Davis, Sonia H[aft Greene Lovecraft]
- (1883–1972).HPL’s wife (1924–29). Born Sonia Haft Shafirkin in Ichnya (near Kiev), in the Ukraine, she came to Liverpool with her mother and brother around 1890; her mother, Racille, went on to New York and married Solomon H ———(last name unknown) in 1892. Sonia joined her mother later that year. She married Samuel Seckendorff in 1899; a son, born in 1900, died after three months, and a daughter, Florence, was born on March 19, 1902. Seckendorff later adopted the name Greene from a friend in Boston. The marriage was turbulent, and Samuel Greene died in 1916, apparently by his own hand. In 1917 Sonia became acquainted with James F.Morton, who introduced her to amateur journalism. She was by this time a highly paid executive at a clothing store in Manhattan, Ferle Heller’s, and had a salary of $10,000. She resided at 259 Parkside Avenue in the fashionable Flatbush section of Brooklyn. She came to the NAPA convention in Boston in early July 1921; Rheinhart Kleiner introduced her to HPL. Shortly thereafter she contributed $50 to the UAPA (see SL1.143). A correspondence with HPL ensued, and over the next two and a half years she visited Providence as frequently as her business schedule (which indeed entailed considerable traveling) allowed. She published, at considerable expense, two lavish issues of the amateur journal The Rainbow(October 1921, May 1922); the first contained HPL’s “Nietzscheism and Realism” (a series of aphorisms derived from two of his letters to Sonia) and his revision of Sonia’s poem “Mors Omnibus Communis,” the second his story “Celephais.”In the spring of 1922 Sonia persuaded HPL to come to New York to meet his friends, notably Samuel Loveman; HPL stayed in Sonia’s apartment (April 6–12) while she stayed with a neighbor. She then persuaded HPL to spend more than a week with her in Gloucester and Magnolia, Mass. (June 26– July 5)—evidently the first time HPL had spent time alone with a woman to whom he was not related. At this time Sonia conceived the idea for the story “The Horror at Martin’s Beach,” which HPL later revised for her (published in WT[November 1923] as “The Invisible Monster”). The story “Four O’clock” (first published in HM[1970 ed.]) may also have been conceived then, but Sonia later testified that HPL merely suggested that she write it, and did not contribute any prose to the story (see Sonia H.Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, December 11, 1948; ms., JHL). In late July, HPL came to New York again—both to see Sonia and to continue on to Cleveland, where he spent time with Loveman and Alfred Galpin (July 30–August 15). Returning to New York, he stayed with Sonia until mid-October.By the spring of 1924 it was clear that HPL and Sonia were seriously involved. The impetus to marry probably came from her, but HPL agreed to it apparently without reluctance. He did not, however, inform his aunts of his decision; instead, he boarded a train to New York on March 2 and married Sonia the next day at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Manhattan. They left for a honeymoon in Philadelphia on March 4, but they spent much of the time retyping “Under the Pyramids,” a story ghostwritten for Harry Houdini, the typescript of which HPL had left in the Providence train station. They settled in Sonia’s apartment in Flatbush. (Her daughter Florence moved out around this time; evidence suggests that Florence did not approve of Sonia’s marriage to HPL.) Shortly thereafter Sonia either lost her position at Ferle Heller’s or resigned in order to begin her own independent hat shop; this venture was a failure, and by July HPL himself had to consider finding employment; his efforts were notably unsuccessful. From May 1924 to July 1925 Sonia was President of the UAPA and HPL Official Editor; they managed to publish a few issues of the United Amateur,largely containing contributions by themselves and their colleagues.In October 1924 Sonia was stricken with a gastric attack and had to spend several days in a hospital. By the end of December she managed to secure employment at Mabley & Carew’s, a department store in Cincinnati; she left on December 31. Sonia’s health continued to be poor. She twice spent time in a private hospital in Cincinnati, and by late February 1925 had lost her position and returned to Brooklyn. She spent most of the period from late March to early June in the home of a woman physician in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. After staying in Brooklyn for most of June and July, she secured a job at Halle’s, the leading department store in Cleveland, and worked there for just under a year. The result was that, during the period 1925–26 (when HPL moved into a single-room apartment at 169 Clinton Street in Brooklyn), she was with HPL for a total of only three months, mostly for a few days at a time at widely scattered intervals.By the spring of 1926 Sonia acquiesced in the wishes of HPL’s aunts that HPL return to Providence. She came with him to assist him in the relocation on April 17, spending about a week with him before returning to Brooklyn (she had by this time left Halle’s). At some point, either at this time or some months later, Sonia proposed opening a hat shop in Providence; but HPL’s aunts refused the offer, feeling it shameful for their nephew to have a wife working as a tradeswoman in their native city, where they were still part of the informal social aristocracy. For the next two years their relationship was conducted almost solely by correspondence, although HPL did return to New York on September 13–19, 1926, presumably because Sonia (who now had a position in Chicago) was on a purchasing trip to New York and asked HPL to come. In the spring of 1928 Sonia asked HPL to come to Brooklyn again, as she was setting up another hat shop. HPL stayed at her apartment (395 East 16th Street) from April 24 to June 7 while helping her set up the shop.By the end of 1928 Sonia must have begun to press for divorce, since she was no longer satisfied with a marriage by correspondence. HPL repeatedly refused to grant the divorce, claiming that a “gentleman did not divorce his wife without cause,” but he finally relented. Because of the restrictive divorce laws in New York State, the divorce was initiated in Rhode Island, under the charade that Sonia had deserted HPL. The final decree must have been issued in March or April 1929, but HPL did not sign it; therefore, he was never technically divorced from Sonia, and Sonia’s subsequent marriage was legally bigamous.The last time Sonia saw HPL was in mid-March 1933, when she had come to Hartford, Conn., for a visit and asked HPL to join her. (In correspondence HPL mentions the trip but not that he was meeting Sonia.) Later that year Sonia left for California; prior to her departure she destroyed HPL’s letters to her (only a few postcards survive). In 1936 she married Dr. Nathaniel Davis. She did not hear of HPL’s death until 1945. Three years later her memoir “Howard Phillips Lovecraft as His Wife Remembers Him” appeared in the Providence Sunday Journal(August 22, 1948), heavily edited by Winfield Townley Scott, the Journal’sliterary editor. Further edited by August Derleth, it appeared in Catsas “Lovecraft as I Knew Him” (rpt. LR). The original version, which survives at JHL, was published uncut bearing her original title: The Private Life of H.P. Lovecraft (Necronomicon Press, 1985, 1992). Additional recollections were published as “Memories of Lovecraft: I” ( Arkham Collector, Winter 1969; rpt. LR). Some letters by her to August Derleth in the 1940s were published in Gerry de la Ree’s article, “When Sonia Sizzled” (in Wilfred B.Talman, et al., The Normal Lovecraft[Gerry de la Ree, 1973]).See R.Alain Everts, “Mrs. Howard Phillips Lovecraft,” Nyctalops 2, No. 1 (April 1973): 45.
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.