Monday, October 29, 2007

Sonia Greene's passport (Image) circa 1932

Lovecraft, Howard Phillips). Davis, Sonia Haft Greene Lovecraft. SONIA HAFT GREENE LOVECRAFT'S U.S. PASSPORT, DATED 22 JUNE 1932. Stiff maroon leatherette wrappers. A rather mordant memento of Lovecraft's wife and their brief, unsuccessful marriage. A postcard laid into the passport casts a shadow, or perhaps a ray of illumination, across that marriage. It's an official notification to Sonia, reading, "The hearing on your petition for naturalization has been set for the day of August 20, 1925 at 9:00 A.M. É" Her marriage allowed her, a Russian immigrant, to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S. and gain the resulting security at a time of international tension. She had come to this country (from the Ukraine) to join her mother in 1892 when she was 9. When she was 16 she married Samuel Seckendorff (who three years later took the name of Greene). That marriage was also unhappy and her husband died in 1916, apparently a suicide. Why Sonia did not apply for naturalization during this marriage is not clear. Perhaps Seckendorff was also an immigrant. At any rate, soon after her marriage in March, 1924 to Lovecraft (who was 7 years her junior), she did begin a successful application. The passport was issued to her on June 22, 1932 just before she took a month-long Cook's Tour of Europe (specifically: England, France and Belgium). She and Lovecraft had begun sleeping separately before the first year of their marriage was out. Indeed, their honeymoon foreshadowed trouble, being spent retyping HPL's "Under the Pyramids," ghost written for Weird Tales under the byline of Harry Houdini. HPL had lost the typescript at the Providence train station as he traveled to New York for his marriage, an accident that some might consider a classic Freudian slip to delay what the fastidious Lovecraft most probably did not consider "a consummation devoutly to be wished." The official end of the marriage came in the late 1920s. Sonia made the last of her three marriages in 1936 to Dr. Nathaniel Davis, moving to California to join him. Her two letters here, one asking for the return of a photograph and the other replying to a 1950 request for HPL memorabilia, do not have any whiff of literary finish, or even an attempt at one. It makes one a little skeptical perhaps of the depth of her interest in journalism while she was courting HPL. In reply to the memorabilia seeker, she listed five books from his library that she had, but declined to set a price for them, asking instead for an offer from him -- a shrewd trading tactic. But if this was a marriage of convenience from the wife's point of view, it was also one from the husband's. She was making a very good salary in the fashion business when they got married and Howard undoubtedly saw this as an end of his financial worries. If it's difficult to summon up a picture of Greene in love with literature, it's even more difficult to summon up a picture of Lovecraft in love with a woman. The actuality of married life was harder than he imagined. The first irony came when Sonia hit a rocky patch in her career in the mid- and late '20s, and contracted health problems at the same time. Laid in to the passport is a torn off clothing label reading, "Sonia Greene 25 West 57th St New York," representing her unsuccessful venture to set up on her own millinery, away from the department stores where she had worked. She had to move to a succession of Midwestern cities to get jobs, and her colonial antiquarian husband refused to move that far from New England -- and his aunts. In 1926, HPL returned to them and Providence. But the two years in New York, where he was a little fish in a big pond, and in matrimony, where he was a fish out of water entirely, jolted him out of his complacent fantasy world and initiated a new writing style that marked the beginning of his mature and most productive phase. He lost nothing of his old exoticism but found a new straightforward sincerity that gave the gorgeous fabric of his diction a living structure to drape instead of lying in an inert heap on a pedestal. In her reply to the HPL collector, Sonia writes, "Someday these small items are likely to be worth a great deal more even than anything of Edgar Allen Poe's." This is a hyperbolic claim for 1950 but considerably less so for 2007. Does it represent astute criticism or merely aggressive salesmanship? It's hard to say. Her destruction of his letters argues against a mercenary attitude on her part. Still, she got something out of the marriage --citizenship. It failed to give Howard what he expected -- financial security -- but it inadvertently gave him something more important, a painful catalyst initiating his most creative period. The marriage turned out to be an important passport for each of them. (#109132) Price: $3,000.00

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