Friday, January 08, 2010

Lovecraft: Deaf !

Lovecraft had attended a Boston Hub Club amateur journalism meeting between Thursday, 12 April 1923 through Tuesday, 17 April 1923 including traipsing through numerous communities such as Danvers, Amesbury, and Newberryport. This obviously was a whirlwind, and he does say he was exhausted at the conclusion. [To Galpin, 1 May 1923] "…it was a great trip, but fatigued me prodigiously."

In that same 1 May {To Galpin] letter, he says, "Since then a sort of modify'd grippe hath claimed me, and I'm at this moment nearly stone-deaf." The common definition of "grippe" is influenza (from the French "quarrel" implying a seizing). This was not a light term to toss about, as it often was a source of death. For instance, in a genealogy on line we read: "Died: Robert T. Northup age 59 years, 8 months: Cause of death: " Grippe ".

However, it must have been a catch-all for HPL. This was the same exclamation he made in 1937 prior to his own (HPL's) death – the "grippe".

I think we can assume he was running on nervous energy during his trip, came home to Providence, and collapsed. On other occasions he would sleep off and on for days. If he also got sick, then it certainly didn't help. However, he may have simply been ill to his stomach due to an ear issue. if there is an overproduction of ear wax, it may lead to an impacted ear, if not cleared on time. Impacted ear wax or an 'impacted ear' can cause symptoms such as pain in the ear, cough, vertigo, itching, and deafness.

In a 2006 oral history report, "Old Man Couldn't Hear", Tales from Kentucky Doctors, by William Lynwood Montell, he reports a remarkable event. After investigating a septuagenarian patient, who "couldn't hear" out of his right ear, the doctor irrigated his ear. "Oh there's no use … I've been deaf in that ear since I was a baby," the elderly gentleman said. The doctor looked, and said, "Did you know you had something in your ear?" Under the ear wax was something green. The doctor extracted it, and it was a piece of paper when unfolded was about two square inches. Unfurled, it was evident that it was a Saers-Roebuck catalog fragment complete with the word 'Sears' imprinted. Yes, strange things can happen!

Today we also know that fluid buildup in the middle ear may as the result of excess fluid produced during a previous episode of a cold or the flu.

Lovecraft may not have actually had influenza, because he was still able to write letters. If you've had the flu, it's unlikely you'd want to write a lot of letters. So he must have had some other intestinal malady – severe, uncomfortable, but he was at least cogent and mobile.

In a letter to James Morton dated Thursday, 3 May 1923, he's been "near-deaf" and has been for a "week and a half". On top of this, he reports the same "digestive issues".

Putting the pieces together, this would date his deafness to about Monday, 23 April about a week after his return from his intensive Hub Club episode. (There is a reported 22 April 1923 letter to James Morton, but I do not have a copy of this.)

Our next extant letter (at least what I have access to) is to Frank B. Long dated Sunday, 13 May and says he has heard from Baird about Weird Tales stories, that he's accepted, and that he's hopeful for Long's visit to providence. Not much about

Next, to James Morton on Thursday, 17 May 1923, he has had a relapse of the grippe. He continues to be deaf, and reports the same letter from Baird. By now, HPL has been deaf for about 24 days with constant stomach issues. It's unlikely that influenza would last 2/3 of a month, so perhaps this could now be attributable to inner ear nausea.

Next, in a letter to Frank Long dated Saturday, 26 May, 1923 he still reports being deaf and had an appointment with a specialist. His Aunt insists! This certainly would have exceeded a month by now.

One assumes that the appointment was for Monday, 28 May 1923. (?)

In a Tuesday, 29 May 1923 dated letter, HPL reports the results. Hardened earwax below the visible sight line has blocked his hearing and has now been removed. HPL berates the general practitioner he'd previously seen (unknown date) for missing it.

(Wednesday, the 30th was a Memorial Day holiday.)

The only other significances of late April and May 1923 seemed to be his correspondences including to Baird on Weird Tales, and it's reported that HPL wrote the poem "To Endymion" in April (date?). He was also entranced with Einstein theories during May as he indicated to Morton late in the month.

Thus we see a month in the life of HPL, and his bout of deafness!

[Letters to Kleiner, Galpin, Joshi's biography, and Derleth's original Lovecraft Letters Vol. 1 were consulted, as well as a myriad of internet sources].

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