I am providence the life.., p.127

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 127


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

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  Late in 1932 Lovecraft was pained by the death on November 23 of Henry S. Whitehead, who finally succumbed to the gastric ailment that had enfeebled him for years. Lovecraft’s tribute to him is unaffected as he recalls his visit of the year before:

  It is doubtful if any other host ever reached quite his level of cordiality, thoughtfulness, & generosity over a period exceeding a fortnight. I really had, for his sake, to be careful what books or other possessions of his I openly admired; for like some open-handed Eastern prince he would insist on presenting me with whatever seemed to arouse my enthusiasm. He compelled me to consider his wardrobe my own (for his physique was almost identical with mine), & there still hangs in my clothespress one of the white tropical suits he lent me—& finally insisted that I retain permanently as a souvenir. As I glance at my curio shelf I see a long mottled snake in a jar, & reflect how good old Canevin caught & killed it with his own hands—thinking I might like a sample of Dunedin’s lurking horrors. He was not afraid of the devil himself, & the seizure of that noxious wriggler was highly typical of him. The astonishing versatility & multiplicity of attractive qualities which he possessed sound almost fabulous to one who did not know him in person.[89]

  In assessing Whitehead’s fiction, Lovecraft made note of a series of three tales set in a New England town called Chadbourne—which Whitehead evidently conceived as a parallel to Lovecraft’s own Arkham. One of these (“The Chadbourne Episode”) had been accepted by Weird Tales and would appear in the issue for February 1933; the other two—which Lovecraft does not name—have not been identified and may not survive. One was accepted by Harry Bates for Astounding but returned when that magazine folded; the other had apparently not been submitted anywhere.

  I have already mentioned Lovecraft’s revision of Whitehead’s “The Trap.” There are two other stories on which he gave some assistance, although my belief is that he contributed no actual prose to either of them. One is “Cassius,” which is clearly based upon entry 133 of Lovecraft’s commonplace book: “Man has miniature shapeless Siamese twin—exhib. in circus—twin surgically detached—disappears—does hideous things with malign life of its own.” Whitehead has followed the details of this entry exactly in his tale, with the exception of the circus element; instead, he transfers it to his customary West Indian locale, where a black servant of Gerald Canevin’s named Brutus Hellman removes the diminutive twin that was attached to its groin, thereby releasing its malevolent instincts and causing it to attack Hellman repeatedly until it is finally killed.

  “Cassius” (Strange Tales, November 1931) is an able and suspenseful story, although its middle section gets bogged down with a laborious pseudo-scientific discussion of the case, and it ends with unintentional comedy when Canevin—reluctant to kill the homunculus because it had been baptised and was therefore a Christian—tries to capture the creature with a net but is anticipated by its cat, which dispatches it with brutal efficiency. Whitehead, when first learning of the plot, wished Lovecraft to collaborate with him, but Lovecraft declined and made a present of the idea.

  Lovecraft, however, later admitted that his own development of the idea would have been very different from Whitehead’s:

  Th[e] idea was to have the connexion of the man and his miniature twin much more complex and obscure than any doctor had suspected. The operation of separation is performed—but lo! An unforeseen horror and tragedy results. For it seems that the brain of the twin-burdened man lay in the minature twin alone . . . so that the operation has produced a hideous monster only a foot tall, with the keen brain of a man, and a handsome man-like shell with the undeveloped brain of a total idiot. From this situation I planned to develop an appropriate plot, although—from the magnitude of the task—I had not progressed very far.[90]

  What a shame that Lovecraft never wrote this story out! He went on to state that the plot was derived from witnessing a freak show at Hubert’s Museum in New York in 1925, when he saw a man named Jean Libbera (Lovecraft misspells it Libera) had an anomalous little anthropoid excrescence growing out of his abdomen. It later transpired that Libbera (a friend of Arthur Leeds) was a fan of weird fiction and liked Lovecraft’s own work in Weird Tales!

  The other story on which Lovecraft had been assisting Whitehead was called “The Bruise,” but he was uncertain whether it had ever been completed. This matter first comes up in April 1932, when Lovecraft noted that “I’m now helping Whitehead prepare a new ending and background for a story Bates had rejected.” The story involves a man who suffers a bruise to the head and—in Lovecraft’s version—“excite[s] cells of hereditary memory causing the man to hear the destruction and sinking of fabulous Mu 20,000 years ago!”[91] Some have believed that Lovecraft may have actually written or revised this story, but from internal evidence it seems to me that none of the writing is Lovecraft’s.

  There is, in fact, a distinct possibility that none of the writing is Whitehead’s, either. The story was published (as “Bothon”) in Amazing Stories for August 1946 and, nearly simultaneously, in Whitehead’s second Arkham House volume, West India Lights (1946). The anomalously late publication of the story—clearly arranged by August Derleth—is to be noted. A. Langley Searles believes that Derleth himself may have written the story, having found Lovecraft’s synopsis for it among Whitehead’s papers. Searles claims that the story sounds radically different from anything else Whitehead ever wrote; and it must be kept in mind that Derleth was not above passing off his own work as that of others, as when he published a story of his entitled “The Churchyard Yew” in Night’s Yawning Peal (1952) and attributed it to J. Sheridan Le Fanu. No external evidence for this theory has emerged, but it is worth keeping in mind.

  Lovecraft wrote a two-page obituary of Whitehead and sent it to Farnsworth Wright, urging that it be used as a quarry for an announcement in Weird Tales. Wright ran the piece as a separate unsigned article—“In Memoriam: Henry St. Clair Whitehead”—in the March 1933 issue, but used only about a quarter of what Lovecraft had sent him,[92] and since Lovecraft kept no copy of his original, the full text has now been lost. Very likely, however, it was similar to the long tribute to Whitehead found in Lovecraft’s letter to E. Hoffmann Price of December 7, 1932.

  One strange piece of writing Lovecraft did at this time was “European Glimpses,” dated on the manuscript to December 19. This is a very conventionalised travelogue of the principal tourist sites in western Europe (chiefly in Germany, France, and England), and is nothing less than a ghostwriting job for his ex-wife Sonia, although Lovecraft—on the few occasions when he spoke of the assignment to correspondents—went out of his way to conceal the fact. Consider a remark made to Alfred Galpin in late 1933:

  For the past year I have had such a 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 concrete first-hand impressions. I based my study on maps, guide-books, travel folders, descriptive volumes, & (above all) pictures . . .[93]

  Lovecraft goes on in this letter to cite exactly the places—Paris, Chartres, Rheims, Versailles, Barbizon, Fontainebleau, and various locales in London—described in “European Glimpses.” Consider now Sonia’s remark in her memoir: “. . . 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. . . . I sent a travelogue to H. P. which he revised for me.”[94] Sonia also mentions in detail the sites described in the travelogue. Why then did Lovecraft carry out this deception? Perhaps he felt embarrassed to admit that he was still in touch with Sonia and was doing work for her—for which, I imagine, he did not charge her. Galpin was one of his oldest friends, and he had also known Sonia for more than a decade. Lovecr
aft does not, to my knowledge, even mention “European Glimpses” to any other correspondent except Galpin—who was a longtime resident of Paris, so that the passing citation would have been natural. Just as Lovecraft almost never mentioned the fact of his marriage to younger correspondents, so he here failed to acknowledge his continued association with his ex-wife.

  “European Glimpses” itself is by far the least interesting of Lovecraft’s travelogues—if, indeed, it can even be called such—because of its hackneyed descriptions of hackneyed tourist sites that no bourgeois traveller ever fails to visit. Perhaps its only interesting feature is its record of Sonia’s glimpse of Hitler in the flesh in Wiesbaden:

  During my stay of five days in 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 its 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. . . .

  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 of 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.

  Some of this clearly represents Sonia’s own impressions, and some of it is Lovecraft’s overlay of opinion—for it was he who, as we shall see, passed so cavalierly over Hitler’s “deficiencies in true social insight” in his grudging approval of him.

  At the very end of 1932 Lovecraft instituted what would become another travelling ritual, as he spent the week or so after Christmas in New York with the Longs. Naturally, he spent Christmas with Annie in Providence, but the very next day he caught a bus for New York and arrived at 230 West 97th Street for a visit of seven or eight days. Loveman and Kirk were dumbfounded to see Lovecraft in the city, but Morton proved to be away from his museum for more than a week, so that no meeting could be arranged. On the 27th Lovecraft and Long saw the “modernistic junk”[95] at the Whitney Museum of American Art, then returned for a colossal turkey dinner prepared by Mrs Long. Lovecraft then went alone to look up Loveman in his new apartment at 17 Middagh Street in Brooklyn; he played with Loveman’s radio (evidently the latter had replaced the one stolen from Lovecraft’s Brooklyn flat in 1925), and was delighted to find a station in Mexico City speaking in suave Spanish.

  On Friday, December 30, a gang meeting was held at the Longs’, although only Wandrei, Leeds, Loveman, and Loveman’s friend Patrick McGrath showed up. The next day Lovecraft apparently met Loveman and Richard Ely Morse, and on January 2 he and Long saw “Whistler’s Mother”—a “splendid piece of quietly effective art”[96]—at the Museum of Modern Art. He returned home the next day.

  Early in 1933 Lovecraft performed some revision work of a somewhat more congenial variety than usual. Robert H. Barlow had begun to write fiction and, although scarcely fifteen years old at the time, was showing considerable promise. In February Lovecraft evaluated three items sent by Barlow, one of which was “The Slaying of the Monster” (the title, as is plain from the manuscript, was supplied by Lovecraft):

  I read your stories with a great deal of interest, & really think that they display a gratifying degree of merit & promise. You have a good idea of what a dramatic situation is, & seem to be distinctly sensitive to the nuances of style. Of course, there are at present many marks of the beginner’s work—but these are only to be expected. Emphatically, I think you are headed in the right direction. . . . In “The Slaying of the Monster” I have taken the liberty of changing many words in order to carry out fully the Dunsanian prose-poetic effect which you are obviously seeking. . . . In changing parts of your text I have sought to give it some of the smoothness or rhythm which this kind of writing demands.[97]

  Lovecraft urged Barlow to send the revised tales to some NAPA journal, but this was apparently not done. Barlow’s first tale, however, appeared in the amateur press about this time: “Eyes of the God” was published in the Sea Gull for May 1933 and won the NAPA story laureateship for that year.

  By March 1933 Barlow was showing Lovecraft some of his early “Annals of the Jinns” sketches, although Lovecraft does not seem to have revised them very much. A market for them did not open up until the Fantasy Fan was founded that fall. The “Annals” appeared fitfully throughout the entirety of that fan magazine’s eighteen-month tenure: nine numbered episodes appeared in the issues for October 1933, November 1933, December 1933, January 1934, February 1934, May 1934, June 1934, August 1934, and February 1935. A tenth episode has been discovered in an issue of the Phantagraph, and there could conceivably have been others.

  One of the “Annals”—the fourth, “The Sacred Bird”—is of importance in providing the background for “The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast,” a story on which Lovecraft lent considerable assistance. This tale seems to be a loose sequel to “The Sacred Bird,” for it picks up on that story’s mention of a Sacred Bird and is also set in the land of Ullathia (spelled “Ulathia” in “The Sacred Bird”). It seems, therefore, very likely that “The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast” was meant as one of the “Annals of the Jinns,” which for some reason Barlow did not send to the Fantasy Fan. That he sent it to some publisher (probably a fan magazine) is clear from the note he has written at the top of the manuscript (“only copy except at pub[lisher]”); but, if it was published, the appearance has not come to light.

  Barlow has dated the manuscript to September 1933, but Lovecraft first saw it in a letter dating to December. He discusses the story at length:

  Your new tale is highly colourful & interesting, & I have taken the liberty to make a few changes in wording, rhythm, & transitional modulation, which may perhaps bring it a bit closer to the Dunsanian ideal evidently animating it. . . . If there is any defect, it is possibly a certain lack of compactness & unity—that is, the tale is not a closely-knit account of a single episode, but is rather a loosely-constructed record with which early space given to a description of the occasion for Yalden’s journey, while the latter parts involve the journey itself in a way essentially dissociated from the occasion. An ideal short story would concentrate on a single thing like the journey itself, disposing of the journey’s reason in as brief an explanatory paragraph as possible. The kind of vehicle for composite & diffuse narratives of this sort is the novel or picaresque romance. Still—it is to be admitted that Dunsany often creates similarly non-unified sketches of short story length, hence this specimen must not be criticised too severely. I’m letting it alone so far as this point goes. . . . As for your new tale—my changes largely concern certain niceties of language, & certain handlings of emotional stress at important turns of the action. A study of the altered text itself will be more instructive than any comment I can make here. What you need is simply more practice—which the years will readily supply.[98]

  It is perhaps worth pausing to ponder the literary influences on both “The Slaying of the Monster” and “The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast.” Lovecraft assumed that Dunsany is Barlow’s model, and i
ndeed he had lent Barlow several of his Dunsany volumes some years earlier; and while the ironically elementary moralism of the two stories does indeed bring Dunsany’s The Book of Wonder (1912) and other early fantastic tales to mind, perhaps an equally strong influence is the fiction of Clark Ashton Smith, whom Barlow revered. Whatever the case, in his own fiction Barlow remained more drawn to the realm of pure fantasy than to the realistic supernaturalism of Lovecraft’s later work.

  The story as it stands is probably about 60% Lovecraft, although the end result is still a pretty mediocre piece of work, with a predictable and contrived comeuppance befalling a man who attempts to steal the vast treasure of the “wizard-beast.” The revised version of the very short “Slaying of the Monster” is about 30% Lovecraft; it too amounts to little. Barlow’s “Annals of the Jinns” do not bear many revisory touches by Lovecraft, and in many cases Lovecraft does not appear to have seen these items until after they were published. It would, however, not be long before Lovecraft was aiding Barlow on more significant items—and, indeed, it would not be long before Barlow himself was writing highly meritorious fiction of his own that could have given him a place in the field had he chosen to pursue this facet of his career.

  Lovecraft’s own writing career was, as noted, not progressing very well: only a single story (“The Dreams in the Witch House”) in 1932, and none in the first half of 1933 (excluding the collaboration “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”). How much income the new revision client, Hazel Heald, along with other revision jobs, brought in is unclear; but some suggestion is offered by Lovecraft’s remark to Donald Wandrei that in mid-February 1933 “my aunt & I had a desperate colloquy on family finances,”[99] with the result that Lovecraft would move from 10 Barnes Street and Annie would move from 61 Slater Avenue and unite to form a single household. That Lovecraft and Annie could not afford even the meagre rent they were no doubt paying (Lovecraft’s was $10 per week, Annie’s probably similar) speaks volumes for the utter penury in which both of them existed—Annie eking by solely on Whipple Phillips’s bequest, Lovecraft on whatever share of that bequest remained ($5000 to his mother, $2500 to himself) along with his paltry revision work and even paltrier sales of original fiction.

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