Lovecraft Redux: Strange Travels



I've been thinking about the Lovecraft issue, and the curious simultaneity of Lovecraft and Bailey's parallel update on forty year-old Theosophical doctrine, which is especially strange at a time when the Theosophists themselves were locking crazy old Grandma Blavatsky up in the attic in order not to scare the rubes away from their chosen one, Krishamurti.

Even if you're one of those people who hasn't read any of the texts in question and wants to dump it all onto Scott-Elliott, you have a situation in which his books were well over twenty years old at this point. And nothing ages faster than old cult literature, especially old cult literature that's on the outs with the new cult poobahs.

How curious is it that both Lovecraft and Bailey would be doing so not only at the same time but in the same city? Neither were native New Yorkers, but there they were.

Lovecraft had no reason to stay in New York- he hated it there and his wife had moved away. Yet, there he was. Bailey had a reason to be there- she was headquartered there, right in the middle of the financial district. Go figure.

I was reading Brinsley Le Poer Trench's (Irish peer and the 8th Earl of Clancarty) book The Sky People, published in 1960. Yes, the same year as The Morning of the Magicians. Sensing a pattern here? Like Bailey, Trench too was a "Back to Blavatsky" apostle. He's also several years ahead of Erich Von Daniken, but there's a virtual parade of those.

Trench doesn't mention Bailey but he does commend Desmond Leslie, another Irish peer (outed by Jacques Vallee as an intelligence operative) who himself cites Bailey's Treatise on Cosmic Fire in the  foreword of his 1953 best-seller, Flying Saucers Have Landed, which has the dubious distinction of introducing the work of George Adamski to the world, a California hamburger vendor who for some strange reason had been given a diplomatic passport by the Office of Naval Intelligence and an audience with the Pope.

We have waded into strange waters now, with a strong undertow.

Returning to the Lovecraft issue, there's been a nagging detail that I just can't seem to get out of my head. It has to do with the fact that a dirt-poor pulp writer seemed to have all kinds of money to travel all across the fertile fields and sparkling seashores of North America:
During the last decade of his life, Lovecraft devoted nearly every summer to extensive travels up and down the eastern seaboard, from Quebec to Key West…He came to love the town of Charleston, South Carolina, second only to his native city of Providence, Rhode Island. His trip to Vermont in 1927, recorded in his essay “Vermont—A First Impression,” was instrumental in the writing of “The Whisperer in Darkness”…“Observations on Several Parts of America” (1928) and “Travels in the Provinces of America” (1929) reveal…his fascination with such locales as Philadelphia, Maryland, and Virginia. “A Description of the Town of Quebeck” (1930–31) is his single longest work…
OK, there's a problem here. This is the 1920s and the 1930s, taking us well into the Great Depression. Unless Lovecraft was riding the hobo circuit and stowing away on a freight car, all this travel was expensive. This is a quarter century before the Interstate highway system was created, so all this travel meant travel by rail, which meant carfare, which meant food and lodging.

This kind of travel was prohibitive for many prosperous Americans, especially so during the Depression.

Can any Lovecraft fans out there explain to me how a writer who was allegedly living hand to mouth was able to afford this kind of luxury?
Throughout his life, selling stories and paid literary work for others did not provide enough to cover Lovecraft's basic expenses. Living frugally, he subsisted on an inheritance that had almost gone in his last years, by which time he sometimes went without food to afford the cost of mailing letters. He was forced to move to smaller and meaner lodgings with his surviving aunt.
He sometimes went without food but could afford to hopscotch all across North America? Something is not right here. Let's read about his financial situation "during the last decade of his life."
After their marriage...Greene and Lovecraft relocated to Brooklyn and moved into her apartment. Soon the couple were facing financial difficulties. Greene lost her hat shop and suffered poor health. Lovecraft could not find work to support them both, so his wife moved to Cleveland for employment. Lovecraft lived by himself in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn and came to dislike New York life intensely.
  In the last year or so of their marriage, Greene lived on the road, traveling for her job. She sent Lovecraft a weekly allowance that helped him pay for a tiny apartment in the then-working class Brooklyn Heights. During this time, Lovecraft claimed in letters that he was so poor that he lived for three days on one loaf of bread, one can of cold beans, and a hunk of cheese. A few years later, Lovecraft (who had returned to live in Providence, Rhode Island) and his wife...agreed to an amicable divorce... After her marriage to Lovecraft ended, in 1933 Greene moved to California.
Yet back in Providence we read that:
Lovecraft lived in a "spacious brown Victorian wooden house" at 10 Barnes Street until 1933.
OK.

I don't have any answers here. I don't have any theories. I have only very big questions. How do the Joshi books explain all this? I can't seem to find any explanation of this raging contradiction online and my main Lovecraft source is stumped (though he admits he hasn't read up on this particular topic recently). I welcome any intelligent, well-reasoned, and cordial feedback from Lovecraft fans.


Because this doesn't make any sense.

UPDATE: I've got the details on Lovecraft's travels and I have to say I'm even more confused. Some of his trips are self-evident- the long visits to future Rockefeller and Guggenheim fellow and Lovecraft penpal R.H. Barlow (then only a teenaged boy) in Florida- but others are less so. And though a lot of his travel was by bus, you still have an awful lot of expense for a man with no apparent means of support other than a small allowance from Sonia and whatever pittance he could earn from his stories. Very odd.

For instance, the starving artist at one point paid three bucks for a scenic plane ride around Cape Cod; three bucks would buy a lot of cans of beans in the Depression. What we should also remember is that the pulp business itself was in bed with some interesting characters; the Mafia used the pulp mills to smuggle Canadian liquor over the border and the newsstands themselves were notorious money laundering operations.  There's also the fact that Lovecraft's one-time writing partner Harry Houdini was recently outed as a spy.

Does that anything to do with Lovecraft per se? No, it just shows that he was swimming in some pretty murky waters his entire career. And you should always remember that nothing is ever as it seems.

Note: I linked this post at a single site- my closed Facebook group. Emails were sent to fellow Lovecraft fans, which seems to have to paid off. Updates will be posted within the week.

26 comments:

  1. Where did the money come from? I'll bypass the more complex possibilities - knowing that any one might be the truth - for simpler fare. One possible answer is that HPL had a secret benefactor, a fan with some means who was embarrassed to be publicly associated with a writer of "weird" stories. This person may even have commissioned stories in secret, who knows? I'm guessing here.

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  2. That's a reasonable assumption. Now why didn't he spend that money on basic necessities? Or did he? Spacious Victorians weren't cheap back in those days. My Lovecraft connection also pointed out the unlikely connection between a superstar like Houdini (perhaps a possible source for a secret benefactor but for ten years? I doubt it) and a writer for a disreputable magazine like Weird Tales, which had a much smaller audience than a pulp like The Shadow (written by a former stage magician as well). Again, I only have questions here.

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  3. There's a lot to consider here, particularly with a seemingly renewed interest in Lovecraft as of late.

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  4. I never ask for help at the hardware store, enjoying the hunt instead- The search for HPL’s benefactor(s) is intriguing- However, I can only offer guilt by association at this time- Given the spook-ish CV of Henry Steel Olcott and his association with Blavatsky, one might (might) see his financial patronage of the Theosophists as an intelligence operation- John Quinn, a British spook (and the man who brought European modern art to America through the infamous Armory show in 1913) was behind Pound and Joyce (JJ being another writer with no day job and who had 17 years to write a deliberately unreadable novel, Finnegans Wake, for no apparent reason)- It appears Houdini was a spook as well- Wassily Kandinski, an acolyte of Blavatsky, was heavily promoted by the Rockefeller’s “modernism” and abstract art has been outed as spook supported- I don’t know if HPL’s bff CM Eddy is any relation to the infamous Eddy brothers, 19th century mountebanks who, it is said, first drew Blavatsky and Olcott together- What I’m suggesting is that within this tangle of modernist (formless/undisciplined/air born) aesthetics/replacement spirituality (with no real dogmatic foundation or popery-like centralization and therefore no historic authoritative guidelines for personal behavior/thought), HPL could be travelling on the government’s dime (The view from the Knoll would have that mean Rockefeller’s dime) In my never ending studies, I realized that control of the collective imagination is absolutely vital in getting slaves to control themselves- When the slaves start to question, a replacement set of morals and dogmas, so to speak, are required- The spiritualist/protestant mish mash of the 19th century, I believe, was corralled somewhat by infiltration after the Civil War- Non-Xtian creeds from the far east were brought over- Post WWI protestants, as you’ve pointed out, were offered a fundamentalized (simplified and tied to patriotism) alternative funded by oil interests- If Bailey’s Blavatsky reboot was “non-fiction” for the spiritually questing, HPL’s fictionalized version might have been buttressing the scientifically bent- The intriguing thing for me is that science is so destructive to his protagonists- If HPL was an asset, his evangel seems to be “leave science to the professionals and hope they don’t kill us all”- Just one voice in a chorus that would help prepare generation duck and cover to fear mass annihilation- (Yes, I am implying that the threat of nuclear annihilation is just a propaganda weapon) Oh, as for all of HPL’s travelling, I assume he was a courier, the travelling writer being a legitimate cover- Actors are thought to be used this way- Brangelina seem to be of this bent- (I’d give you links to my baseless claims but that would be like the fellow in the ACE Hardware vest showing me where to find the nail bins)

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  5. Well, I'll let that spicy bowl of gumbo stand as is. I'll just add this to the mix: http://www.nysun.com/foreign/houdini-was-a-covert-agent-new-book-claims/38654/

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  6. Thanks- In future I'll be more concise and precise- I did get a chuckle from this article in reference to "the embryonic British intelligence service"- 350 years is a long gestation period- (Though not for Christianity, but that's another story)

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    1. Speaking of the Rockefeller's dime, it is interesting to note that Lovecraft's travels included visits to the unfortunatel Mr. Barlow, who was not only the son of a career military man but was also a Rockefeller AND a Guggenheim fellow. He was involved in Mexican studies and the Rockefellers most certainly had their eyes on Mexican oil fields at the time. As with Houdini and the pulp racket itself, Lovecraft certainly swam in some murky waters. I have no doubt a little digging would bring up more (for instance, Seabury Quinn was a government insider while writing for Weird Tales). Sadly, I have to stick to documentable facts or else risk endless neckbeard tantrums.

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  7. To be precise, Lovecraft lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a "spacious brown Victorian wooden house" at 10 Barnes Street until 1933. From his detailed drawing of the room it looks as if he slept on the couch. His aunt Lillian found accommodation for both of them at this address, having also sent a railway ticket and a cheque. I assume she subsidised or paid for his apartment.

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    1. Let's find out who paid the rent. Remember, Lovecraft is crying destitution here. And let's find out exactly where they lived in that house. There seems to be some discrepancy on the various Internet sources.

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    2. Who was his landlord? An old family connection or other sympathetic soul who, looking on these fallen, minor local nobles, let them slide form time to time? I have no answers here.

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  8. I now find that Lovecraft's rent was $10 per week, and his bequest from Whipple Phillips helped for a time (although in May 1933 he and Lillian moved to a shared apartment in Barnes Street, for which the entire weekly rent for them both was $10).

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  9. As for his travels, when he received payment for his sales to Astounding he commented that the cheques "were indeed life-savers - so much so that I fear they can't be translated into travel, or anything less prosaic than food & rent!" In other words, most of his income had previously been spent on travel.

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  10. Thanks for that, Ramsey. I assume all that is in the Joshi volumes? Let me know where you're sourcing this from so I can check it out. I got a full run down on the travel expenses and I have to say that they're pretty steep for a man with his income.

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  11. Happy Birthday, Mr. Lovecraft!
    Well, I can think of a half-dozen or so "pop culture" websites that have done stories recognizing Lovecraft. A quick scan of Google News shows stories referencing the writer on news websites across the country and internationally. And then there was last year's appearance of a Lovecraftian "daemon sultan" pillar that appeared on a restaurant lawn here in OKC. http://www.reddirtreport.com/red-dirt-news/paseo-grills-lawn-now-claimed-malevolent-lovecraftian-daemon-sultan
    As for how he was paid, I really wish I knew. I think Moses may be on to something.

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    1. Well, it's in the air to be sure. Thanks for the update. I'll check out the link.

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  12. Note: Jason "It's All About Me! Me!" Colavito makes reference to this update with his usual near-total lack of actual engagement with the facts. I've actually got the material in question from the Joshi Providence book, I am simply waiting for permission to post it. And no, I'm not referring to the Premature Speculator, I'm referring to the much better-read debater from Reddit. As Terry Melanson pointed out, Colavito didn't even bother to deal with the material before launching into ad hominem attacks. And as I said at least a couple times in the past, this is research for a larger project.

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    1. And note how he suddenly discovers Alice Bailey fan Desmond Leslie, who published over a decade prior to Von Daniken.

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    2. Shame you didn't actually read the book, a bonafide bestseller in its day. Ancient astronauts from stem to stern, over a decade prior to Von Daniken. And Alice Bailey to boot! Anyhow, enough of this Lovecraft business. I prefer to settle any further issues with those in the know via email, though I think I'll let the whole squalid business rest. And you have moody selfies to pose for.

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  13. Speaking of murky waters. Gordon points this out from a Lovecraft FAQ: "Of course—in ancient times the extent of the practice of paederasty (as a custom which most simply accepted blindly, without any special inclination) cannot be taken as any measure of the extent of actual psychological perversion."
    HPL, letter to J. Vernon Shea dated 14 August 1933
    I think I've had enough Lovecraft for the time being.

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    1. In and of itself, I can't see anything murky about that - it's a fairly standard view of classical Greek culture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pederasty_in_ancient_Greece

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    2. I really think the quote from Lovecraft's letter deserves more of a context, since otherwise it may seem to endorse pederasty. Here it is:

      'As a matter of fact—although of course I always knew that paederasty was a disgusting custom of many ancient nations—I never heard of homosexuality as an actual instinct till I was over thirty . . . which beats your record! It is possible, I think that this perversion occurs more frequently in some periods than in others—owing to obscure biological & psychological causes. Decadent ages—when psychology is unsettled—seem to favour it. Of course—in ancient times the extent of the practice of paederasty (as a custom which most simply accepted blindly, without any special inclination) cannot be taken as any measure of the extent of actual psychological perversion.'

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    3. Very good, Ramsey. I appreciate you taking the time to contribute to the conversation.

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  14. Fair enough. Like I said, I think I've had enough of this topic. There's an apocalypse out there to worry about.

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  15. ..lol mr Campbell, your tavistock is showing;)

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