Sunday, November 29, 2015

Untrodden Fields: Robert E. Howard’s Sex Library; Part 2 by Bobby Derie

Intro From Part One:

[Some considerable work has been done by Howard scholars Dr. Charlotte Laughlin, Glenn Lord, L. Sprague de Camp, Steve Eng, and Rusty Burke to identify the books that comprised Robert E. Howard’s personal library, based primarily on the holograph list of books that Dr. I. M. Howard donated to form the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection after his son’s death, as well as Robert E. Howard’s surviving letters and papers. Among these books are a number of works of erotica or curiosa which, while not pornographic to contemporary tastes, were nevertheless concerned with some aspect of sexuality (usually from a scholarly or pseudo-scholarly perspective) and were often treated as such. It is interesting to see, based on these books, what light if any they can shed on Howard’s life and work.]

Otto A. Wall
Sex and Sex Worship (Phallic Worship) (1919) by Otto A. Wall is demonstrative of the difficulty in assigning a specific source to certain of Howard’s beliefs; a substantial tome of over 600 pages and more than 300 black-and-white illustrations, nominally “A Scientific Treatise on Sex, its Nature and Function, and its Influence on Art, Science, Architecture, and Religion—with Special Reference to Sex Worship and Symbolism” it would perhaps more honestly be described as a pseudo-Victorian, quasi-academic hodgepodge of all matters related to sex and religion that the author could dig up, with as many pictures of nude woman in ancient art, medical textbook drawings, or anthropological photographs as Wall could squeeze in, covering everything from ancient mythology to Ernst Haeckel. Much of the material, if Howard ever read the whole thing, he never mentioned in his fiction or surviving letters (it would be interesting to see what he made of  the anecdote of “Conon and his daughter” on page 520), and nothing that he did mention is specific enough to trace back to this source. For example, in letter to H. P. Lovecraft from October 1930, Howard wrote:
For my part, I am too little versed in antiquities to even offer an opinion, but I am inclined to think that these figures represent a pre-Christian age and have some phallic significance. I am especially inclined to this view by the consistent use of triangles in the stone figure. Phallic worship was very common in Ireland, as you know—the legend of Saint Patrick and the snakes being symbolical of the driving out of the cult—and in almost every locality where phallic worship thrived, small images representing the cult have been found, in such widely scattered places as Africa, India and Mexico. Though of course the workmanship of the images differs with the locality and I have never seen or heard of, figures just like these of yours. At any rate, they are fascinating and open up enormous fields of dramatic conjecture. I am sure you could build some magnificent tales out of them. (CL2.95)
Sex and Sex Worship contains sections on both phallic worship and serpent worship, but it is hard to say if this is Howard’s source—or at least his sole source—for his particular datum, since by 1930 the concept of phallic worship had become relatively widespread since being introduced by Hodder Westropp in his 1870 paper “Phallic Worship”; the best that can be said is this is the most likely source, given that the work was available before Howard made this statement and it was in his library at his death. At the same time, however, it feels insufficient to try to account for some of Howard’s statements in his letters to the sex books known to be in his library. For example, Howard writes in a letter to Harold Preece dated 5 September 1928:
Today at town I saw the hang-over of some old and lascivious custom—a girl had a birthday and her girl and boy friends pounced upon her and indulged in a spanking debauch. I have never been able to find just how that custom originated, but have an idea its roots lie in the old superstition that spanking a woman or whipping her with a switch makes her bear children oftener and easier. (CL1.225)
The basic anecdote of a tradition of whipping or spanking a woman on some particular day to ensure fertility and ease childbirth is found in Sex and Sex Worship, A History of the Rod, and History of Flagellation, often but not exclusively when discussing the Roman festival of Lupercalia. The concept of a “hang-over of some old and lascivious custom,” however, speaks more of the influence of Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890). (Burke)

“Anthropology” in general was often little more than a code word for more prurient interests, with publishers like the American Anthropological Society, Anthropological Press, Anthropological Library, American Ethnological Press, and Eugenics Publishing Company (Gertzman 192-193) bringing to press many titles that varied from collections of slightly suggestion material culled from Classical services to illustrated books of bare-breasted “primitive natives” and their (exaggerated) sexual culture like Felix Bryk’s Negro-Eros (1933; later reprinted as Voodoo-Eros); for the casual reader, the difference between a “serious” work like Frazer’s and one intended primarily to appeal to the people that might order them by mail from advertisements in pulp magazines like Weird Tales was usually a matter of degree of focus—where Frazer might have a page or two devoted to curious customs of flagellation in The Golden Bough and speak of fertility rites, others might fill entire books on the subjects...and did.

Untrodden Fields of Anthropology (1898) by “Dr. Jacobus X” (Charles Carrington), published by the American Anthropological Society, with later edition by the Falstaff Press, is a prime example of a book that is claimed as an anthropological text but is aimed at being erotica. (Burke) Supposedly the field researches of a French military doctor who served in the far-flung reaches of colonial possessions from Asia to Africa and South America, the book is little more than a drier, more academic and less adventurous version of Musk, Hashish and Blood, adopting the general format and presentation of A History of the Rod and Sex and Sex Worship to go into scientifically racist detail about the sexual lives of exotic peoples.

Robert E. Howard evinced an interest in anthropology books in one surviving (unsent) mail-order form (CL4.5), as well as in correspondence with his friend Tevis Clyde Smith, in a letter dated 20 February 1928:
I wish I could go to Europe and take a special course in anthropology and live a life of research. Not because I care especially about adding to the general store of the world’s knowledge, the wisdom of the people damn them but simply for my own gratification and pleasure and for the esteem and respect of the men whose opinions really matter. That is to say, the members of the scientific societies. (CL1.171)
Similar desires were expressed to Harold Preece (CL1.237, 2.112), and many of Howard’s letters to H. P. Lovecraft concerned anthropology, though rarely the more prurient aspects of it represented by these particular books in Howard’s library. For both men, the subject of anthropology was not one either could or did afford a rigorous course of study, despite their mutual interest in the subject, and they appear to have focused on works that were either readily available and/or related to their other interests. So, for example, Howard never mentions the relatively well-known and popular anthropological text Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) by Margaret Mead, but he does quote from anthropologist Berthold Schindloff’s introduction to “The Sexual Life of South Sea Natives” in Venus Oceanica (1935). (CL3.290n286)

Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard
The above titles consist of all the books of curiosa or erotica that were donated by Dr. I. M. Howard as part of the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection; it is, from his letters and the anecdotes of his friends, very plainly not a complete list of all such works that Bob Howard read or owned during his life. Dr. Howard’s donation list does not list, for example, his son’s file of pulp magazines where his work appears, and which were removed from the rest of the collection. These may or may not have included various issues of Spicy Adventure Stories, Spicy Mystery Stories, and Spicy Detective Stories—either those issues his work appeared in or those Robert E. Howard might have read for reference.

A related item in the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection list is Women in All Ages and in All Countries (1908), a series of 10 volumes dedicated to the history of women in various eras and nations (1. Greek Women, 2. Roman Women, 3. Women of Early Christianity, 4. Oriental Women, 5. Women of Medieval France, 6. Women of the Romance Countries, 7. Women of Modern France, 8. Women of the Teutonic Nations, 9. Women of England, 10. Women of America), all written by professors or scholars of history. (Burke) It is not a work of erotica, even by the rather straitlaced standards of the early 20th century, but might still be classed in terms of gallantia as it deals—in as eloquent, polite, and educated way as possible—with some of the same subjects as the actual curiosa in Howard’s library. The approach in the writing is often similar, with an emphasis on Classical and Biblical sources where applicable, and even Burton’s translation of the Arabian Nights, with suitable emphasis on the exotic for non-European locales (primarily Oriental Women), but without the stringent focus on sexual behaviors or customs, though a certain amount of hyperbole and subtle racism is still very evident, and in looking at historical women they did not leave out great beauties, lovers, and mistresses from the tally.

Women in All Ages and in All Countries may be of interest as a possible source Howard may have drawn from in constructing some of his female characters. It is one of the relatively few works on this list where we can pinpoint something of a date for: in December 1928 Howard composed a somewhat rambling letter to Harold Preece full of allusions and references to ancient Greek women (CL1.287-292) which matches much of the material from Women of Greece, to the extent of quoting Swinburne’s poetic praise a chapter dedicated to one of Howard’s favorite poets: Sappho of Lesbos.

Howard’s letters make clear his appreciation for Sappho—and questions of her supposed lesbianism:
If you got a flock of E.H.J.’s books, you’ve doubtless read “A Little Maid of Sappho.” Talk about perversion. Lesbianism runs rampant. But hell, most poets of that type were and are perverts. It makes no difference. We’re all swine and fools. Swinburne was a pervert, “The Isle of Lesbos” were his favorite theme. Wilde wasn’t a pervert, though he was highly bi-sexual. I don’t know whether Viereck is a pervert or not [...] (CL1.111-112)
Emanuel Haldeman-Julius
“E.H.J.” in this case was Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, a publisher of cheap pamphlets, the “Little Blue Book” series, which included reprints of Arthur Machen and classic literature as well as frank discussion of atheism, socialism, marriage, and sexuality such as Little Blue Book #692, Homo-Sexual Life by William J. Fielding (1921). Among the Little Blue Books that Howard makes reference to in his letters are #541 Stories in Green, Zinzolin, Rose, Purple, Mauve, Lilac and Orange by Remy de Gourmont (CL1.52n27); #578 The Haunted House and Other Poems and #791 Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads by George Sylvester Viereck (CL1.106n47, 111n48); #1106 The Truth About Greenwich Village by Clement Wood (CL1.187n71); and possibly #377 The Psychology of Joy and Sorrow: What Behaviorists and Others Learned About Our Nature and #1459 The Psychology of the Criminal by Leo Markun and #217 The Puzzle of Personality by William J. Fielding (CL1.183n70). Very probably, he read many more, but these alone give us some insight into Howard’s education. In a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith dated 23 June 1926, Howard quotes Viereck’s Poems and Ballads:
Modern science has divested perversion of its evil glamor. Freud has taught us that perversity is an essential phase in the evolution of childhood…. occurring at all times in a fairly constant percentage of human beings. Swinburne adds a new complexity. He does not turn toward his own sex. His passion goes out to woman, but he loves woman, not with the passion of a man for a maid, but with the hectic craving of Lesbian woman for her own sex. (CL1.106)
Comment such as these may have led to Howard’s curious understanding of female homosexuality. In a letter to H. P. Lovecraft dated 5 December 1935, discussing the story “Red Nails” Howard wrote:
When, or if, you ever read it, I’d like to know how you like my handling of the subject of lesbianism. (CL3.393)
The curiosity comes from the fact that there is no lesbianism as commonly understood in “Red Nails.” Rather, there is a flagellation scene between two women, one of several such scenes that Howard would include in his work in stories (and investigated in greater detail by Hoffman). The intimation is—and Howard’s lesbian erotic poetry would seem to support the idea—that this was lesbianism, in his view, and seems to represent the influence of his reading in flagellation literature.

Robert E. Howard never directly discusses male homosexuality as such in his surviving letters or fiction, though he allows Viereck’s assertion that Oscar Wilde was “bi-sexual.” (CL1.106, 112) This begs the question of what else Howard might have read of contemporary sexology and the psychology of sex. A letter from Howard to H. P. Lovecraft dated 5 December 1935 gives a clue:
As for the definition of the term “sadism” I must indeed be ineffectual in my style of expression if I left the impression that I’m so ignorant that I don’t know what the term means. At least I’ve read what Havelock Ellis and other leading psychologists have had to say about it, and have in my possession a very good work on sadism and masochism by a noted German scholar. (CL3.381)
Havelock Ellis was a noted psychologist and writer on sex, perhaps best known for his book Sexual Inversion (1897), which was the first English-language medical book on homosexuality. Roehm, in the footnotes accompanying this letter, suggests Robert E. Howard may have read Ellis’ “Love and Pain” from Studies in the Psychology of Sex (Vol. III); and further suggests that the “noted German scholar” is Albert Eulenberg. (CL3.381n35)

Roehm’s contention is based on a list (with prices) of erotica found among Howard’s papers. (Burke) The list includes a Cooper’s History of the Rod and the combined Curiousa of Flagellants | History of Flagellation, books which were included in Howard’s memorial collection, so it is possible he had also acquired one or all of the other volumes on the list, including Albert Eulenberg’s Sadism and Masochism: Algolagnia, The Psychology, Neurology and  Physiology of Sadistic Love and Masochism (1902). The beginning of the book is a mixture of physiology, psychology, and anthropology, but the rest of the book discusses the life and works of the Marquis de Sade (hence the term sadism), Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (origin of the term masochism), collections of anecdotes that differ little from Curiosa of Flagellants, and ends with a “General Bibliography of Erotica” (which includes with some of the volumes in Howard’s library and on his list, though this is probably coincidental). As Gertzman notes:
Since sex was so controversial and marketable, neither distributor nor reader could easily separate teaching about it from entertainment involving it. (54)

To Be Continued . . .


Burke, Rusty (2012). “A List of books and prices found among Howard’s papers.” Retrieved from:

Ellis, Novalyne Price (1998). One Who Walked Alone. Hampton Falls, NH: Donald M. Grant.

Eng, Steve (1984). “Robert E. Howard’s Library” in The Dark Barbarian, 183-200.

Eulenberg, Albert (1984). Sadism and Masochism. Translated by Harold Kent. New York, NY: Bell Publishing.

Gertzman, Jay A. (2002). Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica 1920-1040. Philadelphia, PA: University of Philadelphia Press.

Hoffman, Charles (2009). “Elements of Sadomasochism in the Fiction and Poetry of Robert E. Howard” in The Dark Man: The Journal of Robert E. Howard Stories (Vol. 4, No. 2).
Retrieved from:

Howard, Robert E. (2008). The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. Edited by Rob 5 Roehm. Plano, TX: Robert E. Howard Foundation Press. 3 vols. + Index and Addenda Abbreviated as CL1-4 above.

Howard, Robert E. (2011). Spicy Adventures. Edited by Patrice Louinet and Rob Roehm. Robert E. Howard Foundation Press.

Jones, Robert Kenneth (1975). The Shudder Pulps. West Lyn, OR: FAX Collectors Editions.

Smith, Clark Ashton (2003). Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House.

Bobby Derie is the compiler of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard - Index and Addenda (2015, Robert E. Howard Foundation Press) and the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014, Hippocampus Press). 

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