(no code today; I mean, come on)

H.P.’s still in Providence, where I think he’ll stay put (I’ve almost finished the book). And he’s talking about what a bad writer he is.

I’m starting to feel some sympathy for him. Basically, he seems scared of everybody, so that might explain his earlier rants about the great unwashed. He says he’s a bad writer because he’s never done or seen anything interesting.

I don’t want to beat him up any more than he’s already done himself, but I think it’s kind of a tragedy that he didn’t recognize the lousy things that happened to him and his ex-wife in New York — all the dishonest employers who used them very, very badly. The equally tragic writers that he knew well, like Hart Crane.

He wrote all these self-flagellatory letters at a time when he was getting a lot of rejection letters. I guess what attracts me to Lovecraft’s story, which I think S.T. Joshi has crated quite well in epistolary form, is that he suffers a lot of setbacks, but he doesn’t bounce back right away like they do in bad books and movies. He agonizes, he lacerates himself, and then, like Samuel Beckett, he says, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

813.54 American authors 1900-1945

Well, the old man’s moved back to Providence, so he seem to have calmed down somewhat. He’s talking about all his literary theories and whatnot. More later.

American fiction 1900-1945

So I started reading Lord of a Visible World again this week, and I have to say the old buzzard is really making me sick. He’s still at the point where everything is going wrong in NYC for him and wife Sonia. So he’s taking it out on immigrants and people of color. He’s laying the n-word on pretty thick. He also can’t stand Jews, Italians, Poles or Portuguese. If he had ever met any Inuit he probably wouldn’t like them either. So, to vent his misanthropy, he wrote a couple short stories reflecting his revulsion at these folks, “The Horror at Red Hook” and “He.” I haven’t read them, so I can’t say whether they’re any good or not. I can say that I wouldn’t enjoy them either way, as they’re reflections of his seemingly unlimited bigotry. On the other hand, Sinatra had a nasty temper, but I still like his music.

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.

New York, March 1924.

Wedded bliss for Lovecraft and Sonia Greene quickly gives way to the realities of supporting themselves in the big city. Her hat business fails, and Lovecraft is a washout as a salesman.

124-125: Weird Tales publisher J.C. Henneberger hires HPL to ghostwrite a story in which an Egyptian tour guide ties up Harry Houdini and traps him in a pyramid, just to see if he can get out. Henneberger says he heard the story from Houdini himself. Houdini is “supremely egotistical,” says Lovecraft, who doesn’t believe the story is true.

126: HPL marries Sonia Greene, 3.3.1924, in NYC. Writes his aunt on 3.9, suggesting marriage may have been an escape from boredom or a way to quell thoughts of suicide.

127: He also hoped marriage would stabilize his finances. It seems like he really likes Sonia, though. He credits her with bringing him out of his funk, making him want to live and work.

128: Sonia likes him, and everyone else bores her, he says.

130: Lovecraft says he may find work with a Miss Tucker, from old Baltimore stock. She works for a journal called The Reading Lamp. He says she’ll get him a job in publishing.

131: He and Sonia go to a “Dago joint” for dinner.

Sonia wants a cheap wedding ring. He persuades her to get a more expensive one. He says he’ll pay for it with the money he makes off the next Weird Tales job.

132: Following their civil ceremony, HPL and SG have a formal ceremony at NYC’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, at Broadway and Vesey. It makes him feel really British or something.

134: No more “facial trouble.” He tells his aunt he can shave now just like everyone else. What was the facial trouble? Folliculitis? Ingrown hair? Jesus, that must’ve hurt.

Sonia makes Lovecraft do Walter Camp exercises.

Sonia’s millinery business fails, and HPL can’t find a job.

136-137: Lovecraft tries a job in sales, working for a debt collection company that serves businesses.

“A gentleman born and bred has very little chance for success in such lines of canvassing salesmanship…where one must either be…magnetic…or boorish,” Lovecraft says. He quits before the week is up. His boss, a Mr. Bristol, wants HPL to write letters for him.

813.52 American fiction 1900-1945

At this point in S.T. Joshi’s Lord of a Visible World, Lovecraft’s mother has just died. Depression hits him so hard he can hardly move. Before long, however, he recovers. At his aunt’s urging, he attends some meetings of the United Amateur Press Association and quickly rises to the top of the group’s leadership structure. Membership in the group not only brings him out of his funk, but also out of himself: he begins to come in contact with the world beyond Providence. Even if it repulses him at first, the change may do him good in the long run.

Lovecraft was not unique in his open, unashamed bigotry. Ezra Pound was a world-class anti-Semite. Actually, Abraham Lincoln was no great fan of non-whites, either. Sometimes it seems hard to believe that things have changed as much as they have, even if it’s not very much.

85—HPL writes about suicide. He put it off while mother was alive—now he wants to go through with it

says only his mother understood him, maybe Galpin
he admired her for speaking French, playing music and painting

2nd graf—depressed—no interest in things because he can’t talk about them with his mother
postmodern—“This bereavement decentralizes existence—”
no one pays attention to him now

86—never displays emotion
for a time, couldn’t even get dressed
at little, had trouble walking, but still no emotion—somaticized his pain
met with UAPA member at aunt’s urging

87—spirits seem lifted
fond of Sonia Greene, a Russian Jew who recently immigrated to New York City and joined the UAPA

88—shows her around Providence
89—she’s not Anglo
she meets his aunt—they hit it off
has to apologize to aunt for amateur journalism’s “extreme democracy and occasional heterogeneity”
has dinner with Sonia at hotel
more sightseeing

[If I ever write this story, I will have HPL saying stuff like “nigger” and “chinaman” a lot, just throwing words like that into everyday conversation without a second thought. I will try to find examples of HPL and contemporaries using words that would be totally unacceptable today. To my Protestant (Lutheran? Methodist? Presbyterian? Who the fuck knows) grandmother, even my nice, white wife took a little getting used to because she’s Catholic.]

90—Sonia is smart, sophisticated and hard-working, even though she’s a non-Aryan

91—she is “certainly due to make the greatest stir in amateurdom of any recent recruit; for unlike the majority, she takes the institution seriously enough to put real cash into it . . . ”

typical New Englander—At this point, he hasn’t traveled further from his home base than Hampstead, N.H.

Sonia gets along with HPL’s aunts despite “racial and social chasm”
She seems to have $

[My impression, baste on one of the HPL books at the Newton Free Library, is that of a nervous man, someone who has a hard time keeping still, and not in a good way. Yes, he has a lot of energy, which explains all the writing, but he doesn’t display emotion, and so his anguish (which I’m not necessarily sympathetic to) comes through in other ways—shaking, nervous tics, difficulty making eye contact (this is all supposition which should be supported with more documentation). He is sympathetic because he is trying to keep it under control, always minding his manners. Never phony—not sophisticated enough for that. Less Vincent Price, more Boris Karloff, but even more genuine, no cliché. Youthful enthusiasm fighting for dear life.]

H may have found SG’s independence intimidating and threatening, and certainly alien to his culture

93—goes to NYC for 1st time in April ’22
meets SG in Penn Station
they meet Loveman
H reads “Hypnos” to warm reception

94—insomnia

95—loves MOMA—Greece, Rome, Egypt

98—infatuated with NYC like I was with Boston 20 years ago—cool little green trains on the T. Ten punishing years here has taken that out of me.

[Here’s where he starts to get really objectionable, offensive and unsympathetic; is he beyond redemption?]

102—horrified at Lower East Side

“We walked—at my suggestion—in the middle of the street, for contact with the heterogeneous sidewalk denizens, spilled out of their bulging brick kennels as if by a spawning beyond the capacity of the places, was not by any means to be sought.”

103

“ . . . a bastard mass of stewing mongrel flesh without intellect, repellent to eye, nose, and imagination.”

104—Poe house

105—knows Cyrillic alphabet

106—goes to Cleveland Aug. ’22
visits Loveman, Galpin
meets Hart Crane, bookseller Geo. Kirk
(then to NYC)

107—Loveman collects antiques, rare books

108—hideous drawings of Clark Ashton Smith—“grotesque, unutterable things”

109—no headaches or depression

114—loves Marblehead—that figures, fucking hellhole

115—announces his support for Mussolini

116—ready to accept anything as long as it’s true

“democracy . . . is a false idol”

“there is no earthly reason why the masses should not be kept down for the benefit of the strong, since every man is for himself in the last analysis”

This and the following quote really give a sense of what drives HPL. His every-man-for-himself nihilism probably springs from at least the following three sources:

1) His interest in science, which leads him to reject religion and an Earth-centered view of the universe. Rejecting those beliefs probably put him at odds with the Classical poets and philosophers he loved, as well as his family.

2) His ignorance. He may have been thoroughly modern in rejecting belief in God and belief that the universe revolves around the Earth, but he was also thoroughly New England in not knowing or caring much about the rest of the world. (The success of any story I write, at least artistically speaking, hinges on whether he comes to care more about the world beyond these six tiny states.)

3) Family problems: His family’s financial setbacks following the death of his father, the cause of which still stirs up debate more than 100 years later. His mother’s death causes HPL to go into a deep depression.

4) Personal setbacks in school, career and relationships.

118—“the blood of a million men is well shed in producing one glorious legend”—this is HPL’s thinking in a nutshell—a proto-neocon ideology. Every time I wonder under what rock the Bushes, Cheneys and Rumsfelds of this world crawled out from, I think of this quote.

[Again, the key thing to look for, the frame on which the rest of this story hangs, is whether this thinking changes, how much, and why. If the change is not that deep or lasting, you may not have much of a story.]

“Freedom of press and speech sound well—but these vague principles cannot be allowed to interfere with the fight of a race for the values which are its only solid possessions.”

No wonder he was depressed. He was delusional. People want to live, even if they don’t look like you. When you push them down, they push back. WWII should have proved that, but there are still and probably always will be people out there who think their race or religion or economic system is better than someone else’s race or religion or economic system.

If HPL had ever bothered to speak to any of the immigrants he avoided on the streets of NYC, he might have found many of them were just as conservative as he was.

119—“Ease, amusement . . .”—that’s all that really matters.

119-120—writes cover letter to Frank Baird to Weird Tales—says he doesn’t care if his stuff gets published. He even denigrates (or damns with faint praise) the magazine—gets published anyway

Loveman edited 21 Letters of Ambrose Bierce.

121—paraphrase: “I don’t expect much from the likes of Weird Tales. Only Machen can write scary stuff.”

“true art is obtainable only by rejecting normality and conventionality in toto”

122—“Only a cynic can create horror—for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving daemonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.” [That’s why I thought Alien worked.]

Joshi, S.T. and David E. Schultz, eds. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. H.P. Lovecraft. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. 2000.

I got a stack of books on H.P. Lovecraft’s letters through interlibrary loan, intending to read all of them. I only got as far as the first 40 pages of Lord, which I’d already read once. I did glance at the others; there was a pretty cool story in one about how the author was on jury duty, sitting in a stuffy room with all these other people waiting to see if they’ll get called, and he overhears someone talking about Lovecraft. They get to talking, and the next thing you know, voila, there’s another book on HPL. I thought that make a good scene in the movie I’m going to do on his life.

Here are some thoughts I jotted down after my second read through Lord, up to page 40.

p. 4, e.o. 1st paragraph—seems to be searching his ancestry for some clue as to why he turned out the way he did—“not a damn thing to indicate . . . a taste for the weird . . . ” May feel like a freak in his own family; an antecedent for my own feelings of alienation in my family.

p. 6 talks of decay in RI following revolt against U.K.

p. 9—regret and discomfort at recalling precocious childhood. Encouraged to it by doting women.

Tragedy—father suffers complete paralysis (from syphilis?) in 1893, dies in 1898.

p. 9-10—bright spot: becomes close to grandfather—a memory to hold on to, a reason to go on living.

p. 11—grandmother dies Jan. 1896. Mother, aunts wear black. He pins bits of bright cloth to their clothes for relief.

HPL has nightmares with strange beings that hurl him through the air and poke him with tridents. He draws them when he wakes up.

More comfortable with adults than with other children.

p. 11—at age 5, quotes Cicero in Latin

p. 12—anxiety; senses the reversal of fortune about to occur. Same thing happened to Dickens, me and others I know

— fewer servants in house
— stables close

“irritable and sensitive”—a Highly Sensitive Person?

p. 14—wants to believe in paganism—probably represents an escape

[what was Providence like at turn of century?]

p. 16—nervous breakdown around age 17 or so (family financial setback occurred around age 14)

p. 16—had friends—Providence Detective Agency; all boys between the ages of 9 and 14. HPL was 13.

p. 18—a one-man band

p. 19—table-top villages and cities, consisting of very small toys, earth or clay

— churches, trees, houses, courts
— not always to scale
— vehicles, people (lead soldiers)
— mother modified with paint, knife
— windmills, castles
— aimed for geographical (or geological) and chronological accuracy
— 18th C., mostly
— also modern scenes

back to p. 16: Providence Detective Agency could be a good idea for a children’s book

13-y.o. HPL was Sherlock Holmes—read all his stories

1) solved robberies and murders, which they re-enacted

2) HQ in deserted house on edge of town

3) HPL made fake blood

4) “rigid regulations”

5) equipment consisted of the following (all of it shoved into overstuffed pockets):

a. police whistle
b. magnifying glass
c. electric flashlight
d. handcuffs (sometimes just twine)
e. tin badge (HPL kept his)
f. tape measure (for footprints)
g. revolver

i. HPL’s was real
ii. Insp. Munroe (12 years old) had a water pistol
iii. Insp. Upham (10 years old) had a cap gun

h. Information on criminal activity from the following sources:

i. News clippings
ii. A paper called The Detective, which printed photos and descriptions of suspected criminals

6) The PDA would trail suspects based on their resemblance to “Detective” photo. They never apprehended or arrested anybody.

More on table-top villages (p. 19); pre-1904, when family finances collapsed

— “very small” toys [less than 1cm2?]; probably used the same ones for different scenes
— trays of earth or clay
— toy villages with wooden or cardboard houses
— combined villages into cities
— steepled churches
— toy trees of “infinite number” to flesh out landscape, and to make forests or suggested edges of forests
— blocks that made walls or hedges and large public buildings
— no “German toys” [too exotic {?} ]
— previous item indicated HPL’s concern at achieving realism, though he would eschew scale when toys, usually dolls, were out of proportion to the scenes he had constructed

o This could be a good thematic element—HPL’s imagination outstrips the ability of those around him to comprehend or appreciate it; also belies his loud insistence that man is insignificant

— mostly 18th century scenes, but also modern one because of HPL’s fascination with railways and streetcars: “Large numbers of contemporary landscapes with intricated systems of tin trackage . . . . [C]ars and railway accessories—signals, tunnels, stations, etc.— . . . . too large in scale for my villages.”
— Stories or pictures would inspire scenes. He would act out fantasies for up to “a fortnight.”
— Events might be brief: war, plague or “pageant of travel and commerce and incident leading nowhere . . . ”
— Other events would go on for “long aeons, with visible changes in the landscape and buildings.” Cities rose and fell; rivers changed course.

— Scenes weren’t always accurate, but HPL did consult a number of sources of information, including the following:

o Stories
o Pictures
o Questioning elders
o “Adams Synchronological Chart”

— “distinctly juvenile”
— either actual scenes and events (Roman, 18th C., or modern) or made up. Constructed horror plots, but always with a realist tinge, never pure fantasy
— also had a toy theater to perform Shakespeare and Sheridan, complete with programs

p. 43, 2nd paragraph: “cursed with an aspiration which far exceeds my endowments . . .”

Try to contact Joshi: are there any pix of these scenes? Did RRs work?
HPL Hist. Soc’y
Poverty, decay, reduced circumstances