I am providence the life.., p.122

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 122


I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES)

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  Either while at Dunedin or when he returned home a month or two later, Lovecraft assisted Whitehead on the writing of a story, “The Trap.” He noted in one letter that he “revised & totally recast”[5] the tale, and in another letter said that he “suppl[ied] the central part myself.”[6] My feeling is that the latter three-fourths of the story is Lovecraft’s. “The Trap” is an entertaining if insubstantial account of an anomalous mirror that sucks hapless individuals into a strange realm where colours are altered and where objects, both animate and inanimate, have a sort of intangible, dreamlike existence. The mirror had been devised by a seventeenth-century Danish glassblower named Axel Holm who yearned for immortality and found it, after a fashion, in his mirror-world, since “‘life’ in the sense of form and consciousness would go on virtually forever” so long as the mirror itself was not destroyed. A boy, Robert Grandison, one of the pupils at the Connecticut academy where Gerald Canevin teaches, gets drawn into this world, and the tale—narrated in the first person by Canevin—tells of the ultimately successful effort to extricate him.

  Because this was a tale that would appear under Whitehead’s name—Lovecraft, in his gentlemanly way, refused a collaborative byline—Lovecraft did not drag in references (whimsical or otherwise) to his pseudomythology as he had done in the tales ghostwritten for Zealia Bishop or Adolphe de Castro. (Whitehead is, indeed, one of the few literary associates of Lovecraft’s who did not draw upon this body of invented myth or create new elements of his own as “additions” to it.) Whitehead’s and Lovecraft’s styles do not seem to me to meld very well, and the urbanely conversational style of Whitehead’s beginning abruptly gives way to Lovecraft’s long paragraphs of dense exposition. The tale was published in the March 1932 issue of Strange Tales—Lovecraft’s only “appearance” (if it can be called that) in the magazine.

  By early June Lovecraft was ready to return north, although he wished to spend at least another week each in St Augustine and Charleston; but two timely revision checks allowed him to prolong the trip unexpectedly. Instead of heading north, on June 10 he went south to Miami—whose vegetation he found strikingly tropical, and which he generally found more prepossessing than Tampa or Jacksonville—and the next day he arrived at his ultimate destination, Key West. This was the farthest south Lovecraft would ever reach, although on this and several other occasions he yearned to hop on a boat and get to Havana, but never had quite enough money to make the plunge.

  Key West, the most remote of the Florida Keys, was reached by a succession of ferries and bus rides, since the depression had not allowed the state to construct the continuous series of causeways that now connects all the Keys. Lovecraft wished to explore this place not only because of its remoteness but because of its genuine antiquity: it had been settled in the early nineteenth century by Spaniards, who called it Cayo Hueso (Bone Key); later the name was corrupted by Americans to Key West. Its naval base was of great importance in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Because of its relative isolation, it had not yet been invaded by tourists, so that its archaic charm was preserved: “the town is absolutely natural & unspoiled; a perfect bit of old-time simplicity which is truly quaint because it does not know that it is quaint.”[7] Lovecraft spent only a few days in Key West, but he canvassed the place thoroughly.

  Lovecraft then returned, apparently, to Miami, as he described making a side-trip to a Seminole village and also a trip over a coral reef on a glass-bottomed boat;[8] it is possible, however, that these Miami excursions had occurred earlier, on his way down. In any event, by June 16 he was back in St Augustine, soaking up the antiquity and spending more time with Dudley Newton. It was at this time that Lovecraft learned that the “accursed cheap skate”[9] Wright had turned down At the Mountains of Madness. The manuscript had of course been sent back to Providence, and Lillian had told him of a large parcel that had come from Weird Tales; Lovecraft, suspecting the worst, asked her to open it, remove any letter Wright may have enclosed, and send it on to Frank Long, where he would read the bad news as he passed through New York. But the charm of St Augustine took his mind off things for a while. It is interesting to note, however, that Lovecraft remarks having done “quite a bit on a new story yesterday”[10] (June 21), but he ceased abruptly once he heard the news of the rejection. This story fragment does not, apparently, survive.

  On the evening of June 22 Lovecraft took a bus back to Jacksonville, then a midnight bus to Savannah. In two hours he looked up all the old parts of the town (he apparently had had no time to do so on his trip down), finding considerable charm in the ancient district: “The town in general is marvellously attractive, having a drowsy & beautiful atmosphere all its own, & being utterly different from CHARLESTON. . . . The whole effect of Savannah is that of one vast sleepy park.”[11] He especially liked some of the burying-grounds, including the vast cemetery outside the compact part of the town called Colonial Park with its above-ground wall graves. This is where the Rhode Island colonial general Nathanael Greene is buried, and Lovecraft made sure to seek out this reminder of home.

  At 7.30 A.M. on the 23rd Lovecraft took a bus to Charleston, where he stayed a mere two days. Late afternoon on the 25th he left for Richmond, reaching there at noon the next day. He spent less than a day there, exploring some of the Poe sites, and the next morning (the 27th) he made his way to Fredericksburg. The day after found him passing through Philadelphia on his way to New York, which he reached that evening. After a week of looking up his old friends, visiting museums (including the Roerich), and a weekend with the Longs at the seaside resort of Asbury Park, New Jersey, Lovecraft accepted Wilfred B. Talman’s offer to spend a week in his large Flatbush apartment. Like Whitehead, Talman also gave Lovecraft one of his suits, as he had become too stout for it. (Throughout his trip Lovecraft worked hard to keep to his “ideal” weight of 140 pounds.) On July 6 a gang meeting at Talman’s featured, as a special guest, Seabury Quinn, the Weird Tales hack. Lovecraft, although taking a dim view of his endless array of clichéd stories (most revolving around the psychic detective Jules de Grandin), found him “exceedingly tasteful & intelligent,”[12] although more a businessman than an aesthete. Another curious encounter was with a friend of Loveman’s named Leonard Gaynor, connected with Paramount. He had become interested in possible film adaptations of Lovecraft’s work from Loveman’s descriptions of it, but clearly nothing came of this meeting. On Friday the 10th Lovecraft accompanied the Longs on their usual motor trip, this time to the Croton Dam in Westchester County. The scenery was spectacular: “Vivid green slopes, fantastic clusters of trees, blue threads & patches of water, & great lines of outspread hills from the green eminences close at hand to the faint, half-fabulous purple peaks on the far horizon.”[13] After another ten days of dawdling in the metropolitan area (including hearing the bad news on the 14th of the rejection by Putnam’s of his story collection), Lovecraft finally returned home on July 20. It had been another record-breaking trip, but aside from the letters to Lillian—some of which have clearly been lost—and to other correspondents, he produced no connected travelogue of the journey.

  The rest of the year was taken up with lesser trips or with visits to Providence by friends. The day after Lovecraft came home, James F. Morton visited for three days.[14] August 24 found Lovecraft spending the day in Plymouth because of the cheap ($1.75) bus fares. At the beginning of September a journey of a somewhat shorter distance ensued: steam heat was being installed at 10 Barnes, and the resulting racket and disruption forced Lovecraft to spend most of the days at aunt Annie’s flat, at 61 Slater Avenue on the East Side. It was at this time that Lovecraft, passing by 454 Angell Street, discovered to his dismay that the old barn of the place had been torn down a month before. Annie also was heartbroken:

  . . . she had seen it built—it being newer than the house. Last month she recovered from the shattered walls the baking-powder tin with “historical data”—tintype, newspaper sheet, & “to whom it may concern” letter—which she had put in in 1881
, for the benefit of future archaeologists. How melancholy—& how illustrative of the emptiness of human designs—that she should have to reclaim herself that which was intended for a remote posterity! Eheu, fugaces . . . sic transit gloria mundi![15]

  In early October Lovecraft took a trip with Cook to Boston, Newburyport, and Haverhill, looking up the Old Ship Church (1681) in Hingham and visiting with Tryout Smith. Around this time Lovecraft organised an informal fund to purchase a new set of typesetting equipment for Tryout, calling on all his amateur friends to contribute and himself adding a dollar.[16] The fund was completed early the next year and the equipment purchased shortly thereafter; but it did not seem to make much difference in the accuracy of the Tryout, which was as error-riddled as before.

  In early November, Indian summer lingering unusually late, Lovecraft and Cook took another excursion to Boston, Salem, Marblehead, Newburyport, and Portsmouth.[17] No doubt these visits were the immediate inspiration for “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” begun later in the month and finished in early December. At this point, however, the cold curtailed any further outings that required extensive outdoor travel.

  New Year’s Day 1932, a Friday, was exceptionally mild, so Lovecraft took occasion to spend the weekend with Cook in Boston. They saw five museums in Cambridge on the 2nd (Germanic, Semitic, Peabody, Agassiz, and Fogg) and two more in Boston (Fine Arts and Gardner) the next day. More destruction was occurring in the “Pickman’s Model” district in the North End, but of course much of the area had already been razed in 1927.[18]

  Lovecraft’s financial situation was not getting any better, although for the moment it was not getting any worse. The publication of “The Whisperer in Darkness” in the August 1931 Weird Tales enriched him by $350.00—a sum that, given his boast that he had now reduced his expenses to $15.00 per week, could have lasted him for more than five months. Here is how he did it:

  $15.00 per week will float any man of sense in a very tolerable way—lodging him in a cultivated neighbourhood if he knows how to look for rooms, (this one rule, though, breaks down in really megalopolitan centres like New York—but it will work in Providence, Richmond, or Charleston, & would probably work in most of the moderate-sized cities of the northwest) keeping him dressed in soberly conservative neatness if he knows how to choose quiet designs & durable fabrics among cheap suits, & feeding him amply & palatably if he is not an epicurean crank, & if he does not attempt to depend upon restaurants. One must have a kitchen-alcove & obtain provisions at grocery & delicatessen prices rather than pay cafes & cafeterias the additional price they demand for mere service.[19]

  Of course, this is predicated on Lovecraft’s habit of eating only two (very frugal) meals a day. He actually maintained that “my digestion raises hell if I try to eat oftener than once in 7 hours.”[20]

  But original fiction—especially now that he was writing work that was not meeting the plebeian criteria of pulp editors—was not going to help much in making ends meet. Reprints brought in very little: he received $12.25 from Selwyn & Blount in mid-1931[21] (probably for “The Rats in the Walls” in Christine Campbell Thomson’s Switch On the Light [1931]), and another $25.00 for “The Music of Erich Zann” in Dashiell Hammett’s Creeps by Night (1931);[22] but, aside from “The Whisperer in Darkness” and $55.00 for “The Strange High House in the Mist” from Weird Tales, that may have been all for original fiction sold for the year. Of course, after his double rejections of the summer, Lovecraft was in no mood to hawk his work about. In the fall he sent Derleth several stories the latter had asked to see, including “In the Vault.” On his own initiative Derleth retyped the story (Lovecraft’s typescript was becoming tattered to the point of disintegration), and then badgered Lovecraft into resubmitting it to Wright; Lovecraft did so, and the tale was accepted in early 1932 for $55.00.[23]

  The Creeps by Night anthology is worth pausing over, since it evolved into a kind of literary meeting-place for Lovecraft’s associates and also represented one of those fleeting occasions in which he—or, in this case, his work—came to the attention of an established literary figure. Dashiell Hammett, who had attained celebrity initially by writing hard-boiled detective stories in the magazine—Black Mask—that years earlier had rejected Lovecraft, had already published his first two novels, Red Harvest (1929) and The Maltese Falcon (1930). Now he was commissioned by the John Day Co. to compile an anthology of weird, horror, and suspense tales. Hammett assembled the volume, however, in a peculiar way: he solicited suggestions from readers and offered them $10 if a story they recommended was selected for the book. In this way August Derleth pocketed $10 for suggesting “The Music of Erich Zann.” Of the twenty stories in the volume, six come from Weird Tales; aside from Lovecraft’s, the others are S. Fowler Wright’s “The Rat,” Donald Wandrei’s “The Red Brain,” W. Elwyn Backus’s “The Phantom Bus,” Paul Suter’s “Beyond the Door” (an early favourite of Lovecraft’s), and Frank Belknap Long’s “A Visitor from Egypt.” Something of Derleth’s was considered but did not make the final cut.

  Lovecraft professed to be somewhat disappointed with Creeps by Night, because (understandably in light of Hammett’s own work) it tended to feature contes cruels rather than tales of the supernatural. And yet, the volume would be notable solely for being the first book appearance (following its publication in the Forum for April 1930) of William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”; such other superb tales as Hanns Heins Ewers’s “The Spider” and Conrad Aiken’s “Mr. Arcularis” are also included. Lovecraft violently disliked John Collier’s “Green Thoughts,” but he never cared for the mingling of humour and horror, even the dark, sardonic humour of Collier. Hammett’s very brief introduction makes no mention of Lovecraft’s story or any other in the volume. Largely on the basis of his name, Creeps by Night proved notably successful, being reprinted by Victor Gollancz in England in 1932 under the title Modern Tales of Horror, by Blue Ribbon Books in 1936, by the World Publishing Co. in 1944, and in sundry abridged paperback editions. It was the British edition that surely led to the reprinting of “The Music of Erich Zann” in the London Evening Standard on October 24, 1932, netting Lovecraft another $21.61.[24]

  In early 1932 a potential new magazine market emerged, only to fizzle. A Carl Swanson of Washburn, North Dakota, had come up with the idea of a semi-professional magazine, Galaxy, that would use both original stories and reprints from Weird Tales. At this stage Swanson had not determined how much he would pay, but he promised to pay something. Lovecraft heard about the magazine from Henry George Weiss and was about to write to Swanson when Swanson himself wrote. Lovecraft sent him “The Nameless City” and “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (both Weird Tales rejects), and Swanson accepted them with alacrity.[25] Lovecraft was also keen on sending Swanson some Weird Tales stories for which he owned second serial rights; and because he evidently did not know for which stories he owned such rights, he asked Farnsworth Wright about the matter. Lovecraft told Talman what Wright’s response was:

  Wright replied that it was nix on the ones he owned, and that—since Swanson was likely to prove a rival of his—he did not favour the second sale of those tales in which I hold later rights. In other words, this bozo who has exploited his authors for his own profit—cabbaging all their rights until they learned to reserve them, rejecting their best tales, reprinting others without added remuneration, and backing out of book-publishing promises while he pushes the work of his pal [Otis Adelbert] Kline—this hard egg who actually boasted to a friend of Belknap’s that he has his authors at his mercy financially because for the most part there’s nowhere else they can place their work—expects his lamb-like contributors to forfeit their legitimate rights as a personal favour to him in exchange for his unnumbered kindnesses! Gents, I like that! Well—what I did was to give him the civilised Rhodinsular equivalent of that curt injunction so popular in his own tempest-swept cosmopolis—“go jump in the lake”![26]

  Lovecraft’s relations with Wright had certainly reached rock-bo
ttom. Wright was clearly using strong-arm tactics to dissuade his authors from submitting to Swanson, suggesting that he would be disinclined to accept stories of theirs if they published in Galaxy. Frank Long was so intimidated by this threat that he had nothing to do with Swanson. Lovecraft, who at this juncture was not much inclined to send anything to Wright anyway, felt no such compunction.

  Unfortunately, the Swanson venture never materialised: by late March it had collapsed, as Swanson was unable to arrange for the financing and printing of the magazine. He had vague ideas of issuing a mimeographed magazine or a series of booklets, but Lovecraft rightly concluded that this did not sound very promising, and in fact it never came about. Swanson disappeared and was never heard of again.

  It was certainly unfortunate that Lovecraft, in the course of his entire life, was never able to secure a reliable second market for his work aside from Weird Tales. His one sale to Amazing Stories was his last, as the pay was outrageously low and late in coming. Tales of Magic and Mystery also paid poorly and folded after five issues. Lovecraft’s submissions to Strange Tales were all rejected (it died after seven issues anyway), and his two sales to Astounding Stories came only in the mid-1930s and were essentially luck-shots. If such a second market had emerged, Lovecraft could have used it as leverage to persuade Wright to accept items that he might otherwise have been hesitant to take, in order to retain Lovecraft’s presence in Weird Tales.

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