Notes on the book Letters with Donald and Howard Wandrei, part three.
We open with letters from early 1934.
p. 314. Lovecraft hears his friend Morton, the mineralogist and Paterson museum-keeper, giving a radio lecture on dinosaurs. Morton speaks on each 3rd Monday on “station WOOA”.
p. 326. Lovecraft has a kernel idea for a story involving “an oddly heiroglyphed grave” which was later surmounted and pinned down by a giant boulder.
p. 320. He suffered “measles at 19 and chicken-pox at 25.”
p. 332. Relevant to the writing of “Whisperer”. “I cannot do serious writing away from my books and familiar setting.” See my previous notes-post for this book, for reasons why it might have been something of an experiment for him. Being written piecemeal and while on his summer travels.
p. 335. He stays on the cheap “Rio Vista” in St. Augustine, Florida “on the bay front”. “Canned beans as a heavy staple” in order to economise, and “cutting my food bill down to a minimum”. He had stayed there before, for two weeks in May 1931, with the 67-year old Dudley Newton, a person “about whom we know nothing” according to S.T. Joshi’s biographies. This card gives a flavour of the “bay front”, and “120 Bay Street” is the address I found for the hotel on one Lovecraft letter. In the 1950s it had 71 rooms.
Lovecraft spent a week here in mid August, in the “quiet” hotel…
Am now in ancient St. Augustine — at the same quiet hotel I patronised in 1931. Staying a week — an utterly fascinating town!
Quiet it may have been, but it may also have had a somewhat strong sea smell. Here we see a bit further along the Bay St. sea-wall, in a 1950s slide which reveals what older postcards hide — the shore at low tide…
Despite postcards of the place rather struggling to find many examples of the picturesque, there is an impressive old shoreline fort and Lovecraft adored the rest of this sleepy “city founded in 1565” by Spaniards. Later, after a rather blood-soaked defence of the fort against the French, it was populated and made into a city by Spanish labourers from the lovely but poor island of Minorca, along with some Italians and Greeks. It was a city that Lovecraft felt to be the product of “an elder, sounder, & more leisurely civilisation”.
Who was the Dudley Newton with whom Lovecraft spent two weeks in 1931? He was not Dudley Newton (1845-1907) who was a local architect in Newport, Lovecraft’s favourite local resort. The dates don’t match, as Joshi has Newton as (1864–1954). Find a Grave has a “Dudley C. Newton”, died 1954 in Brooklyn, New York City. He was an amateur in the UAPA at the time Lovecraft joined, though according to an edition of The Fossils he does not appear to have produced his own amateur paper. My 2013 research suggested he was a senior millinery buyer and procurer of Parisian silk-flowers (for hats and bonnets), working on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Thus he could also have professionally known Lovecraft’s hat-making wife in the 1920s. In his retirement — one assumes the two weeks in St. Augustine in May 1931 may have aligned with this at age 67 — he appears to have devised and sold daily crossword puzzles to at least one newspaper.
p. 336. Lovecraft regrets that he keeps on narrowly missing seeing the movie Dr. Caligari, which was evidently circulating in Rhode Island. Later, in early 1937 shortly before his death, he manages to see it at last in a local film season. These screenings must have been some of the last cinema shows that he saw.
I attended a series of film programmes at fortnightly intervals under the auspices of the Museum of Modern Art, among which were The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, one reel of The Golem, Hands, and a number of minor pieces from the pre-war cinema.
His opinions on these are not also recorded, just the fact that he had at last seen them on the screen. There is no “Museum of Modern Art” in Providence, so he presumably meant the New York MoMA institution, which had recently opened a Film Library and new Projection Room, and was evidently also offering touring shows to New England cities. This means there may be a programme listing in their online archives. Indeed there is, and here it is. “Film in Germany: Legend and Fantasy”…
We now know the full programme for some of Lovecraft’s last cinema viewings, though we still can’t tell which reel of The Golem he saw. Although it seems that, the reels having been packed up and shipped to Providence, Lovecraft’s local screenings were then staggered “fortnightly”. Probably late January and through into February 1937, since the New York “Programme One” premiere was on 9th-10th January 1937. My guess is that each local fortnightly screening was probably augmented in Providence by a short talk and slides — since we know that one of the Brown lecturers was a strong enthusiast for the new film-art at that time. He was also a local Lovecraft acquaintance. I would imagine that Brown was the venue, although it may have been RISD. Perhaps there was a later New York “Programme Two” in the spring that also travelled to Providence, but by then Lovecraft was gone.
p. 338. He was still taking the New York Times, along with the local Providence papers, or perhaps his aunt was paying for it and he also read her NYT. Possibly only a Saturday edition?
p. 355. “Jake’s Wickenden St. joint has reopened”, early September 1936. “I haven’t eaten there yet”. Recent research by Ken Faig Jr. suggests that he never did.
p. 357. “Good old [Arthur] Leeds — ever young despite the existence of grown children somewhere in the dim Chicago background!”
p. 359. Lovecraft senses, but never sees, other Weird Tales readers in Providence… “there must be some, since copies [of WT] eventually vanish from the [news-]stands”.
Back to the end of 1934, for the start of the Petaja letters.
p. 387. While in Paris, Galpin studied music under Vincent d’Indy.
p. 395. Lovecraft reveals some details of the intensive study of olde London he had once undertaken via maps and books. “I am virtually certain [i.e. in my mind] of the shabby and potentially mysterious character of the small streets in Southwark just back of the Bankside waterfront.” The alleys have since been swept away, but they survived into the era of photography and the A London Inheritance blog has indicative pictures of the lost Bankside alleys. They apparently feature heavily in the classic non-fiction book The Elizabethan Underworld.
p. 396. In a survey of “weird material […] Kipling and F. Marion Crawford both come definitely in, for their few weird tales are both typical and important.” There are a number of Kipling collections in that line, and Crawford had a Wandering Ghosts story collection as early as 1911.
p. 406. Lovecraft suggests some invented names for the lad to use, “Yabon, Nagoth, Zathu”.
p. 407. Lovecraft was also in correspondence with a “young man named John D. Adams”, a poet.
p. 428. April 1935. Lovecraft states he had read the book The Last Home of Mystery (1929) “some years ago”. This being… ‘Adventures in Nepal together with accounts of Ceylon, British India, the Native States, the Persian Gulf, the Overland Desert Mail and the Baghdad Railway. Illustrated with a Map and with many Photographs by the Author’. Apparently a bit of an old-school travel writing classic, and the author — a military intelligence man — appears to have many perceptive and informed observations on the local beliefs and lore. The copyright date is 22nd March 1929. So Lovecraft probably read the book circa April 1929 – 1931, by the sound of it. Too late to have influenced Dream-quest.
p. 429. Lovecraft found that the April 1935 issue of Weird Tales had a story by Bernal… “which embodies an idea I had meant to use”. This tale involves “the next development in radio” and “the man who was two men”.
p. 436. Telepathy is “not outside the realm of possibility”, and Lovecraft notes (without approving) the “very recent change of mind” of Freud in favour of telepathy.
p. 449. August 1935. Yes, “the plot of that Chaugnar story came from a suggestion of mine”. Frank Belknap Long has created the alien Chaugnar Faugn, and presumably “Horror from the Hills” (1931, Part One and Part Two) is then the story. A book survey of vampire tales states it has “a plot that staggers the imagination”, and we know it also incorporated Lovecraft’s “Roman dream” letter. And, by the sound of it, some “plot” suggestions from the master. Curiously there appears to be no YouTube or other accessible audio reading of this Weird Tales appearance. There was later a 1963 book version from Arkham House, which may be preventing audio versions? I’m uncertain if the book was expanded and revised, though one blurb does note “expanded for book publication”.
That’s not the end of the book of letters, so there’s still some more to come.