As a follow-up to my recent “Lovecraft on a rollercoaster” post, I’ve come across an even more incongruous event, drawn from the man’s seemingly-bottomless life-story. Lovecraft once spent the evening at the Providence Jewish Community Center, in the company of his latest ‘grandson’ who appears to have been a boy-genius. Presumably he was surrounded by Jewish people. He was there to listen avidly to a lecture from a left-leaning Jewish psychiatrist. Amazing, when you consider Lovecraft’s rhetorical anti-Semitism, but true.

“I remember going with him one evening to some Jewish cultural center, to hear a talk by the Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler … Lovecraft was intensely interested in hearing Adler…” (Kenneth Sterling in Lovecraft Remembered, p.379)

Kenneth Sterling was the boy-genius and he lived in Providence for about a year from early 1935, so their trip to see Adler is likely to have been sometime between about late March 1935 and early 1936. Here is Lovecraft describing meeting the fourteen year-old Sterling at Lovecraft’s home in early March 1935…

“the important visitor appeared … a little Jew boy about as high as my waist, with unchanged childish treble [i.e.: voice] & swarthy cheeks innocent of the Gillete’s [razor’s] harsh strokes. He did have long trousers — which somehow looked grotesque upon so tender an infant” (Lovecraft in S.T. Joshi, I Am Providence, p.947)

The speaker that Sterling and Lovecraft went to hear was Alfred Adler. Adler was a leading psychiatrist of the early 1930s, at a time when the new Freudian psychiatry was struggling for acceptance in America. To simply matters: Adler tried to tone down the grotesqueries of Freud and the mysticism of Jung, and he was vilified for it by the Freudian faithful. Was Adler in Providence? Yes, very much so, and not simply as part of a whistle-stop national lecture tour…

“Adler assumed his duties in 1932 as visiting professor of medical psychology [at Long Island College of Medicine]”. [He] “gave lectures elsewhere in America from time to time” [… and his Marxist wife was found an appointment at Boston in 1934]. (Phyllis Bottome, Alfred Adler; a biography, pp.229-230).

“Dr. Dey and Miss Dey, the Principal of the Mary C. Wheeler School [on the East Side of] Providence, were among Adler’s special friends” […] “young and stimulating friends, and of great assistance to Adler, since they gave fortnightly meetings at their house to whomever they felt Adler would like to meet.” […and their school they] “gave him the opportunity he valued most of regular work among children” […] “he spoke of this school often to friends in Europe” (Phyllis Bottome, Alfred Adler; a portrait from life, p.203 and p.214).

It therefore seems quite likely that Adler would have accepted an invitation to speak at the city’s local Jewish cultural center. This Center was located just one mile from the Wheeler School in the East Side, where Alder did his work with children. It seems that he gave many talks in the city, from time to time…

“In Providence, Adler spoke at Brown University and the Providence Medical Association. He also addressed the parents and teachers of the Mary C. Wheeler School” (from introduction to Adler, Superiority and Social Interest: A Collection of Later Writings, 1965)

The Jewish Cultural Centre (JCC) had been located at 65 Benefit Street since 1914. It was named the Hebrew Education Institute from 1914-1925, then became known as the Jewish Community Center in 1925. This re-naming in 1925 marked a radical new mission — to appeal to any and all Jews in the city, secular or religious….

“It counted within its membership persons from all walks of life and every part of the city. […] it had over 100 organized activities catering to many human needs and desires. [One of its declarations was…] ‘NOT a partisan in discussion — BUT the home of discussion’.” (Horvitz, “The Jewish Community Center of R.I.”, Rhode Island Jewish Historical Notes, Nov 1972, pp.157-158).

It’s also interesting to note that Lovecraft would perhaps have seen the Adler lecture introduced by one Jacob I. Cohen. J.I. Cohen was the Jewish Community Center’s Director from 1926 to 1948. Not only was Cohen a Jew, but — judging by Cohen’s photograph — Lovecraft’s horrified eyes may well have detected a partial black ancestry. One wonders quite how tightly Lovecraft was gripping his chair-arms at that point…