. Sorry the space-limit has gone down so annoyingly.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 27 Aug 1932, DS 381

As to Wonder Stories, I am somewhat in a quandary. I can recommend the mag. For ultra-prompt publication of material; but they seem to make up for it on the payment end. They have, so far, paid for seven of my stories at ¾ of a cent per word, but are in arrears on the last five or six, and protest their inability to pay at present together with their anxiety to do so. I don’t know whether to gamble any more stuff on them or not, since I more than suspect that they are capable of sharp dealing. My worst apprehension is that old Hugo may pull another bankruptcy stunt, as he did with Amazing Stories several years back. Undoubtedly the magazine—Wonder Stories—is having a hard time just at present. Their treatment of Belknap is pretty raw, I’d say. The chief reason that I’ve had anything to do with them is, that Gernsback has had the perspicacity to print some of my more out-of-the-way stuff which no one else would touch. And I have had, after all, about five hundred bucks out of the old highbinder.
—Clark Ashton Smith to Donald Wandrei, 10 Nov 1932, Selected Letters 195-196

The final straw for Smith came with “The Dweller in the Gulf,” published in Wonder Stories march 1933 as “The Dweller in the Martian Depths.” In addition to changing the title, the editors had taken a hacksaw to Smith’s prose and bowdlerized the ending. Editor David Lasser wrote to Smith that the changes had been made “at Gernsback’s express order” (DS 408)—and Smith would submit no more to the magazine, which already owed him over six hundred dollars, although two previously submitted stories would still be published after this.

Hazel Heald & Hugo the Rat

I suppose Gernsback is still withholding ‘eckshun’ on his debts. One of my clients is about to write an indignant letter to the Authors’ League concerning his financial shortcomings—though I imagine its effect will be close to zero.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 2 Feb 1933, DS 403

Yes—my Gernsback-mulcted client is Mrs. Heald—whose story was nothing extra, although it surely deserved some remuneration.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, c.10 Feb 1933, DS 404

“The Man of Stone” by Hazel Heald had been published in Wonder Stories Oct 1932. On 30 January 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Even at that point, Hitler and the Nazis were a byword for antisemitism, and while few may have believed the full extent of Hitler’s plans in Mein Kampf, which would see its first abridged English translation published in October 1933, the rhetoric was clear…and influential.

I await sight of the “Weaver” & “Flower Women” with keen interest, & shall try to get sight of the misnamed “Secret of the Cairn” in Hugo the Rat’s kosher mekasin. Hope his ekshun on debts won’t be delayed beyond all reason—I’d like to set Adolf Hitler on the scoundrel!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 8 Apr 1933, DS 414

As for Hugo the Rat—probably he’s waiting for the dollar to get as low as the German mark did in the early 1920’s. Then—oy, he shood pay it up by his condribudors a’ready!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 3 May 1933, DS 415

This is the first appearance of the epithet “Hugo the Rat.” Whether this was in a reference to Gernback’s “greedy” nature or an allusion to his Jewishness is unclear; Lovecraft had elsewhere referred to “rat-faced Jew[s]” (LFF 1.256) and Jewish “rat-like temperaments” (LWP 84), so either is feasible. However Lovecraft intended, the nickname stuck.

Unrestricted prejudice, stereotypes, and delay or denial of payments to Lovecraft, Smith, and their friends and clients had soured both men on Hugo Gernsback, who they now held personally to blame for a situtation which might honestly have been somewhat out of his hands to control, as the Great Depression worsened and Wonder Stories began to make economic cuts in length, and moved to a bi-monthly rather than monthly schedule.

Incidentally—I’ve passed on to him, & will pass on to Mrs. Heald, the information about the bad-debt collector. This certainly sounds promising, & I hope you yourself can ultimately employ her to advantage. Anyone who can extract cash from Hugo the Rat is an expert!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 12 Jul 1933, DS 425

Yes, I have heard that Gernsback has a doubtful reputation in matters of payment. Though I disapprove strongly of the Hitler regime, I think that it might be administered, not unjustifiably, on a Jewish gyp and literary sweat-shop keeper such as H. G. I have a suspicion that he may try another of his bankruptcy stunts before long. I have the address of a lawyer in N.Y. who is said to be good at collecting money from backward publishers and shall at least try holding the threat of legal action over Gernsback.
—Clark Ashton Smith to Donald Wandrei, 6 Aug 1933, Selected Letters 218

The lawyer in New York City was Ione Weber, a female attorney. Not much is publicly available on her career; she was a charter member of the Fiorello LeGaurdia chapter of Phi Delta Delta at the Brooklyn Law School in 1922, and in 1924, Ione Weber was listed editor of the magazine for Phi Delta Delta operating out of the Eagle Building in NY, and she is listed as author of New York Pleading and Practice (1930). It’s not clear if Weber was in normal practice, or part of a firm, but being asked to recoup relatively small claims from a pulp publisher suggests she must have had some other source of income. Still, she apparently had some success:

Hope Miss Webber [sic] has been able to collect you something from Hugo the Rat—as she has for Mrs. Heald. Hugo still manages to get decent stuff in spite of his delinquencies—I don’t buy W S now, but Comte d’Erlette has just sent me a fine story by Carl Jacobi—“The Tomb from Beyond”—clipped from the November issue. If you haven’t seen it I’ll send it to you.
—H. P. Lovcraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 29 Nov 1933, DS 483

Some magazines pay much less—especially Wonder Stories, whose editor Gernsback is a veritable Shylock. Hugo the Rat (as Clark Ashton Smith & I affectionately call him) never pays at all except under pressure—in fact, one New York lawyer makes a speciality of Gernsback bad debt collection!
—H. P. Lovecraft to F. Lee Baldwin, 13 Jan 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 25

A woman lawyer in New York—a Miss Weber, whose address I’ve forgotten but who could be located through Clark Ashton Smith—makes a speciality of collecting bad debts from Gernsback, & actually did extort $35.00 from him on behalf of a revisions lenient of mine. I’d probably try something on the old reprobate just for the fun of it if I had any unsold MSS. of the right length & character!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Richard F. Searight, 15 Jan 1934, LPS 298

Searight’s story “The Cosmic Horror” had appeared in Wonder Stories Aug 1933, and he had not been paid, hence Lovecraft’s advice. Clark Ashton Smith dithered as he contemplated legal action. Lovecraft, who had no skin in this particular game since he had settled accounts with Amazing Stories, encouraged him to act.

I am, by the way, giving the Gernsback outfit a broad hint that some legal action will be forthcoming unless they pay up a good installment of their arrears at an early date. Wandrei recommends Nat Schachner, one of the star scientifictionists, as a capable lawyer for such collections. Schachner must have had some experience with old Hugo, since he contributed a number of stories to W.S. some time back. I must admit that the idea of setting a Jew to catch a Jew is one that appeals to me. But, on the whole, I’d prefer to collect something without legal bother and expense, if I can.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, Mar 1934, DS 535

Let us hope you can eventually arrange to get something out of Hugo the Rat. Eh deedn’t know it Meestah Schechner vass ah smart lawyer a’ready. Oy! He shood make Hugo pay det money ef he hass to boin his shop to get it!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 9 Mar 1934, DS 540

I think seriously of putting the collection of my arrears from Gernsback in the hands of a New York lawyer before long. That Yiddish highbinder makes me boil. I have it on good authority that he draws down one hundred bucks a week for adorning Wonder Stories with his name, while the real editor, doing all the work, receives only twenty per. In rough figures, he owes me about $750.00, representing a lot of blood and sweat, which is too much to lose.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 17 Apr 1934, EID 219

At this point, David Lasser was out as editor of Wonder Stories and Charles D. Hornig, the former editor of The Fantasy Fan and a friend of Lovecraft and Smith, had been installed as editor—so Smith actually did finally have an inside line on Wonder Stories. Gernsback, meanwhile, was seeking to diversify his pulp line with Pirate Stories and High Seas Adventure—and even was contemplating a Weird Tales rival titled True Supernatural Stories. A “dummy issue” of the latter was filed with the Library of Congress to secure rights to the title, and included reprints of of Smith and Lovecraft’s work from The Fantasy Fan; whether they were ever compensated for this is unknown (see Sam Moskowitz’ “The Gernsback ‘Magazines’ That No One Knows” in in Riverside Quarterly v.4, #4).

Finally, Smith took the legal plunge:

I have written to a New York attorney about the little matter of collecting from gernsback. His arrears total $769.00, and I do not intend to be robbed of it all by low-class Jewish business morality.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 16 May 1934, EID 221

Miss Ione Weber, New York attorney, has undertaken the collection of my arrears from Gernsback but does not seem to be overly optimistic about getting anything at an early date. I’m not eager to press the matter with an actual lawsuit: one has to pay the legal expenses in advance, and the lawyer gets 25%, or perhaps even 50% of the proceeds. Oh hell….. I never was very enthusiastic about laws, lawyers, et al.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 4 Jun 1934, EID 222

Miss Ione Weber, the attorney in whose hands I placed the matter of collecting from Gernsback, has evidently not succeeded in compelling him to disgorge, so far. I fear me he’s a hard-boiled Hebrew hellion, if there ever was one; and I’d gladly turn him over to the ministrations of Herr Hitler.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 28 Jun 1934, EID 223

Much to my surprise, the New York attorney, Miss Weber, has succeeded in prying fifty dollars out of Gernsback. This, according to G’s own accounting dept, leaves only $691 more to pay! I hope that I’ll receive at least part of it before the onsent of inflation or the forming of a proletariat government in the U.S.A.
—Clark Ashotn Smith to August Derleth, 22 Jul 1934, EID 225

My lawyer, Miss Weber, succeeded in extracting another 50 from Gernsback; also, a promise to pay the balance of arrears in trade acceptances, at 75 per month.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 29 Sep 1934, EID 237

Liquidity was obviously still an issue with Gernsback’s magazines—launching several new ventures no doubt didn’t help that—but Weber seems to have reached an out-of-court agreement for payments to be made on the debt. A trade acceptance is, effectively, a type of IOU—a bill of exchange acknowledging a debt, which can in turn be sold, traded, or redeemed for cash at a future date. Ashley & Lowndes write:

Ione Weber cautioned Smith that she was “not optimistic about how soon collection can be made. The last few months I have been having more than the usual difficulty in collecting from them.” She explained further. “Gernsback himself told me that these magazines were not paying but made an arrangement with me by which he would pay my other author clients at stated intervals. However, this promise was not kept.”
(The Gernsback Days 243)

Smith wasn’t the only author that Gernsback hadn’t paid. Although Smith did eventually recoup all that he was owed, many more authors went without. Richard F. Searight suggested a joint lawsuit (LPS 226, 330), although nothing came of this. E. Hoffmann Price quoted science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton in a letter to Lovecraft:

You speak of Fantasy being connected, via editor, with Wonder Stories. From all I gather, their rates, when they pay off, are indeed nominal! Something like 1/4 ¢, and rumored but never realized 1/2 ¢ payoffs. I’m afraid I couldn’t spend much time trying to seduce the fancy of an outfit like that—or have I confused them with the nest of vipers assembled under the Gernsbach [sic] standards? Hamilton assures me no one is a scientifiction writer until he has been defrauded at least once by Hugo Gernbach! [sic]
—E. Hoffmann Price to H. P. Lovecraft, 21 Nov 1933, Mss. John Hay Library

In October 1934, Hornig optimistically wrote that Wonder Stories would shortly be able to pay promptly, and repay its past debts…and there are some signs that Gernsback & Wonder Stories was trying to do this (The Gernsback Days 243). Lovecraft wrote of his young Jewish friend Kenneth Sterling:

He has already sold stories to Wonder . . . .& collected from Hugo the Rat (it takes a Yid to catch a Yid!) . . . . & is bubbling over with ideas.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 26 Mar 1935, DS 596

However, more problems lay ahead.

Donald A. Wollheim & Thrilling Wonder Stories

Nofor Jesu’s sake don’t mention that Klarkash-Ton & I call Gernsback “Hugo the Rat.” That would form a thoroughly unjustifiable attack, despite the fact that the damn skunk undoubtedly deserves it!
—H. P. Lovecraft to F. Lee Baldwin, 16 May 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 86

“Hugo the Rat” was a pet name, of the kind that Lovecraft reserved for many. Farnsworth Wright was often “Pharnobozus” or “Farney” in his letters; William Crawford, editor/publisher of the fanzine Marvel Tales, was “Hill-Billy Crawford.” The nicknames were sometimes slightly derogatory, but were basically meant in fun…and in private. Lovecraft never called him “Hugo the Rat” in public, or made any public statement about the financial situation of Gernsback not paying his authors. Others did.

Donald Wollheim published “My Experience with Wonder Stories” was published in the April 1935 Bulletin of the Terrestrial Fantascience Guild. Wollheim’s story “The Man from Ariel” had been published in Wonder Stories Jan 1934, and not paid for. Up to this point, the science fiction fandom aspect of Gernsback’s career hasn’t been terribly relevant, but it should be remembered that it was Gernsback who, pursuing his enthusiasm for amateurs, encouraged science fiction fans to write to oen another by publishing their names and addresses in the pages of Amazing Stories in the 20s, and in 1934 founded a fanclub called the Science Fiction League through Wonder Stories. Now, Wollheim’s public airing of the dirty laundry caused an uproar in fandom, made all the worse when Gernsback banned Wollheim from the Science Fiction League, leading to a splintering in the group (see Up To Now: The ISA-SFL Clash).

Lovecraft commented on the affair, which was still spooling out:

I saw the Wollheim article dealing with Hugo the Rat—through the kindness of a bright young member of the Science Fiction League, Kenneth Sterling, who has recently moved to Providence. It was nothing new to me—for more than one friend of mine has been robbed by that thieving son-of-a-beachcomber. He printed a story by Frank B. Long in the Spring 1930 Wonder Stories Quarterly, & neither paid the author nor gave any attention to letters about the matter. I advised Long to take drastic steps, but he thought the sum wasn’t large enough to bother about. Others I know—including C A S—have recovered cash from the Rat only through legal action. There’s no real answer that Gernsback can make to the Wollheim expose—all he can do is to kep quiet. But his shifty tactics will overreach themselves & wreck him in the end. Meanwhile he relies on suckers, pays two or three contributors whom he can’t afford to lose, & counts on the MSS. of writers who don’t care whether they’re paid or not. I wouldn’t mind a non-paying magazine if the editor would honestly call it such—like the F F [The Fantasy Fan], F M [Fantasy Magazine], & M T [Marvel Tales]. It is his masquerading as a remunerative publisher which makes Hugo such a damn’d thief! Fortunately he is an exception.
—H. P. Lovecraft to William Anger, 24 Apr 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 233

Regardless of whether the issue of payments was due more to circumstances of the Great Depression or sharp business tactics, Wollheim’s expose and the resulting fan-feuding, coupled with professional pulpsters who now shunned Wonder Stories and other Gernsback magazines, sank Gernsback’s reputation. Eventually, the situation was untenable.

Wonder Stories sold by Hugo the Rat to the Margulies group which Belknap likes so well.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 11 Mar 1936, O Fortunate Floridian! 326

Leo Margulies was the chief editor of Standard Publications, sometimes called “Thrilling Publications” because they published titles like Thrilling Adventures, Thrilling Detective, Thrilling Love, Thrilling Mystery, Thrilling Sports, and Thrilling Western. In August 1936, when they purchased Wonder Stories, Margulies renamed it Thrilling Wonder Stories. Charles D. Hornig was laid off as editor. Hugo Gernsback left science fiction to its own devices for a while.

Although Lovecraft and Gernsback never met, and it isn’t clear if they ever even corresponded, the publisher’s reputation remained with Lovecraft for the short time remaining to him. Even into 1937, barely a month away from death, Lovecraft wrote:

By the way—Hugo Gernsback is a notorious sharper who ought never to be trusted. He tries to sensationalise pseudo-science, and is so dishonest in his non-payment of contributors that reputable authors have virtually blacklisted his magazines.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Nils Frome, 8 Feb 1937, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 352

If you think the pay is bad, pray be informed that Hugo the Rat often parallelled it in the old days, & that according to some reporters Amazing Stories now does little better.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Richard F. Searight, 14 Feb 1937, LPS 437

In January 1936, Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling collaborated on “In the Walls of Eryx” (Weird Tales Oct 1939), a story which incorporated several punning references to personalities in science fiction pulpdom. There on the jungled Venus they conceived:

I was always slashing ugrats and stepping on skorahs, and my leather suit was all speckled from the bursting darohs which struck it from all sides.

“Ugrats,” “Hugo the Rat.” A bit of a petty immortalization for Gernsback, who despite his infamy in regards to business practice, editorial tastes in science fiction, etc. is still today recognized as a critical figure in the popularization of science fiction, and the namesake of the Hugo Awards.

Conclusion

The question may fairly be asked: Why has “Hugo the Rat” stuck in the consciousness of fans and writers of science fiction history? I suspect that it is Lovecraft’s own posthumous popularity, and the publication of his letters, that have spread the epithet far beyond the limits of personal correspondence that Lovecraft ever intended. Other writers may well have said things as bad or worse about Gernsback, but their letters haven’t been published, studied, or folded into the history of pulp publishing in anything like the same way Lovecraft’s have. I haven’t been able to find any usage of the term in fanzines of the 40s and 50s so far. The epithet was most prominent in volume 5 of Lovecraft’s Selected Letters (1965), and usage of it picks up in science fiction scholarship in the 1970s.

Whether or not you consider “Hugo the Rat” as an antisemitic label or a playful jab at a non-paying publisher, it is undeniable that antisemitic prejudice colored Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith’s views. That the views were expressed particularly sharply in 1933, when Hitler was coming to power and antisemitism was gaining increased traction makes their particular prejudice all the worse, especially in hindsight.

It didn’t start out that way. Which is probably as close as a we might get to a lesson from this episode. This post doesn’t contain every single instance where Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith referred to Gernsback as “Hugo the Rat,” or made an antisemitic comment regarding him; a full list would be tedious rather than informative. Neither Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith started out lambasting Hugo Gernsback for being Jewish. One made a comment, the other didn’t censure them for it, and before long the two men were jocularly passing back and forth antisemitic quips that neither would ever air in public. If there is a lesson to this exchange, it’s that allowing prejudice to go unchallenged, even in joking fashion, makes prejudice more acceptable over all…and that has shaped how we see and talk about the past.

Grant Wythoff in The Perversity of Things felt the need to address Lovecraft’s characterization of “Hugo the Rat” because that epithet has become so strongly identified with Gernsback, even though no more than a dozen people likely ever knew Lovecraft said it during his lifetime. The name and characterization have been repeated so many times, that most people assume it was true, and that Hugo Gernsback was a “sharper” who didn’t pay his authors. Of course, Gernsback wasn’t alone in this; Weird Tales faced its own difficulties and delays in paying authors; when Robert E. Howard died in 1936, Farnsworth Wright owed him more than Gernsback ever owed Clark Ashton Smith. While Gernsback certainly exacerbated some of his own troubles in his dealings with Wollheim and other authors, and there were likely poor business decisions that were responsible for delays and nonpayments, it seems likely that much of the negative characterization of Gernsback carries at least a whiff of antisemitism, intentional or unconscious. It is a very weird aspect of Lovecraft’s legacy that this nickname should stick, to a man he never met and had very little to do with directly…but, here we are.

For the facts of Hugo Gernsback’s life and publications, and details on his magazines I have relied primarily on Hugo Gernsback: A Man Well Ahead of His Time (2007) edited by Larry Steckler, and The Gernsback Days (2004) by Mike Ashley and Robert A. W. Lowndes, and recommend them both for learning more about Gernsback’s life and his involvement with science fiction publishing.

A Final Word on Clark Ashton Smith’s Antisemitism

The vermin is a very Jew, and will have his last ounce of brain and marrow.
—Clark Ashton Smith, “The Corpse and the Skeleton” (1965)

While H. P. Lovecraft’s antisemitism is fairly well-documented, with dozens of instances in his letters regarding Jewish persons, race, and religion; the antisemitic comments that Clark Ashton Smith made towards Hugo Gernsback and his company may come as something of a surprise to many readers. Smith’s comments on Jewish people are very few in his published letters, and the bulk of his antisemitic comments were directed solely against Gernsback & co.—with an occasional swipe at other Jewish publishers, e.g.:

I return the Ullman–Knopf communication herewith. Knopf should remove the Borzoi from his imprint, and substitute either the Golden Calf or a jackass with brazen posteriors. I wish Herr Hitler had him, along with Gernsback.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, Oct 1933, DS 456

Too bad about Knopf. I wish Hitler had him, along with Gernsback.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 19 Oct 1933, EID 196

The tone and wording of the comments suggest frustration with publishers in general, which focused in on their being Jewish as a convenient target for abuse—even though their being Jewish had nothing to do with, say, editorial changes in Smith’s tales in Wonder Stories or Knopf turning down a collection of Lovecraft’s fiction.

In terms of fiction, Clark Ashton Smith had very few Jewish characters or references in his fiction, and so few occasions to express any antisemitism. Smith’s usual line was fantasy & horror set in imaginary worlds, and science fiction set in the far future, so references to Jews in his work are rather rare—there is no more need for Jewish characters in Zothique, Atlantis, Xiccaraph, Hyperborea, or Mars than there would be for Christians or Buddhists or run-of-the-mill Satanists—so absence of Jewish characters isn’t particularly unusual or necessarily reflective of antisemitism on Smith’s part.

Those few stories which do feature Jewish characters rely almost entirely on Jewish stereotypes that were old when Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice, the same stereotypes Smith expressed in negative terms in his anti-Gernsback commentary. Clark Ashton Smith’s unpublished story “The Parrot” is the most prominent example, with Ben Stein as a veritable caricature of a “greedy Jew”…and the only good thing that can be said about the sketch is that it wasn’t published until after Clark Ashton Smith’s death.

In general, it must be acknowledged that casual antisemitism was sadly common among many members of the Weird Tales circle; in addition to Lovecraft and Smith, Robert E. Howard and August Derleth at least are also known to have made antisemitic comments in letters. Smith also never (as far as I can find) made any such comments to Jewish correspondents like Robert Bloch or Samuel Loveman. While it is dangerous to generalize, and certainly never a major aspect of any letter, this kind of antisemitic commentary against Jewish publishers appears to have been generally tolerated among the non-Jewish members of the Weird Tales circle of correspondents. This kind of discrimination was no doubt someting that Hugo Gernsback and other Jews in the United States faced frequently during the 1930s.


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

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The Rainbow Vol. I, No. 1 (Oct. 1921) & Vol. II, No. 2 (May 1922) by Sonia H. Greene (ed.)

Also, she hath told him that I am egotistical from reading Nietzsche—which disturbeth me not in the least. Anybody can call me anything he damn pleases if he will give fifty sinkers to the organ fund & issue a United paper as good as the RAINBOW promises to be! […] By the way—I have just returned proofs of my RAINBOW article, which is a melange of cynical aphorisms culled from two letters of mine. Whoever was the printer knoweth his business, for errors were monstrous few. The R. will evidently be quite some paper—pictures ‘n’ everything. Surely Mrs. G is the find of the present year amateurically, & I regret very much the recent indisposition to which you refer.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 30 Aug 1921, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 187

In July 1921, Sonia H. Greene met H. P. Lovecraft at the National Amateur Press Association convention in Boston. The meeting led to an extended correspondence, and eventually their marriage in 1924. Yet before they married, Sonia worked hard on a new project: an amateur journal of her own. Many amateurs issued their own journals, forerunners of the ‘zine culture of today, put together with love, enthusiasm, and and often rather modest equipment. H. P. Lovecraft had issued his own amateur journal, The Conservative (1915-1919, 1923), and he suppiled both content for the two issues, but also proofreading and (perhaps) editorial assistance.

Finally #598 was reached, & the visitor was introduced to the present regent of these domains—my elder aunt. Both seemed delighted with each other, & my aunt has ever been eloquent in her praise of Mme. G., whose ideas, speech, manner, aspect, & even attire impressed her with the greatest of favourableness. In truth, this visit has materially heightened my aunt’s respect for amateurdom—an institution whose extreme democracy & occasional heterogeneity have at times made it necessary for me to apologise for it. During the session at #598, Rainbow proofs were the main topic. I read most of them, denatured a sketch which some might have taken as a caricature on myself, & set aside for revision a piece of verse entitled “Mors Omnibus Communis”. I am told that you advised the inclusion of this piece in the R. If so, why the hell didn’t you correct it? It could not stand as it was. The R. will be quite some paper—believe Grandpa! Since the visit I have let Mme. G. have Loveman’s “Triumph in Eternity”, which will lend a finishing touch of exquisite classicism. It is one of the most splendid poems amateurdom has ever produced. At length the meeting adjourned, & Mme. G. generously invited both my aunt & myself to dinner at the Crown. Having had a noon meal, (we eat but twice daily) we were not ready for another; so my aunt had to decline, whilst I went along & consumed only a cup of coffee & portion of chocolate ice-cream.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 21 Sep 1921, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 190

Sonia H. Greene was not an amateur printer with a handpress; she had the amateur magazine typeset and printed professionally, including with photographs, on good paper. This makes those two issues some of the handsomest amateur journals of the period. There is no indication of the number of copies of each issue, but given the size of each issue (the first issue was 14 pages, the second issue 20), even a modest run of 50 copies, complete with proofs, would have been a considerable outlay of cash, and the printrun may well have been higher.

Beyond a doubt, the leading amateur publication of the season is Mrs. Sonia H. Greene’s resplendent October Rainbow. The editor is anxious to have this magazine reach every member of the United, and hopes that all who have been accidentally overlooked will notify her at 259 Parkside Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y., that the omission may be repaired.
—“News Notes,” United Amateur 21, No. 1 (Sep 1921), Collected Essays 1.299

In 1921, Lovecraft was the Official Editor for his faction of the United Amateur Press Association of America; an election dispute in the organization some years before had split the membership, and Lovecraft assumed a leadership role. It is no doubt Lovecraft’s personal influence that convinced Sonia H. Greene to join the UAPA, and to issue The Rainbow to both the United and National membrs. How much more influence Lovecraft had on the production of The Rainbow is a matter of conjecture.

The Rainbow (October 1921), Vol. I, No. 1

How many struggling mortals languish and pine for want of an adequate outlet for self-expression! Thousands find it a prime necessity to give vent to their thoughts on paper—thousands who think deeply and feel strongly, yet who through diffidenceor hesitancy tend to be inarticulate regarding their half-conscious aesthetic and intellectual longings. Such persons, knowing how prone are ones near and dear to misunderstand, must either speak through the medium of writing or remain mute, lonely and repressed.
—Sonia H. Greene, “Amateurdom and the Editor,” The Rainbow (vol. 1, no. 1) 3

Thus does Sonia open her first amateur journal. The contents include “Ode to Florence” by Sonia H. Greene (poem; Florence Carol Greene being her daughter), “Nietzsche as a Practical Prophet” by Alfred Galpin (essay), “Philosophia” by Sonia H. Greene (essay), “How I Would Like To Be Entertained At The Next National Convention” by James F. Morton (poem), “More Omnibus Communis” by Sonia H. Greene (poem), “Nietscheism and Realism” by H. P. Lovecraft (essay), “Idle Idylls” by Sonia H. Greene (essay), “To—” by Rheinhart Kleiner (poem), “A Triumph in Eternity” by Samuel Loveman (poem), two letters from Sonia H. Greene, and “Oh, If The Gods” by Rheinhart Kleiner (poem).

The most notable thing about his issue is that the editing and writing of the editorials show little to no influence from Lovecraft, though he likely helped procure some of the contents. Galpin, Kleiner, Morton, and Loveman were all mutual friends of the two, and one of the letters is to their amateur friend Edith Miniter with praise for her novel Out Naputski Neighbors (1916). Lovecraft’s essay “Nietscheism and Realism” was stitched together from two letters to Sonia on the subject of Nietzsche, which subject she had been arguing through correspondence with both Lovecraft and Galpin.

I have just read proofs of my RAINBOW article, which consists of some cynical aphorisms culled from two letters of mine. I fear this stuff will shock friend Mocrates—but it may help prepare him for the fuller shock of my “Confession of Unfaith” in Campbell’s next LIBERAL.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the Gallomo, 31 Aug 1921, Letters to Alfred Galpin 104

There is still the air of the amateur to the production; not in the formatting or the editing, but the content. Sonia’s material doesn’t exactly dominate the issue thanks to the meaty essays by Lovecraft and Galpin, but her own essays are relatively weak and unfocused by comparison. Given the placement and source of Lovecraft and Galpin’s essays, I suspect that “Philosophia” is borrowed from one of her letters to Galpin or Lovecraft, addressing a similar subject but in a very informal way; her strongest passage being:

When the intellectually and phsyically strong will learn how to rule wisely and humanely, and the weak will recognize the limits of their natural ability; when the strong will properly compensate the weak for their efforts, giving them the chance to develop according to their lights; when property and the accumulation of superfluous wealth and dominant power shell not be placed above human comfort and life—then may civilization rise to altitudes not yet achieved in the history of man. There must be neither “master nor slave,” but “leader and led.” Then, and then only, may there be a justifiable hope for the advent of the superman.
—Sonia H. Greene, “Philosphia,” The Rainbow (vol. 1, no. 1) 7

H. P. Lovecraft made a great deal about The Rainbow in the pages of amateur journals; aside from The United Amateur, he also penned Rainbow called Best First Issue” in the National Amateur 44, No. 4 (Mar 1922), CE 1.310-312, and he wrote about it in letters to friends:

You have probably seen Mrs. G.’s paper—The Rainbow—ere this, and may judge her general amateur interest by it. After her amazing pledge to the O.O. Fund I do not know how tactful it would be to suggest recruiting funds immediately; but after a duly decorous interval I fancy the matter might well be broached. You might drop her a line of welcome, her address being 259 Parkside Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. Mrs. G. is an agnostic & anti-religionist, as you may observe in the Rainbow; but is too Russian & emotional to share the biting cynicism of Galpin & myself.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Anne Tillery Renshaw, 3 Oct 1921, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 367

The issue, already fairly long by amateur standards, might have been longer still, but at least one item was apparently left out of The Rainbow:

I have sent to Arkham House snapshots of HPL’s aunts, some postcards, a story revised by HP. and a fictitious story I wrote about HP a few months after I met him, but at his request I did not publish it in the Rainbow because, as he told it, it was too obviously a description of himself.
—Sonia Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, 11 Dec 1948, MSS. John Hay Library

By inference, this would be “Four O’Clock” (1949) by Sonia H. Greene.

It must not have been too long after the successful mailing of the first issue that plans came underway for a second.

The Rainbow (May 1922), Vol. II, No. 2

Without a doubt the greatest publishing event of the season is the second number of Mrs. Sonia H. Greene’s magnificent Rainbow. It is difficult to imagine either mechanical lavishness or excellence of contents carried to a greater extreme, and the United may well be proud of having such an exponent. The editorial tone is a stimulating one, forming an influence in just the proper direction at this trying juncture of amateur history. A special word is due the excellent portraits of eminent amateurs, among which is the first likeness of our poet-laureate, Mrs. S. Lilian McMullen (Lillian Middleton) ever published in Amatuer Journalism. Amateurs failing to receive The Rainbow are urged to notify the editor at 259 Parkside Ave., Booklyn, N.Y.
—”News Notes,” United Amateur 21, No. 5 (May 1922), Collected Essays 1.317

The second (and ultimately final) issue of The Rainbow was even larger and more lavish than the first. It begins with three extensive editorial essays: “Amateurdom and the Editor,” “Recruiting,” and “Opinion” (all unsigned); followed by “Commercialism—The Curse of Art” (essay), “Amatory Aphorisms” (prose), “A Game of Chess” (essay), and “Heins versus Houtain” (essay), all by Sonia H. Greene; “I Wonder” (poem) and “Keep Smiling” (poem), by B. C. Brightrall, “My Yesterdays” (poem) by W. C. Brightrall, “The Distant Forest” (poem) by Betty Jane Kendall, “Certain Ideals” (essay) by Edith Miniter, “Behind the Swinging Door” (poem) by Lilian Middleton, “Celephais” (short story) by H. P. Lovecraft, “Misconceptions of Art” (essay) by James F. Morton, “A Letter to G— K—” (poem) by Samuel Loveman, “Through the Eyes of the Poet” (essay) by Maurice W. Moe, “Frank Harris” (essay) by Alfred Galpin, “Amatuerdom of the Editor” (essay) by “The Editor.”

There are new names: Maurice W. Moe was a friend of Lovecraft, Lillian Middleton was a well-known amateur poet, W. C. or B. C. Brightall was probably William Clemens Brightall, an amateur poet and traveling salesman who would publisha book of poetry titled Tip o’ The Tongue (1925), and Betty Jane Kendall, only nine years old, was the daughter of former NAPA president Frank Austin Kendall, and her mother Jennie Kendall Plaisier was still active in amateurdom as well. Lovecraft fans will note the first publication of Lovecraft’s story “Celephrais,” and Loveman’s poem “A Letter to G— K—” is a reference to bookseller George Kirk, a mutual friend of Lovecraft and Loveman who would go on to be one of the founding members of the Kalem Club during Lovecraft’s New York adventure.

Some readers might wonder if Lovecraft had a heavier hand in the editing of this issue, at least in touching up some of the four unsigned editorial pieces. It’s hard to tell, especially since there is very little in Lovecraft’s letters on the creation of this issue, his only comment being:

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

The former is a reference to the lead editorial “Amateurdom and the Editor,” which reads like some of Lovecraft’s unsigned editorials in other amateur journals—and it is written in the third person, whereas Sonia’s more personable editorial “Amateurdom of the Editor” is written in the first person. While it is impossible to tell, without some surviving manuscript or letter, I would not be surprised if Lovecraft helped Sonia complete this issue by revising a few of the earlier, unsigned editorials. At the very least, Lovecraft was seeing these editorials, or proofs thereof, months earlier than anyone else if the date on his letter to Kleiner is to be believed.

The later bit regarding “Mrs. Houtain,” is a reference to Sonia’s essay “Heins versus Houtain,” and involves a dispute between NAPA president Elsie Houtain and the teenaged Official Editor John Milton Heins; Sonia had not been in amateur journalism long and was already feeling the effects of some of the politics and personalities that come with any small organization.

Some gauge to response to these two issue of The Rainbow can be had in the memoirs of Lovecraft and Sonia’s mutual amateur friends:

Just previous to his coming to Brooklyn, and no doubt as part of her campaign to impress herself upon Lovecraft, his wife-to-be had issued an elaborate number of an amateur magazine, The Rainbow. It contained half-tone reproductions of Lovecraft’s portrait, together with portraits of his friends and articles or poems from their pens. It was a great success from the amateur journalist’s point-of-view, and I believe it may have been during the early stage of her married life with Lovecraft that she decided to issue another one. Printing costs being then, as now, quite high, I suppose the first issue cost a couple of hundred dollars. The second could not have cost much less. I don’t know what crisis took place in her affairs at this time—she had been holding a well-paid job as “buyer” in an uptown hat shop—but to pa for this issue she made an arrangement with the printer whereby his wife could obtain all the hats she wanted up to the amount of the bill. I am almost certain that Lovecraft was prominently featured in the first Rainbow, but he may have had enough influence to keep himself out of too conspicuous a place in the second. But this mere conjecture.
—Rheinhart Kleiner, “A Memoir of Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 105

But I leave all the fascinating details of that convention to tell of The Rainbow, issued by Sonia Greene in the following October. It was a large and handsome affair, illustrated with half-tone reproductions of photographs of well-known amateurs of the day and containing excellent contributions by many of them. Lovecraft, still in Providence, reviewed it at some length in The National Amateur, for March, 1922. He said, in part, that The Rainbow represented “a genuinely artistic and intelligent attempt to crystallise homogeneously a definite mood as handled by many writers.” He said much more, and it was all highly satisfactory to Mrs. Greene. In fact, the vivacious Brooklyn widow was quite dazed with delight.
—Rheinhart Kleiner, “Discourse on H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 194

Some time in the school year 1921-1922 I received a brief visit at Madison from Sonia Greene, later Mrs. Lovecraft. She had recently joined the United Amatuer Press Association, met Howard, and presented ponderous essays by Howard and me in her amateur publication, The Rainbow (October, 1921). Howard and I were then both faithful to a vaguely aesthetic sort of Nietzscheism. In her incidenta correspondence with me she found that besides my fondness for Nietzsche I was even fonder of Dostoievski, and it was this discovery (the Russians were not so generally in style in those days) that imprelled her to meet me in person.
—Alfred Galpin, “Memories of a Friendship” in Ave Atque Vale 203

Kleiner’s recollection of the arrangement with the printer is no doubt confused with a later affair; when in 1928 she had her own hat shop for a time (cf. Letters to Family and Family Friends 2.628-629), but the admiration of both those amateurs even decades later was real.

So why were there only two issues? No doubt cost was a major factor, and perhaps time. Publishing an amateur journal is a largely thankless task, and Sonia’s final editorial speaks of her burning the metaphorical midnight oil to write and edit; perhaps business and her personal life made putting together and issuing a third issue untenable. Even Lovecraft had gaps in the publication of his much more modest journal The Conservative, which he finally revived for a few issues in 1923.

The Rainbow (Vol. I, No. 1) has historically been the most accessible of the two issues because in 1977 Marc Michaud of the Necronomicon Press issued a facsimile reproduction in an edition of 550 copies, and this facsimile edition is still widely available at reasonable prices, for those interested in this early piece of Lovecraftiana, and to read Lovecraft’s essay in something close to it’s original context, as part of a conversation with Sonia.

The Rainbow (Vol. II, No. 2) has never been reprinted. However, as it is in the public domain a digital copy of the issue is now available for free on the Internet Archive.


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

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

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

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

Eliza Allgood (b. 1833 d. 1898)

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

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

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

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Sarah Allgood (b. 1830? d. 1908)

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

SAllgood

Yonkers Statesman, 19 Jul 1906

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“The Dunwich Horror” (1945) by Silvia Richards & H. P. Lovecraft

Silvia Richards

“The Dunwich Horror” by H. P. Lovecraft was first published in Weird Tales (Apr 1929). It was not republished until a decade later, when Arkham House brought out the first collection of Lovecraft’s fiction, The Outsider and Others (1939). Despite wartime paper shortages, the story was reprinted in the omnibus Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (1944). The following year, “The Dunwich Horror” lent its name to a paperback edition The Dunwich Horror (1945, Bath House), an armed services edition The Dunwich Horror and Other Weird Stories (1945). On Hallowe’en night (although many newspapers list it as playing on 1 November), a radio adaptation of “The Dunwich Horror,” written by Silvia Richards, was performed by Ronald Colman.

The show was called Suspense and began broadcasting in 1940, lasting until 1962. It did not originally feature stories involving science fiction or the supernatural, but increasingly featured more and more such adaptations during its run.

Silvia Richards’ screenplay makes many necessary adaptations for a radio drama. It begins like Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 broadcast of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, as a mock news-broadcast, but the asides for vividly audio-acted scenes and music make it much more of a dramatization. Dr. Henry Armitage narrates the entire story, as though reporting in live from Dunwich (here pronounced correctled as Dunnich). Richards retains all the essential plot points of Lovecraft’s story and several key passages, although much of his language is lost in abridgement and change in presentation. Notably, she retains most if not all of the audio cues—animal noises and suchlike—which the story contains, which translate well into the new medium.

As a production, the radioplay is interesting for the effort to reproduce the accents, the sounds of whipporwills, the pronounciation of the odd names. As a screenplay, there’s a rather admirable skill in boiling Lovecraft’s narrative (all ~17,500 words of it) down to something that could play in less than twenty-four minutes (a half-hour timeslot has to leave room for commercials); her abridgement was probably about 6,000 words (24 pages) total. An interesting addition was the source for an “alternate formula”: Falconer’s Mystical Formulae of the Middle Ages. Whether Silvia Richards was aware of it or not, this would be one of, if not the, first Mythos tome invented by a woman author.

Silvia Richards continued to work in Hollywood as a script writer for radio, film, and television; the article above from the Los Angeles Daily News for 1 Apr 1947 is the most I’ve found about her life in her own words. A former Communist, she was later called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and her collaboration (in part to protect her two young sons) included testifying against her ex-husband Robert L. Richards. She is not known to have done any further adaptations of Lovecraftian material, but her radioplay stands as an early, fairly faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s material to a new medium.

You can listen to Silvia Richards’ 1945 adaptation of “The Dunwich Horror” for Suspense for free online here.


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

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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We don’t know for sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My dearest Mother:

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

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

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

My dearest Mother:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Her Letters To Lovecraft: Sonia H. Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In her memoir, Sonia also wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howard would not follow.

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

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

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

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

Had a letter from S H yesterday, saying that Mrs. Galpin didn’t shew up in Cleveland at all! She’s quite worried, imagining all sorts of kidnappings, wrecked, & such like; but I fancy Mrs. G. was merely too tired out to relish the Youngstown change of cars, so went straight home to Chicago.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 27 Aug 1925, Letters to Family and Family Friends 1.367

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In her memoir, Sonia states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Given the circumstances, Sonia made a possibly fateful decision:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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