Her Letters To Lovecraft: Sonia H. Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In her memoir, Sonia also wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howard would not follow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In her memoir, Sonia states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Given the circumstances, Sonia made a possibly fateful decision:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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 Wilhelm, son 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 smile”, 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).

“Four O’Clock” (1949) by Sonia H. Greene

His touch was lightest in the stories by Sonia H. Greene, who was later to become his wife; he made some alterations in The Invisible Monster, he made only suggestions for the prose style of Four O’Clock.
—August Derleth, Something About Cats and Other Pieces(1949) vii

Four O’Clock” is the third work of fiction, after “The Horror at Martin’s Beach” (1923) (published in Weird Tales as “The Invisible Monster”) and Alcestis: A Play (1985) attributed to Sonia H. Greene with some input or assistance from H. P. Lovecraft, who she would marry in 1924. Relatively little is known about the genesis of this story, as Lovecraft mentions it only a few times in his letters, except that it was apparently one of three tales that were conceived during a visit by Sonia and Lovecraft to Magnolia, Massachusetts in 1922:

Mme. G. has taken to this sort of composition—has written one & planned two more—& I’m damned if they don’t look like good stuff! The first one, “Four O’Clock”, has some images noxiously Poe-esque—I shall polish it up for use in the U.A. or something else.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 30 Jun 1922, Letters to Alfred Galpin 120

After the repast—a most marvelous meal prepared by Mrs. G. alone since the negress disappointed her & failed to appear—a programme of literary reading & discussion took place. I read my “Doom that Came to Sarnath” & “The Tree”, Belknap read his “Eye Above the Mantel”, Mrs. Green read her “Four O’Clock” & one of the other Magnolia horror-tales not yet revised […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Anne E. P. Gamwell, 9 Sep 1922, Letters from New York 20-21

The story did not see publication during Lovecraft’s lifetime, but in 1946 Sonia (now Sonia H. Davis) came into contact with August Derleth of Arkham House, and after some personal disagreements and correspondence, both “The Invisible Monster” and “Four O’Clock” were published in Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949), which contained several of Lovecraft’s revision tales; it would subsequently be reprinted in The Horror in the Museum (1970) and other collections of Lovecraft’s revision and ghostwritten tales, despite the relatively slight evidence, as Joshi notes:

In a letter to Winfield Townley Scott (11 December 1948; ms JHL), Sonia H. Davis wrote that this story was written only at HPL’s suggestion. On that basis, I excluded it from the revised Horror in the Museum (1989); but in fact, much of the prose appears to be similar to HPL’s own prose, with some characteristic linguistic and even punctuational usages; so HPL probably did touch up the story somewhat. HPL never mentions the story in any extant correspondence, it was apparently not published in his lifetime. The only basis for the text is its first appearance in 1949.
—S. T. Joshi, Collected Fiction Vol. 4 (Revisions and Collaborations): A Variorum Edition 4.613

The letter mentioned is available online, where Sonia writes:

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

If the “story revised by HP” is “The Horror at Martin’s Beach”/”The Invisible Monster,” then by process of elimination the “fictitious story I wrote about HP” must be “Four O’Clock.” Which perhaps places this story in the same category of “Falco Ossifracus” (1921) by Edith Miniter, closer to affectionate parody than an effort at a weird tale, a literary tweaking of Lovecraft’s nose.

There is something deliciously pulpy about “Four O’Clock.” The tale of supernatural revenge beyond the grave to be visited at the eponymous hour has all of the four-color garish earnestness of a Tale from the Crypt-Keeper. The demons, be they real or hallucinations, have a cartoonish quality. The Poe-esque images that Lovecraft mentioned are laid on with a heavy trowel, so the fine line between pastiche and parody is blurry and indiscernible, but for readers that cackled at old horror comics, it’s hard to suppress a smile.

The major question, as with every story that claims any part of being a Lovecraft “revision,” is how much of it he wrote—or re-wrote, as is often the case. “Four O’Clock” is not easy to categorize in that regard; it has no familiar landmarks of Lovecraft country, no explicit references to the as-yet-mostly-unborn conception of Lovecraft’s Mythos. There are thematic resonances with his work, but how much of these owe themselves to Lovecraft’s imagination or Sonia H. Greene’s is impossible to say. Take for example one of the opening sentences:

The great black silences of night’s depth told me, and a monstrous cricket, chirping with a persistence too hideous to be unmeaning, made it certain. (Variorum 613)

How comparable is this to azif?

[…] azif being the word used by Arabs to designate that nocturnal sound (made by insects) suppos’d to be the howling of daemons.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “History of the Necronomicon”

Similar common images abound, the most obvious of which is perhaps the appearance of what would become one of the more common visual cues in the Mythos:

The four talons, long, thin, and straight, were now seen to be tipped by disgusting, thread-like tentacles, each with a vile intelligence of its own, which groped about incessantly, slowly at first, but gradually increasing in velocity until I was nearly driven mad by the sheer dizziness of their motion. (Variorum 615)

H. P. Lovecraft, of course, neither invented the tentacle in weird fiction nor had any monopoly on the concept; M. R. James used them to good effect in “Count Magnus” (1904), Arthur Machen in “The Novel of the Black Seal” (1895), H. G. Wells in The War of the Worlds (1897), etc. The tentacles could be coincidental, or a deliberate reference to something that came up in their correspondence which Sonia incorporated into the story deliberately to invoke Lovecraft as the unnamed protagonist of the story.

We’ll never know.

Serious literary analysis of this story could point to it as a night terror, as a psychological suspense narrative driven by the phantasmagoric imagery, a variation on the theme of the incubus attack with all attendant sublimated psychosexual implications—and there is certainly a case to be made with that. Sonia H. Greene was 39 in 1922, biological clock ticking inevitably toward doom as surely as the fated hour approaches in the story. While such deep reading of the story is possible, maybe valuable to those who enjoy that kind of exercise, the simpler enjoyment of this story might be just in the slightly ridiculous seriousness with which it pursues its premise, like a solid exploitation film.

The plot actually has gross parallels to a tangential Mythos story: “Wentworth’s Day” (1957) by August Derleth features another posthumous appointment being kept. Stylistically the stories are worlds apart, but it’s interesting that Derleth for all his efforts to ground the plot in a suitably realistic milieu doesn’t achieve anything quite like the same effect as in “Four O’Clock”—where the over-the-top visuals of the pending hour, completely surreal in any realistic setting, actually work with the kind of dream-logic that might come from reading too much Poe.

Not that Derleth borrowed anything from Greene or Lovecraft, the idea of the appointment being kept or the curse fulfilled after death is a hoary one. Both stories might be considered a bit hokey, even when they were written, and there’s a campfire tale quality to “Four O’Clock.” It feels like a story to be read not to keep the darkness at bay, but to welcome it home.


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

 

Alcestis: A Play (1985) by Sonia H. Greene & H. P. Lovecraft

Alcestis. As by “Howard phillips Lovecraft and Sonia Haft Greene Lovecraft.”
Madison, WI: Strange Co., 1985. 15 pp.
Facsimile of the A.Ms. of a play (in Sonia Greene’s handwriting) that the editor, R. Alain Everts, maintains was co-written by Lovecraft and Greene. The degree of Lovecraft’s involvement (if any) is, however, undetermined.
—S. T. Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: A Comprehensive Bibliography (2009) 195

Prior to their marriage, Sonia had suggested three ghost story plots, two of which Lovecraft expanded into stories that appeared in WEIRD TALES magazine. The third tale rests unpublished as did this play, written out in longhand by Sonia, sometime in the early 1930’s. This play was written much the same way—Sonia suggested the theme, the classical Greek subject matter delighting Lovecraft, and then Lovecraft set out to flesh out the play. His notes on Greek Mythology and on Alcestis particularly have survived, indicating that as was usual, most of the writing was his alone. despite the handwriting being that of Sonia, who likely was acting as Lovecraft’s scribe, the play bears the mark more of Lovecraft than his wife.
—R. Alain Everts, introduction to Alcestis: A Play (1985)

In the late 1960s R. Alain Everts, using a tape recorder provided by Brown University (where Lovecraft’s papers are archived), conducted a series of interviews with surviving acquaintances of H. P. Lovecraft and his circle, notably including Wilfred Blanch Talman and Sonia Davis, Lovecraft’s former wife. After the conclusion of the interviews, it became clear to Brown University that Everts had also collected materials from some of the interviewees which he did not turn over to the university. The university took out the unusual step of issuing a notice to booksellers against purchasing this material, which began a series of legal suits (see 757 F.2d 124).

In the 1970s, Everts began publishing articles based on his interviews including “Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Sex: or The Sex Life of a Gentleman,” as well as fanzines and chapbooks under the imprint “The Strange Company,” including previously unseen photographs of Lovecraft & co., letters, and Alcestis: A Play (printed in 1975 but not published until 1985). Released in an edition of only 200 copies and never reprinted, it is the rarest and most contentious of Lovecraft’s collaborations.

The play is based on Euripides’ play of the same name, which was available in several translations during Lovecraft’s lifetime, including Coleridge’s 1906 verse translation. The exact translation Howard and Sonia might have been familiar with is unknown, as no such work is listed in Lovecraft’s Library: A Cataloguebut Lovecraft specifically mentions Alcestis among Euripides’ plays in his Collected Essays (2.185). Sonia’s memoir of their marriage, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) likewise emphasizes their appreciation for ancient Greece:

The nomenclature of “Socrates and Xantippe” were originated by me because, as time marched on and our correspondence became more intimate, I either saw in Howard or endowed him with a Socratic wisdom and genius, so that in a jocular vein I subscribed myself as Xantippe.
—Sonia Davis, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft 27

The is no mention of Alcestis: A Play in the published correspondence of H. P. Lovecraft; then again, Lovecraft rarely mentioned his marriage or his wife in his correspondence after their separation, so this does not preclude collaboration. Even after Sonia filed for divorce, they remained on friendly terms and continued to correspond. Lovecraft is known to have visited her in March 1933, as she was recovering from an illness after returning from a trip to Europe (ibid. 22). Possibly this visit allowed for collaboration or at least inspired her to make this holograph manuscript; Sonia herself never alludes to the play in her memoir.

Absent all other evidence the only determination as to whether Lovecraft and Sonia did or did not collaborate on Alcestis: A Play is to look at the text itself.

Prologue

Scene I

Night. A cemetery beside a high-road, under a horned moon. Edge of road with low wall in the foreground. Ground covered with asphodel (the flower of the dead) and studded with tombs and stelae, rises unevenly to wall of cyclopean masonry overgrown with vines and lichens.

“Cyclopean” is famously one of Lovecraft’s favorite adjectives, but otherwise there is no exact bit of language readers can lean on to discern who is the author; it’s a work for stylometrists. If Lovecraft was involved, the play marks a departure from his usual style: being all-dialogue, with a few descriptions of scenes and action.

Worth noting is that despite carrying her name, the character of Alcestis—who sacrificed herself so that her husband might live—never appears in the brief play. It is more accurate to say that Alcestis: A Play is a kind of prologue, setting up the events where Apollo is made the servant of Admetus and the bargain with the Fates, ending on the rather hopeful upbeat that someone will be found willing to die in the king’s place.

Addendum: Since writing this entry, I’ve discovered that a typewritten edition of the play and prologue, probably made in the 1960s, survive at the John Hay Library and can be viewed 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).

“The Horror at Martin’s Beach” (1923) by Sonia H. Greene & H. P. Lovecraft

While visiting Magnolia, that beautiful, exclusive summer resort on the north shoe of Massachusetts, we often walked to Gloucester, which was a distance of about four miles. On our way we passed a beautiful esplanade. One evening while walking along this esplanade, the full moon reflecting its light in the water, a peculiar and unusual noise heard at a distance as of a loud snorting and grunting, the shimmering light forming a moon-path on the water, the round tops of the submerged piles in the water exposed a rope connecting them like a huge spider’s guy-line, gave the vivid imagination full play for an interesting weird tale. “Oh, Howard,” I exclaimed, “here you have the setting for a real strange and mysterious story.” Said he, “Go ahead, and write it.” “Oh, no, I couldn’t do it justice,” I answered. “Try it. Tell me what the scene pictures to your imagination.” And as we walked along we neared the edge of the water. Here I described my interpretation of the scene and the noises. His encouragement was so enthusiastic and sincere that when we parted for the night, I sat up and wrote the general outline which he later revised and edited. His continued enthusiasm the next day was so genuine and sincere that in appreciation I surprised and shocked him right then and there by kissing him. He was so flustered that he blushed, then he turned pale. When I chaffed him about it he said he had not been kissed since he was a very small child and that he was never kissed by any woman, not even by his mother or aunts, since he grew to manhood, and that he would probably never be kissed again. (But I fooled him.)
—Sonia H. Davis, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft 19

Born Sonia Haft Shafirkin to a Jewish family in the Russian Empire (modern Ukraine), by the time that Lovecraft and Sonia met she had been living in the United States some 20 years, had married and outlived her first husband (Samuel Greene), and had an adult daughter (Carol Weld) from that union. Sonia was a successful, highly-paid milliner in New York City, and had gotten involved in amateur journalism. Lovecraft met her at an amateur press convention in 1921, shortly after the death of Lovecraft’s mother, and the two began a correspondence which turned into a rather surprising courtship-in-letters. They would marry quickly and unexpected in 1924…but before that, they wrote this tale together.

There is no reason to doubt Sonia’s own account of the story’s genesis, and this makes it difficult to distinguish her prose from Lovecraft’s. The issue is exacerbated because little of Sonia’s own work has been published—her other two known fictional efforts, “Four O’Clock” and the play Alcestis both show evidence of being “touched up” by Lovecraft.  Joshi in volume 4 of the variorum edition of the collected fiction of H. P. Lovecraft notes: “One supposes that Lovecraft retained a certain amount of prose by Greene.” Her image of the moon-path in particular is a recurring motif:

It was in the twilight, when grey sea-birds hovered low near the shore and a rising moon began to make a glittering path across the waters. The scene is important to remember, for every impression counts. On the beach were several strollers and a few late bathers; stragglers from the distant cottage colony that rose modestly on a green hill to the north, or from the adjacent cliff-perched Inn whose imposing towers proclaimed its allegiance to wealth and grandeur. […]

Minutes seemed lengthened into hours, and still that human snake of swaying torsos was seen above the fast rising tide. rhythmically it undulated; slowly, horribly, with the seal of doom upon it. thicker clouds now passed over the ascending moon, and the glittering path on the waters faded nearly out. […]

There was no line of bobbing heads now. The waters were calm and deserted, and broken only by the fading ripples of what seemed to be a whirlpool far out in the path of the moonlight whence the strange cry had first come. But as I looked along that treacherous lane of silvery sheen, with fancy fevered and senses overwrought, there trickled upon my ears from some abysmal sunken waste the faint and sinister echoes of a laugh.
—Greene & Lovecraft, “The Horror at Martin’s Beach”

It is an atypical tale by Lovecraft’s standards, much like his earlier collaborations “Poetry and the Gods” (1920) with Anna Helen Crofts and “The Crawling Chaos” (1921) with Winifred Virginia Jackson. Like those stories, it is not a Mythos tale per se, although it seems likely that Lovecraft is behind the name of “Capt. Orne,” which is the name of one of the families he would later associate with Innsmouth. It has more plot than those dream-tales. The mocking laughter at the end and the strange inevitability of the victims’ doom is closer to a conte cruel than Lovecraft’s other efforts…but the real difference between this collaboration and previous efforts is its fate.

The story was written in 1922, during or shortly after the Magnolia visit (26 June – 5 July); and Lovecraft wrote on 11 Sep 1922 that at a party attended by several amateur journalism folk:

I read my “Doom that Came to Sarnath” & “The Tree”, Belknap read his “Eye Above the Mantel”, Mrs. Greene read her “Four o’Clock” & one of the other Magnolia horror-tales not yet revised […]
—Lovecraft to Anne Gamwell, 9-11 Sep 1922, Letters from New York 21

At this point, Sonia appears to have titled the story “The Nameless Monster” (Selected Letters 1.303). However, in March 1923 a new pulp appeared on the stands: Weird Tales. Lovecraft successfully submitted several stories to this magazine—including “The Nameless Monster,” which he had re=titled as “The Horror at Martin’s Beach.” To Lovecraft’s chagrin, the editor re-titled the piece again, and it appeared as “The Invisible Monster” by Sonia H. Greene in the November 1923 issue. This was, then, Lovecraft’s first commercial collaboration, and Sonia’s only known professional publication during Lovecraft’s lifetime.

This is one of the stories that marked the transition from Lovecraft as an amateur to a professional writer—and perhaps it is notable that it was Sonia who partnered with him in that, as she did later in their brief marriage. She was in many ways the catalyst for bringing Lovecraft to New York, which while painful for the man from Providence also led to much personal growth.


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