They fell in love through words—chiefly Lovecraft’s, whose letters could go on for as many as 20 pages. Marrying two years later, they settled in Brooklyn, where Greene opened a hat shop. Lovecraft, however, soon objected to sharing crowded city streets, “where white men once moved” with immigrant Jewish hordes—“a loathsome Asiatic stock broken and dragged through the dirt for centuries.” Greene would interrupt his rants with gentle reminders that she, too, was a member of the tribe, but her chastising appears to have done little good. Lovecraft may have been even blunter in his letters than in person. “The only thing that makes life endurable where Blacks abound,” he wrote, “is the Jim Crow principle, and I wish they’d apply it in New York both to Niggers and to the more Asiatic types of puffy, rat-faced Jews.”
Greene, who famously described her second husband as “an adequately excellent lover,” must have tired of his tirades. Although they never officially divorced, their union lasted only two years. In 1926, she burned Lovecraft’s letters and left for the Midwest while he returned to the aunts up north.
Lovecraft’s opinions about Jews were temperate compared to those of 19th-century German writer and political agitator Wilhelm Marr. When this self-styled “patriarch of anti-Semitism” began his first anti-Jewish campaigns in the 1860s, however, he couldn’t have been called “anti-Semitic” because he hadn’t yet popularized the term. Until the day of Yom Kippur 1879, when Marr officially formed Germany’s Anti-Semitic League, Jewry’s enemies of all stripes—nativist, blood libelist, politically radical from left to right—had operated without an identifying label.
Throughout the 1840s, Marr had actually enjoyed friendships and alliances with many Socialist and atheist Jews on the radical fringes of Germany’s Restoration politics. He even had Jewish business partners. But financial setbacks and disappointment in his political allies gradually led him to a studiedly anti-Jewish platform.
In 1854, before this ideological transition, a 35-year-old Marr married Bertha Callenbach, who was half Jewish. Money appears to have sweetened the match for Marr, who later complained that his “soul knew no peace” in their time together. That he stayed with her for 20 years may have been related to the fact that their divorce required him to give up a comfortable allowance of 1,000 talers a month.
He finally forsook the income when he fell in love for real—this time with a completely Jewish woman whom he pursued through letters. Marr described his second wife, the 38-year-old Helene Behrend, as “not rich, not young, and not pretty,” yet she was his dream woman. He was devastated when she died from a miscarriage in 1874, just 19 months after they married. Being a newspaper writer, Marr eulogized her publicly and reader response brought him—again through letters—to wife number three. In Jenny Kornick’s condolence note, she described herself as a 28-year-old widow with problems of her own, which she enumerated in great detail. Marr apparently found this alluring, and their correspondence led to a wedding just seven months after Behrend’s death.
The match immediately proved a mistake. Kornick had lied in her letters—for starters, she was divorced rather than widowed—and proved in person volatile and mean-spirited. It’s not clear what she told Marr initially about her background, but Kornick, like Callenbach, was half Jewish. They split within two years but only after a son was born, rendering the divorce costly for the eternally strapped Marr, who never regained solid financial footing.
By age 59, Marr had finished with Jewish women altogether. To share his coming material ruin and quarter century of physical decline, he settled on a pure Aryan from the working class 26 years his junior. As he aged, the man who defined anti-Semitism for the modern era applied his “scientific” theories of eugenics to his own marital experiences, struggling to reconcile his ideology with his past loves. He concluded that the key difference between the beloved Helene Behrend and his two half-Jewish wives was simply that Behrend was a “pureblood” Jew. An unmixed inheritance, he reasoned, even if Jewish, would always come out on top.
This explanation, devised to rationalize the wiles of Marr’s (Jew-loving) heart, is likely to impress neither Jews nor Jew haters. Still, it is a fascinating attempt to marry love and loathing.
Mandy Katz is an associate editor at Moment. Her most recent story is “Was Einstein a Jewish Saint?”