American fiction 1900-1945

Career woes continue to plague “weird fiction” author H.P. Lovecraft, in this latest installment of the notes for the screenplay that will, at some future date, lead to a motion picture, tentatively titled The Providence Detective Agency.

Lovecraft and his new bride, Sonia, continue to have professional and financial setbacks. In 1924, she leaves to look for work in the Midwest, and he pursues the life of a bachelor. At first, Lovecraft enjoys his new found freedom. One night, he stays up until dawn on an impromptu architectural tour of Manhattan with his literary buddies, the Kalem Club, so named because all its members’ last names begin with the letters K, L or M. But penury wears Lovecraft down, so much so that he loses weight, and the novelty of his all-nighters wears off as he finds it hard to maintain a stable creative output.

The following comments are based on notes I am taking as I read Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters, edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.

Page 138 — Sonia closes her hat shop. She goes to work at another millinery. Her new employer, the Bruck-Weiss Millinery, asks her to prepare a letter that will go out to all of her clients, letting them know that she has taken a position with another establishment. Next, she gets two weeks off. This makes Sonia think her boss is going to sack her, but not before this “woman with more ability than conscientiousness” tricks Sonia into giving Bruck-Weiss her client list. “Such is modern business, as practiced by the rising and exotic commercial oligarchy of bad manners and vacant background” that has taken over the rag trade, Lovecraft writes.

Pages 139-140 — HPL tries writing ad copy for new companies, though the companies haven’t asked for these ads and apparently don’t even know they’re being written. Salesmen will then take the brief pieces he writes and try to sell them to the companies in question. Lovecraft doesn’t express much enthusiasm for the venture: “Rapid hack work is demanded…. These business vistas turn swiftly to mirages….” He hasn’t given up hope, though that hope sounds vague and tenuous: “I can see myself…with an actual income and possible future….”

Page 141 — HPL gets a temporary job addressing envelopes in Samuel Loveman’s bookshop, March 1926.

Page 143 — Poverty forces HPL to go on an austere diet of bread, beans and cheese. Three days’ worth costs 30 cents. He drops nearly 50 pounds, going from a robust 193 pounds to a bony 146 pounds. He tries to make it sound like he’s doing it for his health. “[M]any vigorous Chinamen live on vastly less,” Lovecraft says.

Page 144 — In the evening of August 21 and the morning of August 22, 1924, Lovecraft goes on his predawn architectural tour of Manhattan. He notes the differences between lower Manhattan and the rest of the island: below 14th Street, remnants of its colonial past survive, and a few farmhouses remained on Mott and Mulberry Streets at the time Lovecraft wrote this letter to his aunt, in September 1924. He and his friends visit the Planters’ Hotel, the home of Edgar Allan Poe “in seedy old age,” and Tom’s Chop House, “which has been open continuously since 1797.” Lovecraft finally heads home at around 8 a.m.

Page 147-148 — Lovecraft visits Samuel Loveman’s apartment, where he meets Hart Crane, who lives in the same building. In the same September 1924 letter, Lovecraft describes looking out at the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. He remarks on the weird lights and sounds of the port: “Fog horns, ships’ bells, the creaking of windlasses….” It turns out Crane is working on a poem about the Brooklyn Bridge.

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