Relatione del Reame di Congo (1591) by Filippo Pigafetta

The first object of my curiosity was a book of medium size lying upon the table and presenting such an antediluvian aspect that I marvelled at beholding it outside a museum or library. It was bound in leather with metal fittings, and was in an excellent state of preservation; being altogether an unusual sort of volume to encounter in an abode so lowly. When I opened it to the title page my wonder grew even greater, for it proved to be nothing less rare than Pigafetta’s account of the Congo region, written in Latin from the notes of the sailor Lopez and printed at Frankfort in 1598.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Picture in the House”

The Portuguese had begun their colonial empire in Africa in the 15th century, and the explorer Diogo Cão had made contact with the BaKongo people and explored the Congo River in 1482. After the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 restricted Portuguese colonial interests in the Americas, they focused more strongly on trade with and colonial possessions in Africa, as well as sending missionaries to spread Christianity. In the Congo River region, the Portuguese missions became embroiled in local politics, especially the independence movement of the Kingdom of Ndongo, which was a tributary state to the Kingdom of Kongo.

In 1571, the Portuguese led a third mission to the Congo region with the intent of conquering territory for a permanent colony. The Kingdom of the Kongo at this time was faced with not only the independent Kingdom of Ndongo, but raids from other peoples on the border referred to ambiguously as Jagas. The Portuguese established a permanent presence in what they now called Angola, establishing São Paulo de Loanda in 1575, and the Portuguese military force established alliances with both Ndongo and Kongo to assist them against the Jaga as the Portuguese established further forts, trading posts, and settlements with an emphasis on the slave trade for plantations in the Americas.

In 1578, a Portuguese tradesman named Duarte Lopez traveled to the new colony. He stayed there through 1584, which would have including the beginning of the First Portuguese-Ndongo War in 1579. Lopez became involved with local politics, and was made ambassador by the Kongo king Alvaro II, and returned to Europe with letters to Phillip II of Spain (at the time joined with Portugal) and Pope Alexander II. According to Filippo Pigafetta, it was in Rome that he met Duarte Lopez. Filippo Pigafetta’s uncle was Antonio Pigafetta, who had written Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo (Report of the First Voyage Around the World). The Mgr. Antonio Migliore, the Bishop of St. Mark, charged Filippo Pigafetta with writing a similar report of the Congo, with Lopez supplying the necessary data. At this point, Lopez apparently returned to Angola, and no more is known of him.

Pigafetta translated Lopez’ account from Portuguese into Italian, expanded it to cover more of Africa, and in 1591 published it in Rome as Relatione del Reame di Congo et delle circonvicine contrade tratta dalli scritti & ragionamenti di Odoardo Lopez Portoghese. The book proved popular and was translated into many more languages. The German edition of 1597 included plates by the famous engravers Johann Theodor De Bry and his brother Johann Israel De Bry. Although the two never traveled beyond Europe, their engravings of the exploration of the Americas and Africa would become infamous—not the least because of their elaborate illustrations cannibalism and other practices which the European explorers claimed the indigenous peoples practiced.

The De Bry plates, from the German edition, was also reproduced in the 1598 Latin translation, which went under the title Regnum Congo: hoc est Vera descriptio regni Africani Quod Tam ab Incolis Quam Lusitanis Congus Appellatur… which is the supposed volume that Lovecraft placed in the ancient Massachusetts house. That image, minus the blackletter, is the eponymous “Picture in the House” that Lovecraft’s ancient cannibal and his guest would have seen.

anziques1

The remaining three are not of the fantastic but of the realistically gruesome type—the last, which I finished day before yesterday, being rather unique. I am wondering what Loveman will think of it. The title is “The Picture in the House”, & it hinges on a very old engraving by the brothers DeBry—Plate XII of Pigafetta’s “Regnum Congo”, printed in Frankfort in 1598.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 14 Dec 1920, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner 201

Except, Lovecraft almost certainly never saw an actual copy of the Regnum Congo. His account in “The Picture in the House” contains several errors because he was not taking it directly from Pigafetta’s book in any translation. Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi in “Lovecraft and the Regnum Congo” (1984) traces the probable source of the weird taler’s data on the book to Thomas Henry Huxley’s Man’s Place in Nature and Other Anthropological Essays (1894). Huxley was “Darwin’s bulldog,” a strong proponent of evolution in the late 19th century—however, he was also a racialist whose essays provided some of the framework and language for Lovecraft’s statements on race in the 1920s and ’30s.

Huxley’s book does not contain a full reproduction of the de Bry plate XII, instead it includes a partial facsimile. So what Lovecraft would have seen, and what would have inspired “The Picture in the House” is this:

mansplaceinnatur00huxl_0096

The Regnum Congo exists in rare territory similar to The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray: an authentic book which has become a part of the Mythos (“The Picture in the House” is the first story to mention Arkham). However, it’s also a case where the actual truth behind the eponymous picture has been almost lost behind several layers of translation and distortion. So it is important to break down not just how Lovecraft utilizes the Regnum Congo in this story, but how he got to that point.

What annoyed me was merely the persistent way in which the volume tended to fall open of itself at Plate XII, which represented in gruesome detail a butcher’s shop of the cannibal Anziques. […] The book fell open, almost of its own accord and as if from frequent consultation at this place, to the repellent twelfth plate shewing a butcher’s shop amongst the Anzique cannibals. My sense of restlessness returned, though I did not exhibit it. The especially bizarre thing was that the artist had made his Africans look like white men—the limbs and quarters hanging about the walls of the shop were ghastly, while the butcher with his axe was hideously incongruous. […] Thet feller bein’ chopped up gives me a tickle every time I look at ’im—I hev ta keep lookin’ at ’im—see whar the butcher cut off his feet? Thar’s his head on thet bench, with one arm side of it, an’ t’other arm’s on the graound side o’ the meat block.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Picture in the House”

They have shambles [slaughterhouses] for human flesh, as we have of animals, even eating the enemies they have killed in battle, and selling their slaves if they can get a good price for them; if not, they give them to the butcher, who cuts them in pieces, and then sells them to be roasted or boiled.
—Filippo Pigafetta, trans. Margarite Hutchinson,
in A Report of the Kingdom of the Congo (1881), 29

The infamous cannibal butcher shop is supposed to have belonged to the “Anziques” (the Anziku Kingdom, north of Kongo and Loango). Accounts of cannibalism in European travelogues in Africa, the Americas, and Polynesia are more often hearsay and imputation than not, and Lopez never claims to have seen these supposed butcher shops or slaughterhouses himself. Other accounts of cannibalism in the Regnum Congo involve the Jaga, who were also enemies of the Kongo, and likewise Lopez isn’t an eyewitness, but is depending on local accounts. Readers today might compare such tales of cannibalism to rumors of Germans making soap from human corpses during WWI; an exaggerated polemic against an enemy.

Jared Staller in Converging on Cannibals: Terrors of Slaving in Atlantic Africa, 1509–1670 points this out, and also that Pigafetta knew what he was doing: lurid accounts of cannibalism would shock and entice European readers, confirming implicit biases of “primitiveness” and brutality and the need to Christianize the indigenous peoples. The descriptions were already cliched by the 16th century, with the cannibals described as gluttonous for human flesh, the opposite of civilization. This kind of polemic toward indigenous peoples would survive for centuries, finding a home in the pulps in stories like Robert E. Howard’s “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula” (published as “Shadows in Zamboula,” Weird Tales Nov 1935), and even in mid-century cartoons where indigenous peoples put white explorers in great cooking pots.

So the indigenous peoples in the Regnum Congo were probably not cannibals. So why were they depicted as white?

And them men—them can’t be niggers—they dew beat all. Kinder like Injuns, I guess, even ef they be in Afriky. […] The especially bizarre thing was that the artist had made his Africans look like white men—the limbs and quarters hanging about the walls of the shop were ghastly, while the butcher with his axe was hideously incongruous. But my host seemed to relish the view as much as I disliked it.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Picture in the House”

Elmer Kolfin in “Tradition and innovation in Dutch ethnographic prints of Africans c. 1590-1670” notes the technical difficulties as well as artistic traditions of engraving indigenous Africans. Early woodcuts did not allow much depiction of skin coloration beyond some shading; in a flat, black-and-white medium, the difficulty of providing detail of the body when so much of the skin is dark would have been prohibitive (compare early depictions of the Drow in Dungeons & Dragons products). Relatione del reame di Congo was the first travel book with engravings of Africans; this involved 8 prints by Roman engraver Natale di Bonifazio. The de Bry brothers in their illustration for the German (and reused for the Latin) edition followed Bonifazio’s preference of anatomy over color, trying to capture the curly hair and using hatching to imply a darker skin tone.

So it isn’t so much that the Africans were depicted as white, as that skin color was not easy to depict with early print technologies and the artists focused on detail rather than color. Lovecraft would have likely been oblivious to the technical side of things, and there’s no evidence that he was familiar with early print efforts at depicting non-European skin tones. Even that bit of detail was lost when W. H. Wesley created his facsimile of a detail of Plate XII for Huxley’s Man’s Place In Nature, which grossly simplified the de Bry’s hatching and features.

Huxley takes Pigafetta’s account at face value; that and Wesley’s partial copy of a fragment of the de Bry’s work is all that Lovecraft had to go on. The Rengum Congo in “The Picture in the House” is as accurate as Lovecraft could make it given his limited and flawed information—although as Joshi notes, Lovecraft uses a little literary license in making the text a bit larger than it was in real life, and gave it metal fittings which wouldn’t have been standard. The acuteness of Lovecraft’s attention to detail can be seen in a reference to:

[“]Some o’ these here critters looks like monkeys, or half monkeys an’ half men, but I never heerd o’ nothing like this un.” Here he pointed to a fabulous creature of the artist, which one might describe as a sort of dragon with the head of an alligator.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Picture in the House”

Leslie Klinger in his The New Annotated Lovecraft notes that “Some strange creatures are depicted in the De Bry illustrations, but none that matches this description”—which he is wrong about; this creature, one of the strange animals described in Pigafitta’s text and mentioned by Huxley on page 3, is actually depicted on Plate XI, and can be seen on the middle-right.

regnvmcongohoces00piga_3_0111

So—”The Picture in the House” deals with an at least somewhat sensationalized account of Africa, transmitted from Portuguese to Italian, Italian to German, the etchings from the de Bry brothers taken from the textual descriptions, translated into Latin—and select parts of it quoted, summarized, and partially reproduced in a turn-of-the-century work of racialist essays. Any number of hands added their prejudices and biases to make the book that finally ended up in Lovecraft’s hands and so fired his imagination that in late 1920, he would sit down and write “The Picture in the House.”

What you say of the dark Saxon-Scandinavian heritage as a possible source of the atavistic impulses brought out by emotional repression, isolation, climatic rigour, and the nearness of the vast unknown forest with its coppery savages, is of vast interest to me; insomuch as I have often both said and written exactly the same thing! Have you seen my old story “The Picture in the House”? If not, I must send you a copy. The introductory paragraph virtually sums up the idea you advance.
H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 4 Oct 1930, A Means to Freedom 1.67

It is maybe a little odd to talk about how Lovecraft’s prejudices are expressed in the story, given that the only characters that appear are two white men, and even they recognize the Regnum Congo as something almost quaint and inaccurate in its depiction of indigenous Africans. Yet it is probably important that neither the nameless narrator or his rustic host ever question the validity of the book’s contents. Both white men are willing to accept the reality of Africans as cannibals, and between themselves, the older and less educated man shows no compunction about using the “n-word” (which is rare in Lovecraft’s published fiction).

The horror that the Regnum Congo gives rise to in “The Picture in the House” isn’t so much the cannibalism, which the bigoted white men accept as a matter of course—it’s the idea of white people committing cannibalism on members of their own race. The act which Pigafetta depicted so luridly as a contrast to “white” European civilization in the 16th century is the very same act that the rustic Yankee is implied to have degenerated to. So “The Picture in the House” is very similar in that respect to stories like “The Beast in the Cave,” “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” “The Lurking Fear,” and “The Rats in the Walls”—the atavistic horror that white people, for all their supposed superiority, can fall back into the same habits and qualities that centuries of prejudice had attributed to black Africans.

What makes this somewhat ironic is that such prejudices proliferated thanks in no small part due to books like the Regnum Congo itself. While it may have been obscure by 1920 when Lovecraft wrote the story, the Regnum Congo in many ways helped spread the libel that Africans were inferior, savage, and cannibalistic. Such depictions would influence pulp fiction tales like “The Picture in the House” and “Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch, general fiction like Black Magic (1929) by Paul Morand with its cannibalistic African cult, and still influences depictions of Africa and Africans today.

In the wider sense of the Cthulhu Mythos, “The Picture in the House” is an outlier. It is the start of Lovecraft’s “Arkham Cycle,” but otherwise contains no overt connections to the Mythos and no supernatural elements beyond the suggestion of cannibalism leading to unnatural longevity. As a story, it has been effective enough to get a couple of graphic adaptations, and the de Bry print of Plate XII (or other de Bry cannibalism depictions) are relatively popular as illustrations. The Regnum Congo isn’t a “Mythos tome” in the sense of the Necronomicon, or even as The Witch-Cult in Western Europe is sometimes taken to be. The strongest effort to tie it in to Lovecraft’s greater body of work is in Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow’s Providence, where the idea of cannibalism as a potential method of immortality is presented as a viable option in the Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya (“The Book of Starry Wisdom”).

Many versions of the Regnum Congo are now in the public domain and can be read for free online. The 1598 Latin edition with the de Bry plates may be found here, and the 1881 edition of the English translation may be found here.


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

The Gentleman from Angell Street (2001) by Muriel E. Eddy & C. M. Eddy Jr.

I have, I may remark, been able to secure Mr. Baird’s acceptance of two tales by my adopted son Eddy, which he had before rejected. Upon my correcting them, he profest himself willing to print them in early issues; they being intitul’d respectively “Ashes”, and “The Ghost-Eater”. In exchange for my revisory service, Eddy types my own manuscripts in the approv’d double-spac’d form; this labour being particularly abhorrent to my sensibilities.

But I must give over these my remarks, for I must take a nap against the afternoon; when (tho’ ’tis devilish cold) I am pledg’d to visit my son Eddy in East-Providence, & help him with his newest fiction, a pleasing & morbid study in hysterical necrophily, intitul’d “The Lov’d Dead”.
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 20 Oct 1923, Letters to James F. Morton 57

The Gentleman from Angell Street: Memories of H. P. Lovecraft (2001) is a collection of the reminiscences of H. P. Lovecraft by the Eddy family, who lived in East Providence and first became acquainted with Lovecraft while he lived at 598 Angell St. in Providence, Rhode Island. All of the non-fiction pieces in this slim collection had been previously published, but all of them had been out-of-print for decades, so the slim collection was a bit of boon to researchers in not having to pay collectors’ prices to read them.

Muriel Elizabeth (Gammons) Eddy and Clifford Martin Eddy, Jr. were married in 1918; they were both writers, in various genres, and Muriel in particular would be president of the Rhode Island Writers’ Guild for over 20 years, while Eddy would have a pulp career that included three stories revised in part by their Providence neighbor H. P. Lovecraft, which were published in Weird Tales—and much else that Lovecraft never had a hand in besides. Students of Lovecraft’s letters will remember the way Lovecraft pleaded with another revision client, Zealia Brown Reed, to give Eddy the job of typing her manuscripts as the Great Depression set in and pushed the Eddys to the brink of poverty.

While Lovecraft was closest to C. M. Eddy, Jr., to the extant of calling him one of his “adopted” sons or grandchildren, it was Muriel E. Eddy that wrote the most about her family’s relationship with H. P. Lovecraft. Her first memoir, “Howard Phillips Lovecraft” was published in Rhode Island on Lovecraft (1945) alongside “Lovecraft and Benefit Street” (1943) by Dorothy C. Walter and other works. In 1961 she expanded that essay into “The Gentleman from Angell Street”, and wrote several other short pieces, some privately printed, including H. P. Lovecraft Esquire: Gentleman (no date), The Howard Phillips Lovecraft We Knew (n.d.), “Memories of H. P. L.” (1965), “Lovecraft’s Marriage and Divorce” (1968), Howard Philips Lovecraft: The Man and the Image (1969), and “Lovecraft: Among the Demons” (1970). In addition to this, she wrote a number of letters, some published and some surviving at the John Hay Library where she weighed in on the early biographical sketch of Lovecraft by Winfield Townley Scott and Sonia H. Davis’ memoir of her former husband.

The rest of the family was rather more limited. C. M. Eddy Jr. published “Walks with H. P. Lovecraft” in The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces (1966, Arkham House), and their daughter Ruth M. Eddy wrote “The Man Who Came At Midnight” (1949).

The activeness of Muriel E. Eddy in publishing and discussing her experiences with Lovecraft from the late 1930s until her death 1978 means that she had a rather substantial influence on Lovecraft scholarship during that period. To illustrate this, L. Sprague de Camp’s critical H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975) cites seven of Muriel E. Eddy’s publications, plus C. M. Eddy and Ruth M. Eddy’s contributions. In general, these memoirs can be said to be honest and valuable contributions to the understanding of Lovecraft’s life…but are they accurate?

The accuracy of memoirs is important; human memories are imperfect, and tend to fade and distort over time or under influence. Yet these accounts are often all we have to go on for many events and details of life. The more accurate a memoir is, that is the more of it that we can verify according to other documents of the period (Lovecraft’s letters, census data, city maps and directories, etc.), the more we can count the memoir as a reliable source of data for the information that cannot be so independently verified. With some of these memoirs, written decades after the events…and given that they are often the sole source for some of the anecdotes regarding Lovecraft, it is important to look at some of these sources critically.

C. M. Eddy’s “Walks With Lovecraft,” describing their gambols and hikes together in and out of the city, can be said to be reasonably accurate and reliable, insofar as the details of Lovecraft jive with what we know from his lettersthere is, for example, an extended account by Lovecraft of their search for “Dark Swamp,” which agrees fairly closely with C. M. Eddy’s version. There are one or two spots where Eddy may be mistaken, but overall it is a solid essay.

Muriel E. Eddy’s memoirs are a bit more complicated to deal with. The 1945 version “Howard Phillips Lovecraft,” written less than a decade after the subject’s death, is relatively straightforward and accuratethough with little slips here and there; she recalled the Dark Swamp adventure, but referred to it as Black Swamp. Still, it provides a good bit of detail on their association, including some unique insights on the revision-work that Lovecraft did for C. M. Eddy, Jr. and many notes on Lovecraft’s habits and character traits that jive exactly with his letters. The later, expanded version that is “The Gentleman from Angell Street” and appears in the eponymous booklet adds much interesting detailbut the accuracy of this new information, and thus the reliability of the whole account, is less.

For example, Muriel E. Eddy wrote:

Our acquaintance with the Lovecraft family stemmed through my husband’s mother having once met Sarah Lovecraft at a “Women Suffrage” meeting,… although I never learned whether or not Howard’s mother really believed believed in equal rights for women.
—Muriel E. Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 4

This is an intriguing detail, since we know so little (relatively speaking) about Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, and far from impossible. It might explain some of Lovecraft’s attitudes towards women and women’s rights as expressed in his life and letters. However, the memoir also includes a number of small speculations and anecdotes, and these tended to get more evident the further into the expanded essay the reader gets. Some of the anecdotes are likely true, but are strongly influenced by Muriel’s rosey-hued nostalgia; for example when she wrote:

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

The children played for hours with the cards, and they eventually went the way all children’s toys go…in the ash-heap! (ibid. 17)

If a reader traced Muriel’s accounts of Lovecraft over the years, some details shift in the telling. Notably, her account of the extant of Lovecraft’s revision of “The Loved Dead” changes over time, and is a bit at odds with her husband’s own account, given in the Summer 1948 issue of the Arkham Sampler; her insistence on C. M. Eddy Jr.’s sole authorship was likely a response to August Derleth and Arkham House’s publication of stories which Lovecraft had revised or ghostwritten with the emphasis on Lovecraft’s contribution. So too, her references to Lovecraft’s mother seem to shift to reflect views on Susan Lovecraft in line with other memoirs—and this kind of “alignment” of views can easily distort the historical picture, since it appears that several contemporary memoirs are supporting the same image, when in reality later sources may be partially based on earlier ones. A tricky knot to untangle when a memoir is “revised” as “The Gentleman from Angell Street” was.

The most substantial difference between the 1945 and 1961 essays however is the section dealing with Lovecraft’s revision client Hazel Heald.

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. (ibid, 22-23)

This is the start of Muriel E. Eddy’s account of “The Man of Stone” (1932) by Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft. For quite a long time, this was the only such account; Lovecraft wrote little about much of his revision work, and Heald’s own version of events is largely unpublished, although she makes an allusion to the Eddys in a letter:

About HPL and whether he was separated or divorced—I am certain he was divorced but have written to someone I know who will give me all the facts as her husband signed certain papers at that time.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 7 Apr 1937

C. M. Eddy Jr. is claimed to have signed the Lovecrafts’ divorce decree as a witness, though Lovecraft himself did not sign it. So while Heald does not give the exact circumstances of her and Lovecraft coming together, there is nothing to directly counter Muriel E. Eddy’s version of events. At the same time, there is every evidence that Muriel E. Eddy’s version of events was including some information from her friend Hazel Heald, at second- or third-hand.

A skeptical scholar might thus wonder how much of it that Muriel E. Eddy knew and neglected to tell in 1945, versus how much of it she heard about later and incorporated into her expanded memoir—and on top of that, how much Muriel E. Eddy’s rose-tinted spectacles were skewing her account. Particularly notable in “The Gentleman from Angell Street” is her suggestion that Heald held a romantic interest in Lovecraft, and:

With a little encouragement, I am convinced that H.P.L. and Hazel might have married, and they would have made a good pair. But Lovecraft knew his health was failing, and perhaps he did not feel like taking a chance on another marriage, seeing that his first one had failed so miserably.
—Muriel E. Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 26

This kind of speculation, and the obvious incorporation of second-or-third-hand information that fed into it, make “The Gentleman from Angell Street” less reliable of a source than it could have been. Which is unfortunate, given that we otherwise have little information on the Heald-Lovecraft stories besides the brief mentions in Lovecraft’s letters, and the sparing accounts given in Heald’s surviving correspondence with August Derleth.

An addendum to “The Gentleman from Angel Street” published in 1977 discusses the death of Sonia H. Davis and August Derleth; these memories are brief, vivid, and fairly accurate. She ends with the rather bittersweet yet hopeful note:

Thus the original Lovecraftian circle has been dwindling, and yet, a new one grows in ever widening arcs among the interest generated by fanzine magazines, biographies of HPL, and the eternal works and character of the man himself. (ibid. 29)

Ruth M. Eddy was born in 1921; she would have been only about two years old when Lovecraft met her parents and first visited their house in 1923, and five when Lovecraft returned to Providence after his stay in New York City. Her brief memoir of his visit was published in 1949, and it may be wondered how much of this she actually remembered at such a young age…but some things do stick in the memory, long after children grow up. So she wrote “The Man Who Came At Midnight:”

Gaslight flicked eerily through the crack in my bedroom door. It was Halloween, night of the supernatural, and long past midnight. I had drifted off to sleep with visions of hobgoblins and Jack-o’-lanterns drifting through my childish mind. Suddenly, as in a dream, I heard a sepulchral voice saying, “Slithering…sliding…squealing…the rats in the walls!”

Half-asleep, half-awake, I lay in the darkness for a moment, and then shouted for my mother as loudly as I could. She came into my room and spoke softly, “Everything’s all right, dear. It’s just Mr. Lovecraft telling us about the new story he’s writing. Don’t be afraid. Go back to sleep…[“]
—Ruth M. Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 59

Ruth’s accounts jive with her mother’s memoir of Lovecraft’s early visits; from Lovecraft’s letters, we know “The Rats in the Walls” was written at about the time he met the Eddys, so it would not be surprising if he read his story aloud to his new friends. Given that this was published after Muriel E. Eddy’s account, there’s also the strong possibility that Ruth was influenced by her mother’s memoir, or at least her parent’s version of events.

There is not much in “The Man Who Came At Midngith” for scholarly interest; no new tidbit of information to seize on—but most memoirs aren’t written for academia, as a record of key facts and vital statistics, or even to set the record straight. They are simply a record of impressions and anecdotes, to keep the memory of the individual from being forgotten as those who knew them in turn grow old and die. Sometimes entertaining, sometimes insightful or gutwrenching—when the person is gone, a life is made of such moments, recalled and set down by those they touched. Or if not a life, then the first step from a pallid ghost to becoming a living myth.

Not a Halloween has passed since Lovecraft’s death in 1937 without my family fathering for the reading aloud of a weird story by our favourite author—now internationally famous as a writer in the genre—although our eloquence cannot compare with his masterful interpretations. (ibid. 61)

The Gentleman from Angell Street: Memories of H. P. Lovecraft was published in 2001 by Fenham Publishing, founded by Jim Dyer, the grandson of C. M. Eddy Jr. and Muriel E. Eddy.


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

Derleth: Hawk…and Dove (1997) by Dorothy M. Grobe Litersky

He was known for his prolific writing production—at one time 10,000 words a day. He was also bisexual.

This book moves through Derleth’s many talents, from a five-year-old’s first reading experience to the man’s present statue as the only classic author to come out of the 20th century. It speaks eloquently of the hellish life endured by homosexuals in a society where their kind of living was confined to the boundaries of “closet” walls.
—Back cover copy of Derleth: Hawk…and Dove

Dorothy M. Grobe Litersky was a Wisconsinite, a charter member of the August Derleth Society, and one of the founders of the Rhinelander School of Arts where Derleth was engaged as a Writer in Residence. By her own account, this book—so far the only full biography of August Derleth’s life—was the result of 25-30 years of research, including interviews with family and friends and reference to Derleth’s private journals and correspondence, archived with his other papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Before going into the particulars of Derleth: Hawk…and Dove, it’s important to place Derleth’s life in its proper context. He was born in 1909 in Sauk City, Wisconsin; sold his first story, “Bat’s Belfry” to Weird Tales at age 16, and from that point on never looked back at the writing game. He was a regular at Weird Tales, but prolific beyond that pulp magazine and that genre; a friend and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, E. Hoffmann Price and others, when Lovecraft died in 1937 it was Derleth and his friend Donald Wandrei that conspired to publish Lovecraft’s fiction and letters in hardcover. When they could not convince an established publisher to do it, they founded their own small press. Arkham House would, for the next fifty years, be one of the most important publishers of weird fiction, fantastic poetry, and Lovecraft-related materials in the world.

Derleth had a literary life outside of Arkham House. He became an important regional writer with the Sac Prairie Saga, a series of novels and short stories about his native Wisconsin and especially his home tome of Sauk City and the adjacent Prairie du Sac. For mystery fiction he created the detective characters Judge Peck and Solar Pons, the latter a deliberate pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, who remains popular. Beyond that, he wrote nonfiction histories and biographies, children’s books (including a series for which the authors received the Apostolic Blessing of Pope John XXIII) and poetry, articles and reviews. Awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1938, Derleth used the money to bind his collection of newspaper comics; those archives are now an important source for comic strips that may otherwise have been lost to time.

Much of this would have been opaque to even dedicated fans and readers of Arkham House. Derleth was a capable self-promoter, as his volumes, August Derleth: Twenty Years of WritingAugust Derleth: Twenty-Five Years of Writing, and August Derleth: Thirty Years of Writing attest, but he rarely wrote publicly about his marriage, love life, children, or the full details of his business. He had a diverse fanbase, but their interests typically appear narrow: the weird fans had little interest in his Sac Prairie saga, the Solar Pons fans little interest in his poetry, etc. So while there was no little interest in Derleth as a writer, bookman, publisher, and individual, there were few works that could—or even tried—to encompass all of the man and his range of writing. Those few works were mostly published by the August Derleth Society, which continues to work today to keep his writing in print and his memory alive.

Derleth’s death in 1971 saw an opening up of both Lovecraft scholarship and wider dissemination of the Mythos. During his time at the helm of Arkham House, Derleth had strongly claimed proprietary interest on Lovecraft’s fiction and letters, assuming effective (if not legal) control from Lovecraft’s literary executor R. H. Barlow. Derleth limited the ability of others to publish Mythos and Lovecraft-related works beyond Arkham House’s control (see the C. Hall Thompson affair and the publication of The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) by Sonia H. Davis). Without him, and with the 12-year lawsuit between Arkham House co-founder Donald Wandrei and Derleth’s estate over the rights to the Lovecraft material, Mythos fiction began to proliferate. Derleth himself became criticized posthumously, both for his actions as editor and publisher, and for his Mythos fiction; Richard L. Tierney’s “The Derleth Mythos” (1973) was a watershed moment that emphasized the critical pushback against Derleth among Lovecraft studies.

Yet for all this, there was still relatively little on Derleth as an individual. The August Derleth Society Newsletter and volumes such as Remembering Derleth (1988), Return to Derleth (1993), and August Harvest (1994) are memoirs and essays by those who knew him, but approach hagiography at points. While valuable in their own right, there was for some decades after Derleth’s death no one willing or able to do the kind of initial work comparable to L. Sprague de Camp’s Lovecraft: A Biography (1975).

Not until Dorothy M. Grobe Litersky, who had been gathering material for the book since before Derleth’s death, finally wrote and published it.

Her book is, even from the most generous reading, far from perfect. Readers interested in a detailed account of his writing career, the development and publication schedule of Arkham House and its imprints, even his friendship with Lovecraft will be disappointed. There are no real revelations on these aspects of his life. It is not that Litersky ignores these things, but her interest is more focused on Derleth’s personal life.

As Derleth’s biographer, I have, to the best of my ability, tried to present as accurate a profile as possible. He wanted a portrayal of the whole man, free of the closet of lies he had been forced to hide in throughout his lifetime.
—Litersky, Derleth: Hawk…and Dove ix

While written without malice, Litersky’s “warts and all” approach to Derleth’s life includes a number of statements and assertions that are serious eye-openers to those who had only known Derleth through his fiction, essays on Lovecraft, and introductions to Arkham House books. Some of these are unequivocally true; many are simply impossible to verify without more information—and Litersky’s citations are minimal, often frustrating to work with, missing dates or page numbers, and typically take the form of “A. D. Journal” or “Robert Marx to A.D.” (ibid. 130); dates and page numbers are rare. Where they do exist, they are almost invariably accurate; there is every evidence that while she had access she was drawing directly from Derleth’s correspondence. However, the citations are still sparse and often lacking critical information, making it difficult to verify the contents.

One example of an event that we can confirm:

A group of about fifty young people converging upon the Place of Hawks on an evening in mid-October, 1948, included a precocious fourteen-year-old beauty who had made up her mind a year earlier that she was going to marry August Derleth.
—Litersky, Derleth: Hawk…and Dove 113

August Derleth’s marriage to Sandra Winters in 1953, which resulted in two children (April and Walden Derleth) and ended in divorce in 1959 is a matter of public record. They became engaged when she was 16 and still attending high school, and married shortly after she turned 18 in 1953, when Derleth was 44 years old (Rhinelander Daily News, 7 Feb 1953). The relationship appears to have been sexual even before they were married—and that Derleth was far from head-over-heels in love with the apparently infatuated teenager:

Oh, yes, I would not deny that Sandra has done me a lot of good. Not just making love to her, Sandra herself. Of course, she is sharp enough to know that, and I think that in this lies the ultimate dissolution of the affair, unless an accident makes it necessary for us to be married. For, being young, she is entirely likely, even with her mother’s advice, to take me for granted, and that might well be fatal. She has been frank enough to say that she intended all along that I should ultimately need her more than she needs me, and, while she intends to marry me, she intends also to have as much of her cake and eat much of it too, as possible. That never works, manifestly. But whatever takes place, it is certain that I have already benefited a great deal, and all the clothes and jewelry I’ve bought her won’t balance my own benefits.
—August Derleth to Zealia Bishop, 18 Aug 1949

Litersky’s account of the marriage goes into further detail, but there remains much unspoken about the entire relationship. The biographer never cites Sandra’s version of events; she appears to have relied entirely on Derleth’s accounts, despite the fact that the former Mrs. Derleth was still alive. There are no interviews with or letters from Sandra that might shed light on her side of the story. Derleth is apparently the sole source of all of the lurid details (her affairs, his affairs, the nude photography, the surprise pregnancy, etc.), as filtered through Litersky’s gloss of Derleth’s letters and journals.

The issue of statutory rape is hardly discussed. Sandra Winters as portrayed in the book is described as sexually precocious, and it beggars belief that a girl at fourteen could seduce a 40-year-old man. Derleth had to know what he was getting into, and it feels weird that in the context of the book, more attention is not given to how the difference in ages was felt by both the immediate family or the community at large, or to how this reflected in the wider context of Derleth’s personal life. This is characteristic of Litersky’s style throughout the book; she presents the events as a fait accompli, not laying any moral judgment on Derleth’s flaws or foibles, but her portrait of others is colored by Derleth’s own perceptions—they become supporting characters, sympathetic when Derleth loves them and flawed or monstrous when he turns against them.

How reliable Litersky’s information is remains an open question. The book is not without errors of fact, and there are certainly instances where error of interpretation seem likely. The nature and paucity of the citations makes it difficult to assess the overall accuracy of the text, or even of specific sections. As a researcher, the book must be considered more as a guideline than a source of concrete data. Each instance has to be independently verified as much as possible.

That being said, very few of the claims in Derleth: Hawk…and Dove claims appear to be entirely baseless. If the interested reader can track down Litersky’s original sources or supplement them with other primary materials, usually there is at least some evidence to support them. To take one example:

Years later after Derleth’s death Sara told her story to a class of young students and reporters of her walk in the woods with August. She was relaxing on a blanket when he proceeded to discard all his clothes except his socks and to dance under the trees. She said she was shocked and embarrassed and pretended to be asleep.
—Litersky, Derleth: Hawk…and Dove 206

While somewhat inexplicable to Sara (and Litersky), a letter from Derleth to Lovecraft may suggest that nudism was a common practice for him, at least when the weather permitted: “I am brown as a berry, and have managed to rouse some indignation by being a one-man nudist colony on the hills only a  third of a mile across the river from the village” (Essential Solitude 632–33). So while we cannot say that this event actually happened, we can at least say that there is evidence that Derleth may have at least engaged in this behavior at some point. The anecdote is at least plausible, even if it isn’t provable.

A more complicated matter is Litersky’s assertion that August Derleth was bisexual, especially that he maintained long-term sexual relationships with both men and women. For reasons of privacy, Litersky does not name all of Derleth’s sexual partners outright; even her citations in this regard appear more circumspect than usual. This makes it especially difficult to verify; and there are no published letters where Derleth specifically states he has ever engaged in a homosexual relationship.

The importance of this aspect of Derleth’s character is arguable; on the one hand, it would make him probably the first bisexual author in the Cthulhu Mythos, and perhaps lend insight into readings of his fiction. Certainly it would cast some of Derleth’s occasional homophobic comments into new perspective, e.g.:

Barlow is I am sure a homo; from what I have heard, so was the later minister-weird taler Henry S. Whitehead.
—August Derleth to Donald Wollheim, 21 Mar n.d. [1937]

Could this be performative homophobia from a closeted bisexual? Or the genuine mild prejudice of an individual who, regardless of their sexuality, conformed to early 20th-century cultural norms regarding gender behavior and sexuality? Hard to tell. But the possibility of Derleth being on the LGBTQ+ spectrum is interesting, and deserves a deeper look.

When the subject turned to sex, August stated, “…I have no inhibitions, had few all my life sexually, that if I wanted to masturbate, I did so without guilt; if I wished to make love to a member of my own sex, likewise; if I wished to make love to a woman, again, likewise, the only condition being that sexual pleasure must rise from love, or at least a deep and genuine affection….”
—Litersky, Derleth: Hawk…and Dove 211

Here, Litersky is apparently relaying a snippet from a private conversation, as no other source is cited, so no separate confirmation is possible. Some of her statements in this line are even more unreliable; for example when she wrote:

The name Mara was mentioned only casually. He’s in love with her, the correspondent realized suddenly. Her fingers, holding the letter, felt a strange vibration. She met Mara a few years later, and had another shock. Mara was not a young lady, as she’d assumed. It wasn’t until after August’s death, a decade later, that she’d discovered her psychic flash had been 100% correct. August was bisexual and was indeed in love with Mara.
—Litersky, Derleth: Hawk…and Dove 180

“Mara” was a name used in some of Derleth’s poetry and fiction, notably in an eponymous 1948 ghost story about the posthumous an unfaithful female lover; the volume of poetry This Wound (1962), which includes love poems, is dedicated to “Mara.” So while there was apparently a Mara (probably a nickname of a pseudonym), there is no indication Mara was male—also but not enough information for positive identification.

August Derleth never admits to a homosexual liaison or relationship in his published letters, but he did discuss sexuality in his correspondence, and there are several letters which are suggestive of the idea that he might be open to it, at least intellectually:

I must confess, that though I am steeped in abnormal sex, having studied all kinds of perverts at first hand, the suspicion of necrophilia in A Rose for Emily never once entered my mind. [. . .] Here is a woman starved for something—what is it, love perhaps? Let us assume it is. But she knows nothing about it. Love to her means a possession, a having. What she had come to regard as hers seems to be too independent. She kills. Thus, she keeps, she possesses, she loves. Necrophilia may or may not enter into this relation; it’s a minor point to me, since my own experience with people in this existence has led me to look on such things as part and parcel of life, though I am still conservative enough to be horrified by them, deeply. Yet I would be the first to jump tot the defense of a necrophiliac, a homosexual, &c., largely because I know that so often these poor creatures are incapable of helping themselves, have had their nerve systems tortured and twisted permanently from birth.
—August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 9 Nov 1931, ES 406

I can understand your detestation of sex irregularities in life as violations of harmony and I here fully agree with you. I had previously misunderstood you to mean protestation from a basis of morals, and on this basis I would have stood squarely opposed to you. I have known and still know many people who are sexually irregular, both homosexual men and women, and except for three cases out of perhaps 21, I have always found these people highly intellectual, fully aware of what they were doing, and in all cases quite helpless. Speaking perspectively and in the abstract, I could as easily conceive myself entering upon a monogamous homosexual relation as a heterosexual one—though perhaps practice would change that pointofview. To quibble about mere words, I should not say that perverts necessarily lived inartistically.
—August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 14 Feb 1933, ES 543

The idea that Derleth had an interest in the psychology of sex is supported by evidence he took out a subscription (under a pseudonym) to ONE Institute Quarterly, the journal of homosexual studies, in 1962. He would discuss the issue with others besides Lovecraft as well:

As for homosexuals—my only feeling is that I abhor promiscuity and I dislike violently to see children troubled; but this holds true also for heterosexuals, so there is actually no prejudice. Consenting behavior between adults is not offensive to me. But I do detest the flamboyant homo, the almost professional gay. To tell the truth I don’t know many real homos, though; I do know quite a number of bisexuals, and I never found one offensive, indeed, many of them strike me as brilliant, and most of them appear to be limited to one lasting affection, and are not promiscuous, that is one woman, and one man—oddly, there seems to be no conflict despite what the head-shrinkers insist  upon.
—August Derleth to Ramsey Campbell, 24 May 1966, Letters to Arkham 277-278

The subject comes up more than once in the Derleth-Campbell letters, and it is this sort of substantial quote which perhaps could have lent authority to Derleth: Hawk…and Dove. Therein lies what is arguably the single major issue with the book, beyond any question of Litersky’s style, sourcing, or quality of her analysis:

Missing Journal dates and dates of letters to and from August Derleth resulted from biographer’s incomplete notes, and a loss of actual copies of those items, journal entries and letters, beyond her control. When her lawyers accidentally discovered that the failure of Derleth’s lawyer to renew copyrights on all of Augie’s works, as requested by the U. S. Copyright offices, and informed April and Walden Derleth of the fact, the children not only moved quickly to remedy the mistake, they froze the Derleth papers in the Wisconsin State Historical Society’s Museum archives to prevent anyone access to them until the year 2020. Only then will it be possible to verify some of the material in Chapter 22, and elsewhere throughout the book.
—Litersky, Derleth: Hawk…and Dove 201-202

This is essentially the claim for why the book is not cited better than it is. Unfortunately, like everything else in the book, it is impossible to take Litersky at face value. It is true that there are some restrictions on access to portions of the Derleth archive, as described in the Administrative/Restriction Information; not all of the details quite align with Litersky’s version of events given above, but circumstances can change over time—or perhaps she misunderstood or misrepresented the reasons for the sealing. We don’t know.

It also isn’t clear why Litersky chose to publish this through the National Writers Press—a vanity press—rather than the August Derleth Society; one can imagine the content might have given the ADS pause. To say that Litersky’s assertions or interpretations of August Derleth’s life are “contested” or “controversial” would be inaccurate; most scholars don’t engage with Litersky’s biography at all. In part, this is more a reflection of a failure of the scope of Derleth: Hawk…and Dove than the scholarly question of its scholarship or distribution.

Readers who want to learn more about Derleth and Arkham House or Derleth and the Cthulhu Mythos will pick up John Haefele’s August Derleth Redux (2010) or A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos (2014); those interested in his Sac Prairie writings will pick up Evelyn Schroth’s The Derleth Saga (1979). For those who want more information on the man himself, his volumes of letters with H. P. Lovecraft and Ramsey Campbell are the major primary sources available in print.

In many ways, Litersky’s biography is characteristic of many first biographies of authors, in that it is only a beginning. Derleth: Hawk…and Dove is not the last word in Derleth studies; it is at best the start of the serious study of his life and work, and any subsequent biographer of Derleth will be forced to read Litersky and tackle the errors and weaknesses in her approach if they hope to produce anything that can surpass her work. Such a biography, when and if it written, can at least take advantage of sources that Litersky herself did not have available: the published letters, digital scans of unpublished correspondence, databases to help track down errant Derleth publications and criticism—and it would be worthwhile to see such a book published.

August Derleth was an important figure in the life and literary afterlife of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and many other writers. His vast body of work and his personal life are of interest in and of themselves, but he also touched on the lives of so many others—it was largely through his hard work and diligence that Arkham House became a legend, and that Lovecraft, the Mythos, and even weird fiction are still known and loved today. Whatever his personal flaws and foibles, and Derleth was certainly no saint, the ripples his life left on the world continue to expand and touch others. 


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

“Lovecraft and Benefit Street” (1943) by Dorothy C. Walter

The house was—and for that matter still is—of a kind to attract the attention of the curious. Originally a farm or semi-farm building, it followed the average New England colonial lines of the middle eighteenth century—the prosperous peaked-roof sort, with two stories and dormerless attic, and with the Georgian doorway and interior panelling dictated by the progress of taste at that time. It faced south, with one gable end buried to the lower windows in the eastward rising hill, and the other exposed to the foundations toward the street. Its construction, over a century and a half ago, had followed the grading and straightening of the road in that especial vicinity; for Benefit Street—at first called Back Street—was laid out as a lane winding amongst the graveyards of the first settlers, and straightened only when the removal of the bodies to the North Burial Ground made it decently possible to cut through the old family plots.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shunned House”

Dorothy Charlotte Walters was secretary of the League of Vermont Writers, a worker on the Vermont Commission on Country Life, and local historian and writer who had attended Brown University in Providence.  She met H. P. Lovecraft only once, in the summer of 1934 while visiting Providence; her memoir of that meeting was later published as “Three Hours with H. P. Lovecraft” (1959). But her first memoir of Lovecraft, published in 1943, as “Lovecraft and Benefit Street.” It is one of the first such memoirs of Lovecraft by any of his female acquaintances.

Returning from such rambles in space and time to his desk in his sightly study from which he overlooked the treetops of Benefit Street, dark against the sky-glow of downtown Providence, he spent night after night, which was his working time, using the familiar localities, the characteristic family and Christian names of Rhode Island, and factual details of the present and past of the life and business of Providence to furnish a setting for tales and doings that were strange indeed.
—Dorothy C. Walter, “Lovecraft and Benefit Street”

At the time they met, Lovecraft was ensconced at 66 College Street, his final home; the window in Lovecraft’s study offered a good view of the treetops and roofs lower down the hill. Walter’s piece combines elements of biography and literary criticism; it is obvious she either read or re-read a good chunk of Lovecraft’s fiction before writing this piece, probably from the first Arkham House collection The Outsider and Others (1939) which she mentions later on in the piece. Some of her observations are more cogent than others:

In the making of imaginative tales of the sort that Mr. Lovecraft wrote there cannot help being a good deal of claptrap and mumbo-jumbo. His stories suffer, if too many are read in quick succession, from similarity in the method of producing a weird atmosphere. It is easy to tire of gothic effects in landscape and in weather when one knows that by such artifices one is being “softened up” to be bowled over at the appropriate moment by the horror of the narrative. One longs for a mystery to develop in a neat, ordinary house, or for a homicide committed in brilliant daylight. Many of the stories are too long. Cutting would have improved them. And Mr. Lovecraft leaned too heavily on a few trick words that had come to have a heightened significance for him—nameless and forbidden, for example, to mention two. He also relied much too often on references to things distasteful to himself that he assumed would produce similar feelings of aversion or fear or disgust in others—fishy odors, for instance, which he couldn’t endure and used again and again as a symbol of the evil and the malevolent; the strangeness of the foreigner; the unpleasantness of things squirmy and slimy; and chief of all, the sensation of cold. […] He would have agreed with Dante in making hell cold. (ibid.)

Subjective assessments aside, there are criticisms and observations in Walter’s piece which would be repeated by many others—indeed, some of the myths about Lovecraft may have been partially popularized by her little memoir. The main thrust of her article is not just about Lovecraft, but about Benefit Street itself, and here it should be remembered that Walter and Lovecraft were of an age—she was born in 1889, he in 1890—and shared a few of the same influences and, probably, prejudices. So in describing the street, she wrote:

One can savor early Providence under its elms, or the Yankee Providence of today, and one can also travel to foreign lands without leaving the street, if one has an open sesame to the pleasant hospitality of the Syrian, Portuguese, and Jewish homes that cluster around its opposite ends. (ibid.)

Benefit Street also provides the setting of “The Shunned House,” and so  involves one of the more dramatic and complicated publishing histories in the Lovecraftian corpus. Robert Weinberg wrote an excellent article on the publishing history of “The Shunned House,” but the short version is that in 1928, Lovecraft’s friend W. Paul Cook—a small-time printer—offered to publish the story in an edition of 250 copies. It would have been Lovecraft’s first standalone hardcover publication. Nothing went right. The edition was printed, but not bound; some of the unbound sheets were bound by R. H. Barlow, and later still some were bound by Arkham House, becoming an odd collector’s item long after Lovecraft’s death, with asking prices in the thousands of dollars (and at least one set of forgeries). The general failure of the book to be properly published during his lifetime was one of Lovecraft’s many discouragements and regrets in the writing game. Cook mentions the printing briefly in his own memoir “In Memoriam: Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Recollections, Appreciations, Estimates” (1941), which is probably all that Walter knew of the matter.

Her own approach to this confluence of Lovecraft and local history comes by way of an anecdote:

But one below-zero night in northern Vermont, in search of a bedtime story, she opened the huge Lovecraft volume that a friend had loaned her. Her eye chanced on a familiar name in a story entitled “The Shunned House,” and she read on just where she had opened the book, astonished to find herself in Providence, wandering along Benefit Street. It was pleasant to be so transported so unexpectedly to a neighborhood well known since college days, interesting and amusing to find it figuring as a setting for the outrageous events of a weird tale when she had always considered it seemly and sedate. She read on, absorbed in the pleasures of recollection. And before she knew it, she was getting shivers and a crinkly spine out of the hair-raising particulars of an uncanny and not very believable yarn. Well, of course it was late, and a very cold night! But what more could a writer of weird fiction have asked for his efforts! (ibid)

Walter’s memoir doesn’t offer any uniquely critical insight into Lovecraft: their association was too brief. Yet it as an example, if any be needed, at how we all touch the lives of others, and might be remembered afterwards by those we knew but briefly. Walter has her few anecdotes of Lovecraft, expands on his fiction and character through her own lens, and even though there is little hard data here that you won’t find anywhere else, she still adds what little she has to the store of Lovecraftian lore. We are richer for her brief memoirs of Lovecraft than we would be without them.

“Lovecraft on Benefit Street” was first published by W. Paul Cook in The Ghost #1 (1943), reprinted by his Driftwind Press as a small chapbook, reprinted again in the fanzine Xenon (July 1944), and finally reached something like wider publication in Rhode Island on Lovecraft (1945, Donald M. Grant), and finally in Lovecraft Remembered (1998, Arkham House).

“Three Hours with Lovecraft” was first published in The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces (1959, Arkham House), republished in Lovecraft Remembered (1998, Arkham House), and again in Ave atque Vale: Reminiscences of H. P. Lovecraft (2018, Necronomicon Press)


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

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage (2013) by Stephen D. Korshak & J. David Spurlock

Sometime in 1932, a six-foot tall, chain smoking woman, in need of a job to support her three-year-old son and crippled mother, walked into the office of legendary Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright. The woman was a freelance fashion design illustrator with no knowledge of who H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Otis Adelbert Kline, Seabury Quinn, Jack Williamson, Robert Bloch and dozens of other writers were. She had simply looked through the telephone book to find the name of a publishing company where she might find employment. During this initial meeting the woman, Margaret Brundage, displayed a painting of an Oriental female done in pastel chalk to Farnsworth Wright that caught his eye.
—Stephen D. Korshack, “Queen of the Pulps” in The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage 11

In 1932, Margaret Brundage (née Margaret Hedda Johnson) was a single mother; her husband Myron “Slim” Brundage was an alcoholic who had abandoned the marriage and the care of their son Kerlynn (born in 1927). Her first pulp cover would be for the Spring 1932 issue of Oriental Stories, and her first cover for Weird Tales would be for the September 1932 issue. Over the next 13 years she would produce 66 covers for Weird Tales, more than any other artist, and those during the height of the magazine’s golden years—when Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft were still alive, and C. L. Moore would make her sensational debut.

Pulp authors vied for their story to be featured on the cover; it often meant extra pay as well esteem. Pulp fans argued in the letter pages about the propensity for nudes, and began spreading the rumors that Brundage (originally signed only as M. Brundage; her gender was not revealed until a couple of years later) was using her non-existent daughters to model the bondage shots. Sometimes the covers had real effects on the authors lives, as one anecdote might show:

“You said you’d like to read some of my stuff, and so I—I brought a copy of this magazine that’s just come out…It’s—it’s got a yarn of mine in it. I—I thought you might like to look at it.”

My eyes bulged. I’d never looked at a magazine like that before! That cover! A big, handsome man, except for his very short hair, was standing there with a big, green snake wrapped around him. A blonde girl sat on the ground staring at him. She was something! All she had on was a wispy scarf that didn’t quite cover her up front. Between her legs was another wisp of cloth fastened to a red and gold belt.

“It’s—it’s ‘The Devil in Iron.’”

—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone 58

Weird_Tales_1934-08_-_The_Devil_in_Iron

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage is not quite a biography, however. It is primarily a collection of obscure but critical sources and essays on her life and work: memoirs and interviews normally only found in moldering and expensive fanzines, as well as new essays that expand on her life before and after Weird Tales. On top of that, the book includes a full gallery of her pulp art, and numerous photos of her life and art you won’t find anywhere else, all reproduced without the clipping or muddying of color typical of a lot of pulp art books. It is a gorgeous production from start to finish—and an enlightening one, as Brundage herself is a fascinating subject.

Arguably the best part of the book is J. David Spurlock’s “The Secret Life of Margaret Brundage.” Most of the interviews and memoirs you could track down with time; this is new, and fantastic. A glimpse at Margaret Brundage before she was the Queen of the Pulps. Her fascinating encounter with a young Walt Disney in 1917 has to be read to be believed:

Margaret (walks toward the freshman, mumbling under her breath): If I were a man, they would give me a title; Editor, Art Director, something. One day women will win the right to vote. We’ll see some changes then.

(Approaching freshman, extends her hand): Dizzy, is it?

Walter: Oh… it’s Disney, Walter Disney.

(Both laugh)

Margaret: Sorry, I’m Margaret Johnson.

Walter: Are you the art director?

Margaret: Well, sort of. They have me doing the work but (raising her voice), I GUESS I’M NOT MAN ENOUGH FOR THE TITLE. So tell me about yourself. Do you have any experience?
—J. David Spurlock, The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage 128-129

Did it happen exactly that way? Hard to tell. But it gives the flavor of the young fiery woman who would get mixed up with the Bohemian scene in Chicago, and eventually marry (and divorce) labor agitator “Slim” Brundage. Her life in the 1940s and beyond is filled in by examining her work with Bronzeville “the epicenter of the Chicago black renaissance”; Margaret Brundage did not have the same racial prejudices as many in the period.

Spurlock gives some of the extra details missing from the interviews and memoirs, filling in some of the context. It is not a blow-by-blow, cover-by-cover essay—there might be a market for such a thing, but the focus is on Brundage’s life beyond the pulp scene, which many researchers have overlooked or ignored, and for that it is welcomed and invaluable.

There isn’t much of Lovecraft in the book, but then there wouldn’t be. Lovecraft seldom included women or nudes in his fiction, much less bondage, and never had a story of his feature on the cover of Weird Tales during his lifetime. More than that, Lovecraft has been noted as a general critic of Brundage’s artwork:

As for the covers—I never yet saw one that was worth the coloured inks expended on it. Of course the luscious & irrelevant nudes are rabble-catchers & nothing else but—an attempt by Wright to attract two publics instead of one.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lee McBride White, 28 Oct 1935, Letters to J. Vernon Shea Etc. 362

About the Conan tales—I don’t know that they contain any more sex than is necessary in a delineation of the life of a lusty bygone age. Good old Two-Gun didn’t seem to me to overstress eroticism nearly as much as other cash-seeking pulpists—even if he did now & then feel in duty bound to play up to a Brundage cover-design.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Willis Conover, 14 Aug 1936, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 382

About WT covers—they are really too trivial to get angry about. If they weren’t totally irrelevant and unrepresentative nudes, they’d probably be something equally awkward and trivial, even though less irrelevant. The “art” of the pulps is even worse than its fiction, if such be possible. Rankin, Utpatel, and Finlay are the only real illustrators of WT who are worth anything. I have no objection to the nude in art—in fact, the human figure is as worthy a type of subject-matter as any other object of beauty in the visible world. But I don’t see what the hell Mrs. Brundage’s undressed ladies have to do with weird fiction!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Willis Conover, 1 Sep 1936, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 391-392

Lovecraft wasn’t alone in his criticism. Clark Ashton Smith was not trained as an artist, but had his own self-taught style in drawing, painting, and later sculpture noted:

Glad you liked “Ilalotha,” a story in wich I seem to have slipped something over on the PTA. The issue containing it, I hear, was removed from the stands in Philadelphia because of the Brundage cover. Query: why does Brundage try to make all her women look like wet-nurses? It’s a funny, not to say tiresome, complex.
—Clark Ashton Smith to R. H. Barlow, 9 Sep 1937, Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 313

This was an oblique reference to something that comes up in one of Brundage’s interviews in the book:

E&O: Where you ever asked to start covering  your nudes a bit?

Brundage: I was never asked to, no. One funny thing did happen. One of the authors—well, Weird Tales asked me to make larger and larger breasts—larger than I would have liked to—well, one cover, one of the authors wrote in and said that things were getting a little bit out of line. And even for an old expert like him, the size of the breastwork was getting a little too large.

Etchings & Odysseys Interview with Margaret Brundage, The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage 32

We don’t know who wrote in, whether it was Smith or Lovecraft or someone else. Brundage is quite frank in her interviews about the details of her work for Weird Tales, and frank too about her sense of loss at the death of Robert E. Howard, whose stories she would illustrate for many of the covers. If you consider his Conan tales as extensions of the Cthulhu Mythos, her covers form some of the first Mythos art in color. For her work on Weird Tales alone, Brundage will probably long be remembered, emulated, parodied, and subject to homage. Her October 1933 “Bat Woman” cover for Hugh Davidson’s “The Vampire Master” has long been a favorite hallmark of her Weird Tales work, and is paid tribute to even today by artists like Abigail Larson.

Margaret Brundage as an artist and as a human being was more than 70-odd pulp covers. A lot more.

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage was published in 2013 by Vanguard Publishing, and is available in a paperback, hardcover, and deluxe hardcover editions.


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

One Who Walked Alone (1986) by Novalyne Price Ellis

Then he told me about the fan mail he’d gotten. He had received letters from somebody in England; one from Australia; letters from several diffrent states like California, Pennsylvania, and far away places like that. He talked about writer friends of his—Price, Lovecraft, Derleth whose name I had seen in a writer’s magazine, and other people I’d never heard of. They wrote to him and he wrote to them. It all sounded interesting and was, I guess, a world far removed from Cross Plains. Although it was interesting, it didn’t make writing as a profession appeal to me. I want to write, but I also want to be in the thick of life around me.
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 116

In May of 1933, Novalyne Price graduated from Daniel Baker College in Brownwood, TX. The Great Depression had settled on Texas, and jobs were scarce—especially for college-educated women. She found a job forty miles away in a small town called Cross Plains, as a schoolteacher in English and public speaking at the local highschool. At a time when many small towns were paying their teachers with scrip, the Cross Plains paid cash…though it did come with certain expectations.

No smoking. No drinking (Prohibition had just ended). No dancing, movies, or playing bridge with members of the faculty. Teachers were expected to live in town, and go to church in town every Sunday. Her response was visceral:

I want a cigarette, and I want a glass of beer. I can’t stand the stuff. I hate it as much as the Board of Trustees do, but I want a cigarette, and I want a beer.
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 36

Above all, Novalyne Price wanted to be a writer. There was one in town. His name was Robert E. Howard.

One Who Walked Alone (1986) is drawn from the diaries Novalyne kept of Cross Plains from 1934 until 1936, when she left to begin graduate courses in Louisiana. The entries are edited, probably a little censored here or there to spare a feeling or two from those still alive at the time it was published and to keep focused on her relationship, but revealing nonetheless. The relationship was not the soul of romance; Robert E. Howard was a successful writer, and tried to help Novalyne with her writing, even putting him in touch with his agent Otis Adelbert Kline—but their interests in writing were very different things. Early on during a date, when Bob was driving her out in the country in his car, she explained the plot of the story “I Gave My Daughter Movie Fame”:

“A woman has an illegitimate child, a daughter, and she tries to make it up to her. The child is adopted by this aunt of hers. But the woman can’t give up. She keeps doing things for the girl. Finally, she helps the gil become a movie star and very famous.”

Which I was talking, I could see that Bob was trying very hard to keep from laughing. But what was even strangter to me was that the more I talked, the more it became sort of cock-eyed even to me. I didn’t knwo what it took to win movie fame. True, I read movie success stories in magazines. I went to the movies once in awhile. I knew when the acting was good or bad. Did that qualify me to write about movie fame? As for illegitimate children—Well, when I was growing up, two girls whom I knew had illegitimate children. Did that qualify me to know about things like that?
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 60

Novalyne’s memoir draws attention because of the Robert E. Howard connection, and it delivers in that regard with many colorful and critical anecdotes; though she was never his wife or even his fiance, it is more intimate and revealing in many ways than The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) by Sonia H. Davis is of Howard’s friend in Providence.

Yet the main character is Novalyne herself, and she does not blush to hide her own flaws. The Novalyne of 1934-1936 is a young woman in a world that expects everything of her except to have a life of her own. She herself has more than a few expectations, and her relationship with Bob Howard waxes and wanes as the two willful individuals circle between kissing and butting heads again and again. The prospect of marriage hangs over the relationship as it goes on, but there are obstacles: Howard’s mother, dying slowly as her disease consumes her; Howard’s status as an outsider in the small town of Cross Plains; and Novalyne herself, who also dates some of Howard’s friends at the same time, and can’t quite make up her mind who she loves.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the young Novalyne Price a little; she’s a flint that strikes sparks off Bob, able to give as good as she gets, though sometimes her barbs sting a little deep. One exchange from late in their relationship can’t help but raise a smile:

“In a way, I suppose I want to make it a love story,” I said, thinking and planning as I talked. “But I want the woman to have a man-sized man to love. I was thinking that someone—a young woman—from another state who had an illegitimate child—”

“What are you always thinking about illegitimate children?” he asked. “How many illegitimate children have you had?”

“A dozen,” I snapped. “One every thirty days.”

He grinned and relaxed a little. “I suppose if any woman could do it, you could.”
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 155-156

More serious conversations dealt with racial prejudice. Although never marked as such, Cross Plains was a sundown town in the Jim Crow days; Brownwood had an African-American population, but that was restricted to a part of the small city called “The Flat.” Howard, though more liberal and progressive in some issues, still held to racial prejudices that Novalyne did not.

“Every man has to uphold his race and protect his women and children,” Bob said earnestly. “He has to build the best damn world he can. You mix and mingle the races, and what do you get? You get a mongrel race—a race that’s not white and not black.”

It seemed to me he was leaving out something important. “Very well, then,” I said flatly. “If a man’s going to fight to keep his race pure, don’t let him go down to the flat and leave a half-white, half-black child down there.”

Bob jerked the steering wheel so abruptly that we almost ran off the road. “Well, damn it,” he groaned. “There’s something there that you don’t understand.”
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 95-96

Novalyne’s views may have been influenced in part by her own experiences; her father had been mistaken for a Native American and subject to prejudice by Texans, and Bob’s mother herself supposedly wondered if she had any Native American heritage, with the prejudice unspoken but not hidden.

As a diarist, Novalyne Price was no Samuel Pepys; and we may assume that many of the incidental details of life were quietly edited out. Sometimes, this leaves little mysteries. In April 1935, Novalyne was briefly hospitalized following acute nausea, vomiting, and weight loss; the exact nature of her illness is never discussed in detail, leaving readers to make their own conclusions.

As a young woman, and never becoming truly intimate with Howard’s homelife, there are things that Novalyne gets wrong. She is an accurate reporter of facts, with many of the details she gives being verifiable by Howard’s letters (most of which had not been published at the time One Who Walked Alone was out), and newspaper articles in the local paper, the Cross Plains Review. Interpretation, however, doesn’t always follow: the illness of Hester Jane Howard was much more severe and fraught than Novalyne guessed—and frustration at Bob’s doting on his mother’s health is one of the key issues in their relationship.

Howard himself wrote very little about Novalyne in his letters. His local friends would no doubt prefer to hear about it in person; most of his writer friends simply didn’t share details of their relationships at all. H. P. Lovecraft never appears to have told his Texas friend that he had been married, during all their six years of correspondence.

Several times, Bob has shown me letters he’s gotten from fans of his. He had one from Providence and one from New York just the other day. They have all been nice letters, and I can understand his pride.
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 128

One thing that might frustrate those who pick up Ellis’ book with the intent on getting a behind-the-scenes look at how Robert E. Howard wrote, or his relationships with other pulpsters, is that this is specifically the part of Bob’s life that Novalyne seemed to have the least interest in. There are a few anecdotes scattered about, proof of Lovecraft’s influence on Howard, but Novalyne’s interests in literature were so vastly different that the Weird Tales and Sports Story material seemed to be completely out of her sphere.

“Bob,” I interrupted him. “Do you mean that writer friend of yours—that Lovecourt—”

“Lovecraft,” he repeated, still emphatic. “One of the greatest writers of our time. Now, girl, I’ll bring some of the things he’s written for you to read if—”

“Oh, no,” I said hurriedly. “That’s perfectly all right. I don’t want—I don’t really have time to read very much right now, with teaching and trying to get kids ready for interscholastic speech contests.”

He looked at me without speaking as if he were trying to make up his mind if I meant what I said.

“All I wanted to know was what kind of comment about life does he make?” I asked. “And I want to know what kind of comment you make about life in your Conan stories.”
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 116

The book ends, as all memoirs of Robert E. Howard end, with his sudden suicide. However, as this is Novalyne’s story, things do not end right at the moment she got the news. As with all suicides, the story continues on with the survivor, the loved ones and friends, who must carry on until they find some kind of closure. So did Novalyne Price.

The unspoken epilogue is what happened after. Novalyne Price received her master’s degree, got married, adopted a son, taught school, and wrote a little when she could. She was an excellent teacher, and her students often won awards. Robert E. Howard’s star began to shine brighter posthumously; a series of hardbacks from Gnome Press in the 1950s gave way to an immensely popular series of paperbacks with covers by Frank Frazetta, the “Howard Boom” of the 60s which inspired dozens of sword & sorcery novels and ushered in a new wave of fantasy. Marvel Comics began adapting his characters to comic books in the 1970s, and in 1982 Conan the Barbarian hit movie screens.

The study of his life and letters slowly picked up. Novalyne Price Ellis was one of those interviewed by the de Camps for Dark Valley Destiny (1983), a biography of Robert E. Howard. As with Sonia H. Davis and H. P. Lovecraft, Novalyne’s views of Bob were not universally welcomed by the biographers:

If the lady you mention published a well-documented book, On Sinning with R.E.H., she might outsell you, unless the oafery seize & destroy her scurilous volume. It is to laugh! I knew him when is not sufficient. One must also write for other than dizzy fans.
—E. Hoffmann Price to L. Sprague de Camp, 7 Apr 1978
in The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard 308

E. Hoffmann Price (no relation to Novalyne) was a fellow pulpster and correspondent who had visited Robert E. Howard twice in Cross Plains (neither time meeting Novalyne), and wrote extended memoirs, published in several places. De Camp appears to have used his recollections to “check” Novalyne’s own assertions, much as August Derleth used Lovecraft’s letters to “check” the claims made by Sonia H. Davis.

Letters never tell the whole story. Especially the parts that the writers don’t care to tell.

One Who Walked Alone was published in 1986. Novaylne Price Ellis stayed in touch with some of the Howard scholars, and a briefer and rarer reminiscence was published titled Day of the Stranger: Further Memories of Robert E. Howard (1989, Necronomicon Press), now quite scarce.

A former student of hers, Michael Scott Myers, was so taken with her memoir that he optioned the rights from her for a film. The result was The Whole Wide World (1996), with Renee Zellweger playing the part of Novalyne Price, and Vincent D’Onofrio as Robert E. Howard. A second edition of One Who Walked Alone was published in 1996, with Zellweger featured prominently on the cover, though they are effectively identical.

In 2018, an Index with notes to the book was produced, and given away free at Robert E. Howard Days, which is held at the Robert E. Howard House and Museum in Cross Plains. It is available online for free here.


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

The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray

“He had not read in vain such treatises as Miss Murray’s Witch-Cult in Western Europe; and knew that up to recent years there had certainly survived among peasants and furtive folk a frightful and clandestine system of assemblies and orgies descended from dark religions antedating the Aryan world, and appearing in popular legends as Black Masses and Witches’ Sabbaths.”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Horror at Red Hook”

“The other manuscript papers were all brief notes, some of them accounts of the queer dreams of different persons, some of them citations from theosophical books and magazines (notably W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria), and the rest comments on long-surviving secret societies and hidden cults, with references to passages in such mythological and anthropological source-books as Frazer’s Golden Bough and Miss Murray’s Witch-Cult in Western Europe.”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

I took a good deal of it at college, and am familiar with most of the standard authorities such as Tylor, Lubbock, Frazer, Quatrefages, Murray, Osborn, Keith, Boule, G. Elliot Smith, and so on.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

Margaret Alice Murray was 58 and already a successful Egyptologist when she published The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology in 1921. On the strength of that book, she wrote the article on Witchcraft for the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1929, which remained in print in various editions until 1969. The influence of that book—and its sequel, The God of the Witches (1931)—has profoundly impacted how entire generations have come to see witchcraft. And it played a critical part in the development of the Lovecraft Mythos.

The book has an odd place in the Mythos. Certainly, Lovecraft was inspired by it, and Murray’s thesis as interpreted through Lovecraft’s own lens strongly influenced “The Festival,” “The Dreams in the Witch House,” and other stories. He included it among other real works in “The Horror at Red Hook” and “The Call of Cthulhu,” so it is technically a kind of Mythos tome, although not by any stretch a grimoire akin to the Necronomicon. Subsequent authors have borrowed on its dual status as both a real book and a “Mythos” work as well.

So while never writing a Mythos story or probably reading anything that Lovecraft wrote, Margaret Murray and her Witch-Cult in Western Europe are in the rare position of being adopted into the Mythos. She shares this status with a few others: Robert W. Chambers and The King in Yellow, Helena Blavatsky and The Book of Dzyan. Yet Murray’s impact on Lovecraft was profoundly greater than the mythology of Hastur or Theosophy. It began in 1924, at the New York Public Library:

The most revealing and stupefying book among those I have been reading is “The Witch Cult in Western Europe”, by Margaret Alice Murray, which was published in 1921 and reviewed with great attention by Burton Rascoe in the Tribune. In this book the problem of witchcraft superstition is attacked from an entirely new angle—wherein the explanation of delusion and hysteria is discarded in favour of an hypothesis almost exactly like the one used by Arthur Machen in fiction [marginal note: The Three Impostors]—i.e. that there has existed since prehistoric times, side by side with the dominant religion, a dark, secret, and terrible system of worship nocturnally practiced by the peasants and including the most horrible rites and incantations. This worship, Miss Murray believes, is handed down from the squat Mongoloid peoples who inhabited Europe before the coming of the Aryans; and reflects the life and thought of a barbarous culture in which stockbreeding had not yet been supplanted by agriculture. This latter feature is clear from the dates of the two great nocturnal feasts and orgies… Roodmas, or April 30, and Hallowe’en, or October 31—dates having a connexion with nothing whatever in agriculture (unlike such agricultural festivals as Easter, Harvest-home, etc.), but corresponding with uncanny fidelity to the breeding-seasons of the flocks and herds. Buttressed by an amazing array of sound documentary evidence taken from witchcraft trial reports, Miss Murray unhesitatingly asserts that the similarities and consistencies in the testimony of witch-suspects cannot be explained on any assumption save one which allows for a certain amount of actuality. In her mind, practically all the confessions treat not of dreams and delusions, but form highly coloured versions of real meetings and ceremonies conducted in deep woods and lonely places betwixt midnight and dawn, attended by secretly annotated peasants stolen thither one by one, and presided over by local cult-leaders clad in animal skins and called the “Devils” of their particular branches or “Covens”. The hideous nature of the cult-rites is amply attested—and the whole subject takes on a new fascination when one reflects that the system probably survived to comparatively recent times. Miss Murray has no difficulty in tracing the cult’s presence in the Salem witchcraft of 1692, and entures to name the Reverend George Burroughs as “Devil” of the particular branch or Coven involved. Cotton Mather thus stands vindicated, and displayed as the suppressor of a movement involving the most loathsome and offensive practices. Another point of interest is the association of Joan of Arc with the witch-cult—a circumstance which makes one weep less at her fiery martyrdom. The use of this newly unearthed lore in a study of American superstition will be quite new, so that I really believe my book will have some degree of interest if it is ever suffered to materialise.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 30 Mar 1924, Letters from New York 53-54

The book never materialized, but Lovecraft melded Murray’s hypothesis of an underground witch-cult practicing remnants of a pagan religion and married it to the idea of primitive pre-human survivals and their connection with fairies (“the Little People”) in the fiction of Arthur Machen (which he had also lately been reading), and formed his own theory of history—which would go on to inform much of his fiction. Not for nothing would Richard Upton Pickman in “Pickman’s Model” have a Salem Village ancestor hanged for witchcraft in 1692, or that Joseph Curwen would flee from there to Providence, R. I. in the annals of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

The combination of Machen and Murray was assisted by Murray including in her work certain euhemeristic ideas and scientific racialism:

The dwarf race which at one time inhabited Europe has left few concrete remains, but it has survived in innumerable stories of fairies and elves. Nothing, however, is known of the religious beliefs and cults of these early people, except the fact that every seven years they made a human sacrifice to their god—‘And aye at every seven years they pay the teind to hell’—and that like the Khonds they stole children from the neighbouring races and brought them up to be the victims. That there was a strong connexion between witches and fairies had been known to all students of fairy lore. I suggest that the cult of the fairy or primitive race survived until less than three hundred years ago, and that the people who practised it were known as witches. I have already pointed out that many of the witch-belief and practices coincide with those of an existing dwarf race, viz. the Lapps.
—Margaret Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, 238

The Sámi people (historically Lapps, Laplanders) are an indigenous people in Northern Europe; racial anthropologists in Lovecraft’s time categorized them as “Mongoloid” (along with Asians and Native Americans) as opposed to the majority population of Europe which was “Caucasoid.” Although this was not the primary focus of Murray’s work, Lovecraft took this as concrete scientific evidence to support his existing prejudices. Along with Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion (1890), Murray’s book offers what in the 1920s seemed a very rational, dogmatic, albeit radical re-interpretation of a chunk of European (and at least one episode of American) history.

Not everyone accepted The Witch-Cult in Western Europe as genuine; Jacqueline Simpson in Margaret Murray: Who Believed Her and Why? chronicles some of the academic blowback, including Murray’s misrepresentation and misinterpretation of sources. Lovecraft was at best peripherally aware of this academic debate, with two exceptions:

The witch-cult was an objective example of that element of reaction against mediaeval piety which appears in certain leering gargoyles & in various sinister undertones in literary & other art. As for its origin—I am wholly against Summers & with Miss Murray. Summers has let his serious acceptance of Christianity bias him. He is blind to dozens of points of resemblance betwixt witch-cult practices (especially festival dates) & primitive-reliques of Nature-worship all over Europe, & makes a very weak argument in his earlier witchcraft book which Koenig lent me.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 29 Nov 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 484

The theories of Miss Murray regarding the source of the cult have been attacked from different angles by scholars as antipodal as Joseph McCabe & the Rev. Montague Summers, but I still think they are as plausible as any yet advanced. You will, I think, appreciate “The White People” anew upon giving it a post-Murray re-reading.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Fritz Leiber, 19 Dec 1936, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 302

Joseph McCabe was a noted atheist, and while Lovecraft doesn’t cite the exact work in question, McCabe made a glowing endorsement of Murray and her book in The Story of Religious Controversy (1929). Montague Summers also addressed Murray’s book at some length in The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926), commenting at one point:

Miss Murray does not seem to suspect that Witchcraft was in truth a foul and noisome heresy, the poison of the Manichees. Her “Dianic cult,” which name she gives to this “ancient religion” supposed to have survived until the Middle Ages and even later and to have been a formidable rival to Christianity, is none other than black heresy and the worship of Satan, no primitive belief with pre-agricultural rites, in latter days persecuted, misinterpreted, and misunderstood. It is true that in the Middle Ages Christianity hadnot a rival but a foe, the eternal enemy of the Church Militant against whom she yet contends to-day, the dark Lord of that city which is set contrariwise to the City of God, the Terrible Shadow of destruction and despair.

Miss Murray with tireless industry has accumulated a vast number of details by the help of which she seeks to build up and support her imaginative thesis. Even those that show the appropriation by the cult of evil of the more hideous heath practices, both of lust and cruelty, which prevailed among savage or decadent peoples, afford no evidence whatsoever of any continuity of an earlier relgiion, whilst by far the greater number of the facts she quotes are deflected, although no doubt unconsciously, and sharply wrested so as to be patent of the sginification it is endeavoured to read into them. (ibid. 32-33)

Summers’ critique is undercut by his belief that witches were both Satanic and had magical powers; McCabe’s because his antipathy toward religion led him to be too credulous in accepting Murray’s thesis wholeheartedly. While scholars, neither were academics or anthropologists. Lovecraft himself in another letter suggests that Murray’s book is “probably about 85% right” (Letters with Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 463)

There is no reference in Lovecraft’s published letters to Murray’s sequel, The God of the Witches (1931); he apparently never read it, and perhaps never heard of it. Murray herself has very little to say about her witch-research in her autobiography:

Though my Witch Cult in Western Europe did not appear till 1921 the greater part of the research had been done during the war. The book received a hostile reception from many strictly christian sects and reviewers, but it made its way in spite of oppostion.

My second book on the same subejct, which is really on the survival of pagan beliefs and rites under a veneer of Christianity, was The God of the Witches. It was a flop and was remaindered in two years. But it was the 1939-45 war that made it known. I think because it was a change from the monotony of the kind of books that are published in and just after a a war. Also as a remainder it was cheap, selling at five shillings.

My view of Joan of Arc roused, and still rouses, fierce opposition. I am not usually a fighter, but when I am attacked with words like “I don’t believe one word you say about Joan of Arc,” I have to defend myself.

I have one effective reply which is, “Have you studied the original documents?” I have always found that these ardent worshippers have to acknowledge, when pressed, that they have not read anything of the kind. then I retort, “Well, I have,” and I reel off the names of the contemporary recorders (and there are a good many of them) while my critic’s eyes get rounder and rounder. I wind up by saying, “It is hardly worth while to continue the discussion, is it? For you and I have such different standpoints. I argue from contemporary documentary evidence, and you from hearsay.” The book was re-published after the war and has proved a best seller.
—Margaret Murray, My First Hundred Years (1963), 104-105

The Lovecraftian legacy of Margaret Murray is embodied in “witch-haunted Arkham” in all of its incarnations, in the “Dreams in the Witch House” and the witch-cult in general that appears in works such as “The Festival” and “The Thing on the Doorstep.” Works inspired directly by Lovecraft in this vein include “The Salem Horror” (1937) by Henry Kuttner, “Satan’s Servants” (1949) by Robert Bloch, and the graphic novel Providence (2015-2107) by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows. The Witch-Cult in Western Europe is referenced by name in Mythos stories such as “The Fairground Horror” (1976) by Brian Lumley and “A Critical Commentary on the Necronomicon” (1988) by Robert M. Price.

The long tail of Murray’s influence on fantasy fiction encompasses more than just Lovecraft and those he influenced. Herbert Gorman in “The Place Called Dagon” (1927), which Lovecraft read, shows a survival of the Salem witch-cult; so does the film I Married A Witch (1942), Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife (1943), etc. all the way to Lords of Salem (2013) and American Horror Story: Coven (2014). Her books were a direct inspiration for the creation of Wicca by Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente, and the prolific occult literature produced from those fertile grounds has, in turn, influenced a great deal of horror and weird fiction…and, of course, Lovecraftian occultism:

In the west, the conjuration, cultivation, or worship of this Power was strenuously opposed with the advent of the Solar, Monotheistic religions and those who clung to the Old Ways were effectively extinguished. The wholesale slaughter of those called “Witches” during the Inquisition is an example of this […] The current revival of the cult called WICCA is a manifestation of the ancient secret societies that sought to tap this telluric, occult force and use it to their own advantage, and to the advantage of humanity, as was the original intent.
—Simon, Necronomicon xxii

Anthropology has pushed back and moved on. Outside of occult circles, there is no strong belief that Murray’s “witch-cult” actually existed. Historians and anthropologists have a better understanding of witch trials in the early modern period, both in Europe and the Americas. Instead of an organized pagan survival, there is a mess of politics, religion, folklore, and disparate human dramas and tragedies.

What does that mean for the Mythos?

For the most part, Mythos fiction reflects the syntax of the period. The Salem Witch Trials are a part of the history of Massachusetts; Lovecraft himself never attributes any of the innocent victims of that hysteria as actual witches in his fiction, instead he added fictional characters such as Keziah Mason and Joseph Curwen to the milieu. These characters and their stories are dependent on the historical reality of the witch trials, but the interpretation of that history is still up to contemporary authors and audiences.

The “cult” of the Stella Sapiente in Moore & Burrows’ Providence, for example, looks very little like the 13-member covens that Margaret Murray wrote about in The Witch-Cult of Western Europe, but it retains certain features derived from Murray that feature in Lovecraft’s work. The image of Nyarlathotep as the “Black Man” of the witch-cult remains intact in many Mythos stories, and is derived directly from Murray and Machen as discussed in “Collector the Third: Charles Wilson Hodap (1842-1944)” (1995) by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr.

So Margaret Murray and The Witch-Cult in Western Europe remain a historical touchstone for the Mythos. Both a part of it and oddly apart from it. The book is not “canon” in the sense that its ideas are absolutely true within the fictional reality of the Mythos, yet it is in the canon of works which directly influenced and are referenced by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, alongside The King in Yellow and The Book of Dzyan, Arthur Machen’s The Three Imposters, etc.


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

“Cosmic Horror” (1945) by Dorothy Tilden Spoerl

Lovecraft’s tales fascinate me, but they do not frighten.
—Dorothy Tilden Spoerl, “Cosmic Horror” in The Ghost #3 (1945)

The Ghost was an amateur journal published by Lovecraft’s friend W. Paul Cook; it had a very small print run, and was never sold. The contents were drawn largely from Lovecraft’s circle of friends and correspondents, and include important pieces—August Derleth’s thesis on weird fiction, which shows Lovecraft’s influence; E. Hoffmann Price’s memoirs of Farnsworth Wright and Robert E. Howard, which would be the start of his Book of the Dead; essays on James F. Morton, etc. The content was not all Lovecraftian, but these rarities became collector’s items because of that content.

Issue #3 begins with a little mystery: a rather one-page article of appreciation on Lovecraft entitled “Cosmic Horror” by Dorothy Tilden Spoerl. It has been largely forgotten by time, although it appears to be one of the first such appreciations by a woman on Lovecraft’s fiction to see print. But who was Spoerl? What connection did she have with Lovecraft?

There is no obvious trace of Dorothy T. Spoerl in Lovecraft’s published correspondence. Her autobiography makes no mention of Lovecraft, pulp fiction, or amateur journalism; although it gives a little context: in 1945 she was 35 years old, married to minister Howard Spoerl, and had a PhD in Psychology; “Cosmic Horror” appears to be her only amateur publication of record. On her husband Howard Spoerl, there is a little more data: he had placed poems in the amateur journal Driftwind (1935, produced by Walter J. Coates, a friend of Lovecraft’s), Leaves (1938, produced by R. H. Barlow, Lovecraft’s literary executor), and The Ghost (1945 and 1947 issues).

The Spoerls, then, appear to have been at least friends-of-friends and part of the wider community of amateur journalism, even if they never met Lovecraft directly.

The title as much as anything suggests that Dorothy Tilden Spoerl had read Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, which had first seen print in W. Paul Cook’s earlier amateur journal The Recluse (1927); revised, expanded, and serialized (but the series never finished) for the fanzine The Fantasy Fan (1933-1935); and finally Arkham House reprinted the whole thing in The Outsider and Others (1939). So we know that Spoerl read that; the essay specifically mentions both “The Shunned House” and “The Picture in the House,” which stories had appeared in multiple formats before 1945, including The Outsider and Others; but we have no idea what all of Lovecraft she read.

Yet she did read him.

Which says something in itself. Though one can hardly imagine a pair of folks more ideologically different—Spoerl’s faith appears to have been very sincere; Lovecraft a determined atheist—she did find a connection with him through his fiction. It spoke to a part of her own experience, and that was something she wanted to share. We don’t know why she read Lovecraft, but her reaction to reading Lovecraft speaks to why the Old Gent’s fiction retains its popularity: the themes resonate with people, even those markedly different in outlook from Lovecraft himself.

Spoerl
The Ghost #3 (1945)

The Reverend Doctor Dorothy Tilden Spoerl died in 1999 at the age of 93. “Cosmic Horror” was published only once, in The Ghost #3 (1945). No copyright renewal could be located.


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

The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) by Sonia H. Davis

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

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

Howard Phillips Lovecraft met Sonia Haft Greene at an amateur convention in Boston in 1921; on 3 March 1924 they were married. The union was brief; they cohabited for only about fifteen months in New York City, with Sonia forced to seek work in the Midwest where Howard would not follow, and Howard returned to Providence. In 1929, Sonia petitioned Howard for a divorce; due to the laws in place at the time, this could not be granted without cause, and the pretense was made that Sonia had deserted him. Howard, however, did not sign the final decree. They remained in touch for some years, and Howard even helped her with her travelogue. In 1933 Sonia left for California, and in 1936 she remarried, to Nathaniel Abraham Davis. H. P. Lovecraft died in 1937; Sonia was not made aware of this until 1945, when informed of the fact by their mutual associate Wheeler Dryden. Nathaniel Davis died 6 April 1946.

So it was, in the immediate aftermath of the second World War and the revelations of the Holocaust, that Sonia H. Davis cast back her mind some twenty years to write her memoir of her second husband, H. P. Lovecraft. The resulting document is a valuable account on several fronts: no one was as intimate with H. P. in the way of his wife, and since H. P. was very reluctant to write about his marriage in his letters, Sonia’s account provides the major source for their domestic life, as well as incidental information on their courtship.

Getting published, however, was a bit tricky.

While here Belknap Long put me in touch with Mr. August Derleth, who seems to have full rights to HP’s work; at least so he states.

I read a few pages to him from my scribbled manuscript (it was almost illegible to myself).

At first he told me that he wanted to publish it. Then he shunted me off to one Ben Abramson who, he said would publish it. At first Derleth said he would me $600.00 for it at the end of three years, with possibly a small initial sum against royalties.

I’m not young enough to wait three years. If the work is important to those who are most interested I felt it ought to be paid for outright.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Had HP. lived and known of D’s aims, I feel sure he would not have countenanced D’s intimidation of me, no matter how much he would have liked to have his words read by his followers.

Sonia Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, 13 Sep 1947

We will never know exactly what passed between August Derleth and Sonia when they met in New York, but some correspondence survives regarding the meeting and its aftermath. After his death, Lovecraft had provided instructions that R. H. Barlow was to be his literary executor, and whether or not the document was exactly legal his surviving aunt Annie Gamwell respected his wishes. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei were anxious and eager to get Lovecraft into print so that their friend’s work would not be lost; to this end they quickly got to work, and after securing permission from Mrs. Gamwell, began looking for a publisher. Failing to find one, they founded their own small press: Arkham House.

Barlow’s position as literary executor was a complication; especially as Barlow was at university at the time and moved from Kansas City to San Francisco, and then down to Mexico. Donald Wandrei joined the U.S. Army during WWII (Derleth was exempted from the draft for health reasons), leaving Derleth in essential control of Arkham House—and by extension, the Lovecraft estate, having secured Barlow’s essential cooperation for access to Lovecraft’s manuscripts and letters and Gamwell’s permission to print. Derleth took a very proprietary stance with regard to Lovecraft’s fiction, claiming that Arkham House had sole and exclusive rights to all of it, as well as his letters and any other materials—if it was to be published, it would be through Arkham House. In part, this legal bluff was hard-nosed business sense, Arkham House was not exactly a cash cow, with small print runs of relatively expensive books that took a long time to sell, the company basically supported by Derleth’s other writing. But also in part Derleth wished to preserve the memory of H. P. Lovecraft and his image. So Derleth would also threaten legal action against C. Hall Thompson during this period for using the Mythos without permission, and in 1950 would refuse publication of Warren Thomas’ thesis on Lovecraft, which cast an unflattering light.

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

Sonia probably didn’t have an idea about the realities of publishing, and she did likely need the money. An agreement was finally reached: Sonia cut all the quotations from Lovecraft’s letters, and the journalist Winfield Townley Scott heavily edited the piece, which was published in the 28 August 1948 edition of the Providence Journal as “Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him.”

In September 1948, Sonia suffered a heart attack.

“Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him” was published in Books at Brown vol. XI, nos. 1-2; Lovecraft’s papers had been placed at the John Hay Library at Brown University in Providence by R. H. Barlow shortly after Lovecraft’s death. Cordial relations between Sonia and August Derleth were re-established. In 1949, Arkham House published Something About Cats and Other Pieces which included “Lovecraft As I Knew Him” (a Derleth-edited version of “Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him”) as well as the stories “The Invisible Monster” and “Four O’Clock.”

Little other material was forthcoming; Sonia broke her hip in 1960 and ceased to work, moving into a rest home. Arkham House eventually published a briefer remembrance “Memories of Lovecraft I” in the Arkham Collector (Winter 1969), and later a letter that Lovecraft had sent her as “Lovecraft in Love” in the Arkham Collector (Winter 1971). A young student named R. Alain Everts, interviewing Lovecraft’s surviving correspondents interviewed her and obtained a copy of Alcestis which he would eventually publish. His final telephone call with her was 22 December 1972; Sonia H. Davis would pass away four days later.

While a few more items would be published after Sonia’s death, her memoir of Lovecraft remains her single largest work. It was eventually published in its original form—sans any quotes from Lovecraft’s letters but before Scott or Derleth edited it, with an appendix on their mutual friend Samuel Loveman—in 1985 from Necronomicon Press under her original title: The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft.

As an historical document, Sonia’s memoir is both extremely valuable and not without its flaws. On the one hand, it is a first-person account, even if some of the events being written about are twenty years in the past. Many of the basic facts that can be checked against other sources do check out; there are a few claims that probably deserved caveats—S. T. Joshi in his introduction to the text notes:

The extent to which Sonia harps upon money matters in her memoir may in part be justified—she was clearly trying to set the record straight and correct the inadequacies of previous treatments, especially by W. Paul Cook—but also underscores another point of tension which Lovecraft was perhaps reluctant to mention to his correspondents. For a full two years—from 1924 to 1926—Lovecraft was essentially supported financially by his wife. he had virtually no independent income, and his bootless efforts to find employment in New York are poignantly chronicled in his letters of the period. (5-6)

Some claims have to be measured against what else we know. Sonia’s assertion that:

He admired Hitler, and read Mein Kampf almost as soon as it was released and translated into English. I believe he was much influenced by that book. It may have had much to do in influencing further his hate, not only for Jews, but for all minorities, which he made little effort to conceal. (28)

This claim is on the last page of the book, in an addendum of afterthoughts that are predominantly about Lovecraft’s racial views. Keeping in mind that Sonia was writing this after World War II, when antisemitism was more prominent, and that she had very limited contact with Lovecraft after 1932 when Hitler came to power—which she and Lovecraft chronicled a small part of in their European Glimpses. The first English edition of Mein Kampf was the Dugdale abridged version published in 1933; it is possible Lovecraft read this, although there is no mention of it in his correspondence, and excerpts were published in the Times. So the claim is a bit iffy on the face: it’s not clear how Sonia would know this, the timing is a bit suspect, and there is no clear corroborating evidence from Lovecraft’s letters that he read Mein Kampf. But it cannot be completely discounted; they may well have continued corresponding in the mid-30s, and Lovecraft may have read the excerpts in the Times and mentioned them.

Similar consideration has to be given to every claim in the book. Her insistence on the importance of The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft to Howard does not seem borne out by a study of Lovecraft’s letters, but many other little details are. In some cases, such as the writing of “The Horror at Martin’s Beach,” Sonia is essentially the sole source we have to go on. Her manuscript sans Scott and Derleth’s writing is often disordered, written down as she remembers it, or to counteract specific points in previous memoirs about Lovecraft that had been written at that point (1946).

Also telling at the things that Sonia does not talk about. She makes almost no mention of her previous marriage or family; barely mentioning her mother (Lovecraft’s mother-in-law), who was alive and in New York at the time of their marriage, or her adult daughter Carol Weld (they had become estranged sometime in the 1920s), and no mention of her half-siblings in the Midwest. Juicy details on the Lovecrafts’ sex life were also not forthcoming, although Everts would provide what few we have from his interviews with Sonia, and Derleth noted after meeting Sonia in Los Angeles in 1953:

A propos your piece on Lovecraft, the question of HPL and sex had been bothering me for some time […] so in 1953 when I was in Los Angeles, I asked Sonia Davis—the ex-Mrs. Lovecraft—rather bluntly about HPL’s sexual adequacy. She assured me that he had been entirely adequate sexually, and since she impressed me as a well-sexed woman, not easily satisfied, I concluded that HPL’s “Aversion” was very probably nothing more than a kind of puritanism—that is, it was something “gentlemen” didn’t discuss.
—August Derleth, Haunted (1968) vol. 1, no 3, 114

Much of the actual domestic life and some of their later visits after their separation are not included in Sonia’s memoir. We know from Lovecraft’s letters to his aunts that he spent an extensive amount of time out of the household, visiting friends and the Kalem Club; we know that they enjoyed going out to dinner and to the theater; that when she was ill he would visit her in the hospital for hours; that they struggled with finances after Sonia lost her job and ended up selling some of her furniture.

It is an important memoir; perhaps one of the most important memoirs of Lovecraft that we have. Nearly forty years were required to get Sonia’s unedited words to the public, and she did not live to see that happen. The few errors in it or the critical assessment of some claims do not detract from its importance; it is the nature of historical research to question sources, to view them critically, to weigh the evidence against other accounts. To ask ourselves why Sonia was writing this, and to whom. There she was, alone once more, writing about a husband that had died nearly a decade before, and whom she had first met over twenty years before—and there are moments in her recollections that may be a bit rose-tinted, and others where Sonia was clearly trying to answer to claims about Lovecraft’s prejudices, or refute the inaccuracies of early biographers. Yet she wrote what only she could—and we are the richer for it.

“The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” has been most recently published in Ave Atque Vale (2018) from Necronomicon Press, alongside other memoirs of Lovecraft.


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

“European Glimpses” (1988) by Sonia H. Greene & H. P. Lovecraft

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

When I visited the Cheshire Cheese Restaurant in London I sent him a replica of the beerstein out of which Dr. Johnson drank, and other souvenirs including a picture card of the corner (which was roped off and held sacred) in which the table and chairs stood that D.r johnson and his cronies and Boswell sat and drank and talked. […] From Germany and from france I sent him more scenic views; whole sets of the Castle of Rambouillet, the residence of Francis I, Versailles, Fontainbleau, Chartres, Rheims, Soissons, Chateau Thierry, Sevres, Le Lido, in Paris, the Luxembourg, the King’s Chapel—the entire walls of which are made of exquisite stained glass of which the process of coloring has become a lost art—Montmartre, Eglise Madeleine, Genevieve, the beautiful Russian Church on the Hill from which hilltop the entire city of Paris may be seen, Notre Dame, and many, many more places of historic interest that I no longer remember at present.

But I sent a travelogue to H P. which he revised for me.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 141-142

H. P. Lovecraft and his wife Sonia would meet for the final time in March 1933, when she prevailed upon him to visit her during a trip to Farmington, Connecticut. Whether she had any intention of publishing these “European Glimpses” is unknown, as the manuscript was not published until some years after her death. Most of their letters were largely lost—Sonia claims in her memoir to have burned her letters from Lovecraft—and as for her side of the correspondence:

[Lovecraft’s surviving aunt] Mrs. Gamwell also gave the children about a hundred picture postcards that Sonia had mailed to Howard. These all held loving, spirited messages to H.P.L. from his sweetheart in New York. Not knowing their possible value in the far-away future, I did not hold on to any of these cards bearing Sonia’s signature, written in her breezy, happy handwriting. […] The children played for hours with the cards, and they eventually went the way all children’s toys go…in the ash heap!
—Muriel Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 17

Lovecraft himself spoke only very rarely of his wife in his letters after the divorce, and very seldom mentioned the marriage itself. It is possible that this circumspection may be why Lovecraft wrote to one friend living and studying abroad in Paris:

For the past year I have had such knowledge of Paris that I’ve felt tempted to advertise my services as a guide without ever having seen the damn place—this erudition coming from a ghost-writing job for a goof who wanted to be publicly eloquent about a trip from which he was apparently unable to extract any coherent first-hand impressions. I based my study on maps, guide-books, travel folders, descriptive volumes, & (above all) pictures—the cards secured from you forming the cream of the latter. Fixing the layout of the city in my mind, & calculating what vistas ought to be visible from certain points (pictures seen under a magnifying-glass furnish a splendid subsittute for first-hand vistas), I cooked up a travelogue which several Paris-wise readers have almost refused to believe was written by one never within 3000 miles of the place. If I ever get to your beloved burg I shall be able to stat in sightseeing without any preliminary orientation-tour or rubberneck-wagon ride. In my article I took a vicious fling at the ugly Eiffel Tower, & ventured the suggestion that the Victorian trocadero is an eyesore at close range, but glamourous when seen in the distance against a flaming sunset. Other parts of the text touched on chartres, Rheims, Versailles, Barbizon, Fontainebleau, & other tourist high spots. I revelled in the London section (I studied Old London intensively years ago, & could ramble guideless around it from Hampstead Heath to the Elephant & Castle!), but was not able to do it justice because of the nominal author’s hasty passage through it. nothing but the Tower, the Abbey, & the Cheshire Cheese seemed to give him a first-class kick.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 4 Nov 1933, Letters to Alfred Galpin 196-197

All of these sites were in fact included in “European Glimpses,” and despite the references to “he” it seems clear that this travelogue was Sonia’s, with Lovecraft being misleading about the identity of his “client.” A manuscript written on the backs of letters to friends at the John Hay Library is dated 19 December 1932, and aside from internal evidence, this is the only date we have for when the piece was written.

As with Lovecraft’s other revisions, there is a question as to how much of his own writing makes up the final product. S. T. Joshi weighs in on this in the introduction to its first publication:

What we have, therefore, is a travelogue recounting Sonia’s experiences but written in Lovecraft’s style and frequently with his outlook and perspective. Would Sonia have called certain vistas of Paris “Dunsanian”? Would she have harped on the “meaningless” and “hideous” modernistic architecture of Germany (the subject of Lovecraft’s essay “Heritage or Modernism” written three years later)? Would she have thought of Rémy de Gourmont (author of the languidly philosophical prose-poem A Night in the Luxembourg) when wandering through Luxembourg Gardens? As we read this document we mut constantly adopt a sort of schizophrenic mind-set: the first-person narrator is supposed to be Sonia, but Lovecraft cannot help injecting his own views into her sights and experiences.

To be quite frank, however, Lovecraft was extraordinarily charitable to rewrite this travelogue for Sonia. Even in his version it is hopelessly unpublishable. Where did Sonia think she could land such a piece? Do we really want yet another commonplace account of hackneyed tourist sites like the Tower of London or Versailles?
—S. T. Joshi, “Introduction” to European Glimpses 5

It is a valid point; most of the entries are relatively brief and contain little real insight or interest as a travelogue. The ending of the narrative seems to acknowledge this:

There may be those who will think my modest jaunt a sadly hackneyed coursing in the beaten paths, but to them I can only reply that no path is truly purged of its glamour so long as any ancient memories or overtones of fancy still cling around to its sights and impressions.

The contents also echo both Sonia’s memoir and Lovecraft’s letter to Galpin strongly. For example, in discussing the Cheshire Cheese tavern, “European Glimpses” notes on Dr. Johnson’s mug: “Duplicates of these mugs are for sale, and form especially apt mementoes of the place and its illustrious frequenter.” (Collected Essays 4.234)

The one part of the travelogue that does hold continued interest is a reference to a gathering of the National Socialist party at which Adolf Hitler, then on campaign for the presidency of Germany, gave a speech:

During my stay of five days at Wiesbaden I had opportunities to observe the disturbed political state of Germany, and the constant squabbles between various dismally uniformed factions of would-be patriots. Of all the self-appointed leaders, Hitler alone seems to retain a cohesive and enthusiastic following; his sheer magnetism and force of will serving—in spite of his deficiencies in true social insight—to charm, drug, or hypnotise the hordes of youthful “Nazis” who blindly revere and obey him. Without possessing any clear-cut or well-founded programme for Germany’s economic reconstruction, he plays theatrically on the younger generation’s military emotions and sense of national pride; urging them to overthrow the restrictive provisions of the Versailles treaty and reassert the strength and supremacy of the German people. He is fond of such phrases as: “Germany, awaken and take your rightful heritage with your own strong hands!”—and when speaking of elections usually intimates that in case of defeat he will consider an armed march on Berlin corresponding to Mussolini’s Roman coup d’etat of 1922.

Hitler’s lack of clear, concrete objectives seems to lose him nothing with the crowd; and when—during my stay—he was scheduled to speak in Wiesbaden, the Kurpark was crowded fully two hours before the event by a throng whose quiet seriousness was almost funereal. the contrast with America’s jocose and apathetic election crowds was striking. When the leader finally appeared—his right hand lifted in an approved Fascist salute—the crowd shouted “Heil!!” three times, and then subsided into an attentive silence devoid alike of applause, heckling, or hissing. the general spirit of the address was that of Cato’s “Delenda est Carthago“—though one could not feel quite sure what particular Carthage, material or psychological, “Handsome Adolf” was trying to single out for anathema.

After the conclusion the crowd respectfully opened a path for his departure, and he left in his car as quietly as he had arrived—the only sound being a shot of farewell from his followers. then—silently, though perhaps with the general muffled discontent of the period—the kindly burghers dispersed to their not quite happy homes. At the time of this speech Hitler’s tactics hinted of a “back to the Monarchy” movement; and Prince August Wihelm, sone of the ex-Kaiser, was a brief supplementary speaker. the royal scion, however, failed to overshadow the would-be dictator in the popular emotions.

The waste of energy and widespread chaos caused by the incessant conflict of no less than thirty-six separate parties—of which three may be called major ones—is the most distressing phenomenon in modern Germany; yet no one seems able to reconcile the various shades of opinion and feeling which cause this confusing diversity. Taxes are exorbitant, unemployment terrific, and general confidence at a very low ebb. the people of Wiesbaden have lately come to call their habitat “the city without a smaile”, though the same might be said for almost any city in the Reich. Passport restrictions are very stringent, including both visas and police registration; and the tourist is taxed nine pfennigs a day during his sojourn in the country. yet the German people as a whole, apart from the governmental meshes in which they are entangled, are perhaps the most kindly and affable beings I have ever met. they are gracious, courteous, and delightful; and seem to radiate a really cordial glow devoid of hollowness or superficiality. they perform their duties with an almost military precision and effectiveness, and when once led out of their present chaos will undoubtedly resume their place of importance in the world. One hopes that a suitable leader may arise before the existing misery increases. (ibid. 239-240)

This speech was July 28th, 1932, part of a tour that Hitler was giving in the run-up to the 1932 elections in Germany (election day was 31 July). There is a lot to unpack in the general sentiments; some bits are clearly Lovecraft, some bits are clearly Sonia. The date of the manuscript is after the election, so he would know of the Nazi party’s success, even as Hitler lost his bid for the presidency.

Lovecraft’s own opinion of Hitler was one of cautious optimism. The Providence writer had a low opinion of the intellect of the masses, and believed that the democratic trust of the lowest denominator was illogical; he believed in a kind of natural aristocracy of the intelligent and capable who would rise to leadership positions—and thought he saw this in the rise of Mussolini, and later Hitler. He approved of strongly nationalistic ethos, which jived with his own prejudices regarding race and culture, and with a planned, state-run economy. However, he disliked the Nazis’ racial theories—finding them unscientific—and he thought Hitler a clownish figure (particularly the mustache). Overall, Lovecraft’s opinion on Hitler was mixed, and leaned toward approval…at least until Hitler became chancellor and began to actually enact his program, where Lovecraft’s support rapidly dwindled. Lovecraft died in 1937, before World War II or the horrors of the Holocaust could be revealed.

Sonia’s opinion of Hitler is less well-known; no correspondence from her survives from before the end of the war. As a Jewish woman, she would have been keenly aware of the anti-Semitic thrust of Nazi ideology. Her memoir of their marriage includes mention of Lovecraft’s apparent consideration, including a claim that Lovecraft read Mein Kampf as soon as it came out; the only English-language translation during HPL’s lifetime was the Dugdale abridgment, available for sale in 1933 (after their final meeting), and there are no mentions of it in Lovecraft’s surviving letters. Possibly she referred to excerpts from the translation published in the Times in 1933, which Lovecraft would more likely have had access to, and which presumably he may have written her about.

So how much of this was incident was Sonia, and how much was Lovecraft? It seems clear that she must have mentioned the rally in her notes or correspondence; the interpretation seems more strongly evocative of Lovecraft. It is not unlikely that this represents a sort of balancing-act between Sonia’s disapproval and Lovecraft’s tentative optimism toward a man and political party that would go on to be some of the greatest monsters in human history. This was the calm before the storm that would be another world war and the horrors of the Holocaust. Lovecraft and Sonia could not have known that, readers today cannot forget it.

Where was I? Oh, yes, back from Europe and once more in New England with Howard at my side exploring the grounds and places of cities more than three hundred years old. Yes, I believe I must have still loved Howard very much, more than I cared to admit even to myself.  For, although in my travels I met many eligible men, some of them offering honest proposals of marriage, none appealed to me until after a period of eight years, during which time I could not help but compare what to me appeared as the inadequacy of other men, when compared in point of intellect, with Howard.
—Sonia H. Davis, “The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 143

If “The Horror at Martin’s Beach” marks the true beginning of Sonia and Lovecraft’s relationship, then “European Glimpses” marks its true end. A strange and fitful journey that left its imprint on both of them.

“European Glimpses” was first published in 1988 by Necronomicon Press; it is republished in volume four of Lovecraft’s Collected Essays. The unedited 1932 manuscript is available to be read online for free.


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