I think the world could use a lot more brothers like yours. You were very lucky in that respect.
You and I have had this conversation about Hester Howard although you may not remember. It was in the letters section of Leo Grin’s “The Lion’s Den” (The Cimmerian Journal April 2008) and I reiterate:
It’s easy to see how Gary can believe that Novalyne Price and de Camp reached the same conclusion regarding Hester’s influence over REH. And, at this distance in time, it’s difficult to be exactly sure of Hester Howard’s motives. All we can do is look at her actions and God knows, she has received harsh judgments because of those. But whatever her motives and actions, in my opinion, she did at least three things very right. First of all, she shared with REH her love of poetry; secondly, she encouraged his writing, and last, she kept the interruptions to his work to a minimum. Whether or not she went too far in doing these is, of course, another issue.
The statement by your mother, “His momma ruined him. She didn’t mean to but she did” is understandable after watching WWW. As I said previously to you, “Because movies are so visually and dramatically oriented, they often exaggerate or add incidents in ‘biographical’ movies. (This is meant as a statement of fact, not a criticism.)” What helped me while watching WWW is Leo Grin’s advice that any scene in the movie that does not have Novalyne in it, did not happen. How could she know what happened if she wasn’t there.
Again as I said, …it also appears that Novalyne’s information regarding the Howard family situation may not have been that accurate. In her book, OWWA, Novalyne tells REH “You could get a nurse who is trained to do the job better than you can.” Then later in that paragraph she says. “My God, Bob, you’re not required to give up your whole life for her, your writing and everything.” (OWWA, 267)
She dates that conversation February 24, 1936. Yet, in a letter to HPL dated February 11, 1936, REH writes:
This has been a bitter winter, and the harshness of the weather has hurt her. First one woman and then another we hired to help wait on her has been taken sick herself, so the job of nursing my mother has been done largely by my father and myself. She is subject to distressing and continual sweats, and naturally has to have constant attention, so I find little, if any time to write, which is why this letter is brief, and possibly so disconnected. Sometimes we have to be up all night with her. There seems to be little we or anyone can do to help her, though God knows I’d make any sacrifice, including my own life, if it could purchase her any relief.
REH does confirm the date on Novalyne’s journal entry in his February 25, 1936 letter to her.
I’m sorry but I won’t be able to keep the date this afternoon. I’ve got to take my mother to a hospital in Marlin. I suppose you’ll find this subject for more criticism, but I can’t help it. When I get settled in Marlin, I’ll drop you a card, so you can write me if you care to do so. Whether I ever return to Cross Plains depends a great deal on whether my mother recovers or not.
I have thought a great deal about our date yesterday (to which I had eagerly looked forward to as to the bright spot in the otherwise somber pattern of the last few days,) and the memory is much like a fantastic dream. It seems incredible that I, in the blackest hours of my life, should have occupied half an hour in a childish squabble over a mustache! I looked forward to that date; I didn’t want you to feel sorry for me, or even approve of me. All I wanted was for you to give me a chance to relax and forget my troubles, to enjoy your company to the fullest. You said I didn’t seem to enjoy the date. How could I? What chance did you give me to enjoy it? I was already punch-drunk with grief, worry and trouble; but, with my mother’s life ebbing away before my eyes, with my father breaking and aging before me with the worry and strain we both labor under, and I myself faced with the wreckage of all my life’s plans and labors, and the utter ruin of my career —…
In a previous letter to HPL dated December 5, 1935, REH says he and his father took Hester to Marlin in the middle of November where she stayed two weeks. This means that from the middle of November 1935 until sometime in March 1936, his mother was seriously ill, eventually dying a few months later in June 1936.
And Hester’s illness wasn’t the only cause of REH’s lack of concentration. In Rusty Burke’s A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard, Burke mentions other interruptions to REH’s work. 1. His father’s practice was moved back into the house when Dr. Howard’s meager savings were depleted and patients were coming and going. 2. Hiring household help (when it was available) for his mother added to the confusion in the house.
Clyde Smith has written REH told him if it wasn’t for the fact his mother needed him, he would commit suicide. I think the first mention of this was about 1919. In a way, she anchored him to this earth. During those last two years, Hester’s bout with TB was incredibly painful, debilitating and some of the treatments are straight out of a horror movie. I’m just grateful that she hung on as long as she did. Think of what REH wouldn’t have written if she had died earlier.
Good talkin' to you as usual, Gary,