The Village Green (192?) by Edith Miniter

Meanwhile [R. H. Barlow] has elected himself a sort of successor to Cook & me as literary executor for Mrs. Miniter, & is busily going over the huge bale of unclassified Miniteriana which Cook sent here last year. Amongst this material is the long-lust novelette of 1923 (about a literary club with figures taken from the Hub Organisation—I am recognisably depicted!) called “The Village Green” […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Edward H. Cole, 15 Aug 1936, Letters to Albert Galpin & Others 143

Even during his lifetime, H. P. Lovecraft was a character that blurred the lines between reality and fiction. His personal myth was born by the persona he projected in his vast correspondence—but his encounters with folks he met in-person were no less memorable. Frank Belknap Long, Jr. famously killed a fictionalized Howard in “The Space-Eaters” (Weird Tales, July 1928), one of the first Cthulhu Mythos stories; Robert Bloch did the same thing in “The Shambler from the Stars” (Weird Tales, Sep 1935), and Lovecraft’s wife would base a character on him in “Four O’Clock” (1949). In the decades that followed his death, Lovecraft would enter fully into his own mythology; August Derleth would cite his books alongside the Necronomicon, and out past the known planets Richard A. Lupoff would find him in “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977). Since then Lovecraft’s image has appeared in short fictions, comics, manga, games, and other media. Actor Jeffrey Combs even famously played him in Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)—with the aid of a prosthetic to mimic Lovecraft’s prognathous jaw.

Yet one of the earliest literary depictions of H. P. Lovecraft has been read by very few people.

A group that didn’t feel interested in jaunty publications talked just as jauntily about literature, and not entirely their own. Indeed the large man with the long chin, who had received a letter from “Bob” Davis containing the words: “It (The Bats in the Belfry) is splendidly written, but it exceeds the speed limit….I have been some time coming to a conclusion about this story, but I didn’t want to push the matter hastily. Even now I may be wrong….” took the confession in a nonchalant manner that shocked his confreres.
—Edith Miniter, The Village Green and Other Pieces 147

“The large man with the long chin” is later identified as H. Theobald, Jr.; “Theobald” being one of Lovecraft’s pseudonyms in amateur journalism, as seen in “To Mr. Theobald” (1926) by Samuel Loveman. To appreciate the characterization, it is necessary to be familiar with the author.

Edith May Dowe Miniter (1867-1934) was a journalist, both amateur and professional. She became involved in amateur journalism at age 13, edited and published many papers, and was largely associated with the Hub Club in Boston, Massachusetts, and the National Amateur Press Association; she would serve terms as president of both organizations, the first woman to hold executive office in amateur journalism, and even met her husband through amateur journalism (NAPA History, Early Amateur Journalism in Massachusetts, and “The Other Miniter: In Search of John T. Miniter” in The Fossil 386).

Through amateur journalism, Edith Miniter met Lovecraft. They actually met in person at the 1921 National Amateur Press Association convention in Boston, where Lovecraft would also meet his future wife Sonia H. Greene. Miniter’s amateur journals contain many insightful snippets on folks including Lovecraft and Winifred Virginia Jackson. She was noted particularly for her wit, which was scathing and unsparing, but also often irreverent and universal, an example of which is “Falco Ossifracus” (1921), the first parody and pastiche of Lovecraft’s particularly florid style. Lovecraft in turn wrote poems dedicated to her and her cats, and held the elder stateswoman of amateur journalism in high esteem.

While she published many stories and poems, her only novel was Our Natupski Neighbors (1916); she started other novels, including The Village Green, but never completed any of them before her death in 1934. Lovecraft was one of those who helped scatter her mother’s ashes in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, whose scenery and lore had helped to inform “The Dunwich Horror.” Her papers first went to fellow amateur journalist W. Paul Cook, and then Lovecraft’s teenaged friend R. H. Barlow, whom had been introduced to amateur journalism through Lovecraft, got involved. Barlow would eventually publish Miniter’s short story “Dead Houses” in his journal Leaves, alongside other pieces from the Lovecraft circle, and some of her papers were later donated to the John Hay Library along with Lovecraft’s materials.

The Village Green, however, would languish mostly inaccessible until 2013 when it was finally published in The Village Green and Other Pieces, edited by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr. and Sean Donnelly. The editors suggest that the novel was written circa 1923-1925, and go on to say:

Make no mistake—the editors make no exaggerated claims for The Village Green, whose portrait of a local literary club patterned on Edith’s Hub Club never really jells into a coherent narrative. (xi)

The unfinished novel is very old fashioned by contemporary standards, in terms of prose and framing, but of its time it would have been quite candid. It is Dickensian in the sense that it is a novel of incidents and episodes, often prosaic, fragments of discussion with layers of a social game of manners both implicit and explicit; it is similar to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919) in that it is a starkly realistic example of the inner lives of ordinary people, including their sexual affairs—though while Miniter is explicit that the affairs happen, she isn’t explicit about any of the details of coitus itself. The result never quite comes together, because, much like life, it just continues on until it stops. Probably the closest comparison would be some of August Derleth’s output of regional literature called the Sac Prairie Saga.

Lovecraft’s character is probably the main drew of the novel for most. The reference to “The Bats in the Belfry” is, I suspect, a reference to “Bat’s Belfry,” the first story by August Derleth in Weird Tales (May 1926), which if true might indicate Miniter was working on the manuscript rather later than 1925. The scenes or episodes with H. Theobald, Jr. are few, yet as Lovecraft noted, he is easy to recognize:

Theobald—the man with the long chin—opined that this retort had been ancient in the 18th century. At this arose a fusillade of comments. Theobald did not really try to live in the 18th century, though he might date letters 1723 and refer to Colonies. Had he actually asked for a typewrite with a long “s”? Did he smoke the pipes of that period—did he read newspapers of that day? “I hate to say it, but you’re nothing better than an anachronism, Theobald,” observed Trinkett.

Theobald calmed the tumult with an upraised hand—the too white hand of an invalid. “‘Tis plain,” he said, “that my character is receiving a Dickensonian or 19th century distortion to the grotesque, which well conceals the quiet manners of a gentleman of Geo. the II’s reign. You must know that in my time ’twas thought monstrous vulgar to excite remark in publick assemblies; and that no matter how humorsome a queer old fellow might be he would save his odd humors for the coffee-house, nor seek to drag them into a rout of any sort of mixt genteel company.”
—Edith Miniter, The Village Green and Other Pieces 148

It is hard to tell how much of this is true to life for Lovecraft’s behavior in person, and how much of it is Miniter gently taking the piss with her good friend. Her amateur journal pieces which mention Lovecraft don’t tend to go into this level of detail in putting words into his mouth, but at the same time these are very similar sentiments—and spellings—to what Lovecraft would include in his correspondence with others. If it’s a parody or a caricature, it is a gentle one, and Theobald’s insistence on being a 17th century gentleman in the 20th century is not too far from what Lovecraft often presented himself as. Whether Miniter actually quotes directly from Lovecraft is impossible to say at this remove.

The Village Green will probably be too much for weird fiction fans; the decidedly non-fantastic plot and incomplete status will likely shy away everyone except historians and Lovecraft scholars. Yet it is important not to forget what it represents: Lovecraft’s impact on the lives of those around him, including women like Edith Miniter, who wished to immortalize her friend in one of her stories. While incomplete, the novel stands as a testament to an important figure in amateur journalism history, a regional writer whose work is often unrecognized today, and deserves to be better appreciated for what she wrote and accomplished in her life.

The manuscript for The Village Green is available online at the John Hay Library.


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Annie Emeline Phillips Gamwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

img

The Boston Glove, 4 June 1897, 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just can’t wait until you get here.

With eager and pleasureable anticipation

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

For his part, Howard noted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1936 illness hit again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Lillian Delora Phillips Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My dear Aunt Lillian:

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

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

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

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


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

Her Letters to Lovecraft: Elizabeth Toldridge

Dear Judge Lovecraft,

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

I am, faithfully yours,

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

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

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

anthology

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

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

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

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

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

download

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All good wishes

Yrs most sincerely,

H P Lovecraft

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


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

“R. H. B.” (1978) by Andreas and Rivière

 

À Suivre (“To Be Continued”, 1978-1997) was one of the major Franco-Belgian comic magazines of the period, publishing such great European comics creators as Alexandro Jodorowsky, Milo Manara, Mœbius (Jean Giraud), François Schuiten, and Guido Crepax, a contemporary of magazines like Métal hurlant and Pilote, focusing on comics for a more mature audience.

“R. H. B,” by Andreas (Andreas Martens) and Rivière (François Rivière) was published in À Suivre 6-7, the July-August double issue for 1978. The title stands for Robert Hayward Barlow, friend and literary executor to H. P. Lovecraft. This coincides with the increased enthusiasm for Lovecraft in France, particularly the publication of LETTRES, 1 (1914-1926), which was published May 1978—a translation of Lovecraft’s letters, taken from volume I and part of volume II of Arkham House’s five-volume Selected Letters series. By comparison, Métal hurlant‘s Lovecraft special issue was published in September 1978.

metal

H. P. Lovecraft received a fan letter from a 13-year-old R. H. Barlow in June 1931; Lovecraft was then 41 years old, and the two continued corresponding for six years, until Lovecraft’s death in 1937. The two met in May 1934, when Lovecraft took a trip down to Barlow’s family home in DeLand, Florida, a visit which lasted seven weeks; they met again briefly in New York during the winter of 1934-1935, where Lovecraft was in the habit of meeting friends for New Years Eve, and Lovecraft repeated his trip to visit the Barlows in Florida in 1935, where he spent ten weeks with his hosts, but begged off the invitation to stay all summer. Their next visit was when Barlow came to visit Lovecraft in Providence, Rhode Island, 28 July 1936, when the teenager stayed more than a month at the boarding house behind Lovecraft’s residence. It was the last time the two would meet; Lovecraft would die of cancer on 15 March 1937. Lovecraft’s “Instructions in Case of Decease,” dating from 1936, named Barlow his literary executor…and it is through Barlow’s efforts that many of Lovecraft’s papers, unpublished stories, and letters were preserved at the John Hay Library.

The comic proper is presaged by an introduction by editor Marc Voline:

suiver-2

At the time the Ides et Autres (“Ides and Others”) fanzine published an unpublished poem by Lovecraft (3), (A Suivre) presents a comic strip approach of the great writer universe. “Biography of Robert H. Barlow and his relationship with HP Lovecraft” is the first of a five-part series, collected under the title Mythographies. Andreas and Rivière designed this as a kind of oblique exploration, referential and ironic, of sometimes poorly known literary universe. As for Lovecraft the famous “hermit of Providence,” we wanted—they say—to prove that the legend that he would, during his life, never leaves the perimeter of New England was all simply false. From the thick and rather indigestible biography of the author of La malediction d’Ansmouth (“The Shadow over Innsmouth”) written by Lyon Sprague de Camp, we briefly identify with the existence of an endearing and terribly pathetic “fan” most assiduous without doubt Lovecraft. Robert Barlow well deserved homage …

Marc Voline

Most of the material in the comic would come from L. Sprague de Camp’s H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975); this would not be available in French until 1987 when Richard D. Nolane translated it as H. P. Lovecraft ; le Roman de sa Vie, so the creators of “R. H. B.” were working through some linguistic hurdles and miscommunications. As Lettres 1 doesn’t have any actual letters from Barlow, essentially all of the material for “R. H. B.” was drawn directly from de Camp’s book, with many phrases translated directly from the English edition.

suiver-4

Small issues of translation aside, this is a starkly beautiful comic, with fantastic linework by Andreas, who obviously referenced what photos of Lovecraft were available. Translation of the French above:

Robert’s is not a happy family. There are frequent conflicts between him and his father, who suffers from depression (he is paranoid and continually fears the coming of improbable enemies.) Bernice, the wife of the colonel, spoiled the only son and quarreled with his father.

In spring 1934, Robert makes a profit of the absence of his father to invite Lovecraft to De Land. In April this year, HPL makes this journey. Lovecraft, in contact with the hot climate of Florida, is in an unusual state. He presents himself to Barlow with hatless and coatless.

His first stay in the house of his admirer is as a dream thanks to Bobby, he will see for the first and last time in his life a river full of alligators, at Silver Springs!

By comparison, this is how de Camp described this encounter:

The family home was at De Land, Florida, seventeen miles inland from Daytona Beach. Barlow’s father, Everett D. Barlow, was a retired U. S. Army lieutenant colonel and something of a mental case. Subject to moods of intense depression, he suffered from delusions of having to defend his home against the attacks of a mysterious Them. He was cracked on religion and on sex.

Robert Barlow got on badly with his father. At this time, he told his friends that he hated the colonel; although later, after his parents had been divorced, he carried on a friendly correspondence with him. Robert Barlow’s mother, Bernice Barlow, spoiled and pampered her son (somewhat as Lovecraft’s mother had done with him) and quarreled with her husband over the boy’s upbringing.

In the spring of 1934, Barlow and his mother were at De Land while the father, in the North, recuperated with relatives from one of his attacks. In January, Robert Barlow began urging Lovecraft to come for a visit to Florida. By April, Lovecraft had planned the trip. […] At the Barlows’, the heat stimulated Lovecraft. In high spirits he went hatless and coatless and boasted of the tan he was working up. His one disappointment was in not being able to go on to Havana. He was consoled by a trip with the Barlows to Silver Springs. There he had his first view of a jungle-shaded tropical river and even glimpsed wild alligators.
—L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography 393-394

There are some errors in de Camp’s portrayal, which were repeated by Rivière. Lt. Col. Everett D. Barlow had seen action during World War I, and may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder; Lovecraft was aware of the elder Barlow’s mental illness and was notably more sympathetic than de Camp:

I surely am sorry that your father remains under the weather psychologically. These depressed states may be troublesome to others, & may seem exasperating when coupled with good physical health, yet they are really every inch as painful & unavoidable as any other form of illness. The victim can’t help himself any more than a victim of indigestion or cardiac trouble can. The more we know of psychology, the less distinction we are able to make betwixt the functional disorders known as “mental” and “physical.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 10 April 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 125

suiver-6

The narrative is, like most biographies, not some action-and-romance-packed account. Artist and writer manage to convey a sense time passing with the arrangement of the panels, particularly an extended shot of a kitten falling through perfect blackness that stretches out over several pages. While Lovecraft is the principal focus of the story because of the narrative, he dies in 1937…and Barlow’s story goes on, to his university education in Kansas, California, and then Mexico.

suiver-8

suiver-9

He unfortunately suffers the cruel intolerance due to his particular sexuality, at present known to all. It is the subject of an odious blackmail as a result of links with a Mexican youth. On 2 January 1951, it takes a large amount of sedatives and falls asleep forever. He is 33 years of age.

There are large parts of Barlow’s life that are not included in this brief but poignant bio-comic, because de Camp was more focused on those parts of Barlow’s life that concerned Lovecraft. We don’t read much about his career as a poet or writer of fiction; the issue of his sexuality and how de Camp came to publicize it was touched on in “The Night Ocean” (1936) by R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft, and here we see an example of how information spreads.

Notably absent from “R. H. B.” is an accurate depiction of R. H. Barlow himself. De Camp didn’t include any photographs in his biography for Andreas to base his depictions on, and few photos of Barlow at that point had been published.

1935-E

c. 1935

Left to right: H. P. Lovecraft, R. H. Barlow, Bernice Barlow, unknown cat, Wayne Barlow

“R. H. B.” stands as an artistic achievement, and one of (if not the first) graphic adaptations of Lovecraft’s life to feature R. H. Barlow, who did so much to preserve his legacy. Others appear in Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow’s graphic novel Providence (2015-2017); Henrik Möller & Lars Krantz’s Vägan Till NecronomiconCreation of the Necronomicon (2017); Sam Gafford & Jason Eckhardt’s Some Notes on a Nonentity (2017); and especially in Alex Nikolavitch, Gervasio, Carlos Aón, & Lara Lee’s H. P. Lovecraft: He Who Wrote in the Darkness: A Graphic Novel (2018), which showcases Lovecraft’s first encounter with Barlow in 1934…and all of these showcase how Barlow’s story has assumed its own mythical proportion, entwined with Lovecraft’s own.

While it was not uncommon for works in À Suivre to be reprinted, other than the publication in À Suivre, the only other publication of “R. H. B.”  that I have been able to confirm is in The Cosmical Horror of H. P. Lovecraft: A Pictorial Anthology (1991), a tri-lingual guide to Lovecraft comics published up to that point, which reproduces six of the eight pages of “R. H. B.” and Révélations posthumes (1980), a collection of Rivière and Andreas’ biographical comics from À Suivre.


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Anne Tillery Renshaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RenshawLetter

Read the whole letter at the John Hay Library

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

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

RenshawLetter2

Read the whole letter at the John Hay Library.

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

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

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


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

“The Night Ocean” (1936) by R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft

 For I have always been a seeker, a dreamer, and a ponderer on seeking and dreaming; and who can say that such a nature does not open latent eyes sensitive to unsuspected worlds and orders of being?
—R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft, “The Night Ocean” (1936)

From 28 July to 1 September 1936, R. H. Barlow visited H. P. Lovecraft for what would be the final time. Barlow had just turned 18 the previous May, and his parent’s marriage was on the point of deterioration; the young man was destined to stay with relatives in Kansas City, and a brief term at the Kansas City Art Institute. But for over a month he roomed at the boarding house near Lovecraft’s home on 66 College Street, and it was presumably at this time that Lovecraft made some revisions to Barlow’s story “The Night Ocean.”

A few paragraphs of this story had first been published as “A Fragment” in The Californian Winter 1935 issue. The Californian was the amateur journal of Hyman Bradofsky, one to which Lovecraft and a few of his friends such as Natalie H. Wooley also contributed, and Lovecraft was luring Barlow into amateur journalism, at least for a brief spell. Lovecraft mentions “The Night Ocean” among items he hadn’t seen before Barlow’s visit (O Fortunate Floridian! 353), so it seems clear that this was a story Barlow had been working on for quite some time. There is some evidence in Lovecraft’s letters that Barlow was at loose ends during this period, trying many different things—art, writing, printing, poetry—to see where his talents were best suited, and this included writing a passel of fiction, some of it carefully, some of it hastily.

Lovecraft apparently showed some of these fictional efforts to August Derleth during or shortly after Barlow’s stay, including an intriguing piece titled “I Hate Queers” which does not appear to have survived. After passing along Derleth’s criticism, Lovecraft wrote:

Barlow appreciates your criticism immensely, & will doubtless be guided by them in future attempts. He is now, of course, in a purely experimental stage—scarcely knowing what he wants to write, or whether he wants to write at all…as distinguished from painting, printing, bookbinding, &c. My own opinion is that writing best suits him–but I think he does better in fantasy than in realism. A recent atmospheric sketch of his—”The Night Ocean”—is quite Blackwoodian in its power of dark suggestion.—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 23 Sep 1936, Essential Solitude 2.748

Lovecraft’s suggested revisions for “The Night Ocean” were somewhat uncharacteristically light. While we often think of Lovecraft essentially re-writing stories, in this case his changes only amount to less than 10% of the work. A typed manuscript with Lovecraft’s handwritten revisions survives, and is reproduced in facsimile in Lovecraft Annual #8. Barlow then prepared a fresh typescript incorporating most (but not all) of Lovecraft’s suggested revisions, which was submitted and accepted by Bradofsky, who published it in Winter 1936 issue of The Californian. In his letters, Lovecraft praised Barlow and the story:

Glad to know that you’ve been in touch with Kansas City’s brilliant new citizen, & hope you’ll be able to meet the little imp in person before long. He is certainly one of the brightest & most promising kids I have ever seen—gifted alike in literature, art, & various forms of craftsmanship—& despite his present scattering of energies in different fields I think he will go far in the end. His studies at the Art Institute will undoubtedly be very good for him, & help him to establish a sort of aesthetic orientation. Hope he’ll meet your uncle amidst the academic maze—though the size of the institution doubtless minimises the chances of accidental contact. Barlow has been growing fast in a literary as well as artistic way—as you doubtless deduced from his “Dim-Remembered Story” in The Californian. A still later tale of his—”The Night Ocean”, also scheduled for The Californianshows an even greater advance, being really one of the finest atmospheric studies ever written by a member of the group.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Natalie H. Wooley, 21 Nov 1936, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 213

As much as Lovecraft is sometimes held to include autobiographical elements in his stories, it’s hard not to see something of young Barlow in the the nameless narrator; a sensitive artist who holds himself apart from the crude masses of normal people. Whose sensitive soul opens him to vague fears when they finally achieve the isolation they had thought they wanted:

That the place was isolated I have said, and this at first pleased me; but in that brief evening hour when the sun left a gore-splattered decline and darkness lumbered on like an expanding shapeless blot, there was an alien presence about the place: a spirit, a mood, an impression that came from the surging wind, the gigantic sky, and that sea which drooled blackening waves upon a beach grown abruptly strange. At these times I felt an uneasiness which had no very definite cause, although my solitary nature had made me long accustomed to the ancient silence and the ancient voice of nature. These misgivings, to which I could have put no sure name, did not affect me long, yet I think now that all the while a gradual consciousness of the ocean’s immense loneliness crept upon me, a loneliness that was made subtly horrible by intimations—which were never more than such—of some animation or sentience preventing me from being wholly alone.
—R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft, “The Night Ocean”

Massimo Barruti, who has examined “The Night Ocean” in the greatest depth in his book Dim-Remembered Stories: A Critical Study of R. H. Barlow notes that the story is a “textbook example of the extreme sensitiveness and poetic attitude of Barlow’s personality” (102)—the mental degeneration brought by isolation and a too-active imagination causes the protagonist to question reality, even as he populates his nighttime seashore with nameless terrors. Imagine an Innsmouth without any Deep Ones, yet none the less haunting for their absence, to one of sufficient temperament to imagine croaking voices by night, or hear something sinister in the splash of water.

“The Night Ocean” is Barlow at his most Lovecraftian. He never tries to pastiche Lovecraft exactly, or to tie his artist’s strange fears, longing, and imagined horrors into anything from Lovecraft’s nascent Mythos, although readers can certainly draw such connections themselves. Instead, Barlow reproduces the atmosphere and themes of Lovecraft, tries to capture and express the cosmicism—perhaps in homage to his mentor, perhaps as a reflection to how much of an influence Lovecraft had on him. Brian Humphreys explored this in detail in “‘The Night Ocean’ and the Subtleties of Cosmicism” in Lovecraft Studies #30. One thing that Humphreys notes is: “He has left society to be alone, yet feels lonely in his solitude” (18).

Which could well be said of Barlow himself.

While he has achieved a posthumous notoriety as one of Lovecraft’s homosexual friends and correspondents, Barlow does not seem to have expressed his sexuality in his published fiction in any overt manner, or even by obvious metaphor or allegory. There might have been something in “I Hate Queers” that addressed his experience as a closeted homosexual growing up in a very homophobic society, but that piece no longer appears to be extant…and it is worth a little digression to ask what we know about Barlow’s sexuality and how we know it.

Like several of Lovecraft’s young proteges, Barlow became an active homosexual. His homosexuality, however, may not have developed until after Lovecraft’s death; at least, Lovecraft apparently never knew of his young friend’s deviation.
—L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975), 190

As far as I have been able to determine, de Camp was the first writer to publicly “out” Barlow as homosexual. Lovecraft never mentions this in his letters, nor does E. Hoffmann Price in his memoirs The Book of the Dead mentions Barlow in California, but gives no hint of homosexuality, and none of the memorial pieces after Barlow’s passing mention it. Given the atmosphere of prejudice regarding homosexuality at the time, if any of those who knew Barlow did know about his sexuality, they might have deliberately avoided mention to preserve his memory and reputation. That being said, rumors of Barlow’s sexuality had apparently been circulating for some time within some circles:

Barlow is for sure a homo; from what I have heard, so was the late minister-weird taler Henry S. Whitehead. Any anybody with a mandarin moustache is vulnerable to the kind of flattery, larding I can do very well.
—August Derleth to Donald Wandrei, 21 March [1937]

Derleth had not met either Whitehead or Barlow in person; it is possible that his intuition on Barlow’s sexuality was based entirely on the “I Hate Queers” manuscript and his own experiences. While this is speculative, it could be that the story dealt with a homosexual man who assumed a homophobic persona to better conceal his own sexuality. While this might seem like a stretch, in Barlow’s 1944 autobiographical essay he recalls something of this mindset:

Once I saw a man bring a sailor up to his room and thought of protesting to the management. A blond clerk and a Basque elevator boy—man, rather—caught my eye, and I took them out once or twice to drink at my expense.
—R. H. Barlow, “Autobiography” in O Fortunate Floridian! 411

This autobiographical essay is the most singularly definitive proof we have of Barlow’s sexuality; he very clearly describes his interests, even if he does not record any detailed encounters. When describing his stay with Claire and Groo Beck in California, he wrote:

I could not decide which of the Beck boys to fall in love with and vacillated continually. Claire had a mania for bathing, and I saw him once or twice quite naked. He had a nice prick, uncircumcised. At other times he found excuses to go downstairs from the bath to the living room, dressed only in skin-tight drawers, which also showed him off to advantage. (ibid. 410)

It’s not clear if de Camp read this essay among Barlow’s papers, or whether he picked up the rumors about Barlow’s sexuality. There are many inaccuracies in de Camp’s rendering of Lovecraft and other figures, so it is not beyond the pale to think that de Camp presented rumors as fact. His last word on Barlow in the book is a good example of what he could write without citing any sources:

All this time, however, Barlow energetically pursued his career as a homosexual lover. This was long before Gay Liberation, and Mexico has been if anything less tolerant of sexual deviation than the United States. On January 2, 1951, Barlow killed himself with an overdose of sedatives, because he was being blackmailed for his relations with Mexican youths.
—L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975), 431-432

This interpretation of Barlow’s death has since become generally accepted, mainly because no one else has come up with a better reason for Barlow’s suicide at about the height of his career. William S. Burroughs who was present in Mexico at the time and commented on Barlow’s suicide does mention that Barlow was “queer”, but does not mention blackmail. Barlow himself asserts in his autobiography that by 1944 he had “a good part of the material things I have desired—money, sex, a small reputation for ability […]” (O Fortunate Floridian! 407) so de Camp’s assertion is not impossible—merely unconfirmed, and perhaps unconfirmable.

Questions of how “out” Barlow was remain essentially unanswered. He did not, for the most part, grow up in any urban area which might have had an active homosexual subculture to be out in; and what can be reconstructed of his adult life shows him very candid about his sexuality but also not, apparently, flaunting it. The earliest possible hint of his burgeoning sexuality might have been an entry in his 1933 diary for May 23:

Back at George’s again, when he & Si arrived, Si went calmly about cleaning up, in a semi-nude condition. It is perhaps indiscreet to record such observations on paper, for my meaning might be misconstrued, but he looked lovely and young and strong and clean…He is a fine boy; the nicest, I believe, I have ever known. Too, he treats me decently, something no other has ever done.

It isn’t clear who “Si” is, although apparently George and Si are neighbors of the 15 year-old Barlow in or around Deland, Florida. If this is an indication of Barlow’s early awareness of his sexuality, it predated his first meeting with Lovecraft in 1934.

Which brings us back, after a long digression, to Barlow and “The Night Ocean.” Because however much of himself Barlow may have poured into the story, the mood he captured regards that which is not simply mysterious, but unknowable. There are secrets which we cannot fathom, no matter how hard we try…and the narrator accepts this as something essential to the very nature of the sea itself:

The night ocean withheld whatever it had nurtured. I shall know nothing more.
—R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft, “The Night Ocean”

There is much about R. H. Barlow’s life that we will never know; no matter what bits and pieces wash upon the beach for us to find, there are some things we cannot know. Why did he take his own life? Who did de Camp get his information from? Did Lovecraft ever pick up on his young friend’s sexuality? Shapes in the waves as the sun sets, shadows on the water that suggest more than they define. “The Night Ocean” is not a metaphor for Barlow’s life; he could not know when he wrote it in 1935-1936 what the skein of his career would be, in terms of who he would become Barlow had hardly been born yet. Yet it is a very Lovecraftian story…and R. H. Barlow lived, and ultimately died, a very Lovecraftian death.

“The Night Ocean” by R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft may be read for free online here.


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

“The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate, and provoke study, and when you follow the lame, uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide—plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard-of contradictions.
—Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892)

Old Keziah, he reflected, might have had excellent reasons for living in a room with peculiar angles; for was it not through certain angles that she claimed to have gone outside the boundaries of the world of space we know?
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dreams in the Witch-House” (1933)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was a feminist, humanist, social reformer, lecturer and writer. She was born in Connecticut, and spent much of her early life in Providence, Rhode Island, H. P. Lovecraft’s home town. Like Lovecraft she had limited formal education, but was a prodigious autodidact. As with many of the more famous writers of his day, Lovecraft’s brush with Gilman was one-sided: his letters attest to an awareness of her work and as an individual, but her letters and diaries do not mention Lovecraft. His work, limited mostly to the pulps and the amateur press, either did not rise to her notice or did not merit comment.

At one point, however, there might have been a stronger connection:

“The Yellow Wall Paper” is the sole fictional effort of the feminist & social worker Charlotte Perkins Gilman—whom, by the way, my mother knew in youth. It is a most insidiously potent tale of the aura of madness, & was included by William Dean Howells in his anthology of American Short Story masterpieces.
H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 11 Jan 1927, Letters w/Donald & Howard Wandrei &c. 31

My mother knew her well-since as plain Charlotte Perkins she used to be governess in the home of some friends of ours. Later her first husband was the Providence artist Stetson. She always had an affected, eccentric streak of self-conscious intellectuality.
H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 20 Sep 1935, Essential Solitude 2.708

In 1883, Charlotte Anna Perkins was living in Providence, Rhode Island. She had been working as a teacher or tutor, and recounts:

I gave drawing lessons to a boy and a girl, the girl died, and the lonely little brother begged to have me come and stay with him. So I tried governessing, for ten weeks, and learned more about the servant question in that time than most of us ever find out.
—Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography 69

According to her letters, the clients were Dr. and Mrs. Jackson of Providence; the boy was Eddie. The 1880 census lists a Walter Marsh Jackson, physician; wife, Amelia (Amy) Jackson, daughter Isabel Jackson (died 1883, age 13), and son Edward P. Jackson. The Jacksons are buried in Swan Point Cemetery, where H. P. Lovecraft and the Phillips family are also buried.

Charlotte Perkins’ ten weeks as governess of Eddie began on 16 July 1883, and part of it was spent in Maine. Sarah Susan Phillips (1857-1921) in 1881 was living at the family home, 194 Angell St. The Jacksons are the most likely candidates for a mutual acquaintance with the future Mrs. Lovecraft, but Gilman’s letters of the period do not reference a Mrs. Phillips or her sisters—so the connection is tenuous. It is interesting to note that there are two surviving letters sent by Gilman from 207 Angell St., which is less 100 yards from the Phillips’ home, so it is not impossible that the then Charlotte Perkins and Susie Lovecraft might have met on the street, or had other acquaintances in common at the time.

Their lives diverged. In May 1884, Charlotte Perkins married her first husband, the Providence artist Charles Stetson. Their daughter Katharine Stetson was born eleven months later in 1885. Her periodic depressions deepened after the birth, and in April 1887 she broke down. Women’s medicine at the time was dominated by sexist attitudes; she submitted for a period to the “rest cure” of neurologist S. Weir Mitchell, but…well, as she puts it so elegantly:

For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia-and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to “live a domestic a life as far as possible,” to “have but two hours’ intellectual life a day,” and “never to touch pen, brush or pencil again as long a I lived.” This was in 1897.

I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the border line of utter mental ruin that I could see over.

I then, using the remnant of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work againwork, the normal life of every human being; work , in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite; ultimately recovering some measure of power.

Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, with its embellishments and additions to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.
—Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper” (1913)

“The Yellow Wallpaper” was actually written in 1890, and finally published in 1892 in The New England Magazine, and there is a degree of myth-making in some of Gilman’s later claims about the story, as explored by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz in Wild Unrest: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Making of “The Yellow-Wallpaper” (2010), but that is a bit beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that by the time Lovecraft first mentions the story in his letters in 1926, “The Yellow Wallpaper” had already been established as a story of note.

Your plan for a weird bibliography is splendid, & I hope to see it carried into effect. Such a thing ought to include not only books but isolated tales in magazines as well; since some veritable masterpieces have never got beyond that form. Single tales in anthologies, also, (like Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Yellow Wall Paper” in Howells’ collection) merit citation.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 24 Dec 1926, Letters w/Donald & Howard Wandrei &c. 26

It’s not clear when Lovecraft first read the story, but starting in 1925 he began an intensive course of reading weird fiction to write his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927), so it is possible he read it during that period. The anthology he mentions is The Great Modern American Stories: An Anthology (1920), edited by William Dean Howells. In his introduction, Howells writes of Gilman’s story:

It wanted at least two generations to freeze our young blood with Mrs. Perkins Gilman’s story of The Yellow Wall Paper, which Horace Scudder (then of The Atlantic) said in refusing it that it was so terribly good that it ought never to be printed. But terrible and too wholly dire it was, I could not rest until I had corrupted the editor of The New England Magazine into publishing it. Now that I have got it into my collection here, I shiver over it as much as I did when I first read it in manuscript, though I agree with the editor of The Atlantic of the time that it was too terribly good to be printed. (vii)

Lovecraft’s response is withering:

Am surprised that Howells was concerned in a venture like this, since ordinarily he was old-womanishly opposed to the really gruesome & terrible. He made an absurd apology for including Mrs. Gilman’s “Yellow Wall Paper” in an anthology he edited.
H. L. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 27 Sep 1927, Essential Solitude 1.37

In “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” Lovecraft is generally positive about “The Yellow Wallpaper”:

With this foundation, no one need wonder at the existence of a literature of cosmic fear. It has always existed, and always will exist; and no better evidence of its tenacious vigour can be cited than the impulse which now and then drives writers of totally opposite leanings to try their hands at it in isolated tales, as if to discharge from their minds certain phantasmal shapes which would otherwise haunt them. Thus Dickens wrote several eerie narratives; Browning, the hideous poem “Childe Roland”; Henry James, The Turn of the Screw; Dr. Holmes, the subtle novel Elsie Venner; F. Marion Crawford, “The Upper Berth” and a number of other examples; Mrs. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, social worker, “The Yellow Wall Paper”; whilst the humourist W. W. Jacobs produced that able melodramatic bit called “The Monkey’s Paw”. […]

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in “The Yellow Wall Paper”, rises to a classic level in subtly delineating the madness which crawls over a woman dwelling in the hideously papered room where a madwoman was once confined.

Lovecraft’s interpretation is fair, but curious. Many readings, especially today, focus more on the “rest cure” aspect, and the suggestion of postpartum depression. The women’s horrors, as it were. Lovecraft’s reading focuses on the subtle suggestions that Gilman never makes explicit: why has this colonial manse gone untenanted so long? Who is the woman she sees in the wallpaper?—and comes to his own conclusion. He stops short of suggesting a haunting, and it seems he was aware that the focus was on the slowly devolving mindset of the protagonist, the creeping psychological horror—and writing to August Derleth a few years later, when Derleth was working on his thesis “The Weird Tale in English Since 1890”:

“The Yellow Wall Paper” is a great tale, but to me it lacks just that final touch of “outsideness” necessary to make the top grade […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 7 Jun 1930, Essential Solitude 2.265

My stand on cosmic outsideness, however, is likely to remain unchanged; for I feel that this element is eminently necessary to produce a macabre thrill of the very first water. “The Yellow Wall Paper” & “Shadows on the Wall” are excellent of their kind, but the sensation they produce is a tame & secondary one as compared with that produced by “The Willows”, “The White People”, “The House of Sounds”, or even (in my estimation, at least) “The Yellow Sign.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 20 Jun 1930, Essential Solitude 2.268

Derleth differed:

The weird tale can, I believe, be divided into two rough classes—those hinting of cosmic evil and horror—and those only vaguely suggesting something beyond, something beyond the surface, the appearance, and range all the way from vague fright to utmost horror. You prefer the former group, to which we would according to this grouping, parcel such tales as The Yellow Sign, your Cthulhu et al[.] tales, the White People, etc.; I prefer the latter group, in which fall Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman’s tales, your own Rats in the Walls, Strange High House, my Panelled Room, etc., The Monkey’s Paw, The Yellow Wall Paper. And so on. The vast majority of the first-raters belong in this latter class.
—August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 2 Nov 1931, Essential Solitude 2.402

However, Derleth did take Lovecraft’s reading to heart:

The Yellow Wall Paper is the story of a woman who goes mad from the effect of hideously yellow wall paper in the room where she is convalescing, and where a mad-woman was once confined. The narrator, who is being urged to fight off the delusion that there is a woman trying to escape from behind the wall paper, enters gradually and subtly into the character of the imagined person; in reality this character, composed of forces left behind by the late madwoman, enters into her. Her husband does not realize the effect of the wall paper, nor does he regard the recent presence of the madwoman as significant. The story rises to a climax with startling subtlety, and the delineation of the approaching madness is classic. […]

There is something shudderingly horrible in the thought of this woman chronicling day by day her approaching madness, and remaining stolidly unaware of it all the time. Horror lies between the lines here, and the reader must read it in to get the full force of the story. […]

There is a suggestion of the “outside” [in The Yellow Sign by Robert W. Chambers”], which neither The Yellow Wall Paper nor The Upper Berth [by F. Marion Crawford] carried […]
—August Derleth, “The Weird Tale in English Since 1890” in The Ghost (1945) 8-9

Neither Lovecraft nor Derleth denied the importance or the efficacy of “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a weird tale; Derleth himself borrowed heavily from Gilman when he wrote “The Panelled Room” (written 1930, published 1933). Both counted it an important tale worth mentioning in their respective overviews of weird fiction—and in this they were perhaps a little ahead of the game; while some classify “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a Gothic story, Edith Birkhead in The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance (1921) does not list it; neither does Dorothy Scarborough in The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction (1917). Both those women focused on supernatural horror, and as Lovecraft pointed out—”The Yellow Wallpaper” isn’t quite that. The horror is more vague, indeterminate, and we never quite know how much is real and how much is in the narrator’s mind.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is weird. So what influence did it have on Lovecraft?

In terms of direct influence, it’s hard to say. There are definitely elements of “The Yellow Wallpaper” that jive with Lovecraft’s pet themes: the question of sanity, the descent into madness, the particular focus on angles—“The Dreams in the Witch-House” might owe at least a little debt to “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Lovecraft himself, however, never offers any insights in this line. Savvy readers might point out that Gilman’s hotel in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” or Walter Gilman in “The Dreams in the Witch-House” which could be glancing references, but aside from the obvious pun in the case of Innsmouth, “Gilman” is also an old established New England name—Lovecraft might have been inspired by her, or not. He is silent on the matter.

Gilman’s novel Herland was not published until long after both their deaths, so from Lovecraft’s perspective, she had only a single weird tale to her credit:

In the case of general authors who have produced a little weird material, one has to use one’s own judgment. I would, in such cases, ask (a) how typical of this author is his weird stuff, & (b) all apart from this, how important is this weird material? […] I’d admit Mrs. Gilman for her one weird tale—”The Yellow Wall Paper”—because of its great importance, though it is wholly non-typical of her.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Emil Petaja, 29 Dec 1934, Letters w/Donald & Howard Wandrei &c. 396

There is little left to say. Lovecraft’s final word on Gilman concerns notice of her death. Suffering from breast cancer, she chose to take her own life with chloroform.

Too bad Mrs. Gilman bumped herself off—I was told of it in N Y, though I haven’t reached Aug. 17 as yet in my reading-up of back newspapers. […] Well—may she rest in peace!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 20 Sep 1935, Essential Solitude 2.708

There are few enough women mentioned in Supernatural Horror in Literature; whether this reflected Lovecraft’s particular reading or any unspoken sexism on his part is unclear. Yet he went out of his way more than once in both that public essay and in his private letters to champion Charlotte Perkins Gilman for her weird tale “The Yellow Wallpaper”…and who can say that Gilman’s depiction of creeping madness did not strike a chord in Lovecraft, if the memory of the story stayed with him all those years?

“The Yellow Wallpaper” can be read for free online here.

Thanks to Donovan Loucks and Dave Goudsward for their help.


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

Her Letters to Lovecraft: Josephine Evalyn Crane Blossom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It really looks that way.

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

Dream World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Hazel Heald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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