H.P. Lovecraft as psychogeographer, New York City 1924-26.
Following pages: details of the New York City subway map, 1929. 1
“They could not be upon any map of today…” — H.P. Lovecraft. “He” (1925).
“What do maps and records and guide-books really tell [of the city, for] these ancient places are dreaming gorgeously and overflowing with wonder and terror and escapes from the commonplace, and yet there’s not a living soul to understand or profit by them.” — H.P. Lovecraft. “Pickman’s Model” (1926).
“And it is utterly true that he who cannot find wonder, mystery, awe, the sense of a new world and an undiscovered realm in the places by the Gray’s Inn Road [in urban London] will never find those secrets elsewhere, not in the heart of Africa, not in the fabled cities of Tibet” — Arthur Machen. The London Adventure (1924).
IMAGE CREDITS. Front: Creative Commons photo by Zach Dischner, with substantial Photoshop alteration by the author. Other images are in the public domain due to their age, or are used here under a ‘fair use’ principle for the purpose of scholarly criticism and historical record. The author does not claim copyright over images so used.
© David Haden, 2011. 4
WALKING WITH CTHULHU: H.P. Lovecraft as psychogeographer, New York City 1924-26.
by David Haden.
CONTENTS Timeline of Key Dates. Introduction: A Walk in New York. SURFACE: Walking the Streets of the City. 1. H.P. Lovecraft and the psychogeographers. 2. H.P. Lovecraft’s night walks in New York: psychogeographic techniques. 3. The nature of the New York streets. 4. A note on H.P. Lovecraft and immigrants. 5. Lovecraft’s New York coffee houses and ice-cream parlours. UNDERGROUND: On the Monstrous, Occult, and Hidden. 6. H.P. Lovecraft and the subway. 7. It emerged from the subways! 8. On mystical and occult New York. 9. On H.P. Lovecraft and Franz Boas. 10. New York as R’lyeh, sunken city of Cthulhu. “Nyarlathotep” annotated. Bibliography.
TIMELINE OF KEY DATES 1920. Writes “Nyarlathotep”: set in a dream-landscape city at night. 1922. Apr 6th-12th: First ever visit to New York City. 1924. Mar 1924: Moves to New York. Lives at 259 Parkside Avenue, Brooklyn. 1924. Association with Houdini, completes “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs”. 1924. Spring: Works briefly for The Reading Lamp, New York. 1924. About Aug: Financial calamity strikes Lovecraft and his new wife. 1924. Dec: His wife departs from New York to a new job in the Midwest. 1924. 31st Dec: Moves to “dismal hovel” at 169 Clinton Street, Brooklyn Heights. 1924. Pulp magazine market starts to become more formulaic and action-oriented. 1925. July. Reads Machen’s The London Adventure. 1925. 1st-2ndAug: Writes “The Horror at Red Hook”. Set in NYC. 1925. 12th-13th Aug: Writes out plot for “The Call of Cthulhu”. 1925. Aug: Writes “He”. Set in NYC. 1926. Mar: Writes “Cool Air”. Set in NYC. 1926. Apr: Final all-night walk. Leaves New York and returns to Providence. 1926. Sept: Two week stay in New York. 1928. Spring: Brief stay in New York. 1932-1933.
Spends two Christmas weeks in New York with friends. 7
New York at dusk, showing trolley car (tram), motor car, Woolworths Bldg. Picture: GEC. Public Domain. 8
INTRODUCTION: A WALK IN NEW YORK
r. H.P. Lovecraft stepped down onto the platform of New York’s
M Pennsylvania Station on the 6
day of April in 1922. He strolled out
along the long platform, carrying his valise. Strolling was what he enjoyed best at that point in his life — his experience of urban walking and sauntering was generally that of joy, even exhilaration. He had raised this activity to a practiced and cultivated art, and it was also one of his few real joys in what can be regarded as a rather impoverished outward life. Sometimes it even verged on being a mania. He had learned how to walk observantly in his home town of Providence in New England, a place of ocean breezes and pleasant walking. By 1900 the town was neatly paved with bituminous macadam. This surface wore rather well 1 , but at that time there was probably not a great deal to wear it down — most of the traffic must have consisted of buses and commercial vehicles. The town was also a place from which bicycles were effectively banned by custom, except for those ridden by pre-adolescent boys. 2 Lovecraft thus lived in that paradisiacal age of the pedestrian, which lay somewhere between the decline of the horse in large cities and the pestilence of mass car ownership. 3 He also walked in some of the nearby Atlantic-facing towns and cities. Yet it was not in these, or in his genteel home town of Providence that Lovecraft most fully developed his proto-psychogeographic practices of walking, investigating, observing, and mentally recording for future literary and epistolary use. It was in that famous ‘ground zero’ of the impact of the truly modern world, George W. Tillison, Street Pavements and Paving Materials: a manual of city pavements, 1900. “The city of Providence, R.I., has a large amount of streets paved with macadam which have given satisfaction.”
2 Only boys rode bicycles, since it was ‘not the done thing’ in the town for adults to ride them. See: S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence, p.887.
See: Peter D. Norton. Fighting traffic: the dawn of the motor age in the American city. MIT Press, 2008. James F. Morton, one of the Lovecraft circle, was killed by a car in 1941.
New York City between 1922 4 and 1927. During this period the city joyfully broke down the barriers between high and low culture, between technology and art, creating new and potent cultural forms from the resulting mix — such as science fiction, jazz, new forms of musical theatre, cinema 5 , radio, comic books 6 , mass advertising, mass publishing. All the elements of a new culture, on which America would then found a new and often gaudy empire of the mind. It thus seems to me to be a very useful task to examine Lovecraft’s experiences and walking practices in New York, as that great city spun away from its past and careered toward a vigorous new type of modernity. Yet the city was much more than a glittering modern city for Lovecraft. It was that in the early months of his stay, but it soon came to be seen as a darker, older, and far more protean city 7 — at least on his many walks in the dead of night. As he threaded his way through a maze of tenuous and delicate mental impressions, in the night shadows and dawn glimmerings of New York City he found a new dream-city that could function
He had first visited New York in 1922, and not only as the usual tourist type. His first gothic exploration in New York seems to have been in 1922, when he... “I wrote it a year ago in New York, when I had been exploring an old Dutch cemetery in Flatbush, where the ancient gravestones are in the Dutch language”. This led to the story “The Hound”, written in 1922. Lovecraft quote from - Miscellaneous Writings, Arkham House, 1995. 4
The industry was not yet fully in Hollywood. The industry had grown up in the 1900s in New York, and even in the more advanced silent features era of the 1920s there was still much film-making activity in New York. Only animation seems to have been largely a West Coast phenomena. There seems to be some indication that McNeil of the Lovecraft Circle was involved in the industry in the 1910s.
Comics Monthly, from 1922, being essentially first. Published by the Embee Distribution Company of New York City.
7 His glorious first impression of it thus, in the company of Samuel Loveman in 1922 was later transmuted into fiction in “He”. New York would later become for him “the Pest Zone”, as Lovecraft’s attitudes changed... “from Dunsanian fantasy of spires at sunset to the ‘pest zone,’ home of monstrous aliens, harbinger of the onrushing decline of the West. Lovecraft was not alone in such judgments. When Freud and Jung visited New York some fifteen years earlier , they noted similar [extremes]” — Faye Ringel, in New England's Gothic literature: history and folklore of the supernatural from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. Edwin Mellen Press, 1995.
simultaneously as an inspirational fever-dream, as a text, as an antiquarian reliquary, and as a sort of psychic comforter to aid him in his battle against the mundane and horrifyingly noisy reality of its daylight hours. Nor was he without guides to the self-aware practice of walking, as I will explain in the later essays in this book. Lovecraft and his circle spent several years, on and off, exploring the city by night, and from these experiences he shaped and sold the thrill of unspeakable fears and nightmares. 8 His walking was not in the rural ‘tromping’ style, or that of the rambling clubs then newly in vogue. 9 Rather it was walking of fits and starts, of zig-zags and jumps, of adventuresome following of intuition, of stopping to see, hear, and consider, to fondle the past and also any passing kitty-kat that might come with range. He under took his extensive series of walks just as the rest of New York was starting a new industrial revolution in the manufacture and sale of aspirational dreams and in the commercial redirection of the human desire for pleasure. Lovecraft might thus be seen as the ‘dark other’ of the new American dream machine. He and his friends delved into the slums, the ancient wharfs and graveyards, the neglected back courtyards, the crumbling churches and graveyards, the eerie wharfs, the winding alleys, plumbing the depths of the rapidly-widening civilisation chasm opening between the hoary past and the brash new modernity. 10 Out of this chasm he dredged the 8 Lovecraft was always acutely sensitive to places and landscapes with any real sense of history in them. Even on his first ‘deep’ tour of the city in 1925, as night falls he started to notice... “odd musty warehouses, queer old corners”, presumably storing them away as potential literary settings. Letters from New York, p.53. He does not often write much in his letters of the night trips, seeming to prefer to leave it to the later fiction to express the details. Perhaps he thought his aunts would not be interested in the fine details served up again and again. 9 See George Kirk’s letters for his accounts of the tedium of a New York rambling club, and the boring personalities to be found therein. To be found in Mara Kirk Hart and S.T. Joshi (eds.) Lovecraft’s New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927. Hippocampus Press, 2006.
The other major New York ‘outsider’ artist of the time, Joseph Cornell, undertook a similar strategy of recovering the past. But Cornell found it among the carefully selected detritus of popular culture in junk stores, second-hand bookshops, and thrift stores. Cornell’s famous shadow box work was first shown in 1932 - had he seen these 11 10
elements of what would, in time, establish his own weirdly dark and now seemingly eternal empire of the fantastic. 11 For instance, he found walking useful for working up a mood suitable for creation, and the plot for the famous “The Call of Cthulhu” was written directly after a marathon all-night walking session in the city. 12 Lovecraft’s expeditions into the night of New York City were nearcontemporaneous with the more well-known night walks of the Surrealists in Paris. 13 In a city just a few years away from the brink of a new car-borne hostility to the pedestrian, his walking, Lovecraft’s cross-cutting of histories, his seeking out of little known routes, his stopping to look up at the buildings instead of into shop windows, his stepping back into the street for a better view — all these acts can be seen as implicit varieties of subversion of the ‘normal’ commercial experience of the modern city. His actual techniques 14 , and those of his companions interestingly anticipated some of those used in the walks of the Situationists in the 1950s and early 1960s. 15 His antiquarianism and attention to the old vernacular of the streets, and to the layered and confused pasts of the city edge-lands, has many parallels with the ‘London turn’ in the modern psychogeography of the 1990s and 2000s. He works Lovecraft might have rather liked the themes of astronomy, the cosmic, and childhood nostalgia/play in the works – but it is very unlikely Lovecraft ever knew of Cornell. I say ‘eternal’ because his works are not cherished as dusty museum-pieces, like those of many literary people of the time, but are still actively re-interpreted, re-shaped, and expanded upon. Any mythos that lasts a century, as Lovecraft’s has almost done (the anniversary of its inception will be in 2017, since “Dagon” dates from 1917), while still staying alive and changing and inspiring, seems to me to stand a good chance of keeping going for several more centuries yet. 11
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.172. 12
His vivid dream-narrative walk in a New York-like city at night in “Nyarlathotep” (1920) clearly predates the 1924-5 walks in Paris that inspired Aragon’s Paris Peasant (1926). The matter of influence is discussed in a later essay in this book. 13
Summarised in a later essay in this book.
15 Outlined in a later chapter in this book. The key work is: Ken Knabb. Situationist International Anthology. Bureau of Public Secrets, 2010. Specifically Guy Debord’s “Theory of the Dérive” (1958) given in Knabb.
was not simply being ‘a tourist’ or some fogeyish daytime architectural trainspotter. Like the classic Paris flaneur, Lovecraft perceived modernity well enough — he marveled at its flow of seductive images when done well, enjoyed its childishly garish ice-cream parlours, ate at the coffee shops and the automats (all night self-service cafes), went on the amusements at Coney Island, and visited its vast new cinemas and theatres. To illuminate this, Christopher Morley usefully gives a vivid glimpse of the New York streetscape in 1935 with modernity crowding in, seemingly from the edges… “Walking on crowded city streets at night, watching the lighted windows, delicatessen shops, peanut carts, bakeries, fish stalls, free lunch counters piled with crackers and saloon cheese, and minor poets struggling home with the Saturday night marketing […] the great symbols of our hodgepodge democracy: ice cream soda, electrical sky-signs…” 16 But in turning his back on the modern and on the legendary American ‘compulsory cheerfulness’, he became for a moment something that now seems a crucial addendum to New York’s literary history — a conscious ‘anticollector’ collecting impressions of overlooked places rather than objects, righting wrongs being done upon the city by modernity through a kind of psychic collection and excavation of dark places, seeking out the obverse of modernity and making it into highly subjective fictional detours that nevertheless rested very much on his experiences in real places… “… hidden in cryptical recesses which no street, lane, or passageway connects with the Manhattan of today!” 17 In short order 18 he succeeded in powerfully re-imagining the city as haunted by its suppressed ‘other’, the hoary and hidden past. He did not so
Christopher Morley, essay on “The Art Of Walking” (1935).
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.61.
18 Lovecraft often required about a year or two to fully ‘absorb’ his memories of a place and weave it into his fiction. Or else he wrote it almost immediately the mood came upon him. Often Lovecraft could only write about a place when away from it.
much ‘re-enchant places’ — as the Romantics had tried to do, and the neoRomantics in Britain were then still trying to do — as to ‘re-nightmare’ them. In a later chapter I will argue that he succeeded in doing this, not for any one place in the city, but for the whole of New York City. Like many psychogeographers 19 , Lovecraft also had a clear ideology and philosophical vision. This was certainly not the ideology of the far left, which seems common to most psychogeographers. But there are striking similarities nevertheless. 20 Like those on the political left, he also railed and chafed against the crassness and alienage of the modern commercial city, and sought to combat it in visionary words. Like the literary pacifist anarchists he engaged in a form of radical idleness — a reluctance toward paid regular work that was an effective refusal of it. He also engaged in the typical bohemian modus operandi of ‘anticonsumption’, happiest with the idea of the city as garden and as museum, as basically free and pleasurable — the free pleasures of the parks, pet shops 21 , the public libraries and museums, the art galleries, street cats, even the joy of lingering in a café over a cheap coffee in the small hours so as to be able to read the free morning-edition papers, and talking with like-minded friends on long night walks. Such free pleasures are, of course, one of the rights and prerogatives of the talented artist. If society refuses to pay now for what it will value only after one’s death, then one is perfectly entitled to sponge upon it mercilessly. Lovecraft did just that, becoming a lifelong expert at getting a free ride and then walking away leaving everyone smiling.
From a wide-ranging short introduction to psychogeography and its history, see Merlin Coverley’s Psychogeography (2nd Ed.). Pocket Essentials, 2010. 19
20 More understandable if one views fascism as arising as a heretical sect within socialism, and one is aware of the ways that socialism was itself implicated with eugenics and anti-semitism between the wars. 21 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.121.
Lovecraft’s passion for a certain type of meanderingly investigatory and often performative 22 walking was not without some personal limitations. His extreme sensitivity to the cold meant that walking was, with a few notable exceptions 23 , a passion only enthusiastically undertaken in pleasant weather. This must have given his walking more glamour than if he had been someone who had been habitually called upon to trudge about among the harsh weather of a New England winter. Lovecraft was also prone to fainting 24 , or so he thought himself to be based on occurrences when he was younger. This probably meant the pavement was always something of a worry for him, and seems to have been linked in his mind to cold weather. He was a moderately big man by the standards of the time, and would no doubt have fallen heavily if he had fainted. At the back of his mind he may always have had the then-common and chilling saying of American children’s street culture of the time:— “Step on a crack, break your back!”
ill afford hospital bills. In time it was this young children’s street culture which would be a platform for the first powerful new studies of ‘the overlooked’ in the city streets. Children’s street chalkings in 1930s and 40s New York, for instance, have inspired one of the 20th century’s greatest photography books, Helen Levvitt’s In The Street: chalk drawings and messages, New York City 1938–1948 (1987). 26 22 Lovecraft’s enthusiasm for walking was especially potent and even manic when with friends, ‘showing them around’ a place he had already explored and researched. He frequently amazed and exhausted his companions, with an urgent verbal and armwaving conveyance of ‘lost’ narratives, until they begged for the café, the train station, or the subway entrance. 23 Such as the January 1925 view of New York under a total eclipse of the Sun, and what must have been a chilly January walk in Greenwood Cemetery. Possibly there was some benefit from the ‘heat-island’ effect in built-up parts of the city. 24 S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. This may have been partly due to the type if nourishment he was getting, or the lack of it.
This fear may account for some of his phobias about things like the seeminglyendless subway entrance steps leading down into the gloom.
Levvitt’s book is a high water mark of a huge treasure house of 20th century street photography, a photography which is especially rich as a record of young children’s own street culture — before that culture was obliterated or pushed onto pavements and into back yards by the proliferation of the motor car. This cultural tradition, passed on in a 15 26
Children playing in New York, circa 1930s, cars starting to dominate the streets. Picture: Elliott Erwitt. The New York Public Library.
Other elements of city streets still exist to be noticed and used in creative work. For instance the Victorian and Edwardian grates and manhole covers that first seem to have been written about eloquently by the British poet and antiquarian John Betjeman, and which were (much later) photographed by various documentary photographers and photobook makers in both America and Britain. What lies beneath the manhole covers, such as the massive Victorian sewer architecture, has also been more appreciated and properly photographed in recent decades. The white picket fences and hardy weeds adjacent to urban walks have been pictured by some of America’s finest photographers, such as Ansel Adams and John Szarkowski. The shadows on the streets of New York were wonderfully captured in a series of etchings by Martin Lewis, now held by the Smithsonian. Much of historic interest is probably still there in the urban streets to be documented — such as fragile and inventive manner from child to child, was the most ephemeral and valuable treasure of the pre-car streets. It is almost lost to us now except frozen in still photography and recorded in the 1960s and 70s ‘rescue’ ethnography of researchers like Iona Opie. 16
endangered street sounds. But the young children’s culture, and increasingly the cats, now seem all but gone from the streets. Lovecraft was rarely alone when walking. He often had the intelligent company of eager and bookish youths and young men, some of whom he considered to be and indeed whom he called his ‘children’, on his night walks… “He liked to take long peripatetic walks, like Aristotle, with his conversants, as if to guarantee their presence only for him.” 27 Even when alone he was communing with the shades of the past 28, and also with a seemingly endless stream of passing cats. 29 No street cat, if willing to be coaxed, could escape being fondled and caressed, and conversed with in ancient tongues. Here is just one example from the letters… “I worked slowly southward by the light of a waning misty moon […] amongst the curious houses, imagination-kindling streets, & innumerable kitty-cats …”
Lovecraft had a simple and potent secret for attracting the cats that he adored all of his life... “I always have a supply of catnip on hand”. 31 Doubtless he had some catnip packed and ready for use in New York, as he stepped along the platform of the Pennsylvania Station that fateful day when he first arrived in New York City in April 1922.
Timo Airaksinen. The Philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft: the route to horror. Lang, 1999. p.5.
28 See Lovecraft’s New York story “He” for one of the most potent visualisations of this idea in fictional form.
One has to presume cats were far more numerous and venturesome before the advent of the cat-massacring mass car-culture and drug-addled yobs. Indeed Loveman commented that... “One of the quaintest features of all colonial New York is the number of cats seen at large…” — S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.74. 29
30 Long all-night solo walk of early August 1925. S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.170. 31 In a letter by Lovecraft, given on p.54 of Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark, Wildside Press, 2005.
Pennsylvania Station, NYC, 1910 publicity shot. Picture: Public Domain
Pennsylvania Station, NYC. By Bernice Abbott, printed 1935. Picture: Public Domain.
Tailors & drapers shop, New York City, circa 1910s. Lovecraft spent many weeks in 1925 scouring the city for new $25 suits, after burglaries. Picture: Public Domain. 19
SURFACE: WALKING THE STREETS OF THE CITY
1 : H.P. LOVECRAFT AND THE PSYCHOGEOGRAPHERS
think Lovecraft’s New York night walks deserve more attention from
I scholars than the very fleeting and uncomprehending glances that they have so far had from Lovecraftians. There are obvious similarities to the more celebrated manifestations and practitioners of psychogeography. This essay surveys the psychogeographic tradition, with special attention given to drawing parallels with Lovecraft’s experiences in New York and showing his linkages with some of the same roots as psychogeography has.
Lovecraft’s New York City night walks seem to have consciously arisen from his knowledge of the activities and practices of earlier writers. 1 One might firstly point to Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (1722), which has been described by psychogeographers in terms that would very much fit Lovecraft’s approach… “This blend of fiction and biography, of local history and personal reminiscence, is bound together to form an imaginative reworking of the city in which the familiar layout of the city is shown to be transformed beyond recognition [by the ravages of the plague]” 2 Lovecraft was an expert on 18th century literature, and there was an edition of Journal of the Plague Year in his library at his death. 3 Then there is the
Anne D. Wallace names the mode of literature arising from such knowing walking as ‘the peripatetic’ in her book Walking, literature, and English culture: the origins and uses of peripatetic in the nineteenth century. Clarendon Press, 1993. In its 18th century origins this is as understood as a… “cultivating labour capable of renovating both the individual and his society by recollecting and expressing past value.” 1
Merlin Coverley. Psychogeography (2nd ed.). Pocket Essentials, 2010. pp.36-37.
S.T. Joshi. Lovecraft's Library: A Catalogue (2nd Rev. Ed.). Hippocampus Press, 2002.
work of John Thelwall 4 , and the night rambles of Coleridge, and De Quincey 5… “For De Quincey the city becomes a riddle, a puzzle still perplexing writers and walkers to this day, and he establishes a vision of city replayed by later devotees of the urban gothic such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Machen. These authors continue the tradition of writer as walker, established, at least in urban form, by De Quincey and present the city as a dreamscape in which nothing is as it seems and which can only be navigated by those possessing secret knowledge.” 6 “Some of these rambles led me to great distances; for an opium-eater is too happy to observe the motion of time. And sometimes, in my attempts to steer homewards, upon nautical principles, by fixing my eye on the pole-star, and seeking ambitiously for a north-west passage, instead of circumnavigating all the capes and head-lands I had doubled in my outward voyage, I came suddenly upon such knotty problems of alleys, such enigmatical entries, and such sphinx’s riddles of streets without thoroughfares, as must, I conceive, baffle the audacity of porters, and confound the intellects of hackney-coachmen, I could almost have believed at times, that I must be the first discoverer of some of these terra incognita, and doubted whether they had yet been laid down in the modern charts of London.” — De Quincey, Confessions of an English opium-eater (1821). John Thelwall, The Peripatetic (1793). Rebecca Solnit in her Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2006), sees him as a progenitor, setting... “something of a pattern: autodidacts who took the trinity of radical politics, love of nature, and pedestrianism to extremes.” 4
Lovecraft was a self-taught expert on 18th century literature and architecture, and knew of night-time expeditions by De Quincey and others. In this respect it is interesting that Christopher Morley’s essay The Art of Walking (1935) states in his historical survey that… “I have always fancied that walking as a fine art was not much practised before the eighteenth century.”
Merlin Coverley. Psychogeography (2nd Ed.). Pocket Essentials, 2010. p.17. 23
Lovecraft also knew of the depiction of the London streets at night in Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous horror novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1887), and probably was able to recall the biographical details of the London night-walks of poets such as William Blake and Francis Thompson. 7 There was also a touch of the 1890s performative dandyism of Oscar Wilde mingled with Lovecraft’s New York experience 8 although I cannot see any particularly strong link from Lovecraft to systematic nightwalking in the works or life of Wilde. 9 Edgar Allen Poe also took night walks, which surfaced in his London story “The Man of The Crowd” (1840), and in his “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), among others. Lovecraft may have been influenced by Charles Hemstreet’s Literary New York: its landmarks and associations 10 which he read in late November 1924. It is a good short survey, with much to say about Poe and his circle in New York, and with lines on night walking such as… “In those nightly walks through the quiet streets of the sleeping town, the poet Steendam found inspiration for his verses” 7 Kalem Club member George Kirk recommended him in his letters, as one of the few poets of the 19th century worth reading. Although now forgotten except by ardent Catholic historians, Thompson was once counted among this ‘canon’ of London nightwalkers. As evidence I can give this quote from 1907…
“Blake, who was perhaps half-Insane, needed neither alcohol nor drug to open his eyes to the [night-walking] world of strange shapes and terrors; but all the others — Coleridge, De Quincey, Poe, James Thomson, and Francis Thompson …” - The Nation, 1907. Lovecraft knew of Dowson, since he mentions them in his letters - S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.162. On the latter, see his fastidious attention to dress and the Sunday tradition of the Kalem Club to promenade in best suits and dandy canes down Clinton Street. For Rheinhart Kleiner’s full account of this, see: S.T. Joshi. Lovecraft’s New York Circle. Hippocampus Press, 2006. p.225. 8
9 Although some might see links with clandestine male-male encounters in the darkened streets. See Lovecraft’s story “He” (1925), and Matt Cook’s London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885-1914. On New York City see George Chauncey’s Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. 10
Charles Hemstreet. Literary New York: its landmarks and associations. Putnam’s, 1903.
“McDonald Clarke often wandered out into the City Hall Park over the way, and sat there through many a long summer night — dreaming over his Elixir of Moonshine” “walk away along the street remembering that in Poe’s time it was a delightful country road. Stroll towards the Harlem River as he wandered many a moonlight night, his brain busy with the deep problems of The Universe. […] Walk over the path there, high above the water, and visit the lonely spot where the suggestion came to Poe for that requiem of despair, the mystic Ulalume.” And also with the suggesting of nocturnal ‘time travel’… “At night, when it [Frankfort Street] is silent and deserted, it suggests the time, far back in the year 1678” Lovecraft had probably also read Thoreau’s famous essay “Walking”, since it was very widely anthologised.… “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering …” Perhaps he had even read Robert Cortes Holliday, said to be “the American Belloc”, in his book Walking Stick Papers (1918). Here he would have found musings on the use of the cane for walking 11 , and also a strikingly homosocial edict on the nature of walking… “No one, though (this is the first article to be observed), should ever go a journey with any other than him with whom one walks arm in arm, in the evening, the twilight, and, talking (let us suppose) of men’s given names, agrees that if either should have a son he shall be named after the other. Walking in the gathering dusk, two and two, since the world began, there have always been young men who have thus to one another plighted their troth [i.e. married] . If one is not still one of these, then, in the sense here used, journeys are over for 11
Lovecraft seemed very fond of his walking canes. 25
him. What is left to him of life he may enjoy, but not journeys.” — Walking Stick Papers Then there is Arthur Machen, who offered a similarly exact guide to walking, and who has been hailed as a proto-psychogeographer. Lovecraft discovered his works in 1923. Machen was an author of both fiction and non-fiction who … “seeks out the strange and otherworldly within our midst — a single street, event or object capable of transforming the most mundane surroundings into something strange or sinister, revealing that point of access, called the Northwest Passage by De Quincey, which provides an unexpected shortcut to the magical realm behind our own.” 12 The second and third volumes of Machen’s autobiography: Things Near and Far (1923); and The London Adventure ; of the art of wandering (1924) 13 , must have been a key and very timely influence on Lovecraft. 14 The London Adventure is at once an itinerant story, a topography, an instructional manual for walking, a text of performative writing, and an autobiography. 15 Machen’s fiction was discovered by Lovecraft in the Spring of 1923, and he swiftly became a devotee. In these two later Machen autobiographies, of which Lovecraft purchased his own copies at Scribner’s in October 1924 16 , he found not only the supernatural but also much that spoke to his love of walking and old architecture… “London was undisturbed in those days. Holywell Street and Wych Street were all in their glory in 1885, a glory compounded of 12
Merlin Coverley. Psychogeography (2nd Ed.). Pocket Essentials, 2010. p.18.
Sadly, this book is firmly out-of-print until 2018 when it becomes public domain.
14 He read them just before his key burst of highly productive night-walking in August 1925. 15 Lovecraft read The London Adventure in July 1925, and thus would it have influenced “He”, among others. See: S.T. Joshi. Lovecraft’s Library: a catalogue. Hippocampus Press, 2002. p.99. Lovecraft’s library also contained Things Near and Far (1923). 16
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005.
sixteenth-century gables, bawdy books and matters congruous therewith, parchment Elzevirs, dark courts and archways, hidden taverns, and ancient slumminess.” — Things Near and Far. Machen also makes an implicitly political critique of the very blunt tools then available to the urban planner, social reformer, and early urban ethnographer, in terms of the mapping of more than the simplest elements in the social geography of cities… “You may point out a street, correctly enough, as the abode of washerwomen; but, in that second floor, a man may be studying chaldee roots, and in the garret over the way a forgotten artist is dying by inches.” — A Fragment of Life. Machen point to ways of cultivating the wonder to be found among ordinary or neglected places which may nevertheless evoke rare sensory impressions… “And it is utterly true that he who cannot find wonder, mystery, awe, the sense of a new world and an undiscovered realm in the places by the Gray’s Inn Road will never find those secrets elsewhere, not in the heart of Africa, not in the fabled cities of Tibet” — Things Near and Far. “It is possible, just dimly possible, that the real pattern and scheme of life is not in the least apparent on the outward surface of things, which is the world of common sense and rationalism and reasoned deductions; but rather lurks, half-hidden, only apparent in certain rare lights, and then only to the prepared eye; a secret pattern, an ornament which seems to have but little relation or none at all to the obvious scheme of the universe.” — The London Adventure . Machen also suggested the making of ‘random’ adventures by wandering the city without maps… “I began now to appreciate the fact that if you set out, without a map, from your house at 36 Great Russell Street and walk for half an 27
hour eastward or northward you are in fact in an unknown region, a new world” — Things Near and Far. This approach to walking seems to have first emerged in the 1890s, in Machen’s novella A Fragment of Life (begun in 1899)… “I didn’t buy a map; that would have spoilt it, somehow; to see everything plotted out, and named, and measured. What I wanted was to feel that I was going where nobody had been before” — A Fragment of Life. Machen also suggested early, in his Novel of the Iron Maid (1890), a linkage between fantasy and random walking, in terms of conjuring up the feelings of fantasy that can come upon those walking in deserted streets at night… “Before me was the long suburban street, its dreary distance marked by rows of twinkling lamps, and the air was poisoned by the faint, sickly smell of burning bricks; it was not a cheerful prospect by any means, and I had to walk through nine miles of such streets, deserted as those of Pompeii. I knew pretty well what direction to take, so I set out wearily, looking at the stretch of lamps vanishing in perspective: and as I walked street after street branched off to right and left, some far reaching, to distances that seemed endless, communicating with other systems of thoroughfare, and some mere protoplasmic streets, and ending suddenly in waste, and pits, and rubbish heaps, and fields whence the magic had departed. I have spoken of systems of thoroughfare, and I assure you that walking alone through these silent places I felt fantasy growing on me, and some glamour of the infinite.” — Novel of the Iron Maid (1890). One of Machen’s inspirations might be found in the late 18th century work by John Thelwall, The Peripatetic (1793) which has a similarly radical structure to The London Adventure , and a similar revolutionary view of the nature and potentials of walking in London as a political/creative practice.
Thelwall seems to me be one of the key roots of the whole tradition, since he influenced Coleridge in terms of his night walks. 17 Machen tried to develop his ideas to such a systematic extent that in The London Adventure he repeatedly calls this approach to walking his ‘London science’ and like terms. Thus he gave his activities a systematic cast, an approach he presumably then communicated to Lovecraft through a reading of the autobiography in 1925.18 The knowledge Lovecraft had from Machen seems very significant in making a claim for his having made a shift from simple antiquarian tourist to proto-psychogeographer by summer 1925, and in a manner that can stand comparison with the approaches of the early surrealists and the early Situationist International. He also had contact with Paris bohemia in 1925, since he was receiving regular lengthy letters from Alfred Galpin. 19 As he read Machen and others, Lovecraft must have repeatedly glimpsed that it is possible to make of walking a systematic and experimental practice.
ut what of the surrealists, who were operating in Paris at the same time
B as Lovecraft was in New York?
Lovecraft may have known of the new
surrealist tendency in art and literature from the English-language cultural magazines, which must have reported on what was then happening in Paris. Then there was also Lovecraft’s good friend Alfred Galpin who was in Paris Nicholas Roe. “Coleridge and John Thelwall: the Road to Nether Stowey” in: The Coleridge Connection, 2nd edition, 2007. In England there is an older non-literary tradition, in which walking is essentially a small-p political practice. This lies in the fact that while the close-packed island is almost entirely built up and demarcated by boundaries in the urban areas, there are nevertheless countless small paths, ways through, shortcuts, and ‘desire’ paths that unofficially permeate it almost everywhere. If the English cultural tradition is ‘the invention of tradition’, then on the ground this takes the form of the ad-hoc invention of unofficial shortcuts known only to locals. 17
This theme had also been developed in fiction in The Hill of Dreams (1907) based on Machen’s time in London. From which… “trivial and common things were acutely significant”. Lovecraft also read Machen’s book on aesthetics, Hieroglyphics, in summer 1925. 18
19 Galpin was in Paris in 1925, see the next section of this essay for details. S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.162.
in 1925, seemingly for a year, as an impoverished bearded bohemian music student. Although Galpin had reportedly ‘given up literature’ at that time, he sent very lengthy reports on Paris to Lovecraft. 20 Possibly among these were some accounts of the latest trends in art in the city. Perhaps this is what we see surfacing in the line from “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926)… “… a fantastic painter named Ardois-Bonnot hangs a blasphemous Dream Landscape in the Paris spring salon of 1926” 21 However, Lovecraft appears to have been more interested in Galpin’s accounts of walking among the medieval streets of the city, which he mentions in his own letters. 22 Yet there was another Paris connection. Galpin’s French wife came to New York and stayed with the Lovecraft Circle in 1925. She was extremely intelligent and literary and had just come from Paris. She was admitted as a rare guest to one of the Kalem Club group meetings on August 22nd-23rd 1925, where… “The presence of one direct from Paris gave a Gallick tone to the conversation” 23 It seems unimaginable that the circle would not have asked about the latest literary trends in Paris, although Aragon’s Paris Peasant would not be published until 1926. The very next night Lovecraft went on an immense all-night exploration with Kirk, “covering 90 blocks”. 24
20 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.163. Sadly, Galpin destroyed Lovecraft’s letters to him, only 27 now surviving.
This also bears a slight resemblance to one of Lovecraft’s early lost stories called “The Picture”... “[in] one of the juvenile tales I destroyed [...] I had a man in a Paris garret paint a mysterious canvas embodying the quintessential essence of all horror.” This idea was then later used as a basis for “Pickman’s Model”. 21
22 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.163. 23 Ibid. p.178. During Morton’s youth... “he also spent considerable time in France which enabled him to use the French language fluently.” From “Memorial of James F. Morton”, American Mineralogist. 24
After his death Lovecraft was certainly seen to have had strong surrealist tendencies, even if he did not know them as such while he was alive. 25 As early as 1943 the surrealist journal VVV featured a groundbreaking and positive study of Lovecraft and his work by Robert Allerton Parker. 26 This was in the early years of a short revival of fantastic literature, which began after Lovecraft’s death with William Sloane’s To Walk the Night (1937). Then in the mid 1970s Frank Rosemont, in his influential Arsenal surrealist book-cum-magazine, wrote that… “the Lovecraft Circle grasped the essence of the surrealist view, verified by all great examples of the past, that it is impossible to create anything of significance by expressing only the manifest content of an age” […] “The intuitive insistence on the awesome, truly limitless possibilities opened, in the epoch of the worker’s councils 27 , gives his and his comrades works an implicitly revolutionary character forever unattainable by explicitly ‘socialist’ novels.” Sadly, no-one in modern American surrealism appears to have significantly followed the lead of Parker and Rosemont in seeing Lovecraft as a fellow traveler with surrealism. Possibly this has something to do with the revelations about Lovecraft’s politics in the 1970s and 80s. Had he been a card-carrying leftist, he would no doubt have continued to be feted by such groups to this day. As it was, while these American surrealists were able to draw early and indicative parallels between Lovecraft’s fiction and surrealism, they would not have the biographical materials that would have enabled them
25 Certainly the early French translations of Lovecraft were welcomed with open arms by the French surrealists in the 1950s, although some appear to have rather tediously claimed that the work... “reflects an authentic occult knowledge” (Gérard Legrand). 26 Robert Allerton Parker. “Such Pulp as Dreams Are Made On” (with illustrations by Hans Bok). VVV, 2-3, March 1943, pp.64-65. Reprinted in A Weird Writer in Our Midst: Early Criticism of H. P. Lovecraft. Hippocampus Press, 2010. 27 He is referring to Paris 1968 and its aftermath, the workers councils of Portugal in the 1970s, etc.
to catch sight of the thematic and chronological parallels between Lovecraft and some of the seminal early Surrealist texts on walking in the city. 28 I refer, of course, to the famous surrealist texts such as the nocturnal walks recorded in Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant (1926) 29 , one of the central and earliest seminal works of literary surrealism, walks that were contemporaneous with the night walks of Lovecraft and his circle in New York. Some Lovecraftians might at first suspect that Aragon, perhaps only read about by Lovecraft in a book review, forms a possible alternative inspiration for Lovecraft’s night walks and an alternative to those 18th century works and later authors I have here outlined in the previous pages. But there seems to have been no direct influence of either man upon the other. Aragon’s 1926 book came out too late to influence Lovecraft in New York, and Aragon’s work was strongly inspired by Vitezslav Nezval’s long poem “The Wondrous Magician” (1922), which makes of the Eastern European cultural capital of Prague a shadowy and fantastical realm. 30 There also seems to me to be an obvious influence from the ancient Jewish Golem story 31 and the Eastern 28 Nor have any of the writers on psychogeography, which arises partly from surrealism, caught sight of Lovecraft. The same can be said as the academic work undertaken on the traditions of the ‘writer as walker as artist’ and ‘walking art’.
Aragon’s book was followed by others that examined the night and the city. Breton followed with Nadja (1928) and Soupault with Les Dernieres Nuits de Paris (1928), among others. Lovecraft may have seen some of these reviewed in English after he had returned to Providence. Somewhat later Brassai produced a book of night photographs of Paris called L’Amour Fou (1937). 29
30 This can be found in English in Alfred French’s The Poets of Prague: Czech poetry between the wars. Oxford University Press, 1969. If seems to have first appeared in 1922 in The Revolutionary Anthology of Devetsil. The title may come from Shelley’s translation of scenes from The Wondrous Magician, and the theme certainly comes from the classic Jewish story of the Golem. It seems Lovecraft never saw either “The Wondrous Magician” or Paris Peasant (translation published 1971 in English).
Lovecraft did mention The Golem by Gustave Meyrink in his Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927), which he wrote while in New York, but he was only able to read it in the mid 1930s. Therefore it cannot have been an influence on him in the 1920s. Interestingly, one can see in the golem one of the roots of the concept of the New York superhero, especially as comics in the city were largely a Jewish industry. See: Danny Fingeroth’s Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero, and many other recent academic history books on the Jewish roots of the comic book. 31
European gothic traditions. Yet… there was also that rather elliptic ‘Northwest Passage’ by which De Quincey was conveyed into the tradition of Baudelaire’s flâneur 32 by Edgar Allen Poe’s London story “The Man of The Crowd” (1840), and thus influenced Aragon. Lovecraft knew Poe intimately, so there is a sort on tenuous linkage there. There is also the interesting possibility of an Arthur Machen influence on Aragon’s Paris Peasant — but if there were any explicit links between Aragon and the ‘London science’ of night walking which Machen had so explicitly set out in print in 1923 and 1924, then these have long since been swept under the carpet of history. Despite this apparent lack of influence from/to Lovecraft, Aragon seems to have independently shared Lovecraft’s antiquarian interests. The first section of Paris Peasant is an examination of the final days of an old Parisian arcade before being demolished, which Aragon characterised as “faceless monsters” full of “modern myths”… “Although the life that originally quickened them has drained away, they deserve, nevertheless, to be regarded as the secret repositories of several modern myths: it is only today, when the pickaxe menaces them, that they have at last become the true sanctuaries of a cult of the ephemeral, the ghostly landscape of damnable pleasures and professions. Places that were incomprehensible yesterday and that tomorrow will never know.” — Paris Peasant. Then there are the times Aragon’s prose in Paris Peasant, at least in its 1971 English translation by Simon Watson-Taylor, seems almost Lovecraftian in its themes — we are shown images arising from metaphors of marine and coastal life, sphinxes that haunt the city in the form of manikins, barriers against infinity, we peer into “disquieting atmospheres of places”… “The whole fauna of human fantasies, their marine vegetation, drifts and luxuriates in the dimly lit zones of human activity, as though plaiting thick tresses of darkness. Here, too, appear the lighthouses “The ecstasies and horrors of De Quincey and the paradis artificiels of Baudelaire” — this line is the opening of Lovecraft’s “The Crawling Chaos” (1921).
of the mind, with their outward resemblance to less pure symbols. […] The disquieting atmospheres of places contains similar locks which cannot be bolted fast against infinity. Wherever the living pursue particularly ambiguous activities, the inanimate may sometimes assume the reflection of their most secret motives: and thus our cities are peopled with unrecognized sphinxes which will never stop the passing dreamer and ask him mortal questions unless he first projects his meditations, his absence of mind, towards them.” — Paris Peasant. The similarly between the approaches and symbolic imaginaries of Lovecraft and Aragon at the same moment in history is then surely just one of an uncanny and chance coincidence and synchronicity. I have to assume that there was just something about the culture in certain large cities at that moment in history, between the disappearance of the horse and before the deadly onslaught of the motor car, in that sudden emergence of the vast chasm between the old world and modernity, that opened the streets of large cities to the primed imaginations of nocturnal wanderers and dreamers. The final half of Paris Peasant is a dizzying meditation on nature in the city, leading to a metaphysical ending that points out the ways that language serves to distort the ways we can glimpse reality. Aragon attempts a description of what one might call ‘a new reason of the imaginary’. This is implicitly linked to the supernatural, via Aragon’s definition in Paris Peasant of the supernatural as… “Le merveilleux, c’est la contradiction qui apparait dans le réel.” … and in English this is given as, in various translations… “The fantastic, it is a contradiction apprehended in the real.” “The fantastic is the contradiction that appears in the real.” “The marvelous is the eruption of contradiction within the real.”
Crucially, Andre Breton 33 once imagined in the 1920s that the best framing device for a small ‘found-object’ that served as an ‘eruption of the marvelous’ in the everyday streetscape might be a... “vitrine-bibliothèque” containing Gothic novels — “cette literature ultra-romanesque, archi-sophistiquee”— a small edifice dedicated to fear. 34 Breton was perhaps thinking here of gothic horror literature as a proven mode of effective world-changing action, from Horace Walpole’s initial The Castle of Otranto (1764) through to Ruskin and William Morris into the benign arts & crafts variant of 19th century British socialism. If so then he was wrong about this chain of influence 35 — but Lovecraft may have also had the same attitude at the back of his mind, albeit unconsciously and without Breton’s erroneous linkage with socialism. It may perhaps seem strange to some young readers to imagine that writing a horror book would fundamentally and irrevocably change the fabric of lived and built reality for the next generation. Yet that is what happened with the gothic revival, which arose most potently and widely in the popular form of
33 Interestingly, in his later pronouncements, for instance in the Prolegomena to a Third Surrealist Manifesto or Not (1942), one might even think he had been reading Lovecraft on cosmicism. But that would be well after Lovecraft’s death...
“Man is perhaps not the centre, the cynosure of the universe. One can go so far as to believe that there exist above him, on the animal scale, beings whose behaviour is as strange to him as his may be to the mayfly or the whale. [...] A new myth? Must these beings be convinced that they result from a mirage or must they be given a chance to show themselves?” 34 Haim N. Finkelstein, “’L’objet insolite’ in Breton’s writings”, in his own Surrealism and the Crisis of the Object , UMI Research Press, 1980. p19. In the 1920s, gothic criticism as a field had not yet emerged in English, there was only Edith Birkhead’s basic survey book The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance (1921).
To have assumed such a chain of influence would have been for Breton to mistake the history in question – but what matters here is that he may have believed it to be so. Serendipity (finding something useful that you’re not looking for) and misunderstanding seem to have been small but important elements in the ‘motor’ that has driven chains of cultural production in the West during the 20th century. 35
sensational gothic horror novels from Walpole onwards 36, giving great popular impetus to a new and widespread associated neo-gothic architectural style that would swiftly become the de facto official state style of the worldbestriding British Empire. This new style then gave us buildings ranging from the Crystal Palace and the British Houses of Parliament and countless other gothic revival official and ecclesiastical buildings, and moved strongly into the industrial architecture of the machine age.
The neo-gothic style gatehouse (1861-63), the entrance to the gigantic Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NYC. This is where Lovecraft went on an early night-walk one evening in what must have been a cold January, and it is also named by Lovecraft as the resting place of Robert Suydam in “The Horror at Red Hook”.
See Lovecraft’s essay Supernatural Horror in Literature for a full summary of such novels, starting with the novel The Castle of Otranto by the queer writer Horace Walpole. These works played with the opportunities opened up by the decline in belief in the folkloric supernatural in the face of Enlightenment reason. Lovecraft similarly constructs a ‘believing’ and ‘convincing’ artifice, behind the apparent seriousness of which there is - more often than not - concealed the impish grin of the trickster. 36
An equally important part of the neo-gothic project was a similarly ambitious set of moral precepts and ideas, which in time fed strongly into and regenerated Lovecraft’s own beloved monarchist and conservative tradition. Lovecraft thus lived with, and was in many ways actually a product of, a potent living example of how the most sensational form of horror literature could in fairly short order come to fundamentally change the very fabric of the constructed urban world and human ideas about how to live in and apprehend that world. 37
So it seems to me that Lovecraft’s project, if such it can be called, had somewhat similar impulses and ideas to that of Aragon 38 and the early surrealists: the attempt to find a new way to act upon the world through literature that would be as potent as the original gothic novel had so obviously been; his attempt to reconcile secular reason with the yearning for the supernatural and alien; the seeking of the unfamiliar in the familiar fabric of the everyday urban world; the focus on uncovering the antique contradictions in modernity and finding a ‘northwest passage’ between the ancient and the modern; the emphasis on spatial atmospheres as links to the sense of the uncanny; the strong belief in the incompleteness of man’s grasp upon the real world; in the insistence on trying to speak the unspeakable through a fresh and dynamic language that could break with the tired style of the Victorian past; the attempt to develop new types of creative works that arise from ‘bad’ and ‘vulgar’ commercial taste but which would transcend those tastes. The German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin later became fascinated by the Paris arcades described by Aragon. 39 His famous ‘Arcades Project’ At the moment when Lovecraft was formulating “The Call of Cthulhu”, Hitler was publishing his own ‘horror’ book, Mein Kampf - which would indeed change the world. The first volume of Mein Kampf appeared in July 1925. 37
38 Although it should be pointed out that at that time Aragon’s project was unfixed and developing, as was Lovecraft’s. 39 Michael Calderbank. “Surreal Dreamscapes: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades”. Essay available for free online at surrealismcentre.ac.uk
(1927-1940), as variously reconstructed and interpreted, has had a significant effect on the creative-intellectual life of the 20th century. Benjamin could almost be describing Lovecraft in New York in the following passage on the nature of walking and discovering in the urban night… “An intoxication comes over the one who walks aimlessly through the streets for a long time. With every step the walking itself gains greater power; the temptations of shops, bistros and smiling women grow less and less, while more and more irresistible becomes the magnetism of the next street corner, a distant mass of greenery, or the name of a street. Then comes hunger. He wants to know nothing of the hundred ways of satisfying it. Like an ascetic animal, he prowls through unknown neighborhoods until, in deepest exhaustion, he collapses in his cold, displeasing room.” 40 Lovecraft writes of this “fever” in his letters… “If these ancient spots were fascinating in the busy hours of twilight, fancy their utter and poignant charm in the sinister hours before dawn, when only cats, criminals, astronomers, and poetic antiquarians roam the waking world! … truly we had cast the modern and visible world aside” […] “the fever of the explorer was upon us”
40 From a translation of the notes and materials for the Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin. Given in Joachim Schlor. Nights in the big city: Paris, Berlin, London 1840-1930. Reaktion, 1998. 41 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.65-66.
he ideas of the Surrealists found their way, more or less clearly, to the
T members of the Situationist International who also engaged in some
highly influential night walks 42 they called dérives, in the later 1950s. One assumes that the linkages between the 1920s night walks of the Paris surrealists and those of the Paris Situationists are clear cut, via both direct and indirect routes into several key 1950s European groups 43 that would lead to the early Situationist International. The influence was no doubt wider and took multiple routes. One such alternative route might be seen in the work of the French philosopher Francois Dagognet who used the word “neogeographie” in the title of his Une Epistemologie del’space concret: Neogeographie. DeJean, translating part of what seems to be Dagognet’s still asyet-untranslated book 44 , seems to define a neo-geographic practice as being psychological in nature... “a relational field [of] irradiations, numerous fragile paths, proximities and distances, an ensemble that can be said to constitute a personality” 45 This is typical French intellectual language, but: “field of irradiations” and “fragile paths” 46 that combine in what is presumably a very personal psychological “ensemble” linked to the experience of a place.... some readers may see here a similarity to the Lettrist /early Situationist practice of derive as part of psychogeographic walking and writing. It seems likely that Dagognet’s idea of neo-geography operated within the wake of Henri Lefebvre’s influential book La production de l’espace (1974) — although even there we might find a looping passage back to the early Surrealists, since
Guy Debord. Theory of the Derive (1958).
Sadie Plant. The Most Radical Gesture (1992). Routledge.
Dagognet, Francois (1977). Une epistemologie de l’espace concret: neo-geographie (Problemes et controverses). Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin.
Ibid. p.91 - translation of p.174 of Dagognet.
46 Hakim Bey uses a similar terminology about the sense-of-place in his essay “Against Interpretation”.
Lefebvre had actually been a surrealist in the 1920s. 47 Lefebvre’s Critique de la vie quotidienne (started 1945, published in three volumes 1947-81) is said to have inspired COBRA 48 , and Lefebvre personally knew some French members of the Situationist International between 1957–1961, and he was aware of their experiments with derive and unitary urbanism. While Lefebvre later claimed: “My thinking about the city had completely different sources” 49 to those of the SI, it now seems obvious that there was an intermingling of ideas. Whatever the truth of the exact origins or routes, those early Surrealist ideas reached the Situationist International and formed the core of their own early ideas on walking. 50 Although influence is highly unlikely, some of their formulations of the dérive have elements in common with that of Lovecraft and his circle. The SI also wrote in terms Lovecraft would have instantly understood… “All cities are geological; you cannot take three steps without encountering ghosts bearing all the prestige of their legends. We move within a closed landscape whose landmarks constantly draw us toward the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives, allow us to glimpse original conceptions of space, but this vision remains fragmentary. It must be sought in the magical locales of fairy tales and surrealist writings …” — Formulary for a New Urbanism (1957). He would also have sympathised with the SI ideas that… “The various attempts to integrate modern science into new myths remain inadequate. … Everyone wavers between the emotionally still-alive past and the already dead future. … The man of the cities
Gaston Bachelard. La Poétique de l’Espace, 1958. One of the groups that fed into the early SI.
49 Ross, Kristin (interviewer and translator). “Henri Lefebvre on the Situationist International”. October, 79, Winter 1997. Interview from 1983. 50
The SI were also aware of De Quincey, thus bringing the circle back ‘full-circle’.
thinks he has escaped from cosmic reality, but there is no corresponding expansion of his dream life. The reason is clear: dreams spring from reality and are realised in it.” — Formulary for a New Urbanism (1957). The theory and practice of the dérive is central to the development of psychogeography. 51 The dérive is predicated on the act of walking in the city, and is usually semi-random but according to the SI… “If chance plays an important role in dérives this is because the methodology of psychogeographical observation is still in its infancy. … a dérive rarely occurs in its pure form” … “Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.” — Theory of the Derive (1958) The SI’s version of the dérive is not based upon a surrealist-style ‘surrender to the unconscious’ (as in the old practice of automatic writing, etc), which the SI and the surrealists alike quickly considered a failed technique. Unlike Machen’s vision of walking, the SI dérive may include the study of maps — although largely as the framework from which to build new and possibly transient ones… “The exploration of a fixed spatial field entails establishing bases and calculating directions of penetration. It is here that the study of maps comes in — ordinary ones as well as ecological and psychogeographical ones — along with their correction and improvement. … With the aid of old maps, aerial photographs and experimental dérives, one can draw up hitherto lacking maps of influences, maps whose inevitable imprecision at this early stage is no worse than that of the first navigational charts.” — Theory of the Derive (1958) For a full modern account see any number of books on psychogeography, the most accessible of which is Merlin Coverley’s Psychogeography.
Yet, like the surrealists, there was obviously an SI interest in the potential of the relics of an occult past, if only for their liminal atmospheres and hairraising potential. For instance, among other activities, the SI Paris group is described in Theory of the Derive (1958) as… “wandering in subterranean catacombs forbidden to the public” — another aspect of their ideas that would have been familiar to both Lovecraft and Machen. In Debord’s essay “The Adventure” (1960) he states that “The situationists are in the catacombs of visible culture”. The literary gothic and science fiction are clearly the twin metaphorical poles of the dérive. One of the founding members of the Situationist International, Asger Jorn, once wrote… “psychogeography is the science fiction of urbanism” 52
The practice of the dérive might then best be summarised as: the seeking out of tenuous atmospheres, sediments of history, unfrequented routes, during the semi-random pedestrian examination of urban streetscapes. Knowledge gained from this activity can psychologically transform urban spaces, and usefully reveal points of potential playful action. The idea of playful and subversive action or intervention seems to me the key new element that the SI brought to urban walking. Yet this was often expressed only in words, provocational texts and the famous slogans of May 1968. And how different were these really from Lovecraft’s own cosmicism, ‘imprinted’ via his stories into places through being distributed to the youthful masses via the potent means of the pulp magazines? And what of these Situationist phrases from the walls of Paris…? “We see things only as we are constructed to see them” “Penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism” “In my dreams I found a little of the beauty I had vainly sought in life” “Possibilities are even more hideous than realities”
Internationale Situationniste, 1958-1969, No.1 & 2. Editions Champ Libre, 1975.
Actually these are all from H.P. Lovecraft. But they could so easily have been passed off as SI slogans from the walls of Paris in 1968.
ovecraft also has a number of ideas in common with the much later
L modern psychogeographers, the writers of what might be called the ‘London turn’ which flowered in the 1990s. There is the antiquarian interest, which is an obviously similarity. But there are other similarities. Stewart Home used the language and graphic crudity of the pulps in his psychogeographic fictions. Other modern psychogeographers have a traditionalist political bent like Lovecraft, such as Peter Ackroyd. Iain Sinclair’s novels and other work takes inspiration from Machen, among others. Like Ackroyd and Sinclair, Lovecraft understands places as being layered with ‘eruptive’ traces of the past that can invade the present in various forms 53 and that certain areas of cities often sustain their general ambiances and trades despite the changing centuries and changing populations. Ackroyd calls this ‘chronological resonance’… “Yet perhaps it has become clear that certain activities seem to belong to certain areas, or neighbourhoods, as if time were moved or swayed by some unknown source of power.” 54 “Just as it seems possible to me that a street or dwelling can materially affect the character and behaviour of the people who live within them, is it not also possible that within our sensibility and our language there are patterns of continuity and resemblances … ”
I discuss this aspect of Lovecraft’s work in my essay “The Rats In The Walls: otherness and British culture” in my book Lovecraft in Historical Context, 2010. Will Eisner explores the same themes of unconscious continuance, with more grit and social/racial awareness, in his superb graphic novel of the biography of one New York street, Dropsie Avenue. This may have been inspired by Lovecraft’s “The Street”. 53
Peter Ackroyd, London, the biography. Chatto & Windus, 2000.
55 Peter Ackroyd, “On the Englishness of English Literature”. In: The Collection. Chatto & Windus, 2001.
We might see such an ‘eruptive’ past emerging into horror fiction form in the hideously metamorphosed American Indians in New York, in Lovecraft’s short story “He” (1925), written in the hours after an intense all-night solo walk in Manhattan. One can also see the idea fundamentally structuring his earlier “The Rats In The Walls” (1923) where important structures are built atop one other on the same site over the centuries and millennia. 56 Peter Ackroyd rightly points to the ways that the complex historical pattern/patina of a city constrains the nature of what people can do and build and how they might choose to think and act in certain places. A sound historical awareness would certainly seem useful for the practice of psychogeography, enabling one to identify what the hidden constrains and long-term ties of a place are, in order to discern where it might offer real opportunities for meaningful contemporary action and/or literary transmutation. Such an approach has been derided by the more politically minded, but it is perhaps a useful check against the increasingly antiquated ‘revolutionary’ urges of the Situationist-inspired psychogeographers, who in their reverence for failed 20th century political projects seem to be just as much in danger of becoming a species of antiquarian as those who operate in the Machen / Lovecraft / Ackroyd line.
I hope this short essay has usefully outlined some intellectual strands that might lead someone to say that Lovecraft deserves to be considered seriously as a proto-psychogeographer, alongside Machen, Aragon and others. In a further essay in this volume I will outline some of Lovecraft’s actual walking experiences and practices. 56 So far as I know, this then-heretical idea was first put forward in archaeological circles in 1922 by Alfred Watkins’ Early British Trackways: Moats, Mounds, Camps and Sites. Possibly Lovecraft read a review of this seminal work. But it seems more likely that as a youth Lovecraft may simply have read such ideas expertly anticipated in literature by Rudyard Kipling in his series of linked fantasy / historical stories Puck of Pook’s Hill (1909) and its sequel Rewards and Fairies (1910). There are probably many other examples in British supernatural literature.
Dusk in New York City. Road leading to the Woolworths building, Sixth Avenue. The building was then the tallest in New York, and indeed in the world. Lovecraft went to the top of it on his first visit to New York in 1922. For an illustration of the same view see the illustration given on page eight of my book.
From: The Lighting of New York, GEC. Public Domain.
2 : H.P. LOVECRAFT’S NIGHT WALKS IN NEW YORK: PSYCHOGEOGRAPHIC TECHNIQUES
his short account outlines 15 techniques that Lovecraft used on his
T walks. Probably there were many more, but they were not recorded or documented. Others may be able to discover more through reading his fiction and essays.
Anticipation — pausing before entering, so as to previsualise in one’s mind the scene one is about to see, and to bring imaginative elements to bear. “Frank Belknap Long once recalled how, in their nocturnal strolls, Lovecraft would pause before this shaded archway or that wanly glowing fanlight and let his imagination [run riot, before entering]” 1 “…alluring shadows of archaic things things half of the imagination. I paus’d and looked and then paus’d and looked again ——” 2
Ambiance sampling — moving between small areas in a restricted over an entire day, synchronizing ones reading matter to each area. For instance, Lovecraft read Arthur Machen’s theoretical book on aesthetics, Hieroglyphics, in July 1925 in a curious manner… “I read it through, moving to a fresh bower of beauty [in Prospect Park] for each chapter” 3
Camera mind — Lovecraft’s impression of a place served as a kind of camera
Lewis Spence, Robert M. Price. The Shub-Niggurath cycle. Chaosium, 1994. p.201.
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.60.
Although Lovecraft seems to have owned two Kodak cameras, he thought of it simply as a jobbing recording device. In many ways he simply did not need a camera, since his amazing topographic faculties and memory served just as well, if not better. He cultivated the faculty of ‘capturing’ a place.
Connected ambiances — rapid travel between places of similar ambiance. Lovecraft was not averse to hopping rapidly between sites, by using New York’s public transport system, thus weaving a tapestry of impressions of a city that all draw from the same time period.
Drugs — use of stimulants before walking. Lovecraft was in the company of heavy smokers in the meetings of the Kalem Club, and the subsequent night-walks would thus see him thoroughly infused with nicotine, especially potent because he was not himself a smoker. He writes of buzzing with tobacco after meetings. 4 He was also infused with the strong freshly-brewed New York coffee served at the gatherings.
Errance — the surrealist technique of map-less ‘openness to chance’. Lovecraft is exploring without map and guide as early as August 1924. 5 At the end of September 1925 he spends several days and evenings without a map, exploring the furthest outer suburbs and boundaries of New York 6 … “I had no map, & knew nothing of the country — trusting to chance with a very agreeable sense of adventure into the unknown” 7
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.97.
Ibid. p.210. 47
Multiple animal encounters — Lovecraft adored cats and made almost a game of his very serious attempts to encounter as many street and garden cats as possible on his walks. There were then a great many cats to encounter, as his good friend Loveman commented... “One of the quaintest features of all colonial New York is the number of cats seen at large…” 8 One has to also presume that cats were far more numerous and venturesome before the advent of the cat-massacring mass car-culture, drug-addled yobs, and the local pest-control officer. 9 Lovecraft always had a supply of catnip to help attract them. 10
Liggage — similar to gate-crashing a location, but done by a subterfuge. “I hung around this place [I wanted to enter] like a thief planning a large-scale cleanup [i.e.: burglary], but was finally rewarded when a large party — evidently friends of the inhabitants — called and strolled about the patio and arcade with the gate open !” 11
Pre reading — to attune oneself to the anticipated weather on a walk. He writes in the Autumn of 1925, of a strategy to get himself in the mood to appreciate the changing weather… “I think I will peruse some old fashion’d poet on the subject of autumn” p.202
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.74.
Lovecraft’s flat was infested with mice at one point, and he had to use traps to catch them. Presumably the landlady would not allow him to bring a local cat to his room for a few nights to clear them out.
Letter by Lovecraft given on p.54 of Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark, Wildside Press, 2005.
H.P. Lovecraft. Selected Letters: 1932-1934.
Promenade — dressing up and promenading up and down a street engaged in witty and intellectual conversation to see its effect on ordinary people. See his fastidious attention to dress and the Sunday tradition of the Kalem Club to promenade in best suits 12 and ‘dandy’ canes down Clinton Street. Rheinhart Kleiner later gave a full published account of this tradition. 13
Rejection of ‘games’ — not adapting mundane games in a facile attempt to ‘enliven’ walking. Lovecraft had written generally on games, in a 1932 letter to James F. Morton, that… “They reveal no actual secrets of the universe, and help not at all in intensifying or preserving the tantalising moods and elusive dreamvistas of the aesthetic imagination” 14 He is clearly talking here of either sports, or popular ‘amusements’ and diversions such as the crossword-puzzles (then newly invented and in vogue), silly ‘party’ games, or ‘travel’ games to ‘pass the time’ such as twenty questions. Perhaps he also has in mind some occult type ‘games’, such as the tarot and others. I do not think he is referring to what might be termed ‘playfulness in response to an environment’. Certainly, the quote alone is no reason for claiming that Lovecraft cannot therefore have engaged in anything like surrealist games on his night walks.
12 Lovecraft’s sartorial tastes and epic pursuit of the best suit at the lowest price deserve an essay all of their own. He put an enormous amount of effort into the presentation of his public personality, but it was only in small details of dress that this was manifest. He refused to change the style of his suits to accommodate fashion, and felt that sloppy dressing was heralding a new distinctly American style that would presage the decline of the West. 13
S.T. Joshi. Lovecraft’s New York Circle. Hippocampus Press, 2006. p.225.
In: Penelope Rosemont. Surrealist women: an international anthology. Continuum, 1998. p.368.
Transference of night imaginations to the daytime world — a way of forcing the impressions gained on the radically-changed night streets back upon the ‘real’ world… “What awesome images are suggested by the existence of such secret cities within cities! … The active imagination conjures up endless weird possibilities … having seen this thing, one cannot look an ordinary crowded street without wondering what surviving marvels may lurk unsuspecting beneath the prim and monotonous blocks.”
“It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude. I found it in the glare of midafternoon, in the clangour of a metropolis …” — H.P. Lovecraft, “Cool Air” (New York, 1926).
Mania — allowing oneself to be worked up into a sort of fever-dream for the past of the streets. There were several times, though not in New York, when out-of-town visitors were given tours that lasted all day. On these Lovecraft enthusiasms frequently amazed and exhausted his companions, with an urgent verbal and arm-waving conveyance of ‘lost’ narratives, until they begged for the café, the train station, or the subway entrance. He writes in one of his letters… “the fever of the explorer was upon us”
Some of his solo expeditions also indicate an amazing strength of will when engaged in walking — to visit so many locales, all day and often into the evening, on what seems to have been a very meager diet. Some friends seriously feared for his health after seeing him on his return from such manic all-day exertions. Such as Cook in 1932…
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.61.
“Folds of skin hanging from a skeleton. Eyes sunk in sockets like burnt holes in a blanket. Those delicate, sensitive artists’s hands and fingers nothing but claws. The man was dead except for his nerves, on which he was functioning ...” 17
Placeability — fidelity in literary documentation of places, even if fictional elements are used. Lovecraft uses places in his fiction in such as way as the reader is made to wholly believe in them. His paths and references can often still be followed on the ground today. The surrealists did something similar… “the textual inscription in novels such as Andre Breton’s Nadja or Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant, often appears anchored to a reality which we are led to believe took place and the writing frequently possesses the instructive and at times banal specificities of a tour or itinerary that might be literally as well as literarily followed.” 18
Taking fragments — and then somehow ‘meditating’ on them off site. Lovecraft chipped a small piece off a Dutch gravestone in Flatbush in 1922. He then considered what vengeance might be exacted… “I must place it beneath my pillow as I sleep... who can say what thing might not come out of the centuried earth to exact vengeance for his desecrated tomb? And should it come, who can say what it might not resemble?” — “The Hound”. … and then wrote a story about it, which in time brought tourists to the site. His small action thus had a very real effect, although only at a considerable distance in time. One might perhaps see an echo of this sort of thing in Robert Smithson’s art-world idea of sites and non-sites.
S. T. Joshi. Dreamer and a visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in his time. p.322.
Lucy Harrison. The Art of Misdirection. Canvey Guides, 2006-2007. 51
3 : THE NATURE OF THE NEW YORK STREETS
he New York of the 1920s, like Paris, served as a fine roaming ground
T for psychogeographic investigations. Walking its city streets at night
was perhaps the defining aspect of the emerging modern urban experience. But what exactly were these streets like? This essay will allow me to pin down something of the exact material nature of the city streets, as they would have been experienced by Lovecraft between 1922 and 1927. I will first give a very brief history of the surfaces of the streets of New York — something that Lovecraft would have known the details of, or quickly come to know, and which he in part used to divine the ages of urban spaces in the city. I will then discuss the rise of the motor car and the decline of the horse, his security and crime concerns, the changing street lighting, and the sounds and the smells.
The physical nature of the streets
The city of New York had first laid pavements of cobblestones in the mid 1600s, after vociferous complaints by washerwomen and servants that the dust rising from the roads on dry days ruined their washing. These cobbles appear to have been rather smaller and flatter than the few picturesquely large rounded ones that have been allowed to survive to the modern age. The first such cobbled road to be laid in New York was Stone Street in 1656, and it reportedly attracted quite a crowd. 1 By the year of 1660 the city had laid cobblestones in nearly all of its streets, but there were as yet no sidewalks. People merely walked on the outer edges of the road, avoiding the central gutter (which was where waste collected when washed down by rains). No attempt was made by the city fathers to straighten the streets at
Municipal Journal & Public Works: Vol.10, 1901.
that time, which were reportedly as crooked as those in London 2 , although they do seem to have been widened and their margins rationalised by the mid 1700s. No other surfacing material but cobblestones was used for the New York roads for many decades, although some square wooden blocking was experimented with on the lower Broadway in the mid 1830s. It seems that these blocks were grooved, and were needed to help the horses keep their footing. 3 In the late 1860s some very large blocks began to be laid, in places such as Brooklyn, in addition to the usual cobblestones. It was this type of block that first became used for the pavements of New York, but which was later superseded by granite around 1876. More blocks were laid on the Bowery in 1852, and came into very general use after 1859. Tar and gravel were used for the joints of the pavements. The first laying down of hot asphalt was in 1871 at the Battery, and as this practice spread it presumably greatly aiding the early bicyclists. Concrete was first used as a base for pavements in New York in 1888. In 1889 the city fathers decided to implement a general project for the improvement of the pavements and sidewalks, seemingly after an especially hard winter which had led to an issue of bonds to help pay for road repairs. 4
The arrival of the motor car
Along these newly tarred roads ran the first motor cars. There are some slight traces of the rhetoric of the monstrous being used in relation to these cars. For instance, the New York Times called automobiles “devil wagons” in 1905, while demanding an eight miles-per-hour speed limit. 5 One also wonders if Lovecraft’s several later references to ‘the great beetle race’ of beings (in two brief mentions he surmised that these would one day evolve 2 History of the city of New York: its origin, rise, and progress: Volume 1. p.179. London’s streets had been rebuilt on their original windings after the Great Fire, in a proper English respect for individual property rights. 3
Joel Arthur Tarr. The Horse in the City: living machines in the nineteenth century, 2007. p.59.
Street Pavements and Paving Materials: a manual of city pavements, 1903.
Allen Carlson. The aesthetics of human environments. Berleant, 2007. p.108. 53
from beetles to take the place of humanity) 6 might even have partly arisen through his first experiences of seeing humans encased in the metal shells of cars. 7
iii. The beginning of ‘white flight’ to the suburbs By 1920 New York was well paved, but the nature of the activity on the streets was changing. 1920 seems to have been a particular turning point in the street life of the New York, as the city and America emerged from the First World War. Mass immigration and cars were the main causes of the change, with immigration having a direct impact on the growth of car ownership. Political radicalism and terrorism, closely associated in the public mind with immigrants, had the unintended effect of stimulating the future desire for cars. In 1919 two series of sophisticated and deadly mail bombs had been discovered by postal workers, specially designed to blow the hands off those who opened them. 8 There followed a major panic about violent political doctrines among the newly arrived immigrants, and there were many forcible deportations of anarchists and socialists who were sent back to Europe. These deportations did not stop the terrorism and, at about noon on 16th September 1920, a horse-drawn trolley car (a bus, in modern terms) exploded in front of a Wall Street bank. Thirty-three people died in that major anarchist bomb attack, which involved 100 pounds of dynamite and sawn-up iron curtain-weights as added deadly shrapnel. 9 Partly as a 6 They beetle race briefly appears in the Lovecraft stories “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and “The Shadow out of Time”. 7
Lovecraft himself did not drive and could never have afforded to afford to run a car.
Thankfully, only one seems to have actually done so. For a history of the reaction see Charles Howard McCormick’s Hopeless Cases: the hunt for the red scare terrorist bombers. University Press of America, 2005. 8
9 “the heart of that plotting was in The Street, whose crumbling houses teemed with alien makers of discord and echoed with the plans and speeches of those who yearned for the appointed day of blood, flame, and crime. Of the various odd assemblages in The Street, the law said much but could prove little. With great diligence did men of hidden badges linger and listen about such places as Petrovitch’s Bakery, the squalid Rifkin [Ruskin] School of Modern Economics, the Circle Social Club, and the Liberty 54
consequence of the fear about new waves of unassimilated non-white immigrants, and possibly due to the fear of terrorist attacks on the public transport system 10 , significant numbers of middle-class white people started to withdraw from the pavements into the new motor cars. Car ownership then fueled and accelerated the growth of suburbia 11 from the mid 1920s onwards, and these suburbs were themselves de facto colour-segregated... “the middle class [of New York City], repelled by hordes of pedestrian traffic, withdrew itself and its business to the suburbs” 12
iv. The pedestrian and the car Yet it would be a mistake to envisage the New York encountered by Lovecraft in 1922, and then as a resident in 1924, was overrun with and dominated by cars. In the 1920s cars were not dominant over pedestrians in the city, especially during the evenings and night. In his discussion of attitudes to car accidents and insurance in New York around 1920, Peter D. Norton gives a newspaper editorial that suggests pedestrians still had many rights, even during the day, in 1920… “The New York Times claimed in 1920 that pedestrians’ rights to the streets were so extensive that “as a matter of both law and morals
Café. There congregated sinister men in great numbers, yet always was their speech guarded or in a foreign tongue [...] The rumour now spread widely that these houses contained the leaders of a vast band of terrorists, who on a designated day were to launch an orgy of slaughter for the extermination of America and of all the fine old traditions which The Street had loved. Handbills and papers fluttered about filthy gutters; handbills and papers printed in many tongues and in many characters, yet all bearing messages of crime and rebellion.” – from H.P. Lovecraft, “The Street” (1919). For the history of the terrorism, see: Beverly Gage. The day Wall Street exploded: a story of America in its first age of terror. Oxford University Press, 2010. 10 Possibly it was also due to the very real and dangerous overcrowding of the subway and elevated railway systems at rush hour. See my essay on the subways later in this volume. 11 Then starting to develop, Lovecraft’s wife had speculatively purchased two plots at Bryn Mawr Park, in Yonkers. 12
Anthony Amato. On Foot: a History of Walking. New York University Press, 2004. 55
they are under no obligation” to exercise “all possible care” [in the face of car traffic]” 13 This relative safety was greatly aided by the signing into New York law of William Phelps Eno’s The Rules of The Road (1903) in 1906. 14 Generally, it has commonly been said of New York that it is a pleasant walking experience, both due to these 1906 laws and also the layout of the streets… “the city was designed to be walked […] the city has always developed with the pedestrian in mind. New York is a joy to walk around” 15 While it is certainly true that… “The sales of passenger cars alone in Brooklyn in 1926 was over 32,000”
… it appears that many cars were only
used for special trips, or were purchased as ‘prestige-only’ Sunday roadsters as the economy started to take off into what was later called the ‘roaring’ 1920s, rather than being used as everyday commuting-and-school wagons as they are today 17 . This can be evidenced by the apparent lack of the need for citycentre car parks (parking lots) at that time.
v. Trams and horses as dangers in the street What other real dangers might Lovecraft have encountered on his walks, apart from the possibility of being knocked down by a car? There were the trolley cars (i.e.: a form of tram or bus on street-rails). The popular press was
13 Peter D. Norton. Fighting traffic: the dawn of the motor age in the American city. MIT Press, 2008. p.70. 14 Peter Frank Peters. Time, innovation and mobilities: travel in technological cultures. Routledge, 2006. p.130. 15 James Nevius. Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City. James Nevius, 2009. p.16. 16
A Study of all American markets, 1927.
17 All but the very richest children walked and/or took standard public transport to school in those days.
occasionally agog at sensational trolley car accidents involving the running down of pedestrians, and this reporting no doubt magnified people’s fears. Yet film of the period shows people thronging the streets, relatively oblivious to the trolley cars and other vehicles, and not yet penned in to the sidewalks by a sustained flow of traffic. There was also the danger from horses, but these were then a fading element of the street scene according to the 1922 Encyclopaedia Britannica… “In New York City, for instance, a very large proportion of the street traffic in 1920 was by motor, and in the main thoroughfares horse vehicles were almost a rarity” Electricity had replaced horses on almost all trolley car lines by the mid 1920s and the sight of a horse had become rare by the late 1920s — although police mounted patrols still maintained traffic control from horseback. They were also used for some heavy delivery and collection services in outlying areas until quite late — Lovecraft had a rare ride on a horse and cart when his wife sold her piano in 1924. 18 Horse-drawn buggies were also found in some ethnic areas such as Chinatown in the 1920s. Lovecraft may have seen these when he first visited New York in 1922, since he went on a visit to Chinatown 19 and later went on a night-walk through the district on 22nd/23rd January 1925. This decline of the horse removed one especially potent experience of monstrosity in the city — that of seeing and smelling dead horses in the street (15,000 were worked to death in 1900 alone, dying in the street). The smell of a dead old horse in the night air was said to be appalling…
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.67.
Interestingly, while there are many other gross slurs about other races in the letter that recounts this, and Lovecraft states that Samuel Loveman found the Chinese faces he saw “evil”, Lovecraft himself makes no derogatory descriptions of the Chinese he saw there. As with a visit to the Yiddish district, he appears to have had no problem with immigrants who were in their ‘native’ garb, safely in their own ethnic ghetto, and who seemed unlikely ever to try to assimilate. 19
“When a horse died, its carcass would be left to rot until it had disintegrated enough for someone to pick up the pieces” 20 But dead and rotting horses were a fading memory by the time Lovecraft arrived in the city in the mid 1920s, confined only to the areas around vets, tanners, and knackers’ yards. 21 On his nocturnal walks Lovecraft would not have had to suffer the horror of suddenly coming upon a dead horse lying rotting in the dark street.
Rotting horse left in the street in The Bowery (the worst slum in New York). One can also see the flat/square style of cobblestone on the streets, and the big blocks that make up the pavement or sidewalk. Picture: Public Domain, via Shorpy blog. 20 David Rosner, “Portrait of an Unhealthy City”. Online, 2011. This may only have been a temporary state of affairs in the city, since there are plenty of references in the literature to the cost to the public of their rapid removal. Presumably some were dumped or left with no identifying marks in the slum areas, so as to throw the expense of their disposal on the local taxpayer, and only those few that were “too far gone” by the time they were reported were then left to rot as described. 21 See Henry Miller’s evocation of his childhood scent memories in 1920s New York in his Tropic of Capricorn (1938), and especially the sections on horses.
vi. Fear of crime Even in the mid 1920s there was no doubt some fear of crime at night, but Lovecraft would not have been enmeshed in the web of paranoia that today spirals out from hard drug use in American cities. It is true that there were reports of several outbreaks of non-medical use of heroin in New England in 1916, and that it quickly fell into disuse… “except in New York and surrounding cities” 22 … where a small subculture was able to be established due to ease of access to supplies. Addicts of morphine and heroin were then overwhelmingly young men, and in large cities such as New York there may have been links with queer prostitution. But it seems that ‘dope’ use was very much a niche activity on a tiny scale. While it was linked in the medical literature with “psychopathic” personality types, and was seen as arising in those people who were… “neurotic, or who have some form of twisted personality” 23 , more importantly it was not yet a habit funded by muggings or aggressive begging. One does wonder, though, if Lovecraft may have carried a potentially defensive cane on his night walks, as he did on his Sunday morning promenades. A cane would also have served to signal his gentlemanly status, when seen in silhouette by the police. He does mention… “seeing some of the reeling toughs” 24 in the streets at night, but while wary of them he does not seem to have been particularly fearful. 25 Lovecraft would not have had to deal with the modern paranoid politics of the sidewalk 26 — in which to be seen daring to walk in many affluent parts of some American cities today is to become marked down immediately as a David T. Courtwright. Dark Paradise: a history of opiate addiction in America. Harvard University Press, 2001.
Kolb, “Types and Characteristics of Drug Addicts”, Mental Hygiene, 9, 1925, p.300.
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.74.
I have not noticed any mention in his letters of his carrying a cane on night walks, but it would seem to have been a sensible precaution. 25
26 Irena Ehrenfeucht and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. Sidewalks: conflict and negotiation over public space. The MIT Press, 2009. See also chapter five, “The History of Pedestrianism”, in Nicholas Blomle’s Rights of Passage: Sidewalks and the Regulation of Public Flow. Routledge, 2010.
‘criminal suspect’, and to find oneself a target for a roving police car pick-up or even a paranoid gun-toting property owner. But one suspects that Lovecraft — roaming about in the dark in the small hours of the night — must himself have occasionally attracted the attentions of the police. One of Kirk’s letters describes a Ford car police patrol watching the Lovecraft group at a distance one night. 27 Yet in the mid 1920s he was a smart and tall figure28 , wearing a clean and decent suit and collar, and with an urbane and aristocratic New England accent. He did not drink, and therefore would never have appeared intoxicated, an important factor at a time when the prohibition of alcohol was starting to throw socialites into the arms of thuggish gangsters. He did not swear at or cuss immigrants as they passed on the street. His substantial physical and mental presence, as a sober and polite gentleman, would have been likely have put most police at their ease. The years between the 1890s and 1920s had anyway seen a rise of a new ‘type’ in America, the urban tourist 29 usually interested in antiquarian matters, and Lovecraft was no doubt able to take full advantage of the tacit knowledge that had been built up among ordinary people and police alike about how to ‘deal pleasantly’ with such types, and overlook things like old walking shoes. Certainly, days before writing out the entire plot of “The Call of Cthulhu” he fearlessly went single-handed on a magnificently extensive all-night walk through the city… “I could go where I darned please and when I darned please […] I set forth on a nocturnal pilgrimage after mine own heart; beginning at
Letter given in Lovecraft's New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927 (2006).
28 Lovecraft seems to have stood a little over six foot, once in heeled shoes and a felt hat.
Neil Harris. “Urban Tourism and the Commercial City”, in: Taylor, Inventing Times Square. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. It is somewhat sad that Lovecraft never considered turning his extensive travel writing over to someone who could have edited them into saleable local architectural booklets for tourists. How well they might have sold is another matter. For Lovecraft’s collected travel writing see Collected Essays Volume 4: Travel. Hippocampus Press, 2006. 29
Chelsea […] & working south toward Greenwich […] south along Hudson St. to Old New York […] under Brooklyn Bridge [then back] toward The Battery [and as dawn broke, onto] a Staten Island ferry.” 30 Quite a trip to take, alone at the dead of night in a large city. Obviously he had little fear of night crime by August 1925.
vii. The illuminated night By the 1920s it was becoming easier to spot notable architectural and streetscape features in the city at night, even outside of the areas that earned New York the title of ‘city of light’, through the more widespread use of electric street lighting. Navigation was aided by the illumination of shop display windows and signs at night, by which one might read a finely-printed map or a pocket notebook without the aid of a flickering match. There was also a general increase in light pollution 31 and this must have meant that street name signs were more visible at night. The “thick veil of night” that had lain over the English-speaking cities of the world in the 19th century, and which had given rise to potently grotesque English literature from Dickens to the ‘city mystery’ novels 32 to the early urban detective novel, had been largely dispelled by the 1920s. 33
30 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.170. 31 Wolfgang Schivelbusch. Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in the Nineteenth Century. University of California Press, 1995. Also: John Jakle. City Lights: Illuminating the American Night. John Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Paul Joseph Erickson. Welcome to Sodom: The Cultural Work of City-Mysteries Fiction in Antebellum America. Ph.D. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 2005.
Although in New York it seems that there were basic forms of street lighting even from the earliest times, if only on moonless nights. For instance, a New York law of 1697 required that… 33
“every seventh householder, in the dark time of the moon, cause a lantern and candle to be hung out of his window on a pole” Lovecraft must have known this, for he seems to have read deeply on the Colonial period in New York. He uses this knowledge in the August 1925 short story “He”… 61
There are a few interesting points of linkage between fantasy and the new electric lighting of the early 20th century, although I am not sure they can be closely linked to Lovecraft’s short tenure in the city. 34 The city lights were strongly associated in the media, and in the city’s own self-made myths, with a new glamour. There were new types of fantastically alluring display such as department store windows and also the ice-cream parlors that Lovecraft so adored. One might point out here that author of The Wizard of Oz books, L. Frank Baum was also a leading authority on the new style of dressing of the new illuminated plate-glass ‘show’ windows of department stores. 35 These windows often put on spectacular and fantastical shows, especially in the winter months before Christmas. Often they were peopled with human manikins, which seemed rather uncanny to many who first encountered them. 36 There were also the great New York ‘movie palaces’ of the time, alive with light and neon, and another site at which one might gaze upon simulacra of humans — silver-screen actors who, like the manikins, could not resist one’s adoring and desiring gaze. This new mental operation of projecting desire may have escaped into the wild among the equally theatrical and eroticised street night-life outside. The old 19th century gaslight had made everything at night seem as if lit by a gauzy and romantic twilight 37 , for those enjoying the new nightlife it enabled — and historians suggest that a trangressive eroticism consequently
“we came upon a fragment of alley lit only by lanterns in front of every seventh house — unbelievably Colonial tin lanterns with conical tops and holes punched in the sides” For lengthy academic discussions of such, see: Mark Caldwell. New York Night: The Mystique and Its History. Simon and Schuster, 2005. William Sharpe. New York Nocturne, Princeton University Press, 2008. For the European experience, see Joachim Schlor. Nights in the big city: Paris, Berlin, London 1840-1930. Reaktion, 1998.
35 William Leach, “Strategists of Display and the Production of Desire”, in Consuming Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America, 1880-1920. 36 Hillel Schwartz. The culture of the copy: striking likenesses, unreasonable facsimiles. Zone, 1998. See also the Loius Aragon quote I give in the short note on Lovecraft and the surrealists in this book . 37
See Chapter One, “Gaslit Babylon”, in William Sharpe’s New York Nocturne.
flourished in the romantic atmosphere. While in Lovecraft’s time the gaslight had given way to harsher and less flattering arc-lighting, a sliver of the old gaslight mood of romanticism was maintained. The continuance was via the widespread use of a romantically artistic design for the electric new lamp-posts used in New York 38 as the city rapidly electrified the street lighting. 39 The new and brighter lights also had a certain political significance, in that they protected against street crime after dark.
Modern ornate electric lampost. 1457 Broadway. From: The Lighting of New York, GEC. Public Domain. Michele Helene Bogart. The politics of urban beauty: New York & its Art Commission. University of Chicago Press, 2006. p.297.
Thirty years of New York, 1882-1892: being a history of electrical development in Manhattan and the Bronx. New York Edison Company, 1913.
Depending on one’s politics one can understand these electric lights as either a beacon of liberation from the fear of local bullies, a way of extending potential evening and night employment opportunities to impoverished districts, or an instrument of state repression through increased police surveillance of crime and socialism. Possibly they were simultaneously all three. These posts and fixtures were still functioning into the 1960s 40 , so would have been present for Lovecraft to notice all around him in the mid 1920s. By Lovecraft’s time it appears that the city was the most electrically lit in the world, although a lighting engineer of 1908 could state that… “There are to-day in the City of New York about 40,000 gas street lamps” 41 …and the letters of George Kirk reported that Lovecraft delighted, on one night-walk, in being able to point out some of the very oldest surviving walllamps in New York, then unknown to the history books. 42 In one of his letters from New York, he points out… “The old lampposts (which reign supreme in this corner of the [city]” 43
This is reflected in the short story “He” (1925), in which Lovecraft has a modern city explorer see older lamps than those then currently prevalent… “The streetlights we first encountered had been of oil, and of the ancient lozenge pattern.” Only once, attempting to explore the outlying suburb of Jamaica, did Lovecraft find that he not have enough light to walk by at night.
Arthur Hastings Grant. The American City: Volume 76, 1961.
E. Leavenworth Elliot. Good lighting and the illuminating engineer. 1908.
Letter given in Lovecraft's New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927 (2006). p.27. S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.59.
viii. Fogs and mists As fuel technologies changed the thick fogs ands smogs were vanishing from most large English-speaking cities, along with the dark nights. This seems to have forced the fictional possibilities to drift away from the fogs themselves (seen in novels such as Robert Barr’s The Doom of London, 1892, Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and some of the Sherlock Holmes stories) to swamping gases brought to the city from elsewhere (such as in H.G. Wells’s novel In the Days of the Comet, 1909). 44 As for Lovecraft in the mid 1920s, we can be reasonably sure he was not wading through “pea-souper” fogs of the London variety, but was only likely to encounter the seasonal and reportedly ‘blindingly white’ early Autumnal (fall) harbor fogs. Such fogs appear from the literature to be mostly early morning visitations — although Lovecraft does give us one especially evocative evening view of New York in the thin harbor mists, based on seeing the city after a day in 1922 exploring the city with his friend Samuel Loveman. Here is the gist of the letter 45 as later condensed and fictionalised in the New York story “He” (1925)… “I had seen it in the sunset from a bridge, majestic above its waters, its incredible peaks and pyramids rising flowerlike and delicate from pools of violet mist to play with the flaming clouds and the first stars of evening. Then it had lighted up window by window above the shimmering tides where lanterns nodded and glided and deep horns bayed weird harmonies, and had itself become a starry firmament of dream, redolent of faery music, and one with the marvels of Carcassonne and Samarcand and El Dorado and all glorious and half-fabulous cities.”
44 For those who are interested Sam Moskowitz has a short account of the literary uses of the black sooty ‘coal fogs’ in early science fiction in his Science fiction by gaslight: a history and anthology of science fiction in the popular magazines, 1891-1911.
Given in S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. pp. 9-10.
ix. Sounds One must also consider the soundscape, or more aptly the noise –scape, of the city. No doubt Lovecraft thought the city a lot more noisy than Providence. It was becoming increasingly so in the 1920s, at least by comparison with what came before it. Noise was increasingly startling, sudden, and unwanted, and became more so as the 1920s progressed. The background noise of horse-shoes and cartwheels on stone cobbles was no doubt very significant during the daytime peak in the 1890s, but with the decline of the horse and the steam-engine there appears to have been a lull in the general noise-scape of the street, especially with the coming of macadam-surfaced streets. Street noise would also have come from street barkers selling their wares from carts and trays, possibly with the accompaniment of alerting wooden rattles, but that trade seems to have been a constant through the ages in all cities until such boys faded away from most Western cities in the 1950s. There were less human noises after the 1920s, such as the electricity being applied to sirens and hooters. Sirens had been hand-cranked but by the 1920s were being mounted on vehicles such as the police Ford patrol cars and police motorcycles. This could presumably be done because there were far fewer horses around to scare with such sharply ‘interruptive’ sounds. Lovecraft seems to have anticipated another aspect of the changed soundscape even before he visited New York, since his story “Nyarlathotep” (1920) is strewn with noises and these are shown as being linked to a sort of hypnotic madness. Commercial radio broadcasting of music and voice had begun in America in 1920, and there were a host of radio stations in New York by 1925, even a Yiddish one. 46 No doubt some of Lovecraft’s correspondents and amateur journalism associates experimented at this time with home-made crystal radio sets. Lovecraft himself sometimes twiddled the shortwave dials, to see how exotic an overseas radio station he could pick up. There was, as yet, no means of truly portable amplified music, although 46 See: Michael C. Keith. Radio cultures: the sound medium in American life. Peter Lang, 2008. Shawn Gary VanCour. The Sounds of “radio”: aesthetic formations of 1920s American broadcasting. The University of Wisconsin, 2007.
the bulky new radio sets and phonographs doubtless caused some noise pollution inside buildings at night, and also through open windows as people sat outside in the street on their stoops during the warm months. Unwanted noise seems to have become a factor in the general anti-immigrant feeling that was fuming in both New York and in the nation by the mid 1920s. For instance, an immigrant dimension to noise led the New York City Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise to explicitly structured their antinoise arguments in the 1920s around a ‘barbarism vs. civilization’ theme 47, although accompanied by a focus on the sleep needs of children and the ill.
x. Smells Likewise unavoidable in sense terms, and also subject to a rhetoric that linked it with immigrants, was the pungent smell -scape of the New York City streets. The members of the Lovecraft circle, many of them coming fresh to New York City, commented several times in their letters on the ‘indescribable’ and ‘unspeakable’ nature of the smells, especially in the slums and immigrant areas they visited. 48
xi. The city as The Maze Finally there is the famous maze/grid nature of large sections of the New York streets. Despite, or possibly because of, the grid system used in key areas the city appears to be a maze for the new arrival. It seems very easy for the newcomer to become lost, even with maps in hand. The Maze is of
47 Karin Bijsterveld. Mechanical Sound: technology, culture, and public problems of noise in the city. MIT Press, 2008. p.104.
“New kinds of faces appeared in The Street; swarthy, sinister faces with furtive eyes and odd features, whose owners spoke unfamiliar words [...] A sordid, undefinable stench settled over the place.” – H.P. Lovecraft, “The Street”. See also Henry Miller’s vivid recounting of his 1920s New York childhood smell-memories in Tropic of Capricorn (1938). For general reading on urban smell-scapes, see: Jim Drobnick. The Smell Culture Reader. Berg, 2006. 48
course a truly ancient symbol, and in the form of the Cretan labyrinth is closely associated with the entrapment of monsters… “This myth [of the Cretan Maze] has figured in European poetry and painting for three thousand years” 49 It has also served as a key structuring element of the refined literary fantastic of the 20th century… “The labyrinth, as we could continue to demonstrate, became a lifesymbol of our century (witness Borges and his labyrinths, Gide’s Theseus, Cortazar’s Hop-Scotch, Kafka, Kazantzakis)” 50 51 One wonders if Lovecraft was familiar with W.H. Matthews’s classic Mazes and Labyrinths: their History and Development (1922). If he was not, Lovecraft would certainly have been aware of the mythic nature of the Maze and its connection to monsters, since he lived at a time almost everyone in the middle and upper classes was taught the Minotaur story as a child. Those who know Lovecraft’s work intimately will remember the frequent structuring element of the maze and the labyrinth in a great many stories, sometimes implicit and sometimes explicitly. 52 Of New York, Lovecraft in his fiction uses phrases such as: “teeming labyrinths”; “inexhaustible maze of unknown antiquity”; and the Red Hook district “is a maze of hybrid squalor.” This aspect of Lovecraft’s work seems to deserve a future essay, one with a wider scope than just the New York stories, and so all I will do here is to
49 Guy Davenport, “Ruskin”, in The Death of Picasso. Shoemaker and Hoard, 2003. pp.37-38.
Guy Davenport, “The House That Jack Built”, in The Geography of the Imagination: forty essays. David R. Godine, 1997. p.51.
51 One might also point to the labyrinthine nature of Lorca’s poems from New York, in which phrases are used such as “the maze of the screens”. As for SF, there must also be many examples of mazes in popular science fiction, although it appears that no-one has yet undertaken a survey of the theme – but a short survey can be found under “Labyrinth” in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science fiction and Fantasy, Volume 2. 52 For a short discussion of Lovecraft and the concept of Maze see the entry on Lovecraft in Vol.22 of Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism series from Gale. The maze also features in the work of Machen.
point to the obvious relevance of mazes as a structuring element for his experience of pedestrian travelling and wayfinding in New York City. Similarly, I discuss the nature of the New York City subway in another later essay.
Conclusion Doubtless there are many more aspects that might be mentioned. But I have outlined enough to draw a more grounded picture of the nature of the nighttime city streets that Lovecraft navigated. The surfaced streets would, for the most part, have been well-lit and fog-free. There were personal security concerns, as well as concerns arising from the 1914-1920 terrorist threat, but Lovecraft seems to have been well able to negotiate these. With a large number of police patrolling the streets, often on foot, he would have felt relatively safe in most areas. Prohibition liquor and its ill effects were very much behind closed doors in secret clubs. Late night street drunkenness and jockish rowdiness appears to have been present, but it was presumably muted for fear of the police and the prohibition laws. At the dead of night the streets would have been relatively free of both cars and horses, and very largely free of other people. The efficient city transport system meant that Lovecraft and his friends could return home relatively speedily, at any time of the night. He and his friends could often find cafes open even into the small hours of the night. The layout of the city streets was generally conducive to easy and pleasant walking, even if was relatively easy for a newcomer to become lost. He may have had the aid of maps, public transport route maps, and timetables. In all it seems that night in New York in the 1920s must have ‘very heaven’ for the independent and sensitive walker, especially a jobless one who had many hours to spare and thus perhaps rather enjoyed becoming lost in the night. Lovecraft and his friends took full advantage of the unique opportunities afforded by the streets of New York.
Evening. Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, New York City. 1900s? From: The Lighting of New York, GEC. Public Domain
A New York bookshop, early 1930s. The New York book district was in lower Manhattan, with 36 shops in six blocks. Lovecraft visited frequently, using his literary knowledge to pick up bargains on the cheap racks. Picture: Public Domain. For an interesting book-collecting story of New York in the 1970s, see “The Man Who Collected Lovecraft” by Richard Harter.1 It details the surprise finding, after the death of one Philip Jack Grill (1903-1970) in New York, of an apartment full of the… “largest collection of work by and about the late horror master H.P. Lovecraft in private hands.” Some of Lovecraft’s notebooks were preserved by Grill. For more details see: A Catalog of Lovecraftiana: The Grill/Binkin Collection, Mirage Press, 1975. “Details of 668 Lovecraft items from the collection of Philip Jack Grill. Includes 22 pages of photographs. Introduction by L. Sprauge de Camp.” Also seems to be known as: Lovecraftiana: A Catalog of the Largest Collection by & on H. P. Lovecraft Currently in Private Hands. 1
4 : NOTE ON H.P. LOVECRAFT AND IMMIGRANTS
o book on Lovecraft and New York can go without some comments
N on his attitudes to immigrants. I hope this short note will be useful in clarifying the subject for new readers. Lovecraft arrived to live in New York City in 1924. This was the high point of non-white immigration to the USA, both legal and illegal, around which there swirled hot and sustained debates 1 that reflected the daily and obvious presence of a mass of newlyarrived unassimilated immigrants on the streets of New York. This was not only a New York debate. Specifically, Lovecraft arrived shortly before the point when whole sections of the U.S. population unleashed a firestorm of abuse on New York City during the election campaign against Mayor Al Smith of New York — in which the city essentially became a scapegoat for the race and immigration fears of a large section of the nation. 2 The decade of the 1920s in America appears to have been saturated in racial-political prejudices often referred to as “race thinking” 3 , and within this context Lovecraft’s own racialist views would have seemed quite normal and mainstream, and in many respects far more enlightened than the bulk of the rural population. Lovecraft was also enmeshed in a potent and international intellectual set of ‘race thinking’ ideas, prevalent among the English-speaking writers of the 1920s
which he would have routinely
This also erupted in the ‘Red Scares’ of 1919 and 1920, and in the Al Smith campaign in 1924, among others. See: Mae M. Ngai. Impossible subjects: illegal aliens and the making of modern America. Princeton University Press, 2005.
2 Governor Al Smith of New York ran for Democratic nomination for president in 1924, and suffered a sustained and vicious press campaign against him which also blatantly served to demonise New York and its immigrants. See: Robert A. Slayton. Empire statesman: the rise and redemption of Al Smith. Simon & Schuster, 2001.
The 1924 Immigration Act was a key moment. See: Joel S. Fetzer. Public attitudes toward immigration in the United States, France, and Germany. Cambridge University Press, 2001. 3
Lovecraft’s prejudices were very much of their time, and shared in part or in whole by a great many other British and American writers and thinkers, even by some who we now think of as ‘socialists’ such as H.G. Wells. Jung in Psychology of the Unconscious several 72 4
encountered in a wide variety of literature. One might also consider the older 18th century texts that Lovecraft knew well, in terms of the racial views and also the anti-Catholic stances he would have encountered there as normal and unremarkable elements of the text. Lovecraft appears to have grown up with Irish servants, yet was suspicious of Catholicism as ‘Popery’ 5 (though hardly ever vociferous on the subject, at least in the letters I have read). He was deeply prejudiced against unassimilated immigrants from outside of the English-speaking world, but was far more tolerant of the assimilated Spanish and Portuguese and of what he thought of as ‘pureblood’ Jews who had abandoned their religion. He married an assimilated Jew 6 , and several of his best friends were Jewish. After he returned to Providence he mentored a young Jewish boy who had come to live in the town. Lovecraft was always generally uncomfortable when in close proximity to black people, such as on the subway, although that feeling seems to have been very common at the time among white people. He was aware of jazz, and once remarked in his New York letters on his awareness of the new cultural forms of theatre then being born in the clubs of Harlem. But he obviously had no interest in seeing or hearing first-hand such developments in urban black culture. To be specific, my complete reading of the monumental S.T. Joshi autobiography of Lovecraft, I Am Providence (2010), suggests to me that Lovecraft’s fears appear to have been triggered more by unfamiliar facial features and noisy behavior than by the actual categories of race. 7 Especially offensive to him were those who had facial features not associated with his view of ‘the normal’. 8 His phobia appears to have been heightened to a times mentions the “lower races, like the negroes”. There are countless other examples to be had. 5
He was not alone in this. See Note 10.
Although it seems his wife Sonia did not have citizenship until 1924/5?
“their accents were coarse and strident, and their mien and faces unpleasing” – H.P. Lovecraft, “The Street”. 7
8 This is based on my complete reading of S.T. Joshi’s monumental biography I Am Providence. It should perhaps also be remembered that these immigrants were coming
near-unbearable pitch of bodily anxiety if he saw such people wearing the ‘flashy’ modern ‘Jazz Age’ American city-clothes of the 1920s, and all together in a loud crowd. He does not seem to have been as concerned by groups who maintained their own ethnic clothing and who went about their business in their own areas — an early New York sight-seeing visit to a Yiddish bookselling district 9 and to Chinatown with George Kirk 10 seems to have intrigued him rather than repelled him. Doubtless he also interacted with many Jewish used booksellers during his stay in New York. It should be noted here that S.T. Joshi has found no instance of Lovecraft either verbally or physically attacking any of the new immigrants 11 and Lovecraft’s close friend Frank Belknap Long later wrote… “This may be hard for you to believe. But during the entire NY [New York] period, in all the meetings and conversations I had with him, he never once displayed any actual hostility toward ‘non-Nordics’ — to use the term to which he was most addicted — in my presence, either in the subway or anywhere else... If one of them had been in distress he would have been the first to rush to his or her aid. Emotionally he was kindliness personified. It [fear of unassimilated Jews, Orientals and black people] was all rhetorical — the kind of verbal overkill 12 that so many of the hippie underground-press writers engaged in the sixties. It was a sickness in him, if you wish — the verbalization part [i.e.: the offensive language used in
from regions of the earth where uncorrected birth defects and physiognomy-changing illnesses were common, although that is no excuse for Lovecraft’s attitudes - since Lovecraft himself had a slightly deformed jaw, and also appears to have had ugly ingrown facial hairs in his later youth. 9
S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010.
George Kirk’s letters in Lovecraft's New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927 (2006).
S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010.
This mode of rhetoric may perhaps have a link with the hardline Protestant tradition of “the speech of fury” – personified in its dying years by the Rev. Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland. 12
Lovecraft’s letters] — but it wasn’t characteristic of him in a deep, basic way.” 13 Lovecraft did, however, denigrate immigrants publically in print, in several of his New York stories, especially “The Horror at Red Hook”. He seems to have been especially concerned for the future of New York City (and by extension, the nation) if it fell into the hands of ‘Asiatic’ immigrants whom he seems to have associated with the historical ‘Mongol hordes’ from the Steppes of Russia rather than with the Japanese or Chinese. Despite the 1924 Immigration Act banning all Asiatic races from eligibility for American citizenship 14 , Lovecraft’s presents a hellish vision of a far-future New York in the short story “He” (1925) 15, in which he clearly conflates Asiatic immigration and religion/occult rites … “For full three seconds I could glimpse that pandemoniac sight, and in those seconds I saw a vista which will ever afterward torment me in dreams. I saw the heavens verminous with strange flying things, and beneath them a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with impious pyramids flung savagely to the moon, and devil-lights burning from unnumbered windows. Arid swarming loathsomely on aerial galleries I saw the yellow, squint-eyed people of that city, robed horribly in orange and red, and dancing insanely to the pounding of fevered kettle-drums, the clatter of obscene crotala 16, and the maniacal moaning of muted horns whose ceaseless dirges
Frank Belknap Long in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp.
Morton Keller, R. Shep Melnick. Taking Stock: American government in the twentieth century. Cambridge University Press, 1999. p.66. Apparently this Act was not the immediate success that many hoped it would be. 14
15 A story that explicitly arises from, and uses his experience of, long night walks in the city. 16 A type of clapper, used in antiquity as a form of percussion instrument during cultic rites.
rose and fell undulantly like the wave of an unhallowed ocean of bitumen 17.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “He” (1925).
Those interested in a full and nuanced account of Lovecraft’s attitudes to race, which the subject certainly deserves, should consult the work of S.T. Joshi’s including his biography of Lovecraft I Am Providence (2010), and also Joshi’s complete book on Lovecraft’s opinions on the subject of race. 18
17 “bitumen” - possibly an allusion to and anticipation of the rise of the car culture in the city? 18
S.T. Joshi. H.P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West. Wildside, 1990.
5 : H.P. LOVECRAFT’S NEW YORK COFFEE HOUSES AND ICE CREAM PARLOURS
his short note surveys the various coffee houses and ice-cream parlours that Lovecraft was known to frequent in New York, presenting them
with historical background and two new photographs. The coffee houses and the cafes often served both a goals and bases for walks, and as such are integral to the nature of the urban walk.
The Double-R Coffee House was a large establishment that served as a fairly regular hangout of Lovecraft and the Kalem Club in New York City. It was also the preferred meeting place of the poet Samuel Loveman. This is what the interior looked like when it opened…
William Harrison Ukers’s 1922 book All About Coffee gives a little potted history of the Double-R… “Members of the family of the late Colonel Roosevelt began to promote a Brazil coffee-house enterprise in New York in 1919. It was first called Cafe Paulista, but it is now known as the Double R coffee house, or Club of South America, with a Brazil branch in the 40′s [this one is Lovecraft's 112 West Fortyfourth Street haunt] and an Argentine branch on Lexington Avenue. Coffee is made and served in Brazilian style; that is, full city roast, pulverized grind, filtration made; service, black or with hot milk. Sandwiches, cakes, and crullers are also to be had.” 1 And here is a description of the Double-R in the 1920s, from a local history publication… “Upon entering the long narrow shop, a patron saw portraits’ of Voltaire and Shakespeare on opposite sides of the room. The walls were decorated with green and gold wallpaper containing a Brazilian bamboo plant design. The room contained 30 small oak tables and matching chairs with a large oak counter in the center where freshly ground coffee was made.” 2 The Double-R seems to have lasted about ten years under the first owners, and seems to have been set up specifically to take advantage of the prohibition of alcohol. It sold coffee, postum (which seems to have been a sort of decaf coffee substitute, before decaf), pastries and cakes, sandwiches, and offered “a daily Brazilian dish”. It seems the manager was Brazilian.
William Harrison Ukers, All About Coffee (1922).
2 Joshia Reyes, The Rough Writer: The News of the Volunteers at Sagamore Hill, Volume 9, Issue 3.
There were reportedly “Expansion plans of Double-R Coffee House” 3 which presumably meant the new Lexington Av. branch, but the venue was sold in 1928 4 to a Mr. and Mrs. Zivko Magdich — at which time the New York Times described it as a… “gathering place for aspiring playwrights, actors, artists and musicians.” The letters of George Kirk are a little more explicit on its artistic nature. It seems that, at least part of the week, the Double-R Coffee House served as a discreet queer meeting place… “If you had been longer in NYC you’d know that there are many boys and many girls both male and female. My dear Double-R is claimed to be a hangout for these half and halfers.” — George Kirk, Letter of 17th Feb 1925. 5 Lovecraft wrote a poem to the place… Here may free souls forget the grind Of busy hour and bustling crowd And sparkling brightly mind to mind Display their inmost dreams aloud
—from “On the Double-R Coffee House” (1st February 1925) 6
New York Times, 1923.
Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, 1928, also The New York Times.
In Kirk’s later letters he later reveals that he is himself bisexual, which is possibly how he ‘knew’. See Lovecraft’s New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927 (2006). Other active queer men Lovecraft was friends with were Samuel Loveman. He was also acquainted with the queer poet Hart Crane. I think a good - though probably not provable – textual case could also be made for Everett McNeil of the Kalem Club. 5
6 The full poem is to be found in The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H.P. Lovecraft, which at 2011 is very affordable as a paperback.
The Double-R was also rather smoky, since Lovecraft writes in the same poem… Mids’t them I sit with smoke-try’d eyes
— from “On the Double-R Coffee House” He also talks in one of his letters of the… “nicotined atmosphere” of the place. The Greenwich Village quill of 1921 very briefly mentions the Double R, so it seems that it was ‘on the map’ of the Greenwich Village crowd even at that time. Lovecraft’s poem somewhat contradicts his very sour view of the artists of Greenwich Village in the short story “He”, although the fact that the coffee shop was a queer meeting place 7 may throw new light on this line in “He”… “… uncommunicative artists whose practices do not invite publicity or the light of day.” Such a coffee house was probably all the more important in 1925 as a discreet queer meeting place because of the raids on the more dedicated queer clubs, which a year of persistent police harassment and raids in 1924/5 had reduced to just three. 8 Possibly the police had been well informed by the new monthly magazine Brevities which…
There were of course other queer meeting places in the city. In the 1920s Times Square was a common such meeting place, as were presumably, the cafes around the Square. See: Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, Irena Ehrenfeucht, “Sidewalks: conflict and negotiation over public space” p.45. Lovecraft frequented an automat there: “At Times Square we lunched at the Automat where Leeds and I lunched on a former occasion, my fare this time being macaroni, potato salad, cheese pie, and coffee.” - from: Selected letters: Volume 1 (1965).
Possibly this as a reason for the Lovecraft Circle briefly adopting a new hangout at the Chatham Cafeteria around Christmas 1925, although the move may simply have been due to the Double-R becoming very crowded toward the Christmas period. 8
“included numerous features on gay life [in the city], including an astonishing yearlong series of articles in 1924 on ‘Nights in Fairyland,’” 9 The Double R apparently had a post-closure ‘media ghost’, since it seems to have been recreated as a setting in the popular American TV series Twin Peaks. I have never seen the series, so I don’t know how faithful it might have been to the original. Presumably the use of the name was a covert Lovecraft reference by the makers.
Recreation of the Double-R menu board, in the TV series Twin Peaks.
ii. Cairo Gardens, Brooklyn: According to the letters 10 I have read, it seems Lovecraft only went there once. He was rather disappointed at the décor in the place. It was in the ‘Arabian’ district, and had live Middle Eastern music.
9 George Chauncey. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. Basic Books, 1995.
iii. Tiffany’s, Brooklyn: Lovecraft calls this “my regular” café in the 1925 letters. Apparently (perhaps later) it was the occasional hangout of young roughs, since a Lovecraft letter of 1927 reportedly (I have not seen the letter) states that the police had arrested some youngsters for possessing guns at the cafe. Although, one wonders if perhaps they were just attempting to extort ‘protection’ money from the owner? Tiffany’s obviously also sold food, since Lovecraft states in a New York letter that he “dined” there with friends. Elsewhere in his New York letters Lovecraft calls it the “Tiffany Cafeteria”.
iv. Tontini’s, Brooklyn: Nothing known. This name seems to occur only in Kirk’s letters, as far as I can tell? Could this name actually be Kirk’s mis-spelling of the name of the ‘legendary’ Totonno’s on Coney Island, which was originally… “on Neptune Ave off Coney Island Ave in Brooklyn”?… “Since 1924, Totonno’s pizzeria has been a beacon on the block, remarkable for its longevity and for the deliciousness of its food.” — New York Times, March 2009. If Totonno’s had just opened in 1924 it is possible that Lovecraft visited it. He is known to have been especially partial to Italian food, and he regularly devoured spaghetti and loved cooked cheese. Two of his favorite Italian restaurants were the Taormina in Clinton Street, and a “Joe’s restaurant”. Possibly the Taormina was first tried because of the association of the name with classical antiquity.
10 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.121.
v. Ice-cream parlors: Ice-cream parlours were something of a passion for Lovecraft. Lovecraft and his circle also paid at least one visit to Coney Island, which had plenty of icecream parlors. 11 The parlours of the 1920s were apparently very sparkly, and a woman in the 1920s was once described at the time as… “glittering like an ice-cream parlor”. Doubtless his circle also visited such parlors when they went to the various New York zoos, as they did to visit the newly arrived Komodo dragons in 1925. Somewhat interestingly, although perhaps only for a horror writer, ice cream is remarkably similar to the words: “I scream”. Lovecraft would have heard the common phrase “I Scream for Ice Cream!” from boys on tricycles selling it on the streets of New York. There were also the ‘Good Humor’ ice-cream trucks, operating from 1926 in New York City.
‘Good Humor’ ice-cream vendor’s tricycle, possibly c.1920s?
11 The commercial ice-cream trade was then a fairly new industry, in its safe and modern form. The U.S. Association of Ice Cream Men had only been formed in 1917, following health regulations which standardised production and made eating it less likely to give one the runs. The popsicle was first invented in 1920. The first ice-cream potfilling machines were sold in 1920, and the first automatic electric freezer was sold in 1923. So Lovecraft really was on the cusp of the commercial ice-cream revolution. The first dedicated ice-cream freezer wasn’t even on the market until 1926, after which icecream trucks developed.
vi. Maxfield’s: Lovecraft’s famous ice-cream eating contest happened at Maxfields… “After digesting Warren’s quiet lanes and doorways we went across the tracks to Aunt Julia’s, where we tanked up on twelve different kinds of ice cream — all they’re serving at this time of year.” — Selected Letters: 1932-1934. I had pictured this as being in urban New York. But seemingly not. It appears to have been more of a mansion in a very rural suburb... “21, Federal Street [Warren, Rhode Island]. “Bosworth Mansion” or “Maxfields” c.1840: 2 story gable roof Greek Revival house possibly designed by architect Russell Warren for Judge Alfred Bosworth; known for years as “Maxfields” a popular local ice-cream parlor.” 12
From: Ruth Marris Macaulay, John Chaney. Warren. Arcadia, 1997. 12
State Inventory Listing document, online at townofwarren-ri.gov
This was owned by Julia A. Maxfield’s whose father was apparently Louis Warren Taft, and was of an old Rhode Island family. It seems from the mention of “Aunt Julia” in the letter that she was related to a member of the Lovecraft Circle? It seems, though, that the “Bosworth Mansion” was not the actual site of the parlor. The parlor was apparently in a nearby building, presumably in the grounds and maybe looking more like a wooden Summer House? Or possibly it was a veranda-like extension at the back of the house, which Wandrei’s (then nearly 20 years-old) memories seem to imply. 13 Although I think I would rather trust the memories of the local historians and local people that the parlor was actually some distance from the main house. 14 Possibly Julia A. Maxfield didn’t actually work there either, but employed her relatives to do so, since I have discovered an online genealogical mention of a Charles Redfern Maxfield Snr. being the manager of an ice-cream parlor in Warren in the 1920s. 15 In “The Dweller in Darkness” (1944) 16 , Donald Wandrei gives the story behind the famous 1927 trip to Maxfields… “We each ordered a double portion of a different flavor, and by dividing each other’s choice, we enjoyed three flavors with each serving. The trams came on and on — chocolate, vanilla, peach, black raspberry, pistachio, black walnut, coffee, huckleberry, strawberry, orange, plum, mint, burnt almond, and exotic types whose names I do not recall. The ice-cream was superior; there was no doubt of its being of the finest quality. But on the twenty-first 13
Published in Marginalia. Arkham House, 1944.
Ruth Marris Macaulay, John Chaney. Warren. Arcadia, 1997.
15 “Descendants of Clement Maxfield of Dorchester, Massachusetts, Tenth Generation” by Charles A. Maxfield. 16
Published in Marginalia. Arkham House, 1944. 85
variety I was beyond capacity. I watched with awe while the remaining flavors arrived in the same huge portions, and Lovecraft and Morton ate on with undiminshed zest, interspersing the astonishing meal with a wealth of literary allusions on the origins of ice-cream, its preparation in Italy, its appeal to famous men, the distinctions between meringues, ice-creams, and ices. I managed to sip each flavor for the record of twenty-eight, but I was a weak runner-up to the champions. I would estimate that Lovecraft and Morton consumed between two and three quarts of ice-cream apiece on that gastronomic triumph.” The group famously wrote a long note on their triumph, with comments on each of the flavours, and left it on the table. When they next returned it had been framed and hung on the wall. Sadly, four flavours had been missing on the day of the contest, so what hung on the wall was not a complete appraisal of the range.
UNDERGROUND: ON THE MONSTROUS, OCCULT AND HIDDEN IN NEW YORK CITY
6 : LOVECRAFT AND THE SUBWAY
“I guess you won't wonder now why I have to steer clear of subways” — H.P. Lovecraft, “Pickman’s Model”.
he first New York subway line had opened in 1904, effectively an
T extension of the sidewalks. The new system would quickly be
characterised in the press as an antechamber of Hell 1 , in stark contrast to the elegant and sublime visions of lofty beauty to be found at the grand city railroad stations such as the old Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central. Lovecraft had expressed anxiety at the thought of subways as early as 1920, as seen in the ominous manner in which people walk into the subway entrances in his dream-story “Nyarlathotep” (1920)… “One [column of people] disappeared in a narrow alley to the left, leaving only the echo of a shocking moan. Another filed down a weed-choked subway entrance, howling with a laughter that was mad.” — H.P. Lovecraft. “Nyarlathotep”. This may reflect his own experience of the Boston subway system in the 1910s, or of reading news and commentary on it in the press. In New York in 1925 he has… “… nightmares of strange underground caverns like the Boston subway” 2 Later he even appears to have feared the sight of the subway entrances, or at least has one of his narrators voice such a fear… “I cannot see a well or a subway entrance without shuddering.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “The Lurking Fear” (1922). 1
See my following essay on ghosts and monsters in the New York subway.
2 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.158.
“The Lurking Fear” was written after his first visit to New York, and may reflect his own experience there. Yet in his letters of 1922 he gives little indication he disliked using the subway. In 1924 and 1925 he expresses increasingly dislike of using them at certain times, but not fear. Nevertheless he may well have had several deep-seated concerns about his safety, since if he was prone to fainting then to fall down steep subway steps could be quite fatal. Or if he were to faint on the platform and fall onto the electrified rails. There was also the likely behavior of other travelers in an emergency to be considered. On 1st August 1918, when a then-new subway shuttle system had opened in New York, there had apparently been a riot and stampede to get out of the station. This was before the installation of glowing guide-lines that led people out of the dark. 3 There had been other similar incidents in the early years of the subway… “Indescribable scenes of crowding and confusion, never paralleled in this city. […] a deadly, suffocating, rib-smashing subway rush which began at 7 o’clock tonight. Men fought, kicked and pummeled one another […] grey haired men pleaded for mercy, boys were knocked down and only escaped by a miracle from being trampled underfoot. The presence of the police alone averted what would undoubtedly have been panic after panic, with wholesale loss of life.” — New York Tribune, 28th October 1904. In the frenetic growth of the 1920s, rush-hour overcrowding might have made those sorts of scenes even more likely in Lovecraft’s mind. One commentator wrote that… “Monster crowds live in Brooklyn, across the East river; monster crowds live in New Jersey, across the Hudson river” 4 Lovecraft echoes this rhetoric of the monstrous, when he described in his letters the crowd in the pre-Christmas crush of December 1924 as… 3 Meyer Berger and Pete Hamill. Meyer Berger’s New York. Fordham University Press, 2004. p.102. 4
Article on subways in Technical World magazine, Vol.9, 1908.
“rushing and slithering human vermin” 5 He cannot have been much encouraged to find out that the ventilation in the subways still left much to be desired, even in the mid 1920s… “It is disappointing to hear that travellers on the New York Subway are complaining of imperfect ventilation and other discomforts which were not anticipated” — The Electrician journal, 1925. In his letters Lovecraft refers to some types of closed New York buses as “prepayment suffocation chambers” 6 , so how much more trepidation might he have felt about suffocation on the subways? 7 In February 1926 Lewis Mumford’s essay on the nature of the city highlighted the disquietingly humid and tactile nature of the overcrowded subways, while citing them as a sure and certain symbol of the decay of urban life in the city. Mumford strongly suggests that the subways were then places of deep discomfort and misery, using phrases such as… “The Swedish Massage of the Subway” […] “the pulping mill of the subway”
Lovecraft may have been being irrational on the basic probabilities of stampede or suffocation while travelling, but nevertheless his trepidations were clearly shared by others. It was obviously unpleasant but he tolerated it in 1922, 1924 and well into 1925. Something changes around late 1925 / early 1926. His fear has its most vivid depiction in the gruesome canvas painted in his story “Pickman’s Model” (written September 1926)… 5
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.101.
7 Lovecraft may have been encouraged to worry about entombment and suffocation when his own building had been shaken by a minor earthquake in late February 1925. This was followed by Pickwick Club collapse disaster, in nearby Boston (New England) in July 1925. The collapse killed 44 people. Lovecraft’s New York stories “The Horror at Red Hook” (written 1st-2nd August 1925) and “He” (written 11th Aug 1925) both culminate in calamitous and severe building collapse. Similarly, “In the Vault” (18th Sept 1925) features a man trapped in a building. 8 Lewis Mumford. “The Intolerable City”. Harper’s magazine issue 212 (Feb 1926), pp.283-93.
Still from Manhandled, a 1924 Gloria Swanson movie, showing the over-crowding of the New York subway system. Picture: Public Domain. Note the gent in the bowler hat, who resembles Lovecraft.
“There was a study called ‘Subway Accident’, in which a flock of the vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb through a crack in the floor of the Boston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform.” — “Pickman’s Model”. Following Pickman’s disappearance, the narrator refuses to venture into the subway system… “If I don’t like that damned subway, it’s my own business” — “Pickman’s Model”. There are some obvious explanations, such as his growing dislike of being in very close proximity to unassimilated immigrants. Yet other factors may have been at play. Medical doctors much later became aware of a fainting sickness brought on by a sudden blood pressure drop while travelling the subway… “there is an actual sickness that affects mass-transit users […] overcrowding leaves people wedged in place with blood accumulating in their feet, leading to faintness […] the claustrophobia and dreads combine to push people from unease to panic.” 9 Lovecraft had suffered from feeling faint and fainting in the years before he came to New York. Lack of a breakfast is apparently often a contributing factor to subway sickness, and Lovecraft was often very badly nourished in the second half of his stay in the city. Possibly this poor and irregular diet may help to partly account for his change in attitude to using the subway? Finally, I wonder if it is just possible that Lovecraft somehow associated the system with the horrors of socialism? 10 Everyone paid the same fare, there were no “first class” tickets, no separate entrances or seating areas.
Christopher Norwood. “The Subway Syndrome”. New York Magazine, 9th August 1982.
10 I’m reliably informed that it is still common for new public transport proposals in the USA to have to overcome a basic assumption by politicians that the system would somehow be a ‘vanguard of socialism’.
Everyone was dragged down to the same level in the same mundane and deeply uncomfortable ‘cattle car’ experience. This would have been in stark contrast to the experience of the railways with their class-based ticketing structure and their palatial and uplifting stations. I know of no evidence for his ever making the comparison in writing, however. Yet there was at this time a more ideological than practical/biological set of structuring assumptions about the mass urban crowd, an implicitly conservative one, and it may have fed into an implicit distrust of public transport. 11 I refer to the rise of the popular idea of the ‘mob mind’, those urban masses who act in a semi-hypnotised manner. The “mob mind” was a popular concept and talking point around 1919-1920, and relates more to the ideological dangers of crowds than to the everyday and very real dangers of crowded and ill-educated cities 12 although there is some overlap. E.A. Ross’s best-selling book Social Control (1901) had suggested that people were increasingly subject to a primitive “suggestibility” in crowded modern cities. Partly this had to do with the rise of and change in the nature of advertising and shop window displays, partly with the rise of a violent and agitational leftist politics, but in America it was able to build on thinking about the nature of the new modern urban crowd and its patterns of behavior that had arisen in France after the French revolution — but which then had later become linked explicitly to racialised and race-thinking ideas of the type
One can see this attitude in the British upper classes even in the 1980s, when Loelia Ponsonby, one of the wives of 2nd Duke of Westminster said: “Anybody seen in a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life”. She was apparently quoting the 1930s poet Brian Howard. The leftists in the press were quick to falsely attribute the quote to Mrs Thatcher, then leader of the Conservative Party. 11
For a full intellectual history of the idea and reality of the mob see J. S. McClelland’s The Crowd and the Mob: From Plato to Canetti. Taylor & Francis, 2010. For the history in America see Paul S. Boyer. Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920. Harvard University Press, 1992. For an intellectual history in Britain, see John Carey. The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia 1880-1939. Faber and Faber, 1992.
then very common, as intellectuals tried to divine what sort of new politics might come out of the new modern crowds. 13
The neo-gothic architecture of a New York subway entrance. Picture: Library of Congress.
13 On the specific ‘hypnotic’ nature of urban crowds, which seems relevant to the columns of semi-hypnotised people in the Lovecraft story “Nyarlathotep” (1920) and to the news reports of subway stampedes, one might also point to Gustave le Bon’s earlier The Crowd (published in America in 1896) which had argued that an individual who is too long in a crowd... “finds himself in a special state, which much resembles the state of fascination in which the hypnotized individual finds himself in the hands of the hypnotizer”.
In 1919 Ross’s student Robert Gault had published The Psychology of Suggestion, drawing heavily on Ross’s ideas and the concept of the mob mind, and this was no doubt reviewed in the sort of publications Lovecraft would have read such as Scientific American and Popular Science Monthly. I expect that the race riots, leftist parcel-bomb attacks 14 , and the serious political unrest in 1919 gave Gault’s book a wide readership on publication. Then on 9th September 1919 the whole of the Boston police force deserted their posts, leaving the city virtually defenceless 15 , leading to further strong cultural anxieties about Bolshevism (then a common name for communist socialism) — this time much closer to Lovecraft’s own Providence — and conflating politicised trades unions and crime in the public mind. These anxieties were set against the background of the terror of the Russian Revolution and its international spreading of the Bolshevist creed, and of recent race riots. 16 In the following years there occurred the major terrorist bomb attack on New York on 16th September 1920, in which an old trolley car (tram) had been used as the delivery vehicle. 17 All these fears must have contributed to the anxieties associated with using mass public transport. By the time Lovecraft arrived to live in New York in 1924, these wider anxieties appear to have quieted down somewhat, possibly aided by the mass deportation of anarchist and communist immigrants and heighted vigilance. Nevertheless such anxieties had undoubtedly left their mark on the psyches of ordinary people.
Which had been going on since 1914, see Trevor Conan Kearns, Jennifer L. Weber. Key Concepts in American History: Terrorism. Chelsea House, 2010. p.67. 14
Francis Russell. A City in Terror: Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike. Houghton Mifflin, 2005. The event partly inspired Lovecraft’s story “The Street”. 15
16 On the links between ‘the mob crowd’ and the race riots in 1919 and the years following, see: Jan Voogd. Race riots and resistance: the Red Summer of 1919. Peter Lang, 2008. 17 Beverly Gage. The day Wall Street exploded: a story of America in its first age of terror. Oxford University Press, 2010.
7 : IT EMERGED FROM THE SUBWAYS! On the genesis of the monstrous under New York City
r. H.P. Lovecraft famously compares his shoggoth monsters to subway trains in the horror novelette At The Mountains of Madness.
Robert H. Waugh suggests Lovecraft may have been influenced by the legend of a vast subterranean labyrinth below Chinatown in San Francisco, in the essay “The Subway and the Shoggoth” 1 in Lovecraft Studies 39. Waugh reportedly suggests that this notion of underground tunnels can be seen in Sax Rohmer’s popular Fu Manchu stories, by which Lovecraft could have been influenced. I have not been able to read his essay due to cost 2 but I would guess that Rohmer’s Tales of Chinatown (1922) is the obvious candidate here as a possible source novel. Yet I have independently turned up the fact that the notion was abroad in the dime novels ten years earlier, in 1912. One can, for instance, see the use of the same idea in novels such as The Bradys’ Yellow Foe; or, In the Tunnels of Chinatown (1912), which Lovecraft may even have read when it was first issued. Lovecraft is known to have consumed dime novels voraciously and extensively during his youth and teenage hermitry. Some of his earliest fiction was… “clearly influenced by the dime novel”. 3 Interestingly this 1912 Bradys’ novel is set beneath the Chinatown in New York 4 , and not in the one in San Francisco. While this sort of popular literature could have been an influence on the New York canal tunnels in Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook” (1925), and possibly 1 Robert H. Waugh. “The Subway and the Shoggoth.” Lovecraft Studies, No.39, Summer 1998. 2 I have not been able to see this article due to the cost of obtaining the now-rare used copies of Lovecraft Studies, which are not obtainable via the British Library at 2011. 3
S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz. An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. Greenwood, 2001. p.180.
J. Randolph Cox. The Dime Novel Ccompanion: a source book. Greenwood, 2000. p.14. 97
also on the tunnels in At The Mountains of Madness (1931), I cannot find any mention of the New York or Boston subway systems being metaphorically ‘laid on top of’ any folk beliefs about networks of tunnels under the city 5 such as those of the Chinatown tunnels. The presence of the supernatural in the New York subways seems to have begun in literature in 1925. Lovecraft’s New York gay acquaintance Hart Crane seems the key progenitor for the future mythologizing of the subway, with his poem “The Tunnel” (the writing of which appears to have been started around late 1925 and with development continuing into 1926 6 ) in which the overcrowded and claustrophobic city subways become the nightmare haunt of the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe. Crane presents Poe as a covert symbol of an ‘underground’ queer culture, linking his deathly status with the persecutions that normalcy inflicts upon the artistic... Whose head is swinging from the swollen strap? Whose body smokes along the bitten rails, Bursts from a smoldering bundle far behind In back forks of the chasms of the brain,— Puffs from a riven stump far out behind In interborough fissures of the mind . . . ? And why do I often meet your visage here, Your eyes like agate lanterns—on and on Below the toothpaste and the dandruff ads? —And did their riding eyes right through your side, And did their eyes like unwashed platters ride? And Death, aloft,—gigantically down Probing through you—toward me, O evermore! Those seeking such examples from cities other than New York might usefully consult books such as Benson Bobrick’s Labyrinths of Iron: subways in history, myth, art, technology, and war. William Morrow & Co, 1986.
George S. Lensing. “Hart Crane’s Tunnel”. Ariel, 1975.
And when they dragged your retching flesh, Your trembling hands that night through Baltimore— That last night on the ballot rounds, did you, Shaking, did you deny the ticket, Poe?
Would it be very scurrilous to suggest that perhaps Crane may have had the idea of placing ‘Poe’s ghost on the subway’ from a chat with Lovecraft, or with one of his weird fiction friends? Even if that were so, I have found that Crane was beaten to it by a New York World comic-strip of 1905. This satirical comic imagines the ghost of Dante riding the hellish New York City subways 7 and finding them even worse than Hell. The strip was seemingly drawn and written by one V.P. Whit[…?]…
Picture: Library of Congress.
They really were hellish. See: Michael W. Brooks. Subway city: riding the trains, reading New York. Rutgers University Press, 1997.
Lovecraft was writing his story “The Horror at Red Hook” (1st-2nd August 1925) around the time of the genesis of Crane’s poem “The Tunnel”. His substantial story mentions a subway, but only briefly as a location through which to emphasise the degradation of Robert Suydam who is… “seen occasionally by humiliated friends in subway stations” The real focus in “Red Hook” is instead on the secret network of underground maritime canals that connect the wharves with Brooklyn and Red Hook, and which then spread out into… “several subterranean channels and tunnels in the neighbourhood” So it seems clear to me that Crane must take the prize of being the first to seriously ‘haunt’ the New York subway system in literature, albeit only in passing and without a sustaining narrative. Possibly some of the earliest dime novels and pulps may have taken the subway system as a setting for horror or the supernatural, but I can find no mention of this in the scholarship — only the pulp character of ‘Thubway Tham’, a professional subway pickpocket with a lisp, who hardly seems to count as a monster or a supernatural being 8 . It appears that H.P. Lovecraft was the one who first made a truly ‘spectacular’ use of the subways and monsters in literature — if only as adjuncts to two powerful stories, and with the first of these set in Boston rather than New York. Lovecraft gives the subway its first real monsters in “Pickman’s Model” (Sept 1926, Weird Tales October 1927) in the description of a gruesome canvas painted in the story… “There was a study called ‘Subway Accident’, in which a flock of the vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb
Thanks to the editors of the plot encyclopaedia Science-fiction: the Gernsback years.
through a crack in the floor of the Boylston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform.” He quickly follows this by showing readers the tunnels from which they arise, describing the network in a manner not unlike a cross-section or diagrammatic map of a subway system… “One disgusting canvas seemed to depict a vast cross-section of Beacon Hill, with ant-like armies of the mephitic monsters squeezing themselves through burrows that honeycombed the ground.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “Pickman’s Model”. Possibly this ‘Subway Accident’ theme arises from Lovecraft’s reading in the newspapers of subway riots on the 1st of August 1918. A then-new subway shuttle system had opened in New York, and there had been a riot and stampede to get out of the station. This was before the installation of glowing guide-lines that led people out of the dark. 9 There had been other similar incidents reported in the early years of the subway, which the young Lovecraft would have read of in the newspapers of the time… “Indescribable scenes of crowding and confusion, never paralleled in this city. […] a deadly, suffocating, rib-smashing subway rush which began at 7 o’clock tonight. Men fought, kicked and pummeled one another […] grey haired men pleaded for mercy, boys were knocked down and only escaped by a miracle from being trampled underfoot. The presence of the police alone averted what would undoubtedly have been panic after panic, with wholesale loss of life.” — New York Tribune, 28th October 1904.
9 Meyer Berger and Pete Hamill. Meyer Berger’s New York. Fordham University Press, 2004. p.102.
One then wonders if this barbaric behavior may even have had a bearing on the conception of the half-human / half-ghoul nature of Pickman in “Pickman’s Model”? The 1900s crowds that jammed onto the subways were sometimes talked of publically in terms of ‘the monstrous’… “Monster crowds live in Brooklyn, across the East river ; monster crowds live in New Jersey, across the Hudson river” 10 Even in the 1920s the same rhetoric was still current, making a connection between the ‘monster’ new skyscrapers and the subways that served them… “One of the most virulent skyscraper opponents was Major Henry Curran, counsel of the City Club of New York, who denounced the buildings as “monsters” and their spread as a “plague.” Curran blamed them for subway crowding and [the] automobile ...”
In the early 1930s Lovecraft’s own personal memories of his 1925/6 fears of the subways 12 produced what S.T. Joshi calls 13 possibly the most terrifying moment ever written in modern horror literature — when the shoggoth rushes out of the tunnel toward the end of the novella At The Mountains of Madness (Feb-Mar 1931, Astounding Stories Feb-Mar-Apr 1936). In this famous novelette the onrushing shoggoth is compared by Lovecraft to the forward motion not just of a train, but specifically of a subway train…
Article on subways in Technical World magazine, Vol.9, 1908.
David Ward, Olivier Zunz. The Landscape of Modernity: essays on New York City, 19001940. Russell Sage Foundation , 1992. p.64. 11
12 Possibly induced due to his very poor diet after he moved to the “dismal hovel” at 169 Clinton Street, Brooklyn Heights, NYC, since ‘subway syndrome’ can be affected by this factor. See: Christopher Norwood. “The Subway Syndrome”. New York Magazine, 9th August 1982. 13
Lovecraftian Obsession Podcast, Episode 2: S.T. Joshi interview. June 2010.
“its nearest comprehensible analogue is a vast, onrushing subway train as one sees it from a station platform” This is foreshadowed in Mountains by Lovecraft having an insane explorer chant the names of the subway system to try to calm himself, thus in the mind of the reader subtly linking the idea of the subways with madness. The moment of revelation is famously if rather colourfully depicted on the cover of Astounding Stories for February 1936, even though the scene would not be available to read until the later April issue.
Cover of Astounding Stories, February 1936.
The idea of monsters in the subways would only be fully developed as a central plot device by Robert Barbour Johnson 14 in his classic “Far Below” He appears to have written six stories for Weird Tales under his own name. He lived for at least twenty-five years in San Francisco, where seems to have been involved in UFO groups in the 1970s and 80s. He seems to have been living in San Francisco in 1940, since the Century Press of San Francisco issued his The Magic Park in 1940 which 103 14
(Weird Tales, June-July 1939) in which “giant, carrion feeding, subterranean molemen” derail a subway train 15 . This long work was inspired by Lovecraft
, and is generally considered to be a highlight of the immense
wave of Cthulhu mythos fiction inspired by his works. “Far Below” is clearly the ‘breakthrough’ moment for the idea, in which it is fully developed in a sustained and very successful manner, and becomes central to a horror/SF narrative. Incidentally, the protagonist of the story, Inspector Craig, reports to the reader that he once gave ‘Mr. Lovecraft’ a tour of the tunnels. There had been some earlier pulp uses of the setting but they were very minor. A search of the plot encyclopaedia Science-fiction: the Gernsback years reveals a similar paucity of subway usage by pulp writers. The only story listed with any real usage of the setting seems to be Harl Vincent’s pulp story “The Menace from Below” (Science Wonder Stories, Vol.1 No.2, July 1929), but the subway serves as a fairly quickly-dismissed portal to a typical ‘lost world’/’hollow earth’ SF scenario. The Spider edition of April 1938, City of Whispering Death, had attempted to use the subway as a minor element as the lair of a criminal torturer, but The Spider List website reports that is it a confused and unsuccessful novel. This appears to be The Spider’s only use of the subway-as-setting in the entire Spider run. As far as I can tell, subways
appears to be set in the city. In 1942 he was described in Architect and Engineer as “circus writer and artist”. Possibly there may thus be some influence on “Far Below” from the San Francisco Chinatown tunnels myths? 15 Available in the forthcoming anthology Spawn of the Green Abyss, and also the 2003 collection Far Below and Other Horrors from the Pulps. Possibly this latter work is the same as the Robert Weinberg edited anthology of 1974, Far Below and Other Horrors. The name mole men may arise from the animals, but the giant machines that dug the subways were called “monster moles” by the press of the time. 16 S.T. Joshi suggests it... “was inspired by Lovecraft's description in “Pickman's Model” of a ghoul attack on a subway platform”. S.T. Joshi. Icons of Horror and the Supernatural: An Encyclopedia of Our Worst Nightmares. Greenwood , 2006. Volume 1, p.257.
do not feature in any relevant way in either the long-running The Shadow or the Doc Savage adventure pulps. From the appearance of Robert Barbour Johnson’s Far Below the concept was taken up, albeit in an apparently rather cursory manner, by the comics in the early 1940s. Here are some panels showing Frankenstein escaping into the New York subway after defeating a crocodile-man, in the little known Prize Comics (Dec. 1940). The subway is presented simply as a means for the monster to escape, rather than as a lair or haunt...
Prize Comics #7 (Dec 1940). Art and Story by Dick Briefer.
Marvel Mystery Comics #13 (Timely/Marvel, Nov. 1940) led with a Carl Burgos 12-page ‘Human Torch’ story “Terror in the Subway”. The Joe Simon and Jack Kirby Captain America issue #3 (Timely/Marvel, May 1941) has the super-villain ‘Red Skull’ building a hideout in the New York subways. In the same Captain America issue there was an extra story by writer Jack Kirby, called “Satan and the Subway Disasters” in which…
“The use of ‘infernal death boxes’ in causing subway wrecks draws the attention of Hurricane.”
The idea/setting then appears to vanish, presumably forgotten during the war. Then after 20 years it re-emerges, quite literally, into the city on the famous cover of the first Fantastic Four issue (Nov 1961). The villain of this issue is the subterranean evil genius The Mole Man, who in the cover illustration has unleashed a monster on the city…
The first issue of Marvel’s The Fantastic Four series, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Marvel.com description - Captain America Comics (1941) #3.
Various monsters and criminals inhabit abandoned tunnels, sometimes subway tunnels, in the Marvel monster and superhero comics of the 1960s and 70s. The frequency does not, however, seem to be great. Yet one can certainly see the theme well illustrated in Marvel’s Monsters on the Prowl #13 (October 1971), a throwback to the old Jack Kirby monster comics, albeit only in the six-page fifth story called “In The Shadow of Traag”…
Artist: Syd Shores. Picture: Marvel Comics. I would suggest that this is one of the most compelling monster illustrations of the period. Sadly the front cover is by a different artist and does not have the same quality. 107
As the quality of the New York subways system declined drastically in the 1970s and 80s, its horrific urban reality needed little supernatural embellishment. One might even see the depiction of its ruined far-future in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) 18 as a kind of foreshadowing of the hell that the subways would become in actuality. There apparently emerged real ‘Mole Men’ in the 1980s, colonies of addicts and insane people who lived deep in the warmth of the subway tunnels 19 and who seem to have provoked some urban legends in the city. At this time the subway served in movies as backdrop for hijackings, muggings, shootings, psycho murders, and sundry other grim reflections of its real contemporary existence. David Lawrence Pike has undertaken a survey of such films in his essay for the academic film journal Wide Angle, “Urban Nightmares and Future Visions: life beneath New York” (1988). Only after the subway system was literally and psychologically cleaned up around the early-mid 1990s 20 , by the application of zero tolerance and other measures, do supernatural or extraterrestrial monsters once again creep back into the representation of the New York subways. The Lovecraft-inspired movie director Guillermo del Toro tackled the theme with great vigour in the moderately successful Mimic (1997) 21 . Men in Black II followed his lead a few years later in 2002. del Toro’s Hellboy (2004) movie also has significant sections that use the idea of monsters in the subway.
Also its long-running mid-1970s Marvel comic book original plot-extensions.
Jennifer Toth. The Mole People: life in the tunnels beneath New York City. Chicago Review Press, 1993.
20 “City Journal Interview: Victory in the Subways: William J. Bratton.” City Journal, Summer 1992. 21 Apparently released only in studio-chopped form, and thus not really satisfactory to the director. del Toro reports that he has an unreleased “Director’s Cut” of Mimic he is happy with. See his interview with Deadline, 13th September 2010.
Further reading: Benson Bobrick. Labyrinths of Iron: subways in history, myth, art, technology, and war. William Morrow & Co, 1986. Charlotte Brunsdon. “‘A Fine and Private Place’: the cinematic spaces of the London Underground”. Screen 47.1 (Spring 2006). pp. 1-17. Stanley Greenberg, Thomas H. Garver. Invisible New York: the hidden infrastructure of the city. JHU Press, 1998 Alex Marshall. Beneath the Metropolis: the secret lives of cities. Carroll and Graf, 2006. Christopher Payne. New York’s forgotten substations: the power behind the subway. Princeton Architectural Press, 2002. David Lawrence Pike. “Urban Nightmares and Future Visions: life beneath New York”. Wide Angle, 20 (1998), 4. pp. 9-50. [ Locked behind a paywall, but on post-1960 movies featuring the theme. ] David Lawrence Pike. Subterranean cities: the world beneath Paris and London, 1800-1945. Cornell University Press, 2005. Julia Solis. New York underground: the anatomy of a city. Routledge, 2005.
8 : ON MYSTICAL AND OCCULT NEW YORK
ew York was home to other ‘undergrounds’ than those of the subways,
N Colonial-era crypts and wharf tunnels. Lovecraft was largely
uninterested in the Greenwich Village bohemian literary ‘underground’ 1, and he obviously did not care to see the early manifestation of the vibrant black literary and musical culture then bubbling up in Harlem 2 . But what of the city’s occult or mystical ‘underground’? Indeed, what of it? Evidence for it seems so lacking in the 20th century that no-one has bothered to write a history of occult or mystical New York, even at a time when an avalanche of books on the city’s history have appeared. 3 Even so, New York has certainly been a hotbed of publishing on the topic 4 , and is also host to a wealth of relevant material in the many libraries and museums. So, in the absence of in-depth research on the history of the occult in New York, I can only sketch some rough outlines of what else Lovecraft may have known about in the city at that time, and point to several key occult and mystical groups in the city: the Theosophists and their meeting places such From “He” (1925): “It was in a grotesque hidden courtyard of the Greenwich section, for there in my ignorance I had settled, having heard of the place as the natural home of poets and artists.” [...] “I found the poets and artists to be loud-voiced pretenders whose quaintness is tinsel and whose lives are a denial of all that pure beauty which is poetry and art...” Possibly Lovecraft associated artistic bohemianism both with the 19th century romanticism he despised and also with the taint of criminality that has always hung around it. If he had ever visited England he might have been more at home, since English bohemianism was and is seasonally far more rural and bucolic and less urban. Nevertheless, Lovecraft’s regularly frequented the Double-R Coffee House which was a queer venue and haunt of the Greenwich Village artists, and he wrote a poem to it. 1
Now know as the Harlem Renaissance, and about which a great deal has been published. Lovecraft’s letters show that he knew of the new cultural forms then developing there, but obviously he did not care to investigate further. 2
3 The closest yet is probably Howard Kerr and Charles L. Crow, The Occult in America: new historical perspectives. University of Illinois Press, 1986. Also Cathy Gutierrez, The Occult in Nineteenth-Century America. Davies Group, 2005. 4 In 1923 for instance, a monumental eight-volume A History of Magic and Experimental Science (1923-58) began to be published in the city.
as The Lamasery and Roerich’s gallery; the Masonic temples in the business district 5 ; Kabbalistic and mystical survivals among the Yiddish jews of Poland and Russia; and the Rosicrucian Supreme Grand Lodge in New York. One might also include the Spiritualists and astrologers, and the American Society of Psychical Research. Lovecraft was of course a lifelong atheist and a profound skeptic, and would only have been interested in any of these as source material for his fiction. Nevertheless it may be useful to undertake a short survey of them here, to see if any of them can shed any light on Lovecraft’s New York experience. I will explore each in turn, immediately followed by a separate chapter that forms a lengthy digression on the possible 1920s perception of ethnographers as crypto-mystics.
While I know of no evidence of any contact by Lovecraft with Rosicrucians or Masons, Lovecraft certainly had contacts with a similarly well-established group called the Theosophists. This contact appears to have been mainly through the mystical Theosophist / Buddhist Russian exile, explorer and artist Nicholas Roerich. 6 Lovecraft frequently visited Roerich’s gallery in the mid 1920s and was apparently at the opening in New York in 1930 of Roerich’s major show of his fine paintings called ‘Shambhala’. Roerich had made the paintings on and soon after his expeditions to try to locate the mythical mountain paradise of ‘Shangri La’ high in the Himalayas (1923-28), and Roerich scholars suggest these may have contained authentic Bon shamanic motifs from Tibetan culture. Lovecraftian scholars have suggested the presence of a number of Theosophist ideas in Lovecraft’s fiction 7 , which he presumably gained from conversation and possibly from reading their texts, but these were used professionally and in a cursory way by him. In the 5
Lovecraft did not have access to these.
6 Colleen Messina. Warrior of light: the life of Nicholas Roerich. Summit University Press, 2002. 7 Robert M. Price, “HPL and HPB: Lovecraft’s Use of Theosophy”. Crypt of Cthulhu, 1982. I have also identified several themes from the Theosophists in Lovecraft’s work.
early 1920s Theosophist beliefs appear to have been seen by Lovecraft and his friends as just another mine of weird beliefs about past ‘lost’ civilisations to use for their weird fiction stories. What may have been especially interesting was the Theosophist interest in ancient central and south American cultures and archeology, which was then only a nascent field of study and as such were wide open to speculation. Theosophy is mentioned several times in “The Call of Cthulhu”, a key story arising directly from Lovecraft’s New York period.
ii. Immigrants and the occult in the 1920s There were explicit American beliefs in the early decades of the 20th century that there were links between immigrants and the occult. 8 Many of these beliefs now appear to have had some factual foundation… “Blacks, immigrants from European peasant stock, and Southern Appalachians, as we will later see, all cultivated the occult beliefs and practices that their cultures had passed on to them” 9 Yet this sort of activity had not been unknown in the early centuries of English colonisation, when… “Clergymen, church councils, and church associations perennially confronted fusions of magic and the occult with popular Christianity. The persistent belief in magic and occultism among English immigrants to North America is demonstrated [in Colonial court
8 See: Susan Kay Gillman. Blood Talk: American race melodrama and the culture of the occult. University of Chicago Press, 2003. Yvonne Chireau, Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition. University of California Press, 2006. On the occult books that the immigrants brought with them, see the chapter “Across the Oceans” in Owen Davies, Grimoires: a history of magic books, 2009. On the entertainment use of the idea of the Chinese stage magician and associated occult imagery see Arthur Bonner, Alas! what brought thee hither?: the Chinese in New York, 1800-1950. 9 Catherine L. Albanese. America, Religions and Religion. Wadsworth, 1992 (Second edition). p.251. It should be pointed out, however, that Christianity also had a strong grip on black, Irish and Italian communities.
records] dating as far back as the earliest colonization [and persisting] throughout the 18th century...” 10 In Lovecraft’s time such beliefs about Protestant occultism seemed to lie in the ‘dark past’ 11 and — while it was certainly a past which Lovecraft was deeply familiar with, and would have spotted — its relics seemed to be little in evidence in New York City itself in the 1920s. Similar fears did still linger in the city, though, in connection with Catholics. There were still persistent and widespread links made between certain types of Catholics and ‘unholy’ practices … “Pagan! Heathen! Idolator!” These were among the epithets hurled at the Italian immigrants around the turn of the century” 12 It may seem strange to us now, but the Catholic / Protestant split was then a vociferous one filled with the fear of ‘Popery’. The ‘Popery’ concept was understood with shudders and loathing 13 , as was something called ‘priestcraft’. The Pope, in particular, was routinely perceived by many as a sort of ‘monster’ or antichrist. The sentiments arising from this fear of Catholics riddled the 18th century texts that Lovecraft was so intimately familiar with. It had persisted in early New York 14 , had intensified in the middle 1800s in America in both literary and riotous forms 15 , and was still present in the latter part of his stay in New York when Lovecraft lived amid an intense storm of anti-Catholic feeling unleashed from western and
10 John A. Grigg, Peter C. Mancall. British Colonial America: People and Perspectives ABC Clio, 2008. p.172 11 Some of the German communities carried with them a certain amount of mysticism, that some scholars have suggested later influenced evangelical Christianity in the USA. 12 Randall M. Miller, Thomas D. Marzik. “Cult and Occult in Italian-American Culture”, in: Immigrants and Religion in Urban America. Saint Joseph’s College, 1977. 13
Robert P. Lockwood. Anti-Catholicism in American Culture. 2000
14 Jason K. Duncan. Citizens or Papists?: the politics of anti-Catholicism in New York, 16851821. Fordham University Press, 2005. 15
James S. Olson. The Ethnic Dimension in American History. Wiley, 2010. p.180-181. 113
southern citizens against New York.16 One thus has to consider the American perception of Catholicism as a form of the occult, even if it was not so in actuality. In this respect it is interesting to consider the horror novel as a potent projection of anti-Catholic feeling. The earliest horror novel, Beware the Cat! (c.1570), is in part an anti-Catholic tract. 17 Such propaganda fiction was assiduously and widely developed 18 , becoming ever more lurid, and then obviously made the jump to America… “Anti-Catholicism intensified [in America] midway through the nineteenth century. Newspapers, books, and pamphlets ridiculing Catholics became best-sellers, and frightened Protestants avidly consumed the most sensational propaganda” 19 There is then perhaps an interesting linkage to be made with the Catholic campaigns of the 1920s against the horror novel in pulp form in New York. Some of the more salacious and erotic pulp literature was especially likely to be found on the news-stands around Times Square. 20 Irish Catholics were strongly in the pro-censorship lobby in the 1920s and into the 1930s, with in New York City a focus on places such as Times Square. Most of the material on sale was published locally, since New York was a hotbed of erotic publishing in the 1920s, containing 26 of the 28 publishers of erotica in the US . 21 Some of Lovecraft’s friends, such as George Kirk, were briefly caught
16 Governor Al Smith of New York ran for Democratic nomination for president in 1924, and as an Irish Catholic he suffered a sustained and vicious press campaign against him which also blatantly served to demonise New York and its immigrants. See: Robert A. Slayton. Empire Statesman: the rise and redemption of Al Smith. Simon & Schuster, 2001. 17
See my version in modern language in my book Tales of Lovecraftian Cats, 2010.
Victor Sage. Horror Fiction in the Protestant tradition. Macmillan, 1988. Chapter 2, “The Unwritten Tradition: Horror and the Rhetoric of Anti-Catholicism”, pp.26-69.
James S. Olson. The Ethnic Dimension in American History. Wiley, 2010. p.180-181.
Also a noted gay pick-up location of the 1920s.
21 Jay A. Gertzman. Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. p.321. The letters of George Kirk, one of the 114
up in the trade and Kirk once appeared in court. Weird Tales magazine also had its tangles with and worries about censorship. One thus wonders if the pulp writers “struck back” by carefully insinuating anti-Catholic aspects into their stories?
Newsstand in Manhattan, 1935. Photo by Berenice Abbott. Picture: New York Public Libraries.
In relation to this it may be notable that the city’s dance halls were then subject to a vociferous popular campaign which claimed they were haunts of Satan 22, which suggests the presence of some particularly dogmatic variants of Christianity in the city, obsessed with the Devil and ‘demons’. This would have relevance to the dance hall / church in Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red
Kalem Club, also give insight into this. He was arrested and charged in connection with obscene literature. 22 Ralph G. Giordano. Satan in the dance hall: Rev. John Roach Straton, social dancing, and morality in 1920s New York City. Scarecrow Press, 2008. The choice of a dance hall as the central setting of the horror in Lovecraft’s “The Horror At Red Hook” thus takes on a new aspect.
Hook”. Certainly in the 1920s the nation fantasised about New York as a hotbed of Roman Catholic ‘Popery’ 23 as a proxy for its fear of immigrants, and as I have said previously the horror novel has a long tradition of arising from anti-Popery feeling. 24 Lovecraft very occasionally seemed to like to have a poke at Catholics in his fiction, at times when they threatened him personally — for instance in the mid/ late 1920 when their pro-censorship crusades presumably also threatened Weird Tales… “These creatures attended a tumbledown stone church, used Wednesdays as a dance-hall, which reared its Gothic buttresses near the vilest part of the waterfront. It was nominally Catholic; but priests throughout Brooklyn denied the place all standing and authenticity, and policemen agreed with them when they listened to the noises it emitted at night.” — “The Horror at Red Hook” …and later in his “The Haunter of the Dark” when the Catholic church marred the precious view from his study window. 25 While he was always careful to distance the Catholic church from the buildings depicted as such loci of horror in these stories, his impish intent seems clear. In Lovecraft’s “The Mound” (1929-30) he also comments tersely on his view of the nature of Catholicism itself…
23 Governor Al Smith of New York ran for Democratic nomination for president in 1924, and suffered a sustained and vicious press campaign against him which also blatantly served to demonise New York and its immigrants. 24 From Beware the Cat! (c.1570) onwards. See: Victor Sage. Horror Fiction in the Protestant tradition. Macmillan, 1988. Chapter 2, “The Unwritten Tradition: Horror and the Rhetoric of Anti-Catholicism”, pp.26-69.
While not actually naming it in “The Haunter of the Dark” as a Catholic church, the imputation is clear from the large number of Irish and Italian names the story gives us when describing the area immediately around it. The story arose from a real Catholic church whose spire, seen dreamily adorning the skyline from Lovecraft’s study window, was destroyed by lightning and then capped by the church fathers rather than being rebuilt. 25
“In hinting of these things Zamacona displays for the first time that shocked and pious hesitancy which impairs the informative value of the rest of his manuscript. We cannot help regretting that the Catholic ardour of Renaissance Spain had so thoroughly permeated his thought and feeling.” — “The Mound” He generally seems to have confined his anti-Catholic ardor for his letters, and even then it is expressed only very sparsely in the letters I have read. Possibly he considered the centuries-long Protestant-Catholic conflict essentially ‘a battle won’ in civilisational terms, and not worth wasting time on. Yet there were instances, for example when Frank Long dallied with the idea of Catholicism in 1931, when he sent a stinging letter with phrases such as…“that incredible & anti-social anachronism called the Popish church”. Also, in the parody “Ibid” (1927) one reads of a Lovecraft character that… “he abhorred all that was Popish” In relation to the 1925 Stopes trial, he talks of… “Catholics stifling science in less benighted parts of the nation” 26
iii. Jewish mysticism Many Russian and Polish Jews came to America between 1880 and 1924, a great many settling in and New York City, and they brought their Kabbalah and other mystical and folkloric traditions with them to their new communities … “These immigrants had left behind one of the world’s preeminent Jewish communities, noted for fine rabbinical schools, prestigious rabbis, and strong mystical traditions. By and large, these immigrants maintained most of Judaism’s religious practices.” 27
26 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.150. 27 Colleen McDannell. Religions of the United States in practice. Princeton University Press, 2001. p.79
But apart from one brief tourist visit to the Yiddish Jewish area, where it appears he saw booksellers selling from street push-carts, Lovecraft appears to have had no contact with practicing Jews, especially not aged mystics who could probably speak very little English. Perhaps though, on his tour, he remembered the part of the novel The Monk (1797) where there is a … “cabbalistic ritual whereby the Wandering Jew helps him to fathom and banish his dead tormentor.” — H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature. There are signs of interest, in one story, while he is in New York. For instance, he uses the word in 1925 in his “The Horror at Red Hook”… “the Malone could not read much of it, but what he did decipher was portentous and cabbalistic enough” And the police detective in the story shows an interest in a pamphlet on the Kabbalah … “an out-of-print pamphlet of his on the Kabbalah […] Malone mentioned his admiration for Suydam’s old brochure on the Kabbalah and other myths” These references, together with the references in the story to Samael and Sepiroth… “When he spoke it was to babble of unlimited powers almost within his grasp, and to repeat with knowing leers such mystical words or names as “Sephiroth”, “Ashmodai”, and “Samaël”.” …seem to indicate that the Lilith in the story is meant to be the Jewish Lilith. Such references would also seem to indicate that Lovecraft had at least read the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on ‘Kabbalah’ by 1925, but probably not much more. Then in 1926 Lovecraft appears to develop his knowledge a little more in relation to the use of Jewish mysticism in fiction. He has this brief line in the essay that shows some awareness of and some sympathy to the existence of a relevant Jewish folklore of the Eastern European Yiddish-speaking immigrants… 118
“Jewish folklore has preserved much of the terror and mystery of the past, and when more thoroughly studied is likely to exert considerable influence on weird fiction.” —Supernatural Horror in Literature. In the same essay he also shows some awareness of Kabbalah and its scholarly nature, if only in passing… “The Middle Ages, steeped in fanciful darkness, gave it an enormous impulse toward expression; and East and West alike were busy preserving and amplifying the dark heritage, both of random folklore and of academically formulated magic and cabbalism, which had descended to them.” —Supernatural Horror in Literature. In 1926 or 1927 he does present a bookselling Jew as a character, albeit very briefly, in one unpublished fragment of fiction. He implies arcane knowledge on the part of the bookseller over what appears to be a lost copy The Necronomicon. This arcane and evil fictional book is somewhat improbably purchased cheap in a second-hand bookshop in “The Descendant” (1926?) thus… “… It was at a Jew’s shop in the squalid precincts of Clare Market, where he had often bought strange things before, and he almost fancied the gnarled old Levite smiled amidst tangles of beard as the great discovery was made. The bulky leather cover with the brass clasp had been so prominently visible, and the price was so absurdly slight. The one glimpse he had had of the title was enough to send him into transports, and some of the diagrams set in the vague Latin text excited the tensest and most disquieting recollections in his brain. He felt it was highly necessary to get the ponderous thing home and begin deciphering it, and bore it out of the shop with such precipitate haste that the old Jew chuckled disturbingly behind him.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “The Descendant”.
Lovecraft also has a very fleeting reference to the Kabbalah in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, although one gets the impression that he is just ‘throwing another spice in the pot’ by the use of the word… “the books in the special library of thaumaturgical, alchemical, and theological subjects which Curwen […] The bizarre collection, besides a host of standard works which Mr. Merritt was not too alarmed to envy, embraced nearly all the cabbalists, daemonologists, and magicians known to man; and was a treasure-house of lore in the doubtful realms of alchemy and astrology.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” (1927)
Overall it seems Lovecraft had very little awareness of the nature of Jewish mysticism, only knowing that it existed and had been used by some writers of the supernatural in various limited forms. Basically, it seems to me that he never really got very far beyond the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for ‘Kabbalah’.
iv. Spiritualism and the campaign against it The charlatanry of spiritualism had been ‘born’ in New York with the Hydsville Rappings of 1848, and had seen a great resurgence after the First World War as relatives tried to communicate with their dead loved ones. It was also tirelessly advocated by the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle. Lovecraft admired the Jewish escapologist and stage magician Ehrich Weiss aka ‘Houdini’ (1874-1926) for his debunking of spiritualists and other faux-mystic charlatans. 28 Houdini gave significant and lucrative ghost-writing work to Lovecraft, primarily in the form of the long story “Under The Pyramids” (1924), and he also socialised with Lovecraft in New
28 For a good account of these battles see: Kenneth Silverman. Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss. Harper , 1997.
York. Lovecraft had a further very healthy payment of $75 for a ghostwritten Houdini article attacking and debunking astrology.
Houdini article. Popular Science Monthly, November 1925.
Houdini’s sudden death due to a student prank, in 1926, put an end to the prospects of more collaborations and income — such as the planned The Cancer of Superstition (1926), a book debunking superstitious beliefs to be written in collaboration with Clifford Eddy Jr. and which was intended to appear under Houdini’s name. Lovecraft had apparently already drafted this in basic outline form, and had started researching magic and witchcraft for it. Houdini’s early death cut the project short, but some of the research may have surfaced in the Lovecraft story “The Horror at Red Hook”.
v. The New York Public Library The New York Public Library holdings were extensively used by Lovecraft, in working on various essays such as Supernatural Horror in Literature, and 121
also for the abandoned Houdini book on modern superstitions. He must also have taken the opportunity to regularly browse the new periodicals and journals of interest to him. He also undertook the reading of rare books on the history of Providence, such as Gertrude Selwyn Kimball’s Providence in Colonial Times (1912). This reference-only work was read over many evenings in the Genealogy Room, then… “At the northern end of the Main Reading Room is the room devoted to Local History and Genealogy (No. 328). The collection numbers about thirty thousand volumes.” 29
Genealogy and Local History reading room of the New York Public Library. Picture: Handbook of The New York Public Library, 1916. Public Domain.
Possibly this is the sort of “small genealogical reading-room” that Lovecraft had in mind when writing “The Dunwich Horror” just a few years later in 1928…
Handbook of The New York Public Library, 1916.
“The building was full of a frightful stench which Dr Armitage knew too well, and the three men rushed across the hall to the small genealogical reading-room whence the low whining came. For a second nobody dared to turn on the light, then Armitage summoned up his courage and snapped the switch. One of the three - it is not certain which - shrieked aloud at what sprawled before them among disordered tables and overturned chairs. […] The thing that lay half-bent on its side in a foetid pool of greenish-yellow ichor and tarry stickiness was almost nine feet tall, and the dog had torn off all the clothing and some of the skin. It was not quite dead, but twitched silently and spasmodically while its chest heaved in monstrous unison with the mad piping of the expectant whippoorwills outside. Bits of shoe-leather and fragments of apparel were scattered about the room…” — “The Dunwich Horror”. One even wonders if the nature of this depiction was perhaps Lovecraft’s literary revenge on some particularly annoying phlegmy and wheezing old cougher, such as he might have once had to endure in the room at the New York Public Library? Today the main Library has strong collections on esoteric magic, spiritualism and witchcraft, divination and Theosophy, as well as a nationally important archive of Lovecraft letters.
vii. Coney Island On Coney Island’s boardwalk, and in its many sideshows, the imagery of the occult and ‘the primitive’ became the stock-in-trade of the gaudiest entertainment. Lovecraft and his circle visited Coney Island more than once. There they would have seen, among the other amusements, classic fairground imagery of Chinese conjurers, slot-machine Indian fortune tellers, ghost trains, shrunken heads, mystical mazes, haunted houses, crystal ball seers, and the like. There were also many freak shows, usually fronted by garish
advertising pictures that evoked a kind of quasi-occult demonology. Here is Lovecraft on visiting in July 1925… “we observed many unusual things, including an open air circus & a ‘Room of Wonder’ which was advertised to upset all known rules of gravitation” 30
Luna Park at night, Coney Island. Circa 1910. Picture: Library of Congress.
viii. The gargoyles of New York One final aspect of the presence of the superstitious imaginary in New York City deserved mention. One might also point to the fact that… “The huge variety of nymphs, grotesques, demons, gargoyles, and other mysterious creatures carved into the facades of New York buildings is pretty astounding.” Ephemeral New York blog, 12th January 2011. I know almost nothing of the roots of Masonic beliefs, but it may be that some scholar has reliably traced gargoyles back to guilds of masons whose traditions recalled those of Egyptian sculpture at the time of Rome, perhaps via Byzantium? Lovecraft is likely to have made the Egyptian connection in his mind, when he saw the various monstrous creatures and faces adoring the buildings, in their squatting poses and types. Perhaps in the gargoyles of New York one might even detect one possible inspiration for the squatting figure of Cthulhu, especially the wings. Although the main elements of the
30 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.152-3.
figure — as described in its statuette form in “The Call of Cthulhu” — are probably from squatting Egyptian sculptures of the mythical figure of Bes with its very tentacle-like beard...
Ancient Egyptian squatting figure of Bes.
New York gargoyle with cat face and cat-like feet. Egypt venerated the cat. 125
ix. American Society of Psychical Research The headquarters of the American Society of Psychical Research was situated on West 73rd Street, dedicated to investigating reports of supernatural and also superhuman activity such as telepathy (ESP). The Society formed in 1885, and began research into ESP in 1924. There were apparently heavy crossovers with believers in spiritualism, and the group was prone to séances and splits. It published the Journal of the American Society of Psychical Research. There is no known link with Lovecraft.
The séance of a spirit medium, as imagined by early Hollywood. Picture: Public Domain.
The commercialization of the occult
But increasingly the occult could simply not compete, on an organisational or presentational level, for the attentions of the young. The occult was difficult, learned, scholarly or pseudo-scholarly, slow. Often it was muddled and incoherent. It was presided over by old people. The thrills were few, and the 126
forbidden knowledge (if such even existed and was worth having) a long way off for a young novitiate. Some who would otherwise have found mysticism or the occult found new secular beliefs in the form of anarchism, socialism or communism. Others found what they needed in eugenics, race-thinking, vegetarianism, free-love, and the varieties of socialism that were then moving toward being proto-fascist. Many Greenwich Village artists made new deities of the Id and the unconscious and similar concepts from Freud and his followers. The more retiring, bookish and imaginative of the 1920s generation required quicker doses of the marvelous, the mysterious, and the awesome than any rigid system of belief or fractious pseudo-science could provide. As the old Christian religion melted away under the hot lights of New York City, a new space opened up in which the symbols and systems of belief, fear and punishment, all the panoply of the techniques for the inculcation of belief, were now available for all to play with and re-combine. Whereas the Gothic had merely been able to play with the demise of folk superstitions and dogmatic belief among the intelligentsia, now it must have seemed that all the world’s myths, superstitions and formal religions were one giant play-box, whose parts were suddenly tipped out and jumbled on the floor and up for grabs. 31 Science fiction, modern weird fiction, the early superheroes, all these ‘new gods’ of popular entertainment were born as popular entertainment at around this moment. Lovecraft was very much in the right place at the right time, in that respect. In another respect, by 1926 he was in the wrong place. Entertainment plots had started to be formularized with Wycliffe A. Hill’s Ten Million Photoplay Plots (1919). The “pulp style of plotting” in the mystery pulps dates to about 1923 and was becoming strongly established by 1926. The pulps also shifted strongly toward “action” stories, presumably to compete with the increasingly alluring range of movies and radio then on offer. A semi-industrial assembly-line approach began to take hold. Writers had to write what sold, and a semi-mechanised approach to help them do this emerged with the aid of William Wallace Cook’s book Plotto: The Master 31
Frowning and tutting noises from the Catholic church not withstanding.
Book of All Plots (1928) and later Wycliffe A. Hill’s extensive The Plot Genie series (from 1930). Soon there would also be magazines devoted to single heroes, The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Spider, powered by one-man writing machines like Lester Dent, who used the carefully constructed index and randomization methods of Cook and Hill for constructing pulp plots, based on an extensive analysis of what sold and what readers liked. This process was also occurring in the middle-market, and there it was expertly skewered by Edward J. O’Brien (much to Lovecraft’s delight) in his book The Dance of the Machines (1929). 32 O’Brien talks of publisher ‘fever charts’ in mainstream fiction magazines that assiduously record the audience’s reactions to stories written to formula. This semi-mechanised method was one small part of the developing dream machine that New York was becoming, as it formulated a new industrial revolution in the manufacture and sale of desires and fantasies. This approach to writing was also one aspect of the manic desire for magic getrich-quick schemes that flourished in the late 1920s, especially in New York. Historically, Lovecraft arrived in and bailed out of New York at just the right moments. By 1927 the party was essentially over, but the manic behavior would continue on a kind of automatic-pilot to reach ever more absurd heights until the eventual psychological and financial crash of 1929. One legacy of that manic rush to modernity would be the new assembly-line approach to making the potent thrills of popular culture.
Edward J. O’Brien. The Dance of the Machines: The American Short Story and the Industrial Age. MacCaulay, 1929.
Times Square at night, 1920s. Picture: Library of Congress.
9 : ON H.P. LOVECRAFT AND FRANZ BOAS My thanks to Martin A. and Jim J. for two useful factual corrections to this essay, in regard to Boas’s expedition to the Central Eskimo.
here may have been connections, if only in Lovecraft’s mind, between
T occult mysticism and charlatanry and the new types of ethnographic
investigations then emerging in American anthropology. This essay explores these conceptions in relation to two key Lovecraft stories of the mid 1920s, and also looks at Lovecraft’s possible attitudes to some of the claims of Franz Boas about ancient African civilisations.
Lovecraft weaves the character of a charlatan anthropologist into his long New York story “The Horror at Red Hook” (1925). There is something very antagonistic in Lovecraft’s portrayal of Robert Suydam, something that goes beyond simply making Suydam ‘the bad guy’ 1 of a pulp horror story, and which seems to reflect Lovecraft’s distrust of the then emerging sociologicalethnographic ‘type’ of researcher. Of Suydam he writes… “he freely admitted the queerness of demeanour and extravagant cast of language into which he had fallen through excessive devotion to study and research. He was, he said, engaged in the investigation of certain details of European tradition which required the closest contact with foreign groups and their songs and folk dances. The notion that any low secret society was preying upon him, as hinted by his relatives, was obviously absurd; and shewed how sadly limited was their understanding of him and his work.” — “The Horror at Red Hook”. 1 He might also be easily read as a hero who lays down his life to infiltrate the cult and destroy the pillar of Lilith.
Lovecraft here shows us an ethnographer who conceals ulterior motives under a cloak of respectability. 2 There actually were such cases 3 in the 1910s, and the practice seems to have been quite extensive in the U.S. 4 , although of course it would be unfair to tar all such researchers of the period with the same brush. As it happens though, later controversies over the ethnographic work of researchers such as Mead and Malinowski have indeed cast more than a few shadows over early ethnography 5 , and there does seem to be support for Lovecraft’s skepticism from at least one modern scholar of the history of such ideas in America … “its central methodological values have long been sustained by stories and beliefs that have something of the character of myth”
This brings me to a key, and as yet unanswered, question in Lovecraft’s biography. S.T. Joshi crucially points out that while Lovecraft assiduously tried to keep up with most of other advances in scientific knowledge, he did not follow the new ideas on race emerging in anthropology. He knew about Lovecraft, with his interest in antiquity, may have read the work of Ephraim George Squier from the 1890s. Squier railed against the credulity given to ‘ancient’ American hoax discoveries made by what he called “charlatans and fools” among ethnographers and archaeologists. The tradition of ethnographic hoaxes in America continued into the 1960s with the works of Carlos Castaneda. 2
3 Anthropology does indeed appear to have been used as a cover for the purposes of political espionage. For a case in Mexico in 1917, which surfaced publically, see: Charles Houston Harris, Louis R. Sadler, The Archaeologist was a Spy. University of New Mexico Press, 2003.
Franz Boas believed this was a common practice, and published the article “Scientists as Spies” on the subject in 1919. “Boas implicated many others” writes Elazar Barkan in The Retreat of Scientific Racism, Cambridge University Press, 1993. p.90. 4
5 On the apparent tendency for these new anthropologist ethnographers to distort and mislead, see the later hot debates over Malinowski’s diaries, and the fieldwork of Margaret Mead, among others. Boas also faked some of his Eskimo photographs. There was also criticism of the scholarship of Margaret Murray from the early 1960s.
George W. Stocking. The Ethnographer’s Magic and other essays in the history of anthropology. University of Wisconsin Press, p.278. Stocking is here talking of the entire early profession in the America of the 1920s, and not simply Mead and Malinowski. Boas himself is now known to have faked some of his Arctic photographs – on this see: Robert G. David. The Arctic in the British imagination, 1818-1914. Manchester University Press. p.16. 6
and drew upon earlier evolutionary, eugenicist, and scientific racialist thinking in this area, ideas which were very widely publicised and fully worked-out in the 1920s. 7 But Joshi states that Lovecraft completely ignored the new race theory work of those early thinkers such as the Columbia professor of anthropology Franz Boas (1858-1942) who — in a rather contradictory 8 and antiquated 9 manner — had in the 1910s and Barbara Foley. Spectres of 1919: class and nation in the making of the new Negro. University of Illinois Press, 2003. p.152. Foley writes... 7
“The scientific racists enjoyed almost unlimited backing in the mass media. While Boas and company were publishing in the Dial [a modernist magazine that folded in 1929] and the Nation [a leftist magazine], as well as scientific journals with even less of a popular audience, the Saturday Evening Post, the largest circulation magazine in the country, brought to its two million readers — for weeks on end — the wisdom of Kenneth Roberts and Lothrop Stoddard. [Also, as] the statements of Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge [major politicians of the time] make clear, racist antiradicalism received unequivocal support from the ruling elite in the early 1920s.” One can also show that the eugenics lobby, increasingly discredited as it was in terms of racial categories, persisted strongly into the 1930s in presenting fully-developed theories. 8 Leonard B. Glick. “Types Distinct from Our Own: Franz Boas on Jewish Identity and Assimiliation”. American Anthropologist, 84, 1982, pp.545-565. Many other works on Boas point out the contradictions and archaisms in his various stances, especially on race. Boas was often misunderstood in the 1920s, even in the limited publications and venues where his work appeared. It appears that for some white readers he actually confirmed their prejudices (see: Khalil Gibran Muhammad. The Condemnation of Blackness, Harvard University. Press, p.112) and Glick points out that he could easily be read as an assimilationist at that time. In 1943 Leslie White criticised his apparently lack of coherence as a... “planless hodge-podge-ism” – given in the afterword “The Passion of Franz Boas” in the Transaction edition of Boas’s Anthropology & Modern Life.
In 1908 Boas began using ‘physical anthropology’ methods, measuring the skulls of Jewish children in New York, moving on to measuring the heads of new arrivals at the Ellis Island immigration centre in New York. He then recruited assistants and spread out to measure head size in New York’s immigrant districts. He claimed rapid adaptation of skull type to a new American norm. He published in “Changes in Bodily Forms of Descendants of Immigrants” (1910/12). To the modern reader the idea of such very rapid physical adaptation to new environments in one generation might smack of the Soviet Lysenkoite charlatanry of the 1930s, the worst excesses of craniometry (measuring of skulls and inferring intelligence from brain size) in 19th century scientific racism, and would seem to confirm its opposite the 19th century ‘degeneration’ theory. Yet the theory of such human ‘plasticity’ still apparently holds in modern anthropology and bioarcheology, since the physical evidence is apparently overwhelming. Such measuring of brain size and the idea of rapid ‘one-generation’ skull plasticity, however, led Boas to be publically misinterpreted in various ways at the time. One can 132 9
1920s begun the effort of undermining racist frameworks in science. S.T. Joshi ascribes this ignorance, specifically of the new Boasian anthropology after 1930, to Lovecraft’s own conscious racialist prejudices and beliefs. 10 That may be so, especially after 1930. But I think it is worth exploring exactly what Lovecraft felt and could have known about anthropology in the 1920s, to see if this may illuminate his later ignorance of Boasian anthropology and the new conceptions of race.
Let me start by pointing out that in Lovecraft’s seminal “The Call of Cthulhu”, a work plotted in New York and written very shortly after his New York period, he appears greatly enamored of the idea of the anthropologist. The story presents both the anthropologist-explorer and the psychotherapeutic dream analyst in a positive light. 11 Indeed, Lovecraft imagines himself
as a potential anthropologist, and moreover as an old-
style anthropologist — a sort of detective-adventurer on the trail of ancient cults… “I felt sure that I was on the track of a very real, very secret, and very ancient religion whose discovery would make me an anthropologist of note. My attitude was still one of absolute materialism, as I wish it still were, and I discounted with almost inexplicable perversity the understand why, if one were to read certain passages from Boas on “negro brain size” out of context. S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus, 2010. p.939. Joshi finds no evidence for Lovecraft ever mentioning Boas. However, R.E. Howard’s Lovecraftian “The Children of the Night” (1931) does mention that: “Boaz has demonstrated, for instance, that in the case of immigrants to America, skull formations often change in one generation”. 10
One might even see his night walks in New York as a kind of psychoanalytic dreamanalysis combined with ethnographic exploration.
12 His reference in this story to visiting his fellow member of the Kalem Club James F. Morton clearly places Lovecraft as the narrator here... “I had largely given over my inquiries into what Professor Angell called the “Cthulhu Cult”, and was visiting a learned friend in Paterson, New Jersey; the curator of a local museum and a mineralogist of note.” Morton was also the author of the book “The Curse of Race Prejudice”, and his racial interests no doubt gave him insight into the then-current ethnological debates.
coincidence of the dream notes and odd cuttings collected by Professor Angell.” We see here an interesting link between dream analysis/psychoanalysis and anthropology, presented as one which fundamentally structures the first third of “The Call of Cthulhu”. Possibly Lovecraft had considered the chances of some minor employment in that field, since at that time anthropology was not yet a profession that required a university education. Like archeology in the 1920s, anthropology was an ‘adventurer’ profession which seems to have been open to anyone who wanted to claim themselves to be such 13 and who could claim a major discovery. Although it was on the verge of becoming more respectable, especially for those few who were talented enough to have a record of being hired for various state-funded projects among native peoples. Franz Boas was a major driving force for the professionalisation of the activity, and had headed some of the biggest anthropological expeditions the world had then seen, such as the Jesup Expedition (1897-1902). I can now show that Boas seems to make an ‘appearance’ in “The Call of Cthulhu”, further strengthening the links the story has to traditional American anthropology. I have found a very probable allusion in Lovecraft's “The Call of Cthulhu” to Franz Boas. Boas had done fieldwork (during 1884-85) among the Baffin Island Eskimos, as published in the book The Central Eskimo (1888). The book included extensive coverage of native beliefs and myths, which would have made it doubly interesting to Lovecraft, since he was also fascinated by the Polar Regions. Lovecraft gives the reader a rather similar character to Boas in a cameo appearance in “Cthulhu”... “This person was the late William Channing Webb 14 , Professor of Anthropology in Princeton University, and an explorer of no slight note. Professor Webb had been engaged, forty-eight years before, in Anthropology/ethnography emerged as an accredited academic discipline in the 1920s, before which most practitioners came to it from fields other than science. 13
14 There may also be a possible link to the William Henry Channing (1810-1884) of Rhode Island. Like Boas, Channing strongly espoused the cause of ‘negro emancipation’.
a tour of Greenland and Iceland in search of some Runic 15 inscriptions which he failed to unearth; and whilst high up on the West Greenland coast had encountered a singular tribe or cult of degenerate Esquimaux [Eskimo] whose religion, a curious form of devil-worship, chilled him with its deliberate bloodthirstiness and repulsiveness. It was a faith of which other Esquimaux knew little, and which they mentioned only with shudders, saying that it had come down from horribly ancient aeons before ever the world was made. Besides nameless rites and human sacrifices there were certain queer hereditary rituals addressed to a supreme elder devil or tornasuk 16 ; and of this Professor Webb had taken a careful phonetic copy from an aged angekok or wizard-priest, expressing the sounds in Roman letters as best he knew how. But just now of prime significance was the fetish which this cult had cherished, and around which they danced when the aurora leaped high over the ice cliffs. It was, the professor stated, a very crude bas-relief of stone 17 , comprising a hideous picture and some cryptic writing.” The conference in “The Call of Cthulhu” is described as being held in 1908... Incidentally, Lovecraft may have been correct on the Runic aspect. Other ethnographers such as Rink had noted that... “In South Greenland the memory of the contests between the Eskimo and the Norsemen which took place between 1379 and 1450 survives” ...which gives the runic link. See also: E.B. Tylor, “Old Scandinavian Civilisation among the Modern Esquimaux”, 1884. 15
The Tornasuk is found only in Greenland, and not among the Central Eskimos thus partly confirming Lovecraft’s use of a religious division between tribes. Lovecraft’s spelling of tornasuk, rather than Boas’s ‘Tornasukk’ given with two kk’s, seems common in the literature of the 1860s through to 1905 on Eskimo beliefs. For instance it is given with one ‘k’ in an article on the beliefs in “The Universe of the Esquimaux in Greenland” in The Astronomical Register vol.XIV, nos.157 to 168, Jan. to Dec., 1876– 1877: “According to the tradition of the Esquimaux, the whole world is inhabited by demons; but these are under the control of a superior being named Tornasuk”. The same spelling is used in an article in Pearson's magazine (1905), and in the popular book The Living Races of Mankind: a popular illustrated account (1902). 16
17 Lovecraft is also correct on the idea of special stones. The Greenland shamans had special stones at which the new shaman gained control of a spirit. See: Wendell H. Oswalt. Eskimos and Explorers. University of Nebraska Press, 1999. pp.92-93.
“1908, seventeen years before, when the American Archaeological Society held its annual meeting in St. Louis”. This date is another relevant link to Franz Boas, since he gave the keynote opening address 18 at the 1908 International Congress of Americanists, titled “The Results of the Jesup Expedition”, a report on his massive expedition to document sub-Arctic native cultures. There thus seems to be four significant points of correspondence between the character of Webb and Franz Boas: professorship at a major university; expedition to Eskimos; contact with their shamans; and the 1908 date of the Boas speech at a similarly-named conference. One further and more tangential link arises from the fact that the Jesup Expedition was a very major collector of meteorites, something which would certainly have aroused Lovecraft’s astronomical interest... “In September 1897 a triumphant Peary [of the Jesup Expedition] sailed his ship Hope into the Brooklyn shipyard [Navy Yard] with 100 tons of metorites on board, including the monster known as Alnighito.” 19 See also other points in the story (see my footnotes 15 through 17) that suggest Lovecraft had done a little more research than simply reading a page in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Lovecraft was very aware of anthropology during his New York stay — as evidenced in the figure of Suydam in “The Horror at Red Hook”, and the Boas/Webb figure and his own ambitions as expressed in “The Call of Cthulhu”. Possibly this awareness arose from multiple sources: the many trips to and browsing in the great New York museums and libraries; his library research for the debunking Houdini book Cancer of Superstition
Reported in the American Journal of Archaeology, 1909.
David Hurst Thomas. Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity. Basic Books, 2001. p.79. ‘Alnighito’ was from Greenland, a fragment of the massive 200-ton Cape York meteorite. It landed about 2,000 years ago.
(1926); possibly also the impact of his conversations with the museum curator, black rights advocate and Kalem Club member James F. Morton. 20 The combination of dream analysis and anthropological discovery in “The Call of Cthulhu”, and the depiction of the pseudo-anthropologist in “The Horror at Red Hook”, seem to be contradictory. This apparent contradiction now points the way to an interesting line of further investigation. Did Lovecraft associate the new type of ethnographic anthropologists then emerging in the early/mid 1920s with what he understood to be quasimystics in psychology/psychoanalysis? He could have. There had certainly been much talk of “psychological anthropology” in the 1910s and 20s, including from Franz Boas himself, which must have served to muddy to waters in terms of causing the intelligent layman to conflate the new psychology / psychoanalysis and the new ethnography. 21 Lovecraft may have been vaguely aware of the growing divide in anthropology in the mid 1920s between local anthropological societies of archaeologists, antiquarians and historians on the one hand, and the emerging theoretical and university-accredited ethnographers under Boas on the other. 22 This may be what we see played out in the different attitudes shown in the two stories in question. Yet on the evidence I have found in “The Call of Cthulhu”, Lovecraft seems not to know enough about the details of the academic debate to associate the new ethnographic approaches with Franz Boas by 1926. If I am correct then in the mid 1920s he still
20 There may have been other, earlier sources, arising from Lovecraft’s interest in folklore. Here there is another Franz Boas link. Boas had become the editor of the Journal of American Folklore in 1908, and regularly wrote articles in it, which may have brought his name to the attention of the young Lovecraft who was 18 in 1908. I am told informally that the Providence public library carried this journal.
There were also growing links between psychology /psychiatry and social ‘science’ in the mid 1920s, especially in Chicago, and with Marxism in the figure of Wilhelm Reich. 21
There would seem to have been at that time a growing split in the U.S. between older local anthropological societies of archaeologists, antiquarians and historians on the one hand, and the emerging younger theoretical and university-accredited ethnographers on the other. See Thomas Carl Patterson, A social history of anthropology in the United States. Berg, 2003. 22
associates Boas simply with what he has read of Boas’s Eskimo explorations of the 1880s. Any antagonism toward the new anthropology, as seen in the figure of Suydam in “The Horror at Red Hook” in 1925, therefore seems unlikely to rest on an antagonism towards Boas himself or to his increasingly political project of a new anthropology. Might such an antagonism then instead have arisen because Lovecraft believed that there was a psychoanalysis-ethnography link? 23 If he had considered the matter then he would have become skeptical of such links for a number of reasons: he had already investigated and rejected the new psychoanalysis; anyone in cultural circles at that time knew of the clear link between psychoanalysis-ethnography and modernist art via the eclectic adoption of both by the New York bohemians; and possibly he may have known of the occult tendencies of some prominent psychoanalysis practitioners such as Jung. I will now briefly explore each of these in turn.
While it is well known that Lovecraft had a strong interest in dreams and their interpretation, he had little regard for Freud and his followers once he had learned enough about them 24 to make a judgment... “HPL [Lovecraft] always maintained a certain scorn for the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud, although recognising their revolutionary import upon culture” 25 23 It does not matter if Lovecraft was factually incorrect in his understand in terms of what we now know, merely that he believed it at that time. Yet it now seems he was broadly correct in this assumption of a connection, although there were very many points of dispute between the two.
Seemingly by reading second-hand sources and book reviews. He seems never to have read them in the English translations, other perhaps than as extracts, but only read others summaries and opinions of them. In “Beyond The Wall of Sleep” (1919) he talks of... “Freud [...] with his puerile symbolism”, and by 1921 he seems to have dismissed Freud and his followers as useless, while implying that they were usefully having galvanising effects on cultural production among the more gullible modernist artists and writers. In 1926 he wrote to his aunt... “I don’t believe you will find much sound science in Freud’s [book] Dream Psychology  … many of his hypotheses can be punctured quite readily” - S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.258.
He abandoned interest in the new psychology/psychoanalysis around 1921, judging the ideas to be inapplicable to either life, dreams or literature. Presumably he did not follow them closely enough thereafter to distinguish or care to distinguish between the positions of Freud, Jung, and others. This lack of discrimination was relatively common in America at that time… “This mélange of Freud and Jung was not uncommon, particularly in the 1920s, when “to many outsiders Freud was merely the first among equals” and the “new” psychoanalytical thinking often was an eclectic mix of Alder, Freud and Jung.” 26 This pick-and-mix approach fueled the fantasies of the modernists in art in their new-found adoration of ‘the primitive’ 27 and by extension of the supernatural and irrational, seen in… “the ecstatic, Bergson- and Freud-inspired fantasies of de Zayas and other “high modernists” 28 The modernist emphasis on the primitive, clearly linked to both ethnography and psychoanalysis, was also present in the visual arts and dance… “use of ethnographic material, however, was central to the development of modernism both in the visual arts and choreography” 29
S.T. Joshi, The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature. Hippocampus Press, 2000. p.77.
Badia Sahar Ahad. Freud Upside Down: African American Literature and Psychoanalytic Culture. University of Illinois Press, 2010. p.27. 26
Also deeply associated with the new psychology of Freud and Jung.
Janet Witalec. The Harlem Renaissance. Gale, 2003. p.75. See also Lovecraft in “The Call of Cthulhu”... “although the vagaries of cubism and futurism are many and wild ...”. 28
29 Ramsay Burt. Alien Bodies: Representations of Modernity, Race and Nation in Early Modern Dance. Routledge, p.141. Admittedly, this may have related more to museum collections rather than the new academic ethnographic imagination, but the usage was validated by academic discourses.
…and ethnography, as well as psychoanalysis, even influenced realist literature — according to Michael A. Elliott, who wrote in 2002 of … “... recent [scholarly] efforts to link American literary production with the anthropological concept of culture. Marc Manganaro, Walter Benn Michaels, and Susan Hegeman have all insisted upon the importance of [Boasian] cultural anthropology to the literary modernism of the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.”
There is thus a strong mix in the mid 1920s between the new ethnography and psychoanalysis 31 in culture, which must have been apparent to all. Lovecraft’s antagonism to modernism must have been part and parcel with an antagonism to its fellow travelers. 32 It seems that this is where the antagonism evident in “The Horror at Red Hook” partly arises from. There is also some suspicion of the ethnographic/psychoanalytic research method, given in “The Call of Cthulhu”. When the narrator, who is Lovecraft by proxy, suspects that… “lacking their original letters, I half suspected the compiler [of an adhoc but scientific summary of widely disparate dream/nightmare accounts] of having asked leading questions, or of having edited the 30 Michael A. Elliott. The Culture Concept: writing and difference in the Age of Realism. University of Minnesota Press, 2002. p.17. 31 There were also strong academic links, of which Lovecraft would very probably have been unaware. Jung’s Psychological Types, translated into English and published in 1923, causing much excitement among the new ethnographers at that time (see: The Ethnographer’s Magic and other essays in the history of anthropology. University of Wisconsin Press, p.298). Jung was receiving sympathetic reviews from Boas-associated ethnographers such as Sapir. Boas and Jung were apparently important to the each other’s reception in the 1920s (see: Sonu Shamdasani. Jung and the making of modern psychology: the dream of a science. Cambridge University Press, 2003. p.276. Although apparently in 1920 Boas had doubts on the applicability of psychoanalysis across different races). Boas and Jung had spoken together on the same platform at conferences - presumably this was reported in America in leftist intellectual journals such as The Nation and academic journals. 32 After he wrote “The Call of Cthulhu” he may have seen reviews of Franz Boas’s new book Primitive Art (1927).
correspondence in corroboration of what he had latently resolved to see.” — “The Call of Cthulhu”. There is also an implication of charlatanry in the mention of Freud in “From Beyond” (1934) in which the villain Crawford Tillinghast opines… “You have heard of the pineal gland? I laugh at the shallow endocrinologist, fellow-dupe and fellow-parvenu 33 of the Freudian. That gland is the great sense organ…” — “From Beyond”.
One final possibility for a source of this antagonism toward psychoanalysis deserves a quick glance, although it seems an unlikely one. Lovecraft would have been especially leery of the melding of the new ethnography and psychoanalysis if he had learned of Jung’s regular use of astrology. This was used by Jung from the early 1910s 34 onwards, and astrology was a superstitious practice Lovecraft wholly despised… “Jung attempted to provide a scientific basis for the use of astrology in psychology […] according to Jung and the many astrologers who followed him the planets and stars (zodiac) represent universal principles reflected in aspects of human psychological makeup […] a knowledge of one’s horoscope can provide self-insight and offer solutions to psychological problems” 35 This would have been like a ‘red rag to a bull’ to a skeptical astrologyloathing astronomer as Lovecraft, if he had read of it in the popular science magazines or seen it ridiculed in the various astronomy journals he read. He
Parvenu: someone of humble origins who has rapidly risen to wealth and celebrity. The word was once often used alongside ‘upstart’ or ‘charlatan’. 33
Jung: “My evenings are taken up largely with astrology [...] I make horoscopic calculations in order to find a clue to the core of psychological truth” – Jung to Freud, 12th June 1911. “I must say that I very often found that the astrological data elucidated certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand” – Jung to Raman, June 1948. 34
35 Entry on ‘Astrology’ in: David Adams Leeming, et al. Encyclopaedia of Psychology and Religion, Volume 2. Springer, 2009. p.73.
might also have heard of Jung’s use of astrology from those in his circle, or from bohemians at his favourite Double-R Coffee House in New York. 36 Perhaps even from Houdini, who was always alert to such dubious practices, who in 1925 had very recently travelled in Europe, and who had commissioned Lovecraft during his New York years to write a book attacking contemporary superstitions. There was also apparently a good deal of spiritualism in Jung 37 and Lovecraft loathed spiritualism as much as astrology. These are all interesting possibilities, but nothing more — as there appears to be no evidence of Lovecraft ever wrote about Jung directly. 38 The presentation of the dream ‘analysis’ sessions and the ethnographic collecting of dreams in “The Call of Cthulhu” does seems quite benign, and does not suggest an antagonism on Lovecraft’s part. Though it should be noted that these sessions — while resembling psychotherapy sessions — are undertaken not by a psychotherapist, but by Professor Angell who is described as an elderly scientific archeologist. 39
36 A haunt of the Greenwich Village crowd, and queer meeting place. Freud was then closely associated with sex, and Caroline Farrar Ware in her 1934 memoir of the Village recalls those who would... “preface their seductions with chapter and verse from Freud”. Caroline Farrar Ware. Greenwich Village, 1920-1930. University of California Press, 1994. p.256. 37 See: F.X. Charet. Spiritualism and the foundations of C.G. Jung’s psychology. State University of New York Press, 1993. 38 “Lovecraft’s letters show that he was well aware of Jung’s theory [of the unfolding psyche and its fundamental conflicts]” writes Mosig. See: Dirk W. Mosig. “The Four Faces of The Outsider”, in: Darrell Schweitzer, Discovering H.P. Lovecraft. Borgo Press, 2001. p.21. But apparently Jung only appears in the Letters in list form along with other psychoanalysts – my thanks to Martin Andersson for the latter information in Aug 2011: “HPL mentions Jung in passing in Selected Letters III a few times, but always in lists of names of psychoanalysts, not by himself”. 39 “George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages in Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island”, but his papers are published in archaeological journals and he is clearly someone involved in the study of antiquity.
here was another element that could have led Lovecraft into some
T skepticism about Franz Boas at some time after 1926. It had to do with very ancient history. Boas described some ancient sub-Saharan black African civilisations 40 in glowing terms, these civilisations being said to have been based on iron technology invented before the ancient Egyptians or Anatolians… “it seems likely that at a time when the European was still satisfied with rude stone tools, the African had invented or adopted the art of smelting iron [...] It seems not unlikely that the people who made the marvelous discovery of reducing iron ores by smelting were the African Negroes” 41 Ideas about ancient civilisations were always of interest to Lovecraft, and he sought them out. Including African ones. 42 But the notion of ancient civilisations in sub-Saharan Africa was then a very new and academically unsupported idea in America 43 , and even today Boas’s early ideas on the topic can be described as an early and somewhat ungrounded form of “intellectual philanthropy” … “But while Boas often engaged in a form of intellectual philanthropy with African American organizations and spoke in glowing terms about ancient African civilizations, he limited his work along these lines.” 44 40 Expounded from 1904 onwards. See George Hutchinson. The Harlem renaissance in black and white. Harvard University Press, 1996. p.63.
Boas in an article titled “Old African Civilizations”, in Atlanta University Studies, No.20 (1916). Boas talks about more than iron, of course, pointing to Ghana, Mali and Songhia.
S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.256.
43 William Leo Hansbury (1894-1965) taught the first college class at Howard University... “on ancient African civilizations in 1922” - Jerry Gershenhorn. Melville J. Herskovits and the racial politics of knowledge. University of Nebraska Press, 2004. p.172. 44 Lee D. Baker, “Research, Reform, and Racial Uplift”. In: Richard Handler (Ed.). Excluded Ancestors, Inventible Traditions: Essays Toward a More Inclusive History of Anthropology. University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. p.73. 143
“Ultimately, Boas’s reassessment of African history was written with an eye to the present: he looks to the past in order to improve race relations in his contemporary America.” 45 Boas’s claims about ancient sub-Saharan black African civilizations then seem to have been made crucial to his new and wider ideas on race and culture… “Boas’s key intellectual move was to argue based on anthropological evidence, citing the historic achievements of African civilizations before European colonization, that there was no “close relation between race and culture.” Instead, the future of the Negro would be determined not by a biological imperative but “on the basis of history and social status”, a history, Boas insisted, that was civilized and prosperous before European contact.” 46 If Lovecraft had then read the actual specifics of the ‘sub-Saharan African iron’ civilization assertion by Boas, he might have been even more skeptical of the wider claims then derived from and based on it. Boas argued that German scholars had uncovered strong non-archeological evidence for traditions of basic forms of iron making (i.e.: directly from the ore) in subSaharan Africa, thus making it a practice which may have pre-dated the more advanced types of iron making invented in Anatolia. Boas was referring to the scholarship in the first volume of Ludwig Beck’s untranslated Die Geschichte des Eisens in technischer und kultur-geschichtlicher Beziehung 47 [The History of Iron] (1891). Beck, drawing on the research of several Africanists and Egyptologists, had written…
Rachel Farebrother. The collage aesthetic in the Harlem Renaissance. Ashgate, 2009. p.32.
46 Khalil Gibran Muhammad. The Condemnation of Blackness. Harvard University Press, 2010. p.111. 47 Beck is not to be confused with his son, who served Hitler as Chief of the German General Staff in the 1930s.
“we see everywhere [today] an original art of producing iron among the numerous native tribes of Africa, which is in its entire essence not imported but original and […] must be very old.” 48 This work did not give archeological evidence, because in the 1920s… “there was no archeological evidence as yet of very early ironworking in sub-Saharan Africa” 49 By 1950 there was still none, and… “Decades of research had revived and reinforced the classical belief that iron smelting originated in Anatolia” [i.e.: the Ancient Greek city states there, now modern Turkey] 50 If Lovecraft had read Boas’s claims in the 1920s or 30s, then he would have been able to bring a certain amount of knowledge to bear on the topic. 51 As someone generally interested in archeology and ancient civilizations, he may have known of the complete lack of archeological evidence for sub-Saharan iron working in ancient times. He might have seen Boas’s idea picked up by popular science magazines or seen some rebuttals by U.S. archeologists in more learned publications — although if there was a debate on this topic in the 1920s and 30s then I am not able to access it in the relevant archives because these are closed to me due to cost factors. 52
Thanks to Stanley B. Alpern’s paper (see below) for the translation.
49 Stanley B. Alpern. “Iron in Sub-Saharan Africa”, History in Africa, Volume 32, 2005. p.45.
Stanley B. Alpern. “Iron in Sub-Saharan Africa”, History in Africa, Volume 32, 2005. p.44. 50
51 As an astronomer and an amateur student of the history of Ancient Egypt, would have doubly known, for instance, of the Ancient Egyptian working of meteoritic iron. As a youth he had researched and written a treatise on “Iron Working” (now lost).
Sadly I have not been able to find such via open search tools. Historians in this area may know of debates on this topic that might have reached the sort of journals read by Lovecraft. I have found one article that states of Boas... “His reputation began to be seriously questioned by the 1940s” - Herbert S. Lewis, “Boas, Darwin, Science, and Anthropology”, Current Anthropology, Vol.42, No.3, June 2001. p.381. 52
That said, Lovecraft does show a complete pig-headedness when he was faced with vivid and extensive first-hand accounts of exploring the Zimbabwe ruins in Africa, heard directly from his friend Edward Lloyd Sechrist in December 1925. In his letters Lovecraft sent to his aunt about this recounting, he runs through every possible Near Eastern or other ‘white’ race of antiquity as the potential builders, except for the Africans themselves. He cannot attribute the ruins to ‘the negro’, and he reflects on Sechrist’s points on repairs over time as being significant… “…repairs [to the ruins over the centuries] showing less & less skill, as the white man faded and mixed with the black tribes” 53
Possibly Lovecraft knew nothing of Boas’s ‘African iron’ claims, and cared little for the tangle of interactions between modernism, ethnography and psychoanalysis. Like many in the USA, he did not read the correct modernist journals such as the Dial in the 1920s or the leftist The Nation in the 30s, where such ideas commonly appeared 54 or the journal American Anthropologist and the like. He could thereby have missed key specialist books such as Melville J. Herskovits’s study of the ‘physical anthropology’ (i.e.: body and head measurement) of black people in The American Negro: a study in racial crossing (1928) 55 , or Zora Neale Hurston’s later study of African American folklore Mules and Men (1935). Nor, it seems, would he have been able to find a library textbook with the new approach to race before 1938, as the Italian Lovecraft scholars have also pointed out that [my translation] ... “The first authoritative textbook published in the United States in which ethnic groups are talked about without drawing hierarchical 53 S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.256. 54 Barbara Foley. Spectres of 1919: class and nation in the making of the new Negro. University of Illinois Press, 2003. p.152. The Dial folded in 1929.
As a study of miscegenation and its physical effects, this might have been of interest to Lovecraft.
evaluations is General Anthropology edited by Franz Boas which appeared in the middle of 1938, i.e. more than a year after the death of Lovecraft.”
Herskovits’s influential The Myth of the Negro Past did not appear until 1941, several years after Lovecraft’s death. Perhaps, as a ‘proud subject of the King’, Lovecraft took the lead of the British anthropologists on the matter, since … “The English [British] disregarded totally any work done by Americans, especially Franz Boas.” 57 In this respect it is relevant that in Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930), Lovecraft has Wilmarth’s first letter give a list of the anthropologists he has studied. Since Lovecraft’s fiction always has a strong autobiographical element, and also because he must have been aware that members of his adoring young audience might well follow up such references at their local public library, this might perhaps be taken as reflecting Lovecraft’s own view of the authorities on the topic at 1930. This we get from Wilmarth… “I might say, with all proper modesty, that the subject of anthropology and folklore is by no means strange to me. I took a good deal of it at college, and am familiar with most of the standard authorities such as [Sir Edward Burnett] Tylor, [Sir John] Lubbock, [Sir James] Frazer, [Jean de] Quatrefages [de Breau], [Margaret] Murray, [Henry Fairfield] Osborn, [Sir Arthur] Keith, [Marcellin] Boule, [Grafton] G. Elliot Smith, and so on.” — “The Whisperer in Darkness”.
G. De Turris, S. Fusco. L’Orrore della Realta. Edizioni Mediterranee, 2006. p.264
Elazar Barkan. The Retreat of Scientific Racism. Cambridge University Press, 1993. p.66. Barkan does not as far as I can see elaborate on the reason for this. It may well have been for reasons around eugenics and race, but it may have been for the various other reasons that led to the decline of Boas’s reputation after his death in 1942. This reevaluation as led by Leslie White from 1943.
These were all real, and all British except for an American and two Frenchmen. 58 The one American was a very prominent eugenicist who had studied at Cambridge University in England. One of the Frenchmen was a member of the Royal Society of London. Clearly, Lovecraft in 1930 strongly valued the British view of anthropology, and thus may have shared what seems to have been the ‘total’ antipathy of the British to the race work of Franz Boas. 59 This bulwark of old opinions could certainly have served as a useful ‘crutch’ for Lovecraft, supporting his continuing willful ignorance of the fledgling new American ideas on race.
I think this essay has been a useful exploration. When one adds some historical context to the puzzle of his lack of engagement with Boasian anthropology, there does seem to be a case to be made that the matter may be more complex than it might first have appeared. Yet at this distance the truth of why Lovecraft chose not to engage with Boas and his followers, after about 1930, may never be fully known. For many, Lovecraft’s painfully clear racialist prejudices give a straightforward and simple explanation for these very unfortunate lacunae in his intellectual life. Having explored the topic I am very much inclined to agree with those who think simple racism was the cause, since between 1930 and 1937 Lovecraft must have come across at least some book reviews and newspaper articles, in Scientific American and the like, that could have outlined to him the emerging new thinking on race. 60
58 Jean de Quatrefages seems to have been essentially a biologist, and was the first to suggest that new races might be formed by inter-breeding. Marcellin Boule gave us the view of the ancient Neanderthal type of humans as brutish, hairy and ape-like. 59
American folklorists of the time appear to have felt much the same... “He [Lovecraft] was, apparently, unaware of contemporaries such as Franz Boas who were rejecting this [race thinking] model in favor of cultural relativism. Many of the older or more conservative folklorists of the day, including Charles Skinner, Henry Shoemaker, and John Lomax, also were either unaware of or unwilling to accept relativistic models of culture.” from: Timothy H. Evans (2004), "A last defence against the dark: folklore, horror, and the uses of tradition in the works of H.P. Lovecraft", Journal of Folklore Research, Vol.42, No.2.
60 He seems to betray a sliver of awareness of the race debate, possibly had via the Kalem Club member Morton, who was strongly pro-integration, when he writes in his 148
Publicity shot from the set of the film ‘Just Imagine’ (1930), which depicted the future New York of the year 1980 as a ‘car city’. Picture: Public Domain.
letters in 1926 that... “Vast harm is done by those idealists who encourage belief in a [national U.S. racial] coalescence that can never be” - S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. p.269. 149
10 : NEW YORK CITY AS R’LYEH, SUNKEN CITY OF CTHULHU
he American writer Henry James, when looking at the New York
T skyline in 1904, wrote of the monstrous. But he felt powerless in its presence… “The monstrous phenomena themselves [had] got the start, got ahead of, in proper parlance, any possibility of poetic, of dramatic capture” 1 The task may have been beyond James 2 , but it was not beyond Lovecraft. I believe I can strongly suggest that Lovecraft transmuted New York into the great evil city of R’lyeh, sunk beneath the waves, the eon-slimed lurking place of tentacled Cthulhu. By 1925 New York was a city of over 1,000 towering skyscrapers, and the foundations of 30 more were being laid. Beneath these “monsters” (as they were sometimes called at the time 3 ), many wreaths of smoke constantly curled between the buildings and into the sky like so many tentacles. 4 This great crucible of modernity was plunged into darkness by a total eclipse of the sun in January 1925. Some 10 million people in New York and New England saw the eclipse on that day. Lovecraft recalled the eclipse in a letter of 1932…
Henry James. The American Scene, 1906.
A writer who was once so sniffy about Lovecraft’s writing style. See: S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2011. 2
3 Major Henry Curran, counsel of the City Club of New York, denounced the buildings as “monsters” and their spread as a “plague.” David Ward, Olivier Zunz. The Landscape of Modernity: essays on New York City, 1900-1940. Russell Sage Foundation , 1992. p.64. 4
See the New York paintings of Tavik Frantisek Simon (1877-1942)
“In 1925 (when I was in New York) some of us tramped up into the cold of northern Yonkers to see the January eclipse”
Le Sprague de Camp elaborated… “On January 24, 1925, he went with Morton, Leeds, Kirk, and Ernest Dench of the Blue Pencil Club to Yonkers, to see a total eclipse of the sun, beginning at 9:12 am. They had a fine view of the corona,”
I presume that de Camp could be so specific because he was using either the letters or Lovecraft’s detailed 1925 diary. The view of the eclipse was excellent from Yonkers, and indeed The Review of Popular Astronomy had given the advice that city observers… “will find more desirable observation points at Yonkers, Newburgh or Poughkeepsie” 7 According to George Kirk’s letters, they found an aqueduct that they climbed to raise them quite high 8 so they would have seen an even better view of the city than others. There was snow on the ground, and Lovecraft later recalled the cold of that occasion as a… “marrow-congealing ordeal”
since he really was not used to being out in cold weather and certainly not used to standing around in it on an aqueduct. He feared fainting in such weather, and rarely liked to go out in such cold weather. 10 An eclipse was portentous for Lovecraft, although in a scientific and not in a superstitious manner. In 1919 and 1923 eclipse observations had confirmed Einstein’s theory of relativity. Lovecraft had drawn what S.T. Joshi calls… 5
H.P. Lovecraft. Selected Letters: 1932-1934.
Le Sprague de Camp. Lovecraft: a biography, 1975.
The Review of Popular Astronomy, 1925.
Letter given in Lovecraft’s New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927. Hippocampus, 2006.
H.P. Lovecraft. Selected Letters: 1932-1934. S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. 151
“wild conclusions from Einstein, both metaphysical and ethical, [that] are entirely unfounded”
… and he did not come to a real understanding of Einstein until 1929. At the time of the eclipse he seemed to believe that Einsteinian science had somehow proved that… “All is chance, accident, and ephemeral illusion […] There are no values in all infinity — the least idea that there is [to be regarded as] the supreme mockery of all. All the cosmos is a jest, and fit to be treated only as a jest, and one thing is as true as another.” 12 The eclipse would thus have had more than astronomical meaning to Lovecraft. It was a portent of doom, one seemingly inextricably linked in his mind with the cultural relativism he endured in the melting pot of New York City. Both, in his mind, foretold the doom of the West.
Cover of the New York Evening News, 24th January 1925. 11 S.T. Joshi. A Dreamer and a Visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in his time. Liverpool University Press, 2001. p.183. 12 S.T. Joshi. A Dreamer and a Visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in his time. Liverpool University Press, 2001. Letter given on p.182.
As an amateur astronomer, albeit one not involved in theoretical matters due to has inadequate mathematical skills, Lovecraft had responded well to the spectral light of eclipses on other warmer occasions such as the eclipse of August 1932 August, and described them vividly… “When the crescent waned to extreme thinness, the scene grew strange and spectral—an almost deathlike quality inhering in the sickly yellowish light. Just about that time the sun went under a cloud, and our expedition commenced cursing in 33-1/3 different languages including Ido. At last, though, the thin thread of the pretotality glitter emerged into a large patch of absolutely clear sky. The outspread valleys faded into unnatural night—Jupiter came out in the deep-violet heavens—ghoulish shadow-bands raced along the winding white clouds—the last beaded strip of glitter vanished—and the pale corona flicker’d into aureolar radiance around the black disc of the obscuring moon. […] Finally the beaded crescent reëmerged, the valleys glow’d again in faint, eerie light, and the various partial phases were repeated in reverse order. The marvel was over, and accustom’d things resum’d their wonted sway.” 13 We might thus similarly imagine Lovecraft in January 1925 looking across at the city’s towering black monolith-like skyscrapers, from the height of a raised aqueduct, and seeing New York as if it were a sunken city risen from the bottom of the ocean, with semi-darkness all around and the brightest stars shining suddenly above. It is also possible Lovecraft may have later seen newsreel cinema footage and quality magazine pictures in National Geographic, of New York during the eclipse, which could have contributed to his ideas about the visual descriptions of R’lyeh. A year later he would write of… “The great stone city R’lyeh, with its monoliths and sepulchres, had sunk beneath the waves; and the deep waters, full of the one primal mystery through which not even thought can pass, had cut off the 13
Letter to James F. Morton, 3rd September 1932. From hplovecraft.com 153
spectral intercourse. But memory never died, and the high-priests said that the city would rise again when the stars were right.” — “The Call of Cthulhu”. “ … he had had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities of Titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror.” — “The Call of Cthulhu”. The connection between his eclipse viewing of New York and his portrayal of R’lyeh seems clear, even if it did not immediately occur to Lovecraft. 14 In this case, the full writing of “The Call of Cthulhu” took place in the summer of 1926. There had been an earlier 1922 vision of New York, as a wonderful land of faery towers, but even here are to be found two R’lyeh –like elements. They are found in his 1922 letter giving his visionary experience of the cityscape at sunset in the company of Samuel Loveman 15 …“Out of the water is rose at twilight …” Here is a clear foreshowing of New York as a sunken city, one that rises. The same passage in the letter also compares it to an undersea coral city… “… the loveliness that is coral, branching and glorious …” By 1925 Lovecaft’s experience of the city had soured and he saw only a much darker vision of a ‘dead city’. This was potently expressed in a night vision in the August 1925 short story “He” which was set in New York… “I saw at last a fearful truth which no one had ever dared to breathe before — the unwhisperable secret of secrets — the fact that this city of stone and stridor is not a sentient perpetuation of Old New York as London is of Old London and Paris of Old Paris, but that it is in fact quite dead, its sprawling body imperfectly embalmed and infested with queer animate things which have nothing to do with it as it was in life.” — H.P. Lovecaft, “He”.
Locations often took about a year to find their way into his fiction.
15 For the letter see S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. pp.9-10.
Later in the same story, he animates it in a further vision of the future New York. The city is again given in terms that make it seem like a prototype for R’lyeh… “I saw the heavens verminous with strange flying things, and beneath them a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with impious pyramids flung savagely to the moon, and devil-lights burning from unnumbered windows.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “He” (1925). The reference to the moon and the lights give this as a night scene, akin to his own eclipse vision of New York. Such a vision of hellish, semi-destroyed New York may have been somewhat foreshadowed in Lovecraft’s mind by two post-apocalyptic New York novels. One was the journalist Garrett P. Serviss’s The Second Deluge (serialized 1911, book form 1912) in which an undersea New York is vividly explored. The other was The Vacant World (1912) by George Allan England. 16
Here is an extract from the latter’s very early stages… “Out over the incredible mausoleum of civilization they peered. Now and again they fortified their vision by recourse to the telescope. Nowhere, as he had said, was any slightest sign of life to be discerned. Nowhere a thread of smoke arose; nowhere a sound echoed upward. Dead lay the city, between its rivers, whereon now no sail glinted in the sunlight, no tug puffed vehemently with plumy jets of steam, no liner idled at anchor or nosed its slow course out to sea. The Jersey shore, the Palisades, the Bronx and Long Island all lay buried in dense forests of conifers and oak, with only here and there some skeleton mockery of a steel structure jutting through. The islands in the harbor, too, were thickly overgrown. On Ellis, no sign of the immigrant station remained. Castle William was quite gone. And with a gasp of dismay and pain, Beatrice pointed out the fact
For a full bibliography of such works see Roberta Scott and Jon Thiem. “Catastrophe Fiction, 1870-1914: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Works in English”. Extrapolation 24:2, Summer 1983. For a selection regarding London see my own anthology, London Reimagined: an Anthology of Visions of the Future City (2010).
that no longer Liberty held her bronze torch aloft. Save for a black, misshapen mass protruding through the tree-tops, the huge gift of France was no more. Fringing the water-front, all the way round, the mournful remains of the docks and piers lay in a mere sodden jumble of decay, with an occasional hulk sunk alongside. Even over these wrecks of liners, vegetation was growing rank and green. All the wooden ships, barges and schooners had utterly vanished. […] Far out she gazed. The sun, declining, shot a broad glory all across the sky. Purple and gold and crimson lay the light-bands over the breast of the Hudson. Dark blue the shadows streamed across the ruined city with its crowding forests, its blank-staring windows and sagging walls, its thousands of gaping vacancies, where wood and stone and brick had crumbled down—the city where once the tides of human life had ebbed and flowed, roaring resistlessly. High overhead drifted a few rosy clouds, part of that changeless nature which alone did not repel or mystify these two beleaguered waifs, these chance survivors, this man, this woman, left alone together by the hand of fate.” This is vivid, but sadly it is only one bright glimpse at the start of an otherwise rather tediously stilted and dialogue-heavy novel, which forms the first of a ponderous trilogy. The trilogy very quickly falls back on the thenconventional civilization-vs-savages approach that fitted with the socialistAryanist race-regeneration views of the time. The novel The Vacant World is certainly a curiosity as a rare instance of the British post-apocalyptic disaster novel transferred to New York, but it hardly seems like an inspiration for Lovecraft. Far more interesting in this regard is The Second Deluge (1911), especially in relation to Lovecraft’s conception of New York as the undersea of R’lyeh presided over by Cthulhu. The novel takes a very long time to get to New York, but the city is eventually depicted near the end in Chapter 25: “New York in Her Ocean Tomb” when it is viewed from a large diving bell. We
are then given an extended picture of an undersea New York brooded over by an alien and unspeakable monstrosity… “They began with the skeleton tower itself, which had only once or twice been exceeded in height by the famous structures of the era of skyscrapers. In some places they found the granite skin yet in situ, but almost everywhere it had been stripped off, probably by the tremendous waves which swept over it as the flood attained its first thousand feet of elevation. They saw no living forms, except a few curiously shaped phosphorescent creatures of no great size, which scurried away out of the beam of the search-light. They saw no trace of the millions of their fellow-beings who had been swallowed up in this vast grave, and for this all secretly gave thanks. The soil of Madison Square had evidently been washed away, for no signs of the trees which had once shaded it were seen, and a reddish ooze had begun to collect upon the exposed rocks. All around were the shattered ruins of other great buildings, some, like the Metropolitan tower, yet retaining their steel skeletons, others tumbled down, and lying half-buried in the ooze. Finding nothing of great interest in this neighborhood they turned the course of the bell northward, passing everywhere over interminable ruins, and as soon as they began to skirt the ridge of Morningside Heights the huge form of the cathedral of St. John fell within the circle of projected light. It was unroofed, and some of the walls had fallen, but some of the immense arches yet retained their upright position. Here, for the first time, they encountered the real giants of the submarine depths. De Beauxchamps, who had seen some of these creatures during his visit to Paris in the Jules Verne, declared that nothing which he had seen there was so terrifying as what they now beheld. One creature, which seemed to be the unresisted master of this kingdom of phosphorescent life, appears to have exceeded in strangeness the utmost descriptive powers of all those who looked upon it, for their written accounts are filled with 157
ejaculations, and are more or less inconsistent with one another. The reader gathers from them, however, the general impression that it made upon their astonished minds. The creatures were of a livid hue, and had the form of a globe, as large as the bell itself, with a valvular opening on one side which was evidently a mouth, surrounded with a circle of eyelike disks, projecting shafts of self-evolved light into the water. They moved about with surprising ease, rising and sinking at will, sometimes rolling along the curve of an arch, emitting flashes of green fire, and occasionally darting across the intervening spaces in pursuit of their prey, which consisted of smaller prosphorescent animals that fled in the utmost consternation. When the adventurers in the bell saw one of the globular monsters seize its victim they were filled with horror. It had driven its prey into a corner of the wrecked choir, and suddenly it flattened itself like a rubber bulb pressed against the wall, completely covering the creature that was to be devoured, although the effect of its struggles could be perceived; and then, to the amazement of the onlookers, the living globe slowly turned itself inside out, engulfing the victim in the process.” […] “no sooner had the tragic spectacle which they had witnessed been finished than they suddenly found the bell surrounded by a crowd of the globe-shaped creatures, jostling one another, and flattening themselves against its metallic walls. They pushed the bell about, rolling themselves all over it, and apparently finding nothing terrifying in the searchlight, which was hardly brighter than the phosphorescent gleams which shot from their own luminescent organs. One of them got one of its luminous disks exactly in the field of a magnifying window, and King Richard, who happened to have his eye in the focus, started back with a cry of alarm. “I cannot describe what I saw,” the king wrote in his notebook. “It was a glimpse of fiery cones, triangles, and circles, ranged in tier behind tier with a piercing eye in the center, and the light that came 158
from them resembled nothing that I have ever seen. It seemed to be a living emanation, and almost paralyzed me.” […] “Avoiding the neighborhood of the cathedral, they steered the bell down the former course of the Hudson, but afterward ventured once more over the drowned city until they arrived at the site of the great station of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which they found completely unroofed. They sank the bell into the vast space where the tunnels entered from underneath the old river bed, and again they had a startling experience. Something huge, elongated, and spotted, and provided with expanding claw-like limbs, slowly withdrew as their light streamed upon the reddish ooze covering the great floor. The nondescript retreated backward into the mouth of a tunnel. They endeavored, cautiously, to follow it, turning a magnifying window in its direction, and obtaining a startling view of glaring eyes, but the creature hastened its retreat, and the last glimpse they had was of a grotesque head, which threw out piercing rays of green fire as it passed deeper into the tunnel.” […] “they were almost frozen into statues. Close beside the bell, which had, during the struggle, floated near to the principal heap of mingled treasure and ruin, heavily squatted on the very summit of the pile, was such a creature as no words could depict—of a ghastly color, bulky and malformed, furnished with three burning eyes that turned now green, now red with lambent flame, and great shapeless limbs, which it uplifted one after the other […] They were terrorstricken now, and pushing the propellers to their utmost, they fled toward the site of the Metropolitan tower. On their way, although for a time they passed over the course of the East River, they saw no signs of the great bridges except the partly demolished but yet beautiful towers of the oldest of them, which had been constructed of heavy granite blocks. They found the cable attached as they had left it, and, although they were yet nervous from their recent experience, they had no great difficulty in re-attaching it to the bell. 159
Then, with a sigh of relief, they signaled, and shouted through the telephone to the Ark [on the surface of the sea].” This is certainly all very notable, which I have given it at such length. One has to wonder, are we reading here the partial 17 genesis of Cthulhu and R’lyeh? Especially given the multiple instances of the emphases placed on the ‘unspeakability’ of the tentacled terror? Note also the bizarre geometry seen in a single visionary glimpse whirling around an alien creature… “It was a glimpse of fiery cones, triangles, and circles, ranged in tier behind tier with a piercing eye in the center,” The very first lines of this novel even open it with a classic ‘Lovecraftian’ style disclaimer about being pieced together from multiple and fragmentary narratives, in the same manner as “The Call of Cthulhu”… “WHAT is here set down is the fruit of long and careful research among disjointed records left by survivors of the terrible events described. […]in the substance of his narrative, as well as in every detail which is specifically described, he has followed faithfully the accounts of eyewitnesses, or of those who were in a position to know the truth of what they related.” It certainly seems very curious that here we have four major Lovecraft approaches in one novel: a sunken city presided over by horrific octopi; unspeakability; alien geometry; the story allegedly pieced together from fragmentary narratives. The evidence that Lovecraft once read this novel is very compelling. The Second Deluge was first serialized in The Cavalier
from July 1911 to July
1912, one of the several Munsey magazines that Lovecraft is known to have enjoyed as a youth… One could of course also point to Poe’s sunken city in the poem “The City in the Sea”, and the fact that Lovecraft’s uncle Franklin Chase Clark (1847-1915) wrote about a sunken city of coral in a magazine article titled “A Curious City” (1878). There was also the myth of Atlantis. Also the vision of a sunken New York in the 1925 eclipse. Possibly also to Eskimo myths – see my essay in this book on Franz Boas. 17
Internet Speculative Fiction Database www.isfdb.org 160 18
“He appears to have read them from cover to cover” 19 This is the opinion of Will Murray, talking of Lovecraft’s reading of the Munsey magazines Argosy, The All-Story, and The Cavalier, in the period to 1914. S.T. Joshi agrees… “Lovecraft read each issue [of All-Story Cavalier] — sometimes 192 pages, sometimes 240 pages — cover to cover, month after month” 20 Lovecraft had had what he termed “a reaction toward literature” … “about 1911” 21 and started looking at the significant amount of weird fiction published by these three Munsey magazines with a new eye. Lovecraft seems to have stopped reading All-Story Cavalier only in late 1914 22 , presumably as he improved his literary tastes. Certainly, though he was reading it in the first half of the 1910s since he had a letter published in the 8th February 1913 issue, praising Irvin S. Cobb’s story “Fishhead” 23 which he had read in 1913 24 , which was only six months after the appearance of The Second Deluge. He had another letter published there in the 14th August 1914 edition, praising George Allen England who wrote the post-apocalyptic The Vacant World novel given above. 25 Would he have read the one postapocalyptic novel featuring New York, but not the other? Given all this evidence it seems that he would have read The Second Deluge , a substantial minor classic of early speculative fiction, when it first appeared Will Murray, “Lovecraft and the Pulp Magazine Tradition”, in An Epicure in the terrible: a centennial anthology of essays in honor of H.P. Lovecraft. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. p.104. 19
S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. p.143.
By May 1914 it was the combined All-Story Cavalier Weekly, and it may have lost some of its previous character by the end of 1914. See . S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. p.140. 22
S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. p.141.
24 Cobb’s “Fishhead” seems only really relevant as a source for “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, but is an interesting indication of the way Lovecraft could reach back to his Munsey magazine reading as inspiration. 25
S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. p.142. 161
in 1911/12. Yet The Second Deluge was then published as a book in 1912 26 , illustrated with four pictures by George Varian 27 including one of the true face of the Sphinx (the present one falls off after the deluge, revealing another older and more mysterious one). This would have given the young Lovecraft the additional opportunity to read it at the Providence public library — or perhaps to purchase it, since the book was no doubt heavily advertised in The Cavalier and other Munsey magazines. There is a further compelling reason for Lovecraft to have read the work. Serviss (1851-1929) was also the author of various practical astronomy nonfiction 28 , including Other Worlds: Their Nature, Possibilities and Habitability in the Light of the Latest Discoveries (1901). Lovecraft’s library contained at least three of Serviss’s non-fiction works 29 at the end of his life, and Lovecraft used a section from one of them verbatim in his “Beyond The Wall of Sleep” (1919). 30 Serviss was a well-known and respected science populariser who also wrote the first ever U.S. syndicated newspaper columns on astronomy — so how unlikely would it have been that Lovecraft would not have read a substantial fantastical new work by a fellow astronomer that he had ‘known’ since childhood?
26 The Serviss novel The Second Deluge also appeared in Amazing Stories, in installments from November 1926 concluding February 1927, where perhaps Lovecraft may have refreshed his boyhood memories of it while revising “The Call of Cthulhu” after its Weird Tales rejection — although sadly all we appear to have of “The Call of Cthulhu”, in terms of original material, is a single undated typescript and we thus cannot follow any revisions that may have been made. 27
Freely available online at Archive.org at 2011.
Pleasures of the Telescope (1901); The Moon (1907); Astronomy With The Naked Eye (1908); Curiosities of the Sky (1909); Round the Year with the Stars (1910); and Astronomy in a Nutshell (1912). These and others are available at Archive.org 28
S.T. Joshi. Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue (2nd revised edition). Hippocampus Press, 2002.
S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. p.19.
Serviss also worked on the short explanatory film The Einstein Theory of Relativity (1923). He also seems to have edited an astronomy journal called the Monthly Evening Sky Map. For more on Serviss’s astronomy activities, see the front-page obituary “One Who Loved the Stars” in Popular Astronomy Aug-Sept 1929. This last is freely available online. 31
Some of Serviss’s other works seem to have further parallels with Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”. Serviss also wrote The Moon Metal (published 1900 as a book 33 ) a globe-spanning work that opens in Antarctica, one of Lovecraft’s favorite places. It has a second half that features a lot of astronomy, which would no doubt have delighted Lovecraft. Interestingly, its central figure Dr. Syx is just once described as a… “devil-fish [i.e., an octopus] sucking the veins of the planet and holding it helpless in the grasp of his tentacular billions” Serviss’s A Columbus of Space (serialised January to June 1909 in The AllStory, revised 1911; serialized again in Amazing Stories with the opening chapters appearing in the August 1926 edition 34 ) is a fairly conventional but well-done adventure-trip to Venus, but interestingly it opens with the same sort of disturbed ‘cosmic’ dreams that would later feature in “The Call of Cthulhu”… “I finally got to sleep, but I had horrible dreams.” [and the next night] “My dreams were disturbed by visions of the grinning nondescripts at the foot of the wall, which transformed themselves into winged dragons, and remorselessly pursued me through the measureless abysses of space.” Admittedly these are mentioned only very briefly. They seem anticipatory of the events to come, but they are not linked to any specific deity who may be ‘sending’ them as in “Cthulhu”. Lovecraft would no doubt have read A Columbus of Space in The All-Story at age nineteen 35 , for the reasons I have given previously in this essay. There is yet another Serviss work that links itself to Lovecraft, this time in terms of being a possible pointer toward his overall philosophy. Serviss’s Serviss had also engaged on a grand Nyarlathotep-like lecture tour of the USA, with some of the most advanced theatrical presentational devices of his day. 32
The Moon Metal was also published in 1900, as a now-lost newspaper syndication.
Mike Ashley. The Gernsback Days. Wildside, 2006. p.86.
See my previous recounting of the evidence for this, some pages back. 163
non-fiction Other Worlds: Their Nature, Possibilities and Habitability in the Light of the Latest Discoveries (1901), although a conventionally brisk and vivid survey of the Solar System, does open with the follow remarkable quotation that seems a precursor or Lovecraft’s cosmic indifferentism… “Shall we measure the councils of heaven by the narrow impotence of human faculties, or conceive that silence and solitude reign throughout the mighty empire of nature?” — Dr. Thomas Chalmers.
We may never know the actual truth of the genesis of Cthulhu. But given all of the above one then has to wonder if the very final words Lovecraft ever wrote in substantial fiction, the famous last line of “The Haunter of The Dark” (1935)… “Yog-Sothoth save me—the three-lobed burning eye. . . .. . . .” …might not be a ‘revealing’ of (and perhaps a sentimental return to or goodbye to) what might have been the one of the sources of his most famous creation — Serviss’s The Second Deluge… “such a creature as no words could depict […] furnished with three burning eyes” — The Second Deluge, Chapter 25.
Whatever the case for the various origins of the idea of the city of R’lyeh, and the exact nature of those who preside over it, the story The Call of Cthulhu was finally published in print in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales. In its published form it was clearly Lovecraft’s genius alone that had found a way to transmute New York and his many other sources not simply into a conventionally Atlantean ruined city, or even into a conventional octopushaunted sunken city — but instead into the utterly alien and geometrically bizarre city of R’lyeh, the aeon-old tomb of a truly cosmic deity, brooding at the heart of a complex mythos which still lives and grows today.
See my appendix immediately following this essay, for an exploration of the possibility that Lovecraft saw the concluding chapters of The Second Deluge again in February 1927.
Illustration from the 1912 book edition of The Second Deluge. This really bad scan goes to show why mass-scanned books should never be discarded from libraries after scanning. 165
An autogiro flight over New York City. The Autogiro had been invented in the 1920s, and had caught the imagination enough to be featured heavily in the New York science fiction film “Just Imagine” released in 1930. Possibly this is what Lovecraft was vaguely thinking of when writing of the sky over the city as “verminous with strange flying things”? Photo: Library of Congress.
10a: APPENDIX his appendix follows on from Chapter 10 and assumes that Lovecraft
T somehow completely missed reading Serviss’s The Second Deluge in
1912 in either magazine or book form, or had somehow managed to forget about such a vivid and terror-filled dive to a sunken New York full of the repulsive creatures he had a deep phobia about. Thus these four pages are really only of interest to Lovecraft devotees who then ask: “How might such a volume have then come to the notice of Lovecraft?” I will outline one additional possibility that may have brought the book to the attention of Lovecraft in the mid 1920s. I will do this largely in order to discount it, since it seems an unlikely late influence. Yet it may be useful for later scholars seeking to follow the same track. Lovecraft scholars will know that Donald Wandrei had a huge collection of early science fiction. By early I mean from the mid 1890s to 1914. This was in use by Wandrei who was, at around 1926/7 engaged in… “compiling a comprehensive bibliography in the field [of such early science fiction]” 36 Lovecraft and Wandrei first started corresponding in December 1926 37 and each listed their book collection in their letters, finding that there was not a great deal of similarity. Lovecraft liked Dunsany style fantasies, and Wandrei liked and collected early ‘scientific romances’ as they were then called. Wandrei specifically listed Garrett P. Serviss 38 along with H.G. Wells and… “naturally enough Lovecraft and Wandrei began lending their choice volumes to each other, with mutually beneficial results. In the S.T. Joshi and David E. Shultz. The Lovecraft Letters: Mysteries of Time and Spirit v.1: Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei. Night Shade Book, 2002. Introduction, p.xi.
short term, however, the benefit was far more on Lovecraft’s side than Wandrei’s.” 39 It seems highly likely that an expert like Wandrei would have pointed to the marvelously horrific chapter 25 near the end of The Second Deluge. In terms of dates, Wandrei’s lending of books that might place Lovecraft’s reading of Garrett P. Serviss’s The Second Deluge at around Spring or early Summer 1927, although I know of no letter in which he might have recorded his response to the book (I only have partial access to the letters via Google Books and Amazon Look Inside, although I have the New York period letters in print). Scholars will point out that Lovecraft had already submitted “The Call of Cthulhu” to Weird Tales in October 1926, from which it had been rejected — apparently simply because it was ‘slow’ (all we know about the reasons for its rejection). In May 1927 it was also rejected from Mystery Stories 40 . In the summer of 1927 Wandrei visited Chicago, where he told the Weird Tales editor… “That Lovecraft was revising and finishing [The Call of Cthulhu]”
“Revising” is Wandrei’s own choice of word and it rather an interesting one. Possibly he was just provoking Wright to take a second look at the story. That is the accepted interpretation. But “revising and finishing” does seem to be very specific. Could Lovecraft have really revised it? Scholars will also object that Lovecraft had, by his own account got the basic plot of Cthulhu down on paper by August 1925, as given in his diary… “Wrote out story plot—‘The Call of Cthulhu’” 42
S.T. Joshi and David E. Shultz. The Lovecraft Letters: Mysteries of Time and Spirit v.1: Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei. Night Shade Book, 2002. Introduction, p.xii.
S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz. An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. 2001. p.30.
S.T. Joshi and David E. Shultz. The Lovecraft Letters: Mysteries of Time and Spirit v.1: Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei. Night Shade Book, 2002. Introduction, p.xii.
Diary entry for 12th-13th August 1925. Given in S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence. Hippocampus Press, 2010. p.636.
This was possibly a chronology of the events, and a sketch of how they could be made more interesting by presenting them out of chronological order. The story itself was written in the summer of 1926 and Lovecraft wrote to Clark Ashton Smith on 12th October 1926… “I've written two new tales, one of which is the sunken-land thing I described in advance last year” 43 So it is clear that he had the conception of a ‘sunken land’ at that time and he had had it since 1925/6. But this should not be surprising, as the story clearly originates with his earlier tale “Dagon” (1917) which features the rising of a sunken land from the seabed. One wonders, though, if Lovecraft had the central conception of the sunken city of R’lyeh. It seems he did, since he also wrote to Lillian D. Clarke on 14th-19th November 1925 of his… “new submerged Pacific city” 44 But then did he have the nature of the creature that presided over it and whose dreams spoke to the sensitive around the world, before the Spring of 1927? He certainly had the name ‘Cthulhu’, since he gives it in his 1925 diary when he tells of writing the plot outline. He also had the idea of a basrelief 45 early, as given by his famous Commonplace Book entry No.25… “25. Man visits museum of antiquities — asks that it accept a basrelief he has just made—old and learned curator laughs and says he cannot accept anything so modern. Man says that ‘dreams are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled Babylonia’ and that he had fashioned the sculpture in his dreams. Curator bids him shew his product, and when he does so curator
Brown University, Lovecraft Collection listing, accessed online 9th August 2011.
Given in Steven J. Mariconda. “The Emergence of Cthulhu”. Lovecraft Studies 15 (Fall 1987). p.57.
45 At some unspecified later time this became a small statuette, probably under the influence of Lovecraft’s seeing Ancient Egyptian sculptures of Bas in the New York museums in the mid 1920s. Bas has a beard that closely resembles octopus tentacles.
shews horror. Asks who the man may be. He tells modern name. “No — before that” says curator. Man does not remember except in dreams. Then curator offers high price, but man fears he means to destroy sculpture. Asks fabulous price — curator will consult directors. Add good development and describe nature of bas-relief.” But it is obvious Lovecraft was then unsure of the nature of the bas-relief. Indeed, a letter by Lovecraft to Galpin and Moe recounting the dream said that the sculpture in the dream was… “apparently portraying priests of Ra in procession” 46
So although it is interesting to speculate that Lovecraft may have only had a final piece of the jigsaw for Cthulhu from reading The Second Deluge — the exact nature of the creature that presided over the city and called the dreamers — it seems there is no actual evidence for the late arrival of this concept. We simply don’t know exactly when Cthulhu ‘arrived’ in Lovecraft’s head. As I have said in the main essay, both the genesis of and revisions of “The Call of Cthulhu” are rather sparsely documented. We may never know. But Wandrei’s use of the words “revising and finishing”, in talking to Wright about the tale in the Spring/Summer of 1927 certainly intrigue.
Given in Steven J. Mariconda. “The Emergence of Cthulhu”. Lovecraft Studies 15 (Fall 1987). p.54.
NYARLATHOTEP By H. P. Lovecraft
Annotated by David Haden. Prepared for Mr. H.P. Lovecraft’s 121st birthday, 20th August 2011.
“Nyarlathotep” (1920) is a dreamlike prose-poem that moves seamlessly from Providence, New England, via Egypt to a modern quack magic or spiritualist show in a large city, then passes out into a moonlit night-walk in that same city, encountering aspects of the post-apocalyptic and the alienage of modern life. It then moves to a moor, which becomes a trackless immensity, and finally ends amid a horror-haunted void. Through all this threads the magician-like character of Nyarlathotep. The leading Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi suggests the work was probably written in December of 1920, and possibly it helped to fill an overdue edition of the Lovecraft-edited amateur journalism publication The United Amateur that appeared in early 1921 1 . Nyarlathotep appears as a character several times in Lovecraft’s later fiction. See Robert M. Waugh’s excellent and nuanced discussion of the subsequent appearances of Nyarlathotep in Lovecraft’s works 2 . For the use of Nyarlathotep by other authors, see Robert M. Price’s Chaosium anthology 3 , and S.T. Joshi’s The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos 4 .
S.T. Joshi (Ed.), The Call of Chthulu and other weird stories. Penguin Modern Classics. p.369. 1
2 See Part III of “Landscapes, Selves and Others” in David E. Schultz and S.T. Joshi (Eds.), An Epicure in the terrible: a centennial anthology of essays in honor of H.P Lovecraft. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991.
R.M. Price, The Nyarlathotep Cycle: Stories about the God of a Thousand Forms. Chaosium, 2006.
yarlathotep 5 . . . the crawling chaos . . . I am the last . . . I will tell the audient 6 void . . . . I do not recall distinctly when it began, but it was months ago.
The general tension was horrible. To a season of political and social upheaval
was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous
4 S.T. Joshi,The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos. Mythos Books, 2008. Also Daniel Harms, The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia, Elder Signs Press (3rd Edition, 2008) for appearances in games, etc.
An Egyptomaniac like Lovecraft had surely read William Wilshire Myers’s Hotep: a dream of the Nile (1905) and must have known that Hotep was a common ‘appended’ name for ancient Pharaohs. Dunsany also used it in The Gods of Pegana (1905) for his false prophet Alhireth-Hotep. Hotep appears to have meant ‘united with the gods’ (the latter meaning given in Heinrich Karl Brugsch’s A History of Egypt under the Pharaohs, 1881). 5
‘Nyar’ is Hebrew for letter (paper), which would also fit with the general later idea of Nyarlathotep as a ‘messenger’ or faceless ‘blank page’ upon which the other gods can write (this meaning is given in Colloquial Hebrew, Routledge, 2004). The word ‘nyar’ was in current use in the 1920s, since it was used in the title of at least one US-published Hebrew novel of the time. Possibly this meaning of ‘letter’ was what Lovecraft’s mind was playing on when he dreamed that he had a letter from Loveman telling him to go and see Nyarlathotep, which S.T. Joshi gives as the genesis of the story — perhaps Loveman or some other Jewish acquaintance had told Lovecraft that Nyar was Hebrew for letter (paper). ‘Lath’ is very ancient Hebrew and seems to have meant something like ‘trust’ — for example in the Akkadian ‘tukult’ which in its ancient Hebrew form became the first part of the name of the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser whose name meant “my trust (is) the heir of Esharra” (see John Huehnergard, The Appendix of Semitic Roots, Appendix II). Nyar-lath-hotep would thus mean something like ‘letter/message that is trusted of the gods’. It is also interesting to note how close ‘tukult’ is to Cthulhu. There has been some scholarly debate about the extent Lovecraft may have raided dictionaries of ancient languages, possibly those such as Akkadian, for the names of his deities. “Audient” is a word that implied attentive listening and was used in connection with a young boy preparing for baptism. Its use here sets the tone for the contrasting uses of noise and silence. 6
7 This perhaps reflects the end of what was then called The Great War, later called the First World War or World War One. The lost men marching in “narrow columns” later in the story also seem to reflect something of the popular imagery of the war.
physical danger; a danger widespread and all-embracing 8 , such a danger as may be imagined only in the most terrible phantasms of the night
. I recall that the people went about with pale and worried
faces, and whispered warnings and prophecies which no one dared consciously repeat or acknowledge to himself that he had heard. A sense of monstrous guilt was upon the land
, and out of the abysses
between the stars swept chill currents that made men shiver in dark and lonely places 11 . There was a daemoniac alteration 12 in the sequence of the seasons
— the autumn heat lingered fearsomely
8 The winter of 1918/9 was that of the dreadful Influenza Epidemic, which swept the world and seemed to have especially claimed the young of about Lovecraft’s age. The disease infected 28% of all Americans, killing over 25 million people worldwide. 9 Lovecraft vividly remembered his childhood nightmares, in which he had been tormented by the horrifying “night-gaunts”. See S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence. Hippocampus, 2010. p.34.
Those who could not serve in the military (Lovecraft tried to enlist, passed, but then was failed via his family) often felt guilt after the war. So did some of those who fought and survived, while their fellow soldiers had died. 10
Lovecraft the keen amateur astronomer, fascinated by the silent immensities of space, would have been aware of the raging scientific debate about “the aether vs. relativity” which would overturn millennia of set beliefs about the heavens. This debate was stirred up particularly by reports of Einstein’s paper “Ether and the Theory of Relativity” (1920). The undermining of ‘aether’ theory began at the turn of the century with the experiments of Michelson–Morley, but acceptance then took decades, coming first in the USA. It is also relevant to the auditory and “audient” nature of “Nyarlathotep” since Spiritualists were upset by the new ideas. Relativity threatened to erase the long-standing idea of an invisible ‘aether’ which was deemed by Spiritualists to aid transmission of spirit voices / sounds to the living in their seances.
i.e.: an alteration inspired by demonic supernatural forces.
For a similar alteration of the seasons, see William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream...
“The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts / Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose, / And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown / An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds / Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer, / The childing autumn, angry winter, change / Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world, / By their increase, now knows not which is which:” 173
and everyone felt that the world and perhaps the universe had passed from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which were unknown 15 . And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt
. Who he
was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh
. The fellahin
knelt when they saw him, yet could not
say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries
, and that he had heard messages from places not on this
The human agricultural and seasonal calendar had long been shaped and punctuated by the movements of the heavens, and so to disturb this could only be the work of malevolent gods. 14 Autumn is the British word for the American ‘fall’, and was then in common use in New England. In July 1911 a deadly eleven-day heat-wave struck New England and killed 380 people. Temperatures were up to 106 degrees F., and New York City reported another 211 people dead. The summer of 1919 had also been very hot (“brutally hot”) and trying. 15 Much of the scientific orthodoxy on space and time was beginning to be seriously overturned in the late 1910s. See note 35 for a fuller discussion.
Lovecraft had a life-long passion for all things Ancient Egyptian, and read widely on the topic.
The name for the class of ‘divine’ rulers of Ancient Egypt.
18 Fellahin — common peasants, also sometimes claimed as the “hidden Jews” of Egypt. See Gil Eyal ,The Disenchantment of the Orient. Stanford University Press, 2006. p.54.
This seems to imply that he arose in Ancient Egypt, but being immortal he survived to the present day. S.T. Joshi suggests this would place Nyarlathotep at around the 22nd Dynasty. 19
See also Robert Buchanan’s magnificent “The Devil's Case” (1896), in which he describes the Devil giving his account of his work as a teacher and builder in Ancient Egypt... “Then I taught them hieroglyphics, / Mystic shapes and signs and letters, / Where the story of the Ages / Written was on brass and stone; / Then the busy Ants of Egypt / Raised the Pyramids around them / Shaping colonnades and pylons / For the sepulchres of Kings. / Thus I taught them architecture, — / How to hew the rocks and fashion / Monuments that stand for ever In despite of God and Time. / Nay, to mock the mute Almighty, / the mystic Sphynx invented, / Silent, impotent, impassive. / Gazing on a million graves! 174
. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy,
slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger
spoke much of the sciences 22 — of electricity and psychology
and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude
Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare. Never before had the screams of
/ Numbers, too, I taught the people, — / How to measure Earth and Water, / By the stars and their progressions / Guide the floods and count the seasons.” 20
See William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice... “There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st / But in his motion like an angel sings, / Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins; / Such harmony is in immortal souls, / But whilst this muddy vesture of decay / Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”
This references the then-common concept of ‘the music of the spheres’. It recalls Pythagoras and the belief in the mystical relation between mathematics and music and planets in their motions. Also the astronomer/astrologer Ptolemy of Alexandria, who closely related ‘the harmonies of the spheres’ with the states of thought in man. Perhaps symbolic of the ways in which alchemy, astrology, astronomy, mysticism and early science were all co-mingled together in the early modern period. They only really separated toward the end of the period of the Enlightenment in the 18th century. 21
Again, see Robert Buchanan, “The Devil’s Case” (1896)... “I’m the father of all Science [...] / I, the Devil, am transcendental — / Wise in all the ways of knowledge / Even down to metaphysics.”
23 The use of ‘science’ here is probably meant to be read with irony. Electricity was still seen by many as semi-magical and dangerous. Psychology was a very new ‘science’ and with a shaky claim to be such. Both were then associated in the common mind with charlatans and quackery.
Will Murray has suggested the electrical showmanship of Nikola Tesla as an inspiration here, as explained in Lovecraft Studies No. 25, Fall 1991. pp.25-29. S.T. Joshi calls this a “plausible conjecture”, although it seems Lovecraft never saw Tesla in person. Given the earlier allusion to Shakespeare, one might also suggest a vague dream-merging of Oberon and Prospero? 24
nightmare been such a public problem; now the wise men almost wished they could forbid sleep in the small hours, that the shrieks of cities 25 might less horribly disturb the pale, pitying moon as it glimmered on green waters 26 gliding under bridges, and old steeples crumbling against a sickly sky 27 . I remember when Nyarlathotep came to my city 28 — the great, the old, the terrible city of unnumbered crimes 29 . My friend had told me of him 30 , and of the impelling fascination and allurement of his Lovecraft here introduces the first of the sounds associated with cities. Possibly this relates to the screams of shell-shocked soldiers, returned from the First World War? But then it is elided into the more general alienage of the lived experience of the modern large industrial city.
“The moon methinks looks with a watery eye” also “salt green streams” — A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Green is the colour associated with the Moon by astrologers, in the sign of Cancer. The Moon also has obvious control over water, in the form of the tides.
27 It was at around this time that a combination of light pollution and airborne particulates meant that the starry sky could no longer be seen clearly in most cities and large towns. There is also an obvious ‘crumbling of religion’ symbolism here, in... “old steeples crumbling”.
Edison was commonly referred to as “The Wizard of Menlo Park”, and his Vitascope presentation had come to Providence when Lovecraft was six years old. It played to virtually the entire town for a month, twelve hours a day. See Charles Musser, The Emergence of Cinema: the American screen to 1907. University of California Press, 1994. p.125. 28
Yet a subway entrance is mentioned later in the story. Lovecraft knew Boston, which from 1901 had the first active subway in the United States, and. But Boston had only a basic three-station subway. For this reason I am inclined to think that “Nyarlathotep” reflects more of Lovecraft’s ‘dream New York’, a “great” city he had not yet visited but whose subways he would certainly have read about. Loveman, whose letter apparently inspired the story, was based in New York. 29 On 9th September 1919 the whole of the Boston police force deserted their posts, leaving the city virtually defenceless. See: Francis Russell. A City in Terror: Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike. Houghton Mifflin, 2005. There had also been vicious and sustained race riots in 1919. See Jan Voogd. Race riots and resistance: the Red Summer of 1919. Peter Lang, 2008. 30 S.T. Joshi states that this refers to Samuel Loveman, Lovecraft’s friend, giving a letter in which Lovecraft says the story came to him a dream of receiving a letter from 176
revelations, and I burned with eagerness to explore his uttermost mysteries 31 . My friend said they were horrible and impressive beyond my most fevered imaginings; that what was thrown on a screen in the darkened room 32 prophesied things none but Nyarlathotep dared prophesy, and that in the sputter of his sparks 33 there was taken from men that which had never been taken before yet which shewed only in the eyes 34 . And I heard it hinted abroad that those who knew Nyarlathotep looked on sights which others saw not 35 . It was in the hot autumn that I went through the night with the restless crowds to see Nyarlathotep; through the stifling night and up the endless stairs into the choking room. And shadowed on a screen, I
Samuel Loveman telling him to go and see Nyarlathotep. See S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence. Hippocampus, 2010. p.370. 31 Curiosity and its fatal or maddening consequences is one of Lovecraft’s key fictional themes.
The adolescent Lovecraft was an avid visitor to the early silent cinema. Possibly he saw films such as Edison’s 1910 one-reel adaptation of Frankenstein.
33 Brander Matthews’ short story “The Kinetoscope of Time” (1895) suggests seeing sparks may have been a part of the early experience of looking into early ‘peephole’ film machines…
“infinitesimal sparks darted hither and thither, and there was a slight crackling sound. I concentrated my attention on what I was about to see ...” Again, this may relate to the male viewing of erotic pornography in coin-operated ‘peephole’ kinetoscopes. Manhattan was the location for the first peepshow kinetoscope parlor in 1894, set up by the showman and inventor Thomas Edison. 34
35 Unlocalised and chaotic, and ultimately ungraspable by the rational mind, Nyarlathotep might almost be the very god of the theory of Relativity. Einstein’s book Relativity, the special and the general theory; a popular exposition had been published in 1920, with good reviews in the major publications such as Nature. “Corpuscular structures” of matter and the unknowable intersections of their outlines with “spacetime geometry” were then really hot topics, as was the ability (or not) of the rational mathematical mind to grasp the “fundamental structure of the external world”. All these are actual phrases that appeared in discussions of the time.
saw hooded forms amidst ruins 36 , and yellow evil faces
from behind fallen monuments. And I saw the world battling against blackness; against the waves of destruction from ultimate space; 38 whirling, churning; struggling around the dimming, cooling sun 39 . Then the sparks played amazingly around the heads of the spectators, and hair stood up on end 40 whilst shadows more grotesque than I can tell came out and squatted on the heads. And when I, who was colder and more scientific than the rest, mumbled a trembling protest about “imposture” and “static electricity” 41 , Nyarlathotep drave 42 us all out, down the dizzy stairs 43 into the damp, hot, deserted midnight streets. I screamed aloud that I was not afraid; that I never could be afraid; and Lovecraft seems to imply that evil occultists lurk behind superficially harmless mysticism. 36
37 The late 1900s were the high point of non-white immigration to America, and a vigorous and sustained public debate about illegal immigration was going on at the time Lovecraft was writing. See Joel S. Fetzer, Public attitudes toward immigration in the United States, France, and Germany. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Lovecraft was especially concerned about the ‘yellow’ Asiatic races. For the assumed links between race and the occult in America, see Susan Kay Gillman, Blood talk: American race melodrama and the culture of the occult. University of Chicago Press, 2003.
General relativity theory had long predicted the existence of gravitational waves in space.
39 Scientists did not yet know of nuclear energy and at that time they believed that the Sun was gradually cooling. This led to the sort of pessimism for the future that can be seen in the early scientific romances of H.G. Wells, among many others.
“Spiritualism was largely predicated on the new discovery of electricity” — Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America: Volume 2, 1990. p.770. 40
Houdini was back in the USA by July of 1920 and had set up home in New York City. He quickly announced his desire to stop performing for a year, and to devote himself instead to exposing the fraudulent nature of spiritualism. This was widely reported and would have presumably greatly endeared the man to Lovecraft. Lovecraft later met him and worked with him in exposing astrologers and spiritualist charlatans. 41
Archaic 18th Century spelling of ‘swear’.
43 Lovecraft’s fear of fainting must have led him to be very wary of long flights of steep and dimly-lit stairs, such as those found at subway entrances or in cinemas.
others screamed with me for solace 44 . We sware 45 to one another that the city was exactly the same, and still alive 46 ; and when the electric lights began to fade 47 we cursed the company over and over again, and laughed at the queer faces we made. I believe we felt something coming down from the greenish moon48 , for when we began to depend on its light 49 we drifted into curious involuntary formations 50 and seemed to know our destinations 51
though we dared not think of them. Once we looked at the
pavement and found the blocks loose and displaced by grass, with scarce a line of rusted metal to shew 52 where the tramways had run 53 . 44 Hillel Schwartz states that… “To be ‘spiritual’ around 1900 was, in the most nondenominational of senses, to be receptive, contemplative, inwardly quiet. It was, in the most nonscientific of senses, to be attentive to ‘vibrations’ emanating from other hearts, other beings, other times.” In: “Noise and Silence: the soundscape and spirituality” (paper given at the Realizing the Ideal conference, Korea, 1995). The bodily loss of control of sound here thus seems to indicate a loss of spiritual communion as well as simple mass panic. 45
Archaic 18th Century spelling of ‘drove’.
46 For Lovecraft on a ‘dead’ New York, see the New York short story “He” (1925): “this city of stone and stridor is not a sentient perpetuation of Old New York as London is of Old London and Paris of Old Paris, but that it is in fact quite dead, its sprawling body imperfectly embalmed and infested with queer animate things which have nothing to do with it as it was in life.”
Lovecraft would have read of the frequent large-scale electrical power failures that affected Philadelphia in 1919 and 1920. David E. Nye, When the Lights Went Out: A History of Blackouts in America. MIT Press, 2010. p.19. 47
See my earlier note for a discussion of green moons.
Green is the colour of the moon in astrology, in the sign of Cancer. Possibly the following phrase “curious involuntary formations” might then indicate the houses of the zodiac? 49
50 Again, this evokes the astrological signs of the zodiac, which one is born into without choice. 51 Again, this hint of predestinations seems to indicate being duped into believing in astrology. 52
Archaic 18th Century spelling of ‘show’. 179
And again we saw a tram-car 54 , lone, windowless, dilapidated, and almost on its side. When we gazed around the horizon, we could not find the third tower by the river, and noticed that the silhouette of the second tower was ragged at the top 55 . Then we split up into narrow columns, each of which seemed drawn in a different direction 56 . One disappeared in a narrow alley to the left, leaving only the echo of a shocking moan. Another filed down a weed-choked subway entrance, 57
howling with a laughter that was mad 58. My own column was
The recalls a string of early British science fiction ‘after civilisation’ poems and stories, which show ruined cities in great detail.. For more information see my anthology: London Reimagined: an Anthology of Visions of the Future City (2010). For the American experience see George Allan England’s The Vacant World (1912), and chapter 6 of Nick Yablon’s Untimely ruins: an archaeology of American urban modernity, 1819-1919. University of Chicago Press, 2010. 53
54 An early form of bus on rails set into the street, which was then transitioning from steam and horse-drawn power to overhead electricity cables.
Boston has a river outlet to the sea, the River Charles. Possibly the three towers, one ragged, reflects something of a real place? I know of no scholarship on the matter, but I do not have access to sets of Lovecraft Studies, Lovecraft Annual, Crypt of Cthulhu, etc. 55
In Robert Buchanan’s magnificent “The Devil’s Case” (1896) the narrator is flown by the Devil... “O’er the silent lamplit City”... 56
“Over plains where ghostly armies / Came and went, and smote each other, […] / Over silent legions waiting / For the nod of moon-struck rulers; […] / Shrieks of men and wails of women / Fill’d the air with lamentation [...] / Like strange forms reflected darkly / In the glass of a Magician” 57 “I cannot see a well or a subway entrance without shuddering.” — H.P. Lovecraft, “The Lurking Fear” (1922).
On 1st August 1918 a then-new subway shuttle system opened in New York, and there was a violent riot and stampede to get out of the new station. See Meyer Berger & Pete Hamill, Meyer Berger's New York. Fordham University Press, 2004. p.102.
On the opening of the subway system in New York: “Indescribable scenes of crowding and confusion, never paralleled in this city. […] a deadly, suffocating, rib-smashing subway rush which began at 7 o’clock tonight. Men fought, kicked and pummeled one another […] grey haired men pleaded for mercy, boys were knocked down and only escaped by a miracle from being trampled underfoot. The presence of the police alone averted what would undoubtedly have been panic after panic, with wholesale loss of life.” — New York Tribune, 28th October 1904. 180
sucked toward the open country, and presently felt a chill which was not of the hot autumn; for as we stalked out on the dark moor 59 , we beheld around us the hellish moon-glitter of evil snows 60 . Trackless, inexplicable snows, swept asunder in one direction only, where lay a gulf all the blacker for its glittering walls. The column seemed very thin indeed as it plodded dreamily into the gulf. I lingered behind, for the black rift in the green-litten 61 snow was frightful, and I thought I had heard the reverberations of a disquieting wail as my companions vanished; but my power to linger was slight. As if beckoned by those who had gone before 62 , I half floated between the titanic snowdrifts 63 , quivering and afraid, into the sightless vortex of the unimaginable. Screamingly sentient, dumbly delirious, only the gods that were can tell. A sickened, sensitive shadow writhing in hands that are not Again, Robert Buchanan’s “The Devil's Case” (1896)... “On the lonely Heath of Hampstead I awaken’d”. A heath is sort of moorland, like the heath where Macbeth met the witches. 59
Lovecraft grew faint in low temperatures, and as a consequence feared the ice and cold. In 1918... “Climatic conditions during the winter were more severe than had been experienced in New England for many years” — Annual Reports of the Department of Agriculture 1918 (1919). 60
The ‘green moon’ was adopted as a symbol by poets such as Lorca and Al-Bayati in the 1930s and 40s, although they cannot have influenced Lovecraft nor were they influenced by him. Such green and blue moons are associated with volcanic eruptions, caused by dust in the atmosphere, and were especially noted in the Autumn after Krakatoa erupted in 1883. Their rarity presumably gave rise to the popular saying “Once in a blue moon”. It is possible that green moons had a similar saying in the America of the 1910s, as in this comment from Furniture World magazine (Vol. 50, 1919) talking of post-war shortages... “In other words furniture is just about as obtainable as green moons — as we all know.” 61
Lovecraft must have commonly heard or read such phrases immediately after the Great War.
63 New England had especially deep and heavy snowfall of the winter 1915-16... “The heavy snowfall of the winter 1915-16 in New England has occasioned renewed interest in the subject of previous snowy winters. Snowdrifts with a maximum depth of 15 to 40 feet were reported.” — Monthly Weather Review, Vol. 45, 1918.
hands, and whirled blindly past ghastly midnights 64 of rotting creation, corpses of dead worlds with sores that were cities, charnel
winds that brush the pallid stars and make them flicker low 66 . Beyond the worlds vague ghosts of monstrous things; half-seen columns of unsanctified temples that rest on nameless rocks beneath space and reach up to dizzy vacua 67 above the spheres of light and darkness 68 . And through this revolting graveyard of the universe 69 the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping 70 whereunto dance Robert Buchanan, “The Devil's Case” (1896), which features the Devil as a scientistmagician in Egypt, has... “Everywhere Disease and Famine / Held their ghastly midnight revel” 64
Charnel house — a place or crypt for the storing of bones from dead bodies.
See my earlier note on the light and atmospheric pollution which dimmed the night stars. 66
Vacua — space completely devoid of any matter.
Classical antiquity believed in rings of mixed light and darkness between the earth and the heavenly aether above, colour being formed as a secondary quality from the interaction of these. 68
69 The whole story seems to be Lovecraft’s prescient anticipation of the disenchantment in the face of scientific advances in astronomy and astrophysics, and the collapse of religion.
Commercial radio broadcasting of music and voice had begun in America in 1920. The same year saw a public battle between competing commercial systems RCA and General Electric, for patents to transmit signals into homes. On 20th November 1920 Westinghouse began a general radio broadcasting service. No doubt some of Lovecraft’s correspondents experimented at this time with home-made crystal radio sets. Lovecraft would later enjoy twiddling the knobs to seeing how distant an overseas station he could pick up. Soon the homes and hearths of America would be filled with new types of ‘spirit voices’ from their radios, and would increasingly pass… 70
“from the control of known gods or forces to that of gods or forces which were unknown”. …with the consequent move away from the ‘skeptical’ fact-checking print-based culture, to the ‘believing’ huckster-credulous aural and visual mass cultures that existed from the 1920s to the arrival of the mass Internet around at the end of 1995. The 182
slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods 71
— the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is
contrast of noise and silence in “Nyarlathotep” seem to me to be very prescient (albeit in a dream-like manner) of this fundamental shift in the culture from around 1920 onwards, and the dangers it presented in terms of the rise of demagogues. This is linked in the story with the rise of the ‘mob mind’, those urban masses who act in a semihypnotised manner. The “mob mind” was a popular concept and talking point around 1919-1920. E.A. Ross's best-selling book Social Control (1901) had suggested that people were increasingly subject to a primitive “suggestibility” in crowded modern cities. In 1919 Ross’s student Robert Gault published The Psychology of Suggestion, drawing heavily on Ross's ideas and the concept of the mob mind, and this was no doubt reviewed in publications Lovecraft might have read. One might also point to Gustave le Bon’s The Crowd (published in America in 1896) which had argued that an individual who is too long in a crowd... “finds himself in a special state, which much resembles the state of fascination in which the hypnotized individual finds himself in the hands of the hypnotizer”. “ultimate gods”. Here Lovecraft anticipates his mythos of cosmic gods and beings other than those of Earth. They appear again in his The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (1927)… 71
“that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the centre of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes; to which detestable pounding and piping dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic Ultimate gods, the blind, voiceless, tenebrous, mindless Other gods whose soul and messenger is the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.” 183
BIBLIOGRAPHY This final bibliography is a ‘core’ one. Books referenced in the footnotes for some incidental facts or asides have not been included here. All footnotes try to give full references where possible, to save a lot of tedious page-flipping or scrolling, and thus there is no loss to the reader in terms of locating texts for further reading.
1) Walking as a practice Joseph A. Amato. On Foot: A History of Walking. New York University Press, 2004. Hakim Bey. “For and Against Interpretation”. In: Millennium. Autonomedia, 1996. Francesco Careri. Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice (Land & Scape). Gustavo Gili, 2001. Michel De Certeau (trans. by Steven Rendall). ‘Walking in the City’, The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press, 2006. Merlin Coverley. Psychogeography. (2nd Ed.). Pocket Essentials, 2010. Tim Cresswell. The Tramp in America. Reaktion Books, 2001. Renia Ehrenfeucht and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, “Walking on the Pavement: A Pre-Automobile History of Sidewalks, 1880–1920”, presentation to the Society for American City and Regional Planning History, St. Louis, November 2003. Irena Ehrenfeucht and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris. Sidewalks: conflict and negotiation over public space. The MIT Press, 2009. 184
Roger Farr. The Chronotype of the Derive: Notes Towards a Generic Description of the Psychogeographical Novel. Online, no date. Roger Gilbert. Walks in the World: Representation and Experience in Modern American Poetry. Princeton University Press, 1991. [Surveys ‘the walk poem’ in American literature.] Stephen Graham. The Gentle Art of Tramping. Ernest Benn, 1926. Anke Gleber. Art of Taking a Walk: Flanerie, Literature, and Film in Weimar Culture. Princeton University Press, 1998. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke. “The Enchanted City: Arthur Machen and Locality — Scenes from his Early London years”. Durham University Journal, 56, 2 (1995), pp. 301-13. Neil Harris. “Urban Tourism and the Commercial City”. In: Taylor, Inventing Times Square. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Martha J. Hoppin. Country paths and city sidewalks: the art of J.G. Brown. George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum. Tim Ingold. Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot (Anthropological Studies of Creativity and Perception). Ashgate, 2008. Knabb, K. (Ed. and trans.). Situationist International Anthology. Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981. Arthur Machen. The London Adventure or The Art of Wandering. Martin Secker, 1924. Geoff Nicholson. The Lost Art Of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, Literature, Theory And Practice Of Pedestrianism. Harbour Books, 2010. Kerry Segrave. America on Foot: Walking and Pedestrianism in the 20th Century. McFarland & Co., 2006. Edwin Valentine Mitchell, ed. The Art of Walking. Loring & Mussey, 1934. 185
Jeffrey C. Robinson. The Walk: Notes on a Romantic Image (Dalkey Archive Scholarly). Dalkey Archive Press, 2007. Sadie Plant. The Most Radical Gesture. Routledge, 1992. Andrea Phillips. “Walking and Looking”. Cultural Geographers. No 12, 2005, pp. 507-513. Rebecca Solnit. Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Verso Books, 2006. John Stilgoe. Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places. Walker, 1998. Nick Wagstaff. “A Patchwork of Digressions: Arthur Machen and The London Adventure”. Faunus 22, 2011. Anne D. Wallace. Walking, literature, and English culture: the origins and uses of peripatetic in the nineteenth century. Clarendon Press, 1993. [On the early origins of literary walking as an oppositional practice.] Yi-Fu Tuan. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values. Columbia University Press, 1990. Donald Zochert. Walking in America. Alfred A. Knopf, 1974. “The Philosophy of the Overlooked: Walking”. June 19th, 2006. The London Consortium / ICA. [Symposium]
The night and night walking
Christopher Dewdney. Acquainted with the night: excursions through the world after dark. Harper Collins, 2005. Mark Caldwell. New York Night: The Mystique and Its History. Simon and Schuster, 2005. A. Roger Ekirch. At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past. W.W. Norton, 2006. 186
Edward Harrison. Darkness at Night: A Riddle of the Universe. Harvard University Press, 1987. [‘History of science’ book, on the riddle of why the sky is dark at night] John Jakle. City Lights: Illuminating the American Night. John Hopkins University Press, 2001. Kerry Segrave. America on Foot: Walking and Pedestrianism in the 20th Century. McFarland & Co., 2006. William Chapman Sharpe. New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950. Princeton University Press, 2008. Joachim Schlor. Nights in the big city: Paris, Berlin, London 1840-1930. Reaktion, 1998. David Pike. Metropolis on the Styx: The Underworlds of Modern Urban Culture, 1800–2001. Cornell University Press, 2007. Bryan D. Palmer. Cultures of Darkness : night travels in the histories of transgression. Monthly Review Press, 2000.
3) The modern city Karin Bijsterveld. Mechanical Sound: technology, culture, and public problems of noise in the city. MIT Press, 2008. Nicholas Blomley. Rights of Passage: Sidewalks and the Regulation of Public Flow. Routledge, 2010. Paul S. Boyer. Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920. Harvard University Press, 1992. Neil Harris. “Urban Tourism and the Commercial City”. In: Taylor, Inventing Times Square. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. 187
John Jakle. City Lights: Illuminating the American Night. John Hopkins University Press, 2001. Clay McShane, and Joel Arthur Tarr. The Horse in the City: living machines in the nineteenth century. JHU Press, 2007. Rob Lapsley. “Mainly in Cities and at Night: Some Notes on Cities and Film”, in Clarke, Cinematic City, pp. 186-208. Alex Marshall. Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities. Running Press, 2007. Wolfgang Schivelbusch. Disenchanted Night: The Industrialization of Light in the Nineteenth Century. University of California Press, 1995. [History of street-lighting] Peter D. Norton. Fighting Traffic: the dawn of the motor age in the American city. MIT Press, 2008. David Pike. Metropolis on the Styx: The Underworlds of Modern Urban Culture, 1800–2001. Cornell University Press, 2007. Jonathan Raban. Soft City. The Harvill Press, 1974.
4) Cities and writers Dana Brand. The Spectator and the City in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Cambridge University Press, 1991. Mary Ann Caws. City Images: perspectives from literature, philosophy, and film. Routledge, 1991. Joanna Levin. Bohemia in America, 1858-1920. Stanford University Press, 2010.
Philippe Laplace and Eric Tabuteau. Cities on the margin, on the margin of cities : representations of urban space in contemporary Irish and British fiction. Presses universitaires franc-comtoises, 2003. Robert Mighall. A Geography of Victorian Gothic fiction: mapping history’s nightmares. Oxford University Press, 1999. William Chapman Sharpe. New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950. Princeton University Press, 2008. Andrew Levy. The culture and commerce of the American short story. Cambridge University Press, 1993. Edward J. O’Brien. The Dance of the Machines: The American Short Story and the Industrial Age. MacCaulay, 1929. David Pike. Metropolis on the Styx: The Underworlds of Modern Urban Culture, 1800–2001. Cornell University Press, 2007. Michael Sheringham. “City Space, Mental Space, Poetic Space: Paris in Breton, Benjamin and Réda”. In: Parisian Fields. Reaktion Books, 1996. Bryan D. Palmer. Cultures of Darkness : night travels in the histories of transgression. Monthly Review Press, 2000. Lawrence Phillips, Anne Witchard (Eds.). London Gothic: Place, Space and the Gothic Imagination. Continuum, 2010. Yi-Fu Tuan. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values. Columbia University Press, 1990. Peter Turchi. Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer. Trinity University Press, 2009.
5) New York in the 1920s Michael W. Brooks. Subway city: riding the trains, reading New York. Rutgers University Press, 1997. Mark Caldwell. New York Night: The Mystique and Its History. Simon and Schuster, 2005. George Chauncey. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940. Basic Books, 1995. Joel S. Fetzer. Public attitudes toward immigration in the United States, France, and Germany. Cambridge University Press, 2001. Jennifer Fronc. New York undercover: private surveillance in the Progressive Era. University of Chicago Press, 2009. Jay A. Gertzman. Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 19201940. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. Neil Harris. “Urban Tourism and the Commercial City”. In: Taylor, Inventing Times Square. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Michael A. Lerner. Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City. Harvard University Press, 2008. Joanna Levin. Bohemia in America, 1858-1920. Stanford University Press, 2010. James Nevius. Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City. James Nevius, 2009. Julia Solis. New York Underground: the anatomy of a city. Routledge, 2004. Douglas Tallack. New York sights: visualizing old and new New York. Berg, 2005. Caroline Farrar Ware. Greenwich Village, 1920-1930. University of California Press, 1994. 190
6) Urban America in the 1920s Susan Kay Gillman. Blood talk: American race melodrama and the culture of the occult. University of Chicago Press, 2003. Andrew P. Haley. Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American Middle Class, 1880-1920. University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Neil Harris. “Urban Tourism and the Commercial City”. In: Taylor, Inventing Times Square. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. John Jakle. City Lights: Illuminating the American Night. John Hopkins University Press, 2001. Eric H. Monkkonen. Police in urban America, 1860-1920. Cambridge University Press, 2004. Mae M. Ngai. Impossible subjects: illegal aliens and the making of modern America. Princeton University Press, 2005.
7) H.P. Lovecraft. Mara Kirk Hart and S. T. Joshi (eds.). Lovecraft’s New York Circle: The Kalem Club, 1924-1927. Hippocampus Press, 2006. S.T. Joshi. I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 vols.). Hippocampus Press, 2010. S.T. Joshi. (Ed.) The Lovecraft Letters: Letters from New York. Night Shade, 2005. S.T. Joshi. Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue (2nd revised edition). Hippocampus Press, 2002. Maurice Lévy. “H.P. Lovecraft and Surrealism”. Books At Brown, No 38/39. 1991/1992. pp.101-109. [H.P. Lovecraft special issue, apparently not published until 1995.] 191
H.P. Lovecraft, with David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi (eds.) Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Ohio University Press, 2000. H.P. Lovecraft. Collected Essays 4: Travel. Hippocampus Press, 2006. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. Hippocampus Press, 2004.
Cat and typical New York all-night café of the period, seen at night, of the sort Lovecraft and his circle would have patronized in the city. Picture: Mark Sebastian, Creative Commons.
INDEX Bronx, 63, 154 A All-Story, The, 160, 162
Brooklyn, 7, 36, 53, 56, 61, 80, 81, 89, 99, 101, 115, 135
anarchists, 14, 54, 95 C
Angell, Professor, 132, 133, 141 anthropology, 129, 130, 131, 133,
Call of Cthulhu, The, 7, 12, 30, 37,
135, 136, 139, 145, 146, 147
60, 111, 123, 132, 133, 134, 135,
Aragon, 12, 30, 32, 33, 34, 37, 38,
136, 138, 139, 141, 153, 159, 161, 162, 163, 167, 169
44, 51, 62 artists, 50, 78, 79, 109, 126, 137
canes, walking, 24, 25, 49
Asiatic, 75, 177
astrology, 119, 140, 141, 174, 178
Catholics, 24, 73, 112, 113, 115, 116,
astronomy, 12, 135, 140, 150, 151, 161, 162, 174, 181
126 catnip, 17, 48
autumn, 48, 173, 180
cats, 14, 17, 38, 47, 48
cemetery, 10, 36 censorship, 113, 115 B
Chicago, 63, 107, 111, 136, 167, 177, 179, 189, 190
Belknap, 46, 74
Chinatown, 57, 74, 96, 103
cinema, 10, 152, 176
Berlin, 38, 62, 186
Clinton Street, 7, 24, 49, 81, 101
Blake, William, 24
bohemianism, 109, 137, 141, 187,
Coleridge, 22, 24, 28
bomb, 54, 95
Coney Island, 13, 81, 82, 122, 123
cosmicism, 35, 42
Boston, 88, 90, 92, 95, 97, 99, 175,
crowds, 89, 93, 94, 101, 176
Bowery, 53, 58 193
Franz Boas, 6, 129, 130, 131, 133, 135, 136, 139, 142, 145, 146, 147,
Dagognet, 39 Dagon, short story, 12, 168
159 Freud, 10, 126, 137, 138, 140, 141
Dante, 98 De Quincey, 22, 23, 24, 26, 32, 33,
Fu Manchu, 96
Debord, 12, 39, 42 Galpin, 29, 30, 169
gargoyles, 123, 182
gaslight, 62, 65
Dickens, 61 Doc Savage, 104, 127 Double-R Coffee House, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 109, 141
George Kirk, 11, 24, 64, 74, 78, 113, 114, 150 Germany, 72, 177, 189 Gernsback, 99, 103, 162
ghastly, 158, 181 E Edison, 63, 175, 176 Egypt, 124, 144, 168, 170, 171, 173,
Golem, 32 gothic, 10, 23, 32, 35, 36, 37, 42, 94 Greenland, 134, 135 Greenwich Village, 79, 109, 126,
181 Egyptian, 123, 124, 144, 168, 173
Einstein, 150, 151, 161, 172, 176
Encylopeadia Britannica, 57, 117, Hart Crane, 37, 78, 97
119 Eskimo, 129, 130, 133, 134, 137, 159 ethnography, 16, 130, 132, 133, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 145
Haunter of The Dark, 163 heroin in NYC, 59 Horror At Red Hook, short story, 114, 117
F Fishhead, short story, 160 folklore, 10, 117, 118, 136, 145, 146 Francis Thompson, 24 Frankenstein, 104, 176 194
horses in the city, 53, 56, 57, 58, 66, 69 Houdini, 7, 119, 120, 135, 141, 177
I ice-cream, 6, 13, 62, 76, 82, 83, 84
Machen, 4, 23, 26, 33, 46, 184, 185
immigration, 54, 72, 75, 131, 177,
magic, 28, 111, 118, 120, 122, 127, 170
189 Innsmouth, 160
Irish, 73, 111, 113, 115, 188
manikins, 33, 62
Italian, 81, 111, 112, 115, 145
maps, 4, 27, 41, 67, 69 Marcellin, 146, 147
Margaret Mead, 130
Jamaica, NYC, 64
Masonic, 110, 123
jazz, 10, 73
Masons, belief group, 110
Jews, 32, 73, 74, 116, 117, 173
Maxfield, 83, 84
Jung, 10, 72, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141
Maze, see labyrinth McNeil, 10, 78
K Kabbalah, 116, 117, 118, 119
Minotaur, 68 Morton, 9, 49, 75, 85, 132, 136, 147, 150, 152
Munsey, 159, 160, 161
Kafka, 68 Kalem Club, 11, 24, 30, 49, 60, 64,
74, 76, 78, 113, 132, 136, 147, Nadja, 32, 51
150, 190 Kipling, 44
Kleiner, 24, 49 Oberon, 174 L
Oscar Wilde, 24
labyrinths, 67, 68, 97, 108 P
lanterns, 62, 65, 97 Leeds, 79, 150
Paris, 12, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 38,
Lefebvre, 39, 40
39, 42, 43, 51, 52, 62, 108, 153,
Lilith, 117, 129
156, 178, 186, 188
Loveman, 10, 17, 48, 57, 65, 76, 78, 153, 171, 175
Paris Peasant, novel, 12, 30, 32, 33, 34, 51 195
Russia, 75, 110
Plato, 93 Plotto, book, 126
Poe, 24, 25, 33, 97, 98, 159 Poughkeepsie, 150
Providence, 7, 9, 15, 32, 66, 73, 74,
Schivelbusch, 61, 187
75, 95, 121, 132, 136, 141, 149,
Segrave, 184, 186
150, 160, 161, 167, 170, 172, 175,
Serviss, 154, 161, 162, 163, 166, 167
Shakespeare, 77, 172, 174
psychoanalysis, 133, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 145
shamans, 134, 135 shoggoth, 96, 101
psychogeography, 12, 14, 22, 31, 41, 42, 44
Situationist, 12, 29, 39, 40, 42, 44, 184
psychology, 136, 138, 139, 140, 141, 174
skyscrapers, 101, 149, 152, 156 slums, 11, 36, 67
smell, 28, 57, 67 Spider, The, 103, 127 Q
Quatrefages, 146, 147 queer, 11, 25, 36, 59, 78, 79, 97, 109, 134, 141, 153, 178
spiritualism, 110, 122, 125, 141, 172, 177 Stopes trial, 116 Subways, 107 Surrealism, 29, 30, 31, 35, 37, 39, 40,
R radio, 10, 66, 126, 181
41, 42, 47, 49, 51, 62, 190 Suydam, 36, 99, 117, 129, 135, 137
Reich, 136 T
Relativity, 161, 172, 176 Rhode Island, 83, 84, 141
terrorism, 54, 55, 95
Rosemont, 31, 49
The Hound, short story, 10, 51
The Mound, short story, 115, 116
Ross, 40, 93, 95, 182
The Street, short story, 15, 43, 54,
Ruskin, 35, 54, 68 196
67, 73, 95
Theosophists, 109, 110
Wandrei, 84, 166, 167, 169
Warren, NYC, 83, 84 Weird Tales, 99, 102, 103, 114, 115, U
161, 163, 167 Wilmarth, 146
urbanism, 40, 42
Wisconsin, 66, 130, 139, 142 V Y
Verne, 156 VVV, magazine, 31
Yiddish, 57, 66, 74, 110, 117 Yog-Sothoth, 163
Yonkers, 55, 149, 150
Walpole, 35, 36
Selected books by the same author, in paperback at Lulu.com or for the Kindle ereader.
Books on H.P. Lovecraft: Ice Cores : essays on Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness. Lovecraft in Historical Context: Essays. Lovecraft in Historical Context : Further Essays and Notes. Lovecraft in Historical Context: a Third Collection of Essays and Notes.
Fiction: The Time Machine: a sequel. (For the Kindle in the USA only)
Anthologies: Werewolves in Literature: Vol.1. Werewolves in Literature: Vol.2. London Reimagined : an anthology of visions of the future city. (Free)
Published in the United Kingdom, 31st August 2011. Subsequent revisions for minor typing errors. A Kindle ebook edition is also available on Amazon.