Page Seventeen IV: The Voyage Home

Incidents and fragments continued —

To gain some appreciation for Lovecraft’s sudden change in fortune, it is necessary to know that he was the only child in the great house on Angell Street, which, apart from the stabilizing authority of his grandfather and the occasional presence of his great uncle Edward Everett Philips (1864-1918), who got married when Lovecraft was just three years old, was a house of women. In addition to his son, Whipple had sired three daughters who lived to adulthood (a fourth died in childhood), and as yet, only Susie had found–and lost–a husband. The full weight of the smothering maternal attentions of his mother, his grandmother, and his two still-unwed aunts, to say nothing of the maids, descended around young Lovecraft like a storm of scented rose petals.

In the short term, Lovecraft’s upbringing fell to his mother, his aunts Lillian and Annie (now married to the journalist Edward F. Gamwell) and especially to his grandfather Whipple Phillips, a successful businessman who was involved in a number of different enterprises. These ranged from real estate speculation (he virtually established the small town of Greene, in western Rhode Island) to manufacturing to land development in the far west. It was he who had caused the large and lavishly furnished house at 454 Angell Street to be built on 1880-81, with space for five live-in servants. The house and grounds became a spacious area for the expansion of the boy’s imagination and intellect. The house was then at the very edge of the developed part of the city, making Lovecraft feel simultaneously a part of the urban and the rural milieu. Whipple, for his part, showed the boy objects from ancient Rome that he had brought back from his travels abroad, and he also told the boy extemporaneous weird tales, their imagery chiefly derived from the old Gothic novels.

The description Whipple had given of her had been biased. She wasn’t skinny. She was small, a couple of inches shorter than Lily, who came up to my nose, with smooth fair skin, brown hair and eyes, and hardly any lipstick on her wide full mouth. Her handshake was firm and friendly without overdoing it. Lily told me afterward that her brown woollen dress was probably Bergdorf, two hundred bucks. She didn’t want a cocktail.

“I was wondering,” she said, “where a curlew puts his long beak when he goes to sleep.”

He awoke suddenly and completely, wondering why he had let himself drop off when he hadn’t meant to, and quickly looked at the luminous dial of his wrist watch. It gleamed brightly in the otherwise utter darkness and told him that the time was only a few minutes after eleven o’clock. He relaxed; he’d taken only a very brief cat nap. He’d gone to bed here, on this silly sofa, less than half an hour ago. If his wife really was going to come to him, it was too early. She’d have to wait until she was positive that his damned sister was asleep, and sound asleep.

They floated in the darkness for hours, listening to the “frightful sounds” of “ghastly cries, shrieks, yells, and moans,” that “gradually died away to nothing.”

Seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven books lying around in various stages of read and unreadness, three of them featuring men called Whipple.

Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny; The Dream World of H.P. Lovecraft: His Life, His Demons, His Universe by Donald Tyson; H.P. Lovecaft: A Short Biography by S.T. Joshi; A Right to Die by Rex Stout; The Well at World’s End by Neil M. Gunn; Nightmare in White, from Nightmares and Geezenstacks by Fredric Brown; the chapter on Saved from the Titanic from Lost Films: Important Movies That Disappeared by Frank Thompson.


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