Rediscovered: Mrs. Gertrude (Francis Stevens) Bennett

Autograph Hound Super-Sunday — and noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook is back to commemorate the passing of another of his favorite authors, 72 years ago today:

Gertrude Barrows Bennett was born on September 18, 1884 in Minneapolis, but she died in San Francisco on February 2, 1948. Another moment in the history of Literary San Francisco.  

Bennett wrote fantastic fiction under the name of Francis Stevens. The odd thing about her was that for someone who wrote so well she had no burning desire to be an author.

She wrote because she was trapped at home with an invalid mother and an infant daughter to take care of. Once her mother passed away, though, and she could get out of the house, she never wrote another published word.

There have been two glaring misconceptions about the work of Francis Stevens that have unfortunately been repeated too, too many times.

First, she did NOT write fantasy.

Her three fantastic fiction novels for Argosy, “The Citadel of Fear,” ” Claimed” and “Serapion” are all supernatural horror.

Her novel for The Thrill Book, “The Heads of Cerberus,” is parallel world/time travel, a concept sometimes referred to as “sidewise in time” — but whatever you label it, it’s still science fiction, not fantasy.

Second, H.P. Lovecraft did NOT read “The Citadel of Fear” and write glowing letters of praise to Argosy about Stevens.

This falsehood was printed  in the introductions to two Stevens books, first by Sam Moskowitz  (The Citadel of Fear, Paperback Library, 1970), repeated by Gary Hoppenstand (The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy, University of Nebraska Press, 2004).

An individual named Augustus T. Swift of Providence, Rhode Island did write glowing letters of praise to Argosy regarding Stevens.

However, Augustus T. Swift was NOT a pseudonym used by Providence’s own horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.

Augustus T. Swift was a real person, as evidence from census records and the Providence city directory has established. The repeat of this misconception by Hoppenstand was especially egregious because the Swift connection to Lovecraft had been debunked a full decade before his Introduction appeared in print.

These misconceptions about Stevens in books and online have bothered me for years.

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