Tag Archives: Lovecraft

Capturing Lovecraft Country

This week, I’m featuring some atmospheric photographs from our 1990 New England trip, accompanied by quotations from the Lovecraft  stories in which the location appears. So get ready to snuggle in and enjoy the scenes with a cup of cocoa, and do make sure the door is closed, and locked, behind you. It was closed, wasn’t it, a moment ago?

The Haunter of the Dark 

Of all the distant objects on Federal Hill, a certain huge, dark church most fascinated Blake. It stood out with especial distinctness at certain hours of the day, and at sunset the great tower and tapering steeple loomed blackly against the flaming sky. – The Haunter of the Dark


St John’s Church, Providence (Starry Wisdom Church)

St John’s was demolished in 1992. Although I quite like the out of focus photograph, as if a  pictorial hint that all is not well, I regret that I’ll never be able to take a better photograph of it now.

The Shunned House

The house was – and for that matter still is – of a kind to attract the attention of the curious…Benefit Street…was laid out as a lane winding amongst the graveyards of the first settlers, and straightened only when the removal of the bodies to the North Burial Ground made it decently possible to cut through the old family plots – The Shunned House


135 Benefit Street, Providence

The house, as a matter of fact, still stands. I understand it recently sold. I hope the new owner  takes a genial view of curious Lovecraft enthusiasts peering in through the ground floor window in the hope of catching sight of a giant, pallid elbow.

Old Burial Ground, Kingsport

Beside the road at its crest a still higher summit rose, bleak and wind-swept, and I saw that it was a burying-ground where black gravestones stuck ghoulishly through the snow like the decayed fingernails of a gigantic corpse. – The Festival


Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1990

Though it pleased me, I would have relished it better if there had been footprints in the snow, and people in the streets, and a few windows without drawn curtains – The Festival

The photograph does not do justice to the  eerie subsidence in these New England graveyards, as though something was tunneling diligently beneath – but perhaps it is best if what this is remains something we must not and cannot recall.

And finally a last word from Lovecraft in a more reflective mood, writing of his beloved Providence:

I never can be tied to raw, new things,
For I first saw the light in an old town,
Where from my window huddled roofs sloped down
To a quaint harbour rich with visionings.
Streets with carved doorways where the sunset beams
Flooded old fanlights and small window-panes,
And Georgian steeples topped with gilded vanes –
These were the sights that shaped my childhood dreams.
– Background 

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St Valentine’s Train

This poster depicts what people suspected  went on in the Orient Express in the Victorian era.

What Victorians suspected happened on board the Orient Express.

The Lovecraftian canon does not look kindly upon Romance.  Few characters have any kind of love life, and female characters such as Lavinia Whately in The Dunwich Horror and Asenath Waite in The Thing on the Doorstep meet horrible ends – although it can be argued that Asenath was not, mentally speaking, female. The case for Romance is slightly more cheering when we turn to the monstrous. The white ape-queen of Arthur Jermyn and the Deep One princess of The Shadow over Innsmouth both get their man and survive to return home. 

This lack could be because the knowledge of the insignificance of humankind in the face of cosmic horror blunts the romantic impulse, or it could proceed from Lovecraft’s life experience. Sonia Greene loved her man and admired his vision but she could not get work in Providence and he could not live in New York. The marriage lasted two years.

Fortunately Romance blossoms when we turn to the Orient Express. The mere idea of sleeping compartments , of strangers of the opposite sex reposing in close proximity, provided much delighted scandal in the staid Victorian Age. Colonel Mann was an early partner of Orient Express visionary, George Nagelmackers. Mann had a less than respectable private life, but this did not stop him attacking the rival Pullman carriages on moral grounds. The Pullman carriages had an open interior rather than enclosed compartments. Mann profitably harped on the immorality of being in mixed company when in night attire. As  E.H. Cookridge notes dryly in Orient Express, ‘No one seems to have studied the interior layout of Mann’s boudoir cars with sufficient attention to realize that his private cubicles for two persons were infinitely more improper…’.

The popular view of the Orient Express as a hotbed of romance and scandal is vividly expressed in the image above, a poster for a nineteenth century French farce. We suspect that the clergyman in the compartment on the far right is dallying with a lady who might not be his wife.

In Horror on the Orient Express we have allowed for some love amid the madness.  Christian and Veronique Lorien are the epitome of a committed and loving couple. The star-crossed lovers in Venice may yet prevail with investigator assistance. The divine soprano Caterina Cavorollo sings in the salon car of the Orient Express, in a pure expression of love that speaks to the soul of all who hear her, even cloth-eared investigators who would rather face the Black Goat of the Woods than listen to opera.

Christian & Veronique Lorien

Christian & Veronique Lorien

Romance endures, sometimes for a price. For $3200 AUD per person, a couple can travel from Paris to Venice on today’s loving re-creation of the  Simplon-Orient Express. The overnight journey is a romantic gesture par excellence. Mark and I could not afford that on our 2010 trip. We booked on the regular  service but we didn’t get on that either. There was a strike and the train was cancelled. We had an exceedingly unromantic overnight bus trip to Milan instead. The Orient Express branded carpet at  St Lucia station in Venice was as close as we got.

Rolling out the red carpet

Rolling out the red carpet


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The Dream Cities of Istanbul and Providence

A seat is now empty, but the train moves on. Let us follow Randolph Carter, and journey in search of cities lost in time and dreams.

As part of my research for the Traveler’s Companion, I’m reading Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City. This isn’t the place to talk about Pamuk’s stature as a writer. It is Pamuk’s Istanbul that I am concerned with here, the city of his childhood in the 1950 and 60s, and how this can be related back to a Lovecraftian experience of Istanbul in the 1920s.

Pamuk evokes a city of winter, of darkness, of shadow, of twilight, of gloom and poverty. He lingers lovingly over every detail of the slow ruin of the grand old mansions lining the Bosporus. Pamuk’s city is permeated with an aching consciousness of loss, huzun,  a Turkish word he re-interprets as a communal melancholy suffered by Istanbul residents, arising from a deep awareness of their city’s fall from greatness.

Lovecraft’s twilight city, his dream Providence, is a fleeting glimpse filled with ‘the poignancy and suspense of almost-vanished memory, the pain of lost things, and the maddening need to place again what had once had an awesome and momentous place.’

These are two very different writers confronting the same vision, and both writers assert the primacy of their dream city over the reality, to the point where reality shadows the dream. At the time of writing Istanbul, Pamuk had never left the city, and indeed had returned to live in the same apartment building that he lived in as a child. He felt the city fed his imagination and he would lose too much if he left. Lovecraft stayed in Providence and on College Hill, apart from a short unhappy stint in New York. He could not abandon the city that stood at the center of his craft. His tombstone reads, simply, ‘I am Providence.’

Pamuk also collected newspaper columnist jottings, some of which he shares in a chapter of Istanbul. Here is an admonition from our period, 1929, a final word on lost places and lost times:

“Like all the clocks that adorn our city’s public spaces, the two great clocks on either side of the bridge at Karaköy don’t tell the time so much as guess it; by suggesting that a ferry still tied to the pier has long since departed, and at other times suggesting that a long-departed ferry is still tied to the pier; they torture the residents of Istanbul with hope.”

H.P. Lovecraft's grave, Providence

H.P. Lovecraft’s grave with the dedication “I am Providence”. Photo taken on HPL’s 100th birthday; note the brain-shaped fungus, lovingly laid. (Providence, 1990)


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