I am providence the life.., p.48

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 48


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

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  Edith Miniter (1869–1934) was perhaps the most noted literary figure at the gathering. In 1916 she had published a realistic novel, Our Natupski Neighbors, to good reviews, and her short stories had been widely published in professional magazines. But in spite of her professional success, she was devoted to the amateur cause; she had entered amateurdom as early as 1883 and remained a lifelong member. Her loyalty, however, extended to the NAPA and not the UAPA: she was NAPA’s Official Editor for part of the 1895–96 term and its President in 1909–10. Among her amateur journals were Aftermath, generally issued after conventions and giving lively convention reports, The Varied Year, and True Blue. She also issued at least one issue of a journal entitled the Muffin Man in April 1921, which contained her exquisite parody of Lovecraft, “Falco Ossifracus: By Mr. Goodguile.” It is, perhaps, the first such work of its kind and deserves some attention in its own right.

  This little squib is a clear take-off of “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” It opens: “Any form of inquisition into the meaning of this will be fruitless. Favour me, an’ you will, with eternal confinement in a gaol, and everything that I now relate will be repeated with perfect candour.” Along the way Miniter manages to get in effective jabs at Lovecraft’s heavily laid-on atmosphere of grue (“A few skulls and crossbones lay in the foreground, while coffinplates, shreds of shrouds, and mattocks which I instinctively knew appertained to gravediggers, scattered around loosely, completed the remarkable scene”), his occasionally recherché diction (“‘I am really sorry to have to ask you to absquatulate’“), and even his habit of Latinising his friends’s names (“the name was originally John Smith, but it is always my will that my friends bear a name of my choosing and as cumbersome a one as possible”). I am sure Lovecraft took the whole thing in good humour: in his 1934 memoir of Miniter he notes her “highly amusing parody . . . though it was not of a nature to arouse hostility.”[10]

  Miniter had invited Lovecraft to attend the Hub Club picnic on August 7. Lovecraft accepted, although he did so largely in the hope of meeting his ex-nemesis James F. Morton; Morton, however, was called away to New Hampshire. This gathering consisted largely of old-time amateurs who had been active before the turn of the century. At one point, as the group was wandering through the Middlesex Fells Reservation, Miniter fashioned a chaplet of bays for Lovecraft and insisted that he wear them at a banquet that evening in honour of his triple laureateship. Lovecraft caught a late train from South Station, reached Providence at 1.30 A.M., came home half an hour later, and “slept like a mummy until the following noon.”[11]

  Lovecraft’s third Boston trip began on September 5. He arrived at noon at 20 Webster Street and unexpectedly encountered Morton, whom he had not realised would be at the gathering: “Never have I met so thoroughly erudite a conversationalist before, and I was quite surprised by the geniality and friendliness which overlay his unusual attainments. I could but regret the limited opportunities which I have of meeting him, for Morton is one who commands my most unreserved liking.”[12] Clearly, the rancour surrounding Isaacson’s In a Minor Key—which led to Lovecraft’s unpublished poem “The Isaacsonio-Mortoniad”—had died away. Lovecraft would later have plenty of opportunities to meet Morton during his two-year stay in New York. In the afternoon Lovecraft delivered his lecture, “Amateur Journalism: Its Possible Needs and Betterment,” which he reports “was received with admirable courtesy.”[13] Again he caught a late train back to Providence.

  Some months earlier, at the very beginning of 1920, Lovecraft met an individual who would play a very large role in his life: Frank Belknap Long, Jr (1901–1994). At this time Long, a lifelong New Yorker, was not quite nineteen,[14] and would enter New York University that fall to study journalism, transferring two years later to Columbia. His family was quite well-to-do—his father was a prominent New York dentist—and resided in comfortable quarters on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, at 823 West End Avenue (the building does not now survive). Long had developed an interest in the weird by reading the Oz books, Verne, and Wells in youth, and he exercised his talents both in prose and in poetry. He discovered amateurdom when he won a prize for the Boy’s World and received an invitation to join the UAPA; he seems to have done so around the end of 1919.[15] In an unsigned article, “The Work of Frank Belknap Long, Jr.” (United Amateur, May 1924) Lovecraft declares that Long’s first published work in amateurdom—“Dr. Whitlock’s Price” (United Amateur, March 1920)—was “a frankly boyish and elementary story”; it is, in fact, a wildly flamboyant and rather ridiculous mad scientist tale. His next work of fiction—“The Eye above the Mantel” (United Amateur, March 1921)—is, however, a very different proposition.

  The story is also a trifle sophomoric, but still very striking in its way. In a rhythmic and incantatory prose that occasionally recalls Dunsany, but with an atmosphere of clutching horror that is clearly Poe-esque, “The Eye above the Mantel” professes to tell of the end of the human race and the “supermen” who will succeed it. It is scarcely to be wondered that Lovecraft would be attracted to it, since he had already indirectly dealt with this theme in “Memory.” Lovecraft also published, in the May 1922 United Amateur, Long’s “At the Home of Poe,” a brief prose-poem about the Poe cottage in Fordham. And in his own Conservative for July 1923 he published Long’s “Felis: A Prose Poem.” an exquisite story inspired by his pet cat. How could the ailurophile Lovecraft have resisted this passage?

  Some day I shall drown in a sea of cats. I shall go down, smothered by their embraces, feeling their warm breath upon my face, gazing into their large eyes, hearing in my ears their soft purring. I shall sink lazily down through oceans of fur, between myriads of claws, clutching innumerable tails, and I shall surrender my wretched soul to the selfish and insatiate god of felines.

  It is not difficult to see why Lovecraft took to Long, and why he saw in him a sort of pendant to his other young disciple, Alfred Galpin. Long may not have had Galpin’s incandescent brilliance as a philosopher, but he was an aesthete, fictionist, and poet; and it was exactly at this time that Lovecraft’s own creative focus was shifting from arid antiquarian poetry and essays to weird fiction. Indeed, in a letter to Kleiner in which he notes getting in touch with Long, Lovecraft remarks: “Naturally my changed literary province tends to group around me a new set of proteges and clients—the budding story writers.”[16] Long’s early Poe-esque work, by no means markedly inferior to Lovecraft’s, no doubt helped convince the latter that the new direction in which he was heading was a potentially fruitful one.

  Long, of course, was not at all temperamentally or intellectually similar to Lovecraft. His aesthetic foci were the Italian Renaissance and nineteenth-century French literature. As befits a fiery youth, he tended to go through phases of passionate rapture—for avant-garde literary sophistication, for mediaeval Catholicism (although he himself was an agnostic and perhaps an atheist), and, some years later, Bolshevism. Lovecraft looked upon these sudden shifts of interest with a certain cynical amusement, but he could not remain unaffected by them; if nothing else, they inspired voluminous argumentative letters that helped to clarify his own aesthetic, philosophical, and political views. Indeed, it is very likely that Long helped to initiate a significant shift in Lovecraft’s own aesthetic.

  For now, however, the bond that linked the two men was weird fiction, and Long would be the privileged first reader of many of Lovecraft’s stories in manuscript. They could know that they would remain the closest of friends for the next seventeen years.

  Toward the end of 1919 Lovecraft and Kleiner began a desultory discussion of women, love, and sex. Kleiner, apparently, had always been susceptible to the temptations of the fair, and Lovecraft looked upon his varied involvements with a mixture of mild surprise, amusement, and perhaps a certain lofty contempt. At one point he remarks:

  Of course, I am unfamiliar with amatory phenomena save through cursory reading. I always assumed that one waited till he encountered some nymph who seemed radical
ly different to him from the rest of her sex, and without whom he felt he could no longer exist. Then, I fancied, he commenced to lay siege to her heart in businesslike fashion, not desisting till either he won her for life, or was blighted by rejection.[17]

  On the matter of sex, Lovecraft was equally resolute: “Eroticism belongs to a lower order of instincts, and is an animal rather than nobly human quality. . . . The primal savage or ape merely looks about his native forest to find a mate; the exalted Aryan should lift his eyes to the worlds of space and consider his relation to infinity!!” One suspects that that double exclamation mark, plus the generally bombastic tone of the entire passage, are indicative of a certain self-parody. But Lovecraft goes on:

  About romance and affection I never have felt the slightest interest; whereas the sky, with its tale of eternities past and to come, and its gorgeous panoply of whirling universes, has always held me enthralled. And in truth, is this not the natural attitude of an analytical mind? What is a beauteous nymph? Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, a dash or two of phosphorus and other elements—all to decay soon. But what is the cosmos? What is the secret of time, space, and the things that lie beyond time and space?[18]

  Well, that seems to settle that. But is it really the case that Lovecraft was “unfamiliar with amatory phenomena”? that he had “never felt the slightest interest” in romance? There is perhaps some small reason for doubt on the matter; and it centres upon an individual who has been mentioned sporadically during the last several chapters—Winifred Virginia Jackson (1876–1959).

  According to research done by George T. Wetzel and R. Alain Everts, Jackson had married Horace Jordan, an African American, around 1915; at that time she resided at 57 Morton Street in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Wetzel and Everts believe that she divorced in early 1919,[19] although she continues to be listed in the UAPA membership list under her married name until September 1921. By January 1920 she is living, along with two other female amateurs, at 20 Webster Street in Allston.

  Jackson had joined the UAPA in October 1915,[20] and Lovecraft must have got in touch with her, at least by correspondence, very shortly thereafter, for the January 1916 issue of the Conservative contains two poems by her (signed Winifred Virginia Jordan), “Song of the North Wind” and “Galileo and Swammerdam.” Three of her poems—“April,” “In Morven’s Mead,” and “The Night Wind Bared My Heart”—appeared in the Conservative for April 1916. Two more, “Insomnia” and “The Pool,” were published in the October 1916 issue; and I have noted already that Lovecraft’s poem “The Unknown” appeared in this issue under Jackson’s pseudonym, “Elizabeth Berkeley,” a situation that was repeated in May 1917 when “The Peace Advocate” appeared under the same pseudonym in the Tryout.

  Jackson and Lovecraft certainly do seem to have done a considerable amount of amateur work together. She herself issued only a single issue of the amateur journal Eurus (February 1918), which contained Lovecraft’s poem on Jonathan E. Hoag’s eighty-seventh birthday; as President of the United Women’s Press Club of Massachusetts, she helped to publish one issue of the Bonnet (June 1919). She and Lovecraft, along with several others, edited and published three issues of the United Co-operative (1918–21), and she was associate editor of the Silver Clarion at a time when Lovecraft was giving a certain amount of attention to that journal. Jackson was Second Vice-President of the UAPA for three consecutive years (1917–20), when Lovecraft was President (1917–18) and Chairman of the Department of Public Criticism (1918–19).

  Then, of course, there are the two stories co-written by Jackson and Lovecraft. One, “The Green Meadow” (1918/19), has already been discussed. The other, “The Crawling Chaos” (1920/21), was similarly based on a dream by Jackson and is similarly insubstantial; it was published in the United Co-operative for April 1921. All this suggests that a considerable amount of correspondence must have passed between the two, but only five letters by Lovecraft for the period 1920–21 survive, and these only in transcripts made by R. H. Barlow; there are, to my knowledge, no surviving letters by Jackson to Lovecraft.

  None of this would suggest that Lovecraft and Jackson were anything but occasionally close working colleagues were it not for some remarks made by Willametta Keffer, an amateur of a somewhat later period, to George T. Wetzel in the 1950s. According to Wetzel, Keffer told him that (and here Wetzel is paraphrasing a letter by Keffer) “everybody in Amateur Journalism thought Lovecraft would marry Winifred Jordan”; Keffer herself stated to Wetzel, “A long time member of NAPA who knew and met both HPL and Winifred Virginia told me of the ‘romance.’”[21]

  It is difficult to know what to make of this. Lovecraft must have met Jackson in person no later than the summer of 1920, since she was then residing at 20 Webster Street in Allston, where Lovecraft stopped on at least two occasions; but strangely enough, he does not mention her in any of his various accounts of his trips there. He did write an effusive article, “Winifred Virginia Jackson: A ‘Different’ Poetess,” in the United Amateur for March 1921; and he spent Christmas Day of 1920 writing a quaint poem upon receiving a photograph of her—presumably her Christmas gift to him. “On Receiving a Portraiture of Mrs. Berkeley, ye Poetess” is rather charming, and naturally lauds both her beauty and her poetical skill:

  Tho’ outward form the fair indeed would place

  Within the ranks of Venus’ comely race,

  Yon shapely head so great an art contains

  That Pallas’ self must own inferior strains.

  Jackson really was a very attractive woman, and the fact that she was fourteen years older than Lovecraft need not preclude a romance between the two. But one other fact must now be adduced: although by this time divorced, Jackson (according to Wetzel and Everts) was carrying on an affair with the noted black poet and critic William Stanley Braithwaite (1878–1962), and she would remain his mistress for many years.[22] Did Lovecraft know this? I find it impossible to believe, given his extraordinarily strict views on the need to maintain an absolute “colour line” prohibiting any sort of sexual union between blacks and whites; if he had known, he would have dropped Jackson immediately even as a colleague. He might not even have known that Horace Jordan was black. Lovecraft of course did know of Braithwaite, who by this time was already the most prominent black critic in the country; he would correspond with him briefly in 1930. As literary editor of the influential Boston Transcript and as editor of the annual Anthology of Magazine Verse (1913–29), Braithwaite occupied a formidable position in American poetry at this time. Lovecraft casually mentions that Jackson’s verse had appeared in the Boston Transcript,[23] and her verse was also reprinted in a number of the Braithwaite anthologies; it would be uncharitable to think that they did so merely because she was Braithwaite’s mistress, for much of her poetry is rather good—better as a whole than Lovecraft’s early verse. Lovecraft was no doubt appreciative of what he in his 1921 article called her “poems of potent terror and dark suggestion”; and I see no reason to believe that he had much of a hand in writing or revising them, although he does mention revising a poem for Jackson in 1916.[24] Her poem “April” (Conservative, April 1916) has a delicacy Lovecraft could not hope to duplicate:

  Winter’s sway

  Pass’d away

  ’Neath a blue sky’s leaven;

  In its place

  Out of space

  Dropp’d a golden heaven!

  There are two further bits of evidence that seem to clinch the matter of a romance between Lovecraft and Jackson. A photograph was taken at some point by Lovecraft (probably in 1921) of Jackson at the seaside; and Lovecraft’s wife Sonia Greene told R. Alain Everts in 1967 that “I stole HPL away from Winifred Jackson.”[25] How this happened will be the subject of a later chapter; but this romance, if it could really be called that, appears to have been very languidly pursued on both sides. There is no evidence that Jackson ever came to Providence to visit Lovecraft, as Sonia frequently did even though she lived much farther away (Br
ooklyn), and after Sonia “stole” him we hear little of Winifred either from Lovecraft or in the amateur press generally. She published only two books of verse, Backroads: Maine Narratives, with Lyrics (1927) and Selected Poems (with Major Ralph Temple Jackson) (1944).

  One also does not know what, if anything, to make of some of the other amateur women who were associated with Lovecraft at this time. It is understandable that he would go to Boston to hear Lord Dunsany in the company of Alice Hamlet, since she was the one who introduced him to the Irish master; and we hear very little of her after that point. Lovecraft visited Myrta Alice Little a few times in New Hampshire during 1921, and one long and rambling letter to her survives. Then there is the enigma of Anna Helen Crofts, the only other woman with whom Lovecraft collaborated (as opposed to doing unsigned revision work), in the curious fantasy “Poetry and the Gods” (United Amateur, September 1920). I shall investigate each of these relationships further in their proper place, but I doubt if anything romantic was involved, at least on Lovecraft’s side. It is not unlikely that a man of Lovecraft’s great accomplishment in the tiny amateur world might have been the object of affection on the part of female amateurs, but aside from the Jackson matter we have not even the remotest evidence of any such thing.

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