I have my first question on Lovecraft, from a $6 Patreon patron…


John Miller writes…

Thanks for great content at Tentaclii. I have a two-part question about HPL, if you’re willing to tackle it.

1) Did he read Ernest Hemingway, and do we know what he thought of Hemingway?

2) I love the idea of HPL and Hemingway possibly meeting. What an awkward conversation that would have been, though perhaps they would have bonded over cats! At any rate, were they ever in the same place at the same time? I’m wondering especially about HPL’s visit to Key West. I think Hemingway was out of town those days, but I’m not 100-percent certain.

Thank you!


Ernest Hemingway published his first novel in 1926, just as Lovecraft was writing “The Call of Cthulhu”. Over time Lovecraft’s star dimmed away almost to nothing, while Hemingway struck the world like a meteorite. So much so, that Robert Bloch once remarked that it was difficult to conceive that Lovecraft had actually been living and working in the same era as Hemingway. Another protege, J. Vernon Shea, also observed that… “Part of the reason for Lovecraft’s unpopularity with the literary critics of his day lay in the fact that mainstream literature, following Sherwood Anderson’s and Hemingway’s leads, was turning more and more toward simple sentences and action–packed narration”. One suspects this was not the whole story, and that political axe-grinding was also involved. Perhaps unwittingly abetted by ammunition provide to the critics by the heavy genre-policing of the horror / science-fiction divide in the 1950s.

But Lovecraft lived a life surrounded by long-ago books, some which had been printed and bound when Shakespeare was a boy. As such he took the long-view on matter of taste, feeling relatively un-phased by fleeting trends. Here he writes to Moe in June 1930, alluding to shifting literary tastes and what would become the bitter culture wars of the 1930s…

The only rational attitude of a civilised man [i.e. writers such as Dreiser, Hemingway etc] is to let all the evidence about life go on the record impartially … Nor need we fear that the free circulation of all the evidence is going to have any especial effect on the direction of the civilisation, one way or the other. Trends come from deeper sources that what is written on the surface of literature, and the average domestic adjustments of 1980 or 2030 will not depend on the question of whether Ernest Hemingway is encouraged or not in 1930. … all this business is only a drop in the bucket as scaled against other vital trends in civilisation.

He thought of the early Hemingway as one of the “honest portrayers and intelligent interpreters” of his times, but smiled wryly in March 1931 at the often plebeian nature of the protagonists depicted…

It does not take a microscope to perceive that Ernest Hemingway and John V.A. Weaver have much greater intellectual command of their material than would the kind of people they depict.

Also in 1930 Lovecraft compared Hemingway unfavourably with the truth-telling wits of his beloved 18th century…

Dean Swift [Jonathan Swift, has] a typical piece of sentimental deflation that even an Hemingway cou’d scarcely lead to!

Yet, as with his friend R.E. Howard, Lovecraft recognised that Hemingway was writing ‘what was in him’. Stuff that ‘had to come out’ in a way fitted to the author…

they are right in stripping down to vulgate essentials when they wish to say what they have to say. … To suppose a man with the aesthetick and philosophick visions of Hemingway could say anything in the French pastry jargon of Thornton Wilder … is to miss the whole point and purpose and mode of functioning of language.

This letter was written before the Great Depression really started to bite, and Hemingway joined the herd of what Lovecraft called “political radicals” steadily drifting leftward. One wonders if Lovecraft read more of Hemingway in book and interview in 1931/32, and wearied a little of both the style and the politics. Possibly Hemingway would have been encountered in the form of stories printed in the Saturday supplements of the mainstream press. Does Lovecraft show this irritation in June 1932, writing to Moe on the topic of reading literature aloud? It…

Isn’t wholly a matter of words, and often a smooth ample passage is more direct … ample phonetic harmony means a lot in itself. Good prose needs rhythm … there’s no excuse for barking out an Hemingway machine-gun fire, when one could weave prose which can be read aloud without sore throat or hiccoughs.

By this time Hemingway was rapidly moving left, and in mid 1932 was giving press interviews in which he stated that if he expressed his true leftist beliefs… “I would be jailed for their publication”. Such interviews, and the inevitable press comment on them, were probably not calculated to endear the Hemingway of 1932 to Lovecraft. Lovecraft could pass off his friend Loveman’s pose as a red-dyed Debs-ist syndicalist as an intellectual affectation, similar that of Long’s penthouse communism and old Morton’s mildewed 1900s anarchism. None of these fellows were going to be throwing dynamite into the Providence Courthouse any time soon. But to hear it in public from ‘the coming man’ in literature in 1932, as the Great Depression deepened, may have been another matter. It might have peeved Lovecraft.

Along with his evident genius, I would guess that Hemingway’s political sentiments probably helped ease his passage through the literary world of the 1930s. By the time of Lovecraft’s death he is said to have been an outright hard-line Stalinist, which may be why I can find no trace of Lovecraft mentioning him after 1932. He and his work became the centre of a long-standing critical consensus on, in S.T. Joshi’s words, what was later seen as… “an outmoded and superficial realism that vaunted the barebones style of a Hemingway or a Sherwood Anderson as the sole acceptable model for English prose.” (I Am Providence).

But Lovecraft was eventually proved right in taking a more long-term view of shifting tastes and sentiments. To ‘stick’ for decades, the consensus had to be made bitterly hard and exclusionary — and it consequently crumbled away.

But how much of Hemingway had Lovecraft actually read? S.T. Joshi, in considering Lovecraft’s arduous and health-breaking ghost-writing of Well-bred Speech (1936) remarks…

consultation of his letters shows that, while he had indeed read a good many of these [authors, inc. Hemingway], others he either was planning to read but apparently never did or knew merely by reputation.

It appears that we don’t actually know what Hemingway he had sampled, unless the details are salted away in some book of letters I’ve not yet seen. One imagines the Derleth and Howard letters have have some mentions. When he was writing to Moe, Hemingway had published two collections of short stories (The Sun Also Rises, and Men Without Women), Death in the Afternoon (non-fiction, Spanish bullfighting), and A Farewell to Arms (the American war novel and love story of the First World War). In his 1936 Reading Guide in Well-bred Speech Lovecraft only cites “Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms)” among a long list of modern works “worth exploring”.

Lovecraft never lived to read To Have and Have Not (October 1937), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), Across the River and Into the Trees (1950), or The Old Man and the Sea (1951), nor to read the acceptance speech for Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Prize.

What of Key West? Hemingway wintered at the sunny Florida resort in 1928/29, and for many winters thereafter. “We have a fine house here” he told the press in 1932, and told them also of his exotic travels to Cuba, Europe, and East Africa. He also bought a boat and sailed the Caribbean. He was deemed a virile hard-edged “man of action”, actually somewhat akin to the types that Lovecraft’s fans read about in the action pulps, but apparently one dreaming of Stalinist power-fantasies rather than riding a zebra across Dunsanian dreamlands.

Lovecraft meanwhile wintered in Barnes Street, Providence, often shivering like an old gent in heavy blankets over a flickering oil stove. He never had the cash to hop on a boat to Havana, still less to carouse, fish and hunt flamingos there. But he did once make it to Key West, a trip enabled by cheques from the March 1932 appearance of “The Trap” in Strange Tales, and from some revision work. A series of long ferry and bus trips then took him ever-southward along the Florida Keys to Key West. S.T. Joshi remarks “Lovecraft spent only a few days in Key West, but he canvassed the place thoroughly.” He found the place was rather Spanish, but not too much, the weather and heat and spicy food must have perked him up superbly…

The best coat of tan I ever had was during this recent trip, when Key West and Miami added to the acquisitions of St. Augustine and Dunedin.

Might the tanned and cheerful Lovecraft then have once dropped in on some waterfront cafe, to hear a manly “Hemingway machine-gun fire” voice reading from A Farewell to Arms? Could the two men have then met, even collaborated? It seems unlikely, but Joshi states that at Key West…

Lovecraft remarks having done “quite a bit on a new story yesterday”, but he ceased abruptly once he heard the news of the rejection [of At the Mountains of Madness]. This story fragment does not, apparently, survive.

This seems like a good factual opening for a fictional Hemingway—Lovecraft meeting and collaboration, if anyone cares to write such a thing. One imagines that Hemingway knew of Robert E. Howard and his bold style, perhaps via several notable summer 1931 tales in Oriental Stories. Did he read such manly tales of the Orient? Well, he used to write such tales, and only a few years prior to his breakthrough success in 1929.* Anyway, if Hemingway did occasional pick up a copy of Oriental Stories while waiting around in fishing shacks for the tide to be right, then an R.E. Howard connection might have provided Lovecraft with the entree to Hemingway’s circle. Also they were also both, in their own ways, uber-realists and yet uber-fantastists. One can then imagine them relaxing with each other, out in front of a beach-hut and working out some manly Robert E. Howard pastiche. Then deciding, amid much laughter, to actually write the thing at speed and mail it to Cross Plains — in part so as to blow away the cobwebs of Hemingway’s strange Einstein-ian experimental short-story of time, “Homage to Switzerland” (written March-June 1932).

The dates and locations are not entirely against such a thing. Hemingway was in Cuba in June 1932, spending several weeks fishing there — having successfully rounded up and transported a flock of flamingos to adorn his new Key West home. Lovecraft was strolling around Key West, exploring the place and probably offering the mundane tourists a rather noticeable figure despite his rich tan. 100 miles of sparkling water separated the two men, but it’s not impossible that Hemingway might have sailed over to Key West for a few days to check on his new flamingos, then headed back to Cuba. It would also be plausible for a fiction writer to imagine an alternative timeline in which Lovecraft had just heard that At the Mountains of Madness had been accepted by Weird Tales, and that editor Wright had then generously wired Lovecraft the dollars needed to spend a few weeks in Cuba.



* “… examining the subject matter of much of Hemingway’s early fiction through the all-fiction magazines offers a context for his development other than modernism. Hemingway’s fiction is in many ways closer to Adventure and All-Story than to the aesthetic sensibilities of Pound and T. S. Eliot. … Hemingway attempted to perfect the popular story formula. His topics and settings are undeniably the stuff of the early genre fiction magazines that composed the general fiction market. Boxing, gambling, mercenaries, trappers, hunters, and the underworld were grist for the pulp mill, as they were for Hemingway … Letters of Hemingway from 1919 recount his storming the walls of popular magazines with a barrage of stories. … he learned salability from popular magazines. … The foundational influences of the popular wood-pulp magazines never left him; they were integral to his concept of authorship. More than that, though, they were integral to his concept of audience.” (Ernest Hemingway in Context, Cambridge University Press, 2013)