The Lovecraftian canon does not look kindly upon Romance. Few characters have any kind of love life, and female characters such as Lavinia Whately in The Dunwich Horror and Asenath Waite in The Thing on the Doorstep meet horrible ends – although it can be argued that Asenath was not, mentally speaking, female. The case for Romance is slightly more cheering when we turn to the monstrous. The white ape-queen of Arthur Jermyn and the Deep One princess of The Shadow over Innsmouth both get their man and survive to return home.
This lack could be because the knowledge of the insignificance of humankind in the face of cosmic horror blunts the romantic impulse, or it could proceed from Lovecraft’s life experience. Sonia Greene loved her man and admired his vision but she could not get work in Providence and he could not live in New York. The marriage lasted two years.
Fortunately Romance blossoms when we turn to the Orient Express. The mere idea of sleeping compartments , of strangers of the opposite sex reposing in close proximity, provided much delighted scandal in the staid Victorian Age. Colonel Mann was an early partner of Orient Express visionary, George Nagelmackers. Mann had a less than respectable private life, but this did not stop him attacking the rival Pullman carriages on moral grounds. The Pullman carriages had an open interior rather than enclosed compartments. Mann profitably harped on the immorality of being in mixed company when in night attire. As E.H. Cookridge notes dryly in Orient Express, ‘No one seems to have studied the interior layout of Mann’s boudoir cars with sufficient attention to realize that his private cubicles for two persons were infinitely more improper…’.
The popular view of the Orient Express as a hotbed of romance and scandal is vividly expressed in the image above, a poster for a nineteenth century French farce. We suspect that the clergyman in the compartment on the far right is dallying with a lady who might not be his wife.
In Horror on the Orient Express we have allowed for some love amid the madness. Christian and Veronique Lorien are the epitome of a committed and loving couple. The star-crossed lovers in Venice may yet prevail with investigator assistance. The divine soprano Caterina Cavorollo sings in the salon car of the Orient Express, in a pure expression of love that speaks to the soul of all who hear her, even cloth-eared investigators who would rather face the Black Goat of the Woods than listen to opera.
Romance endures, sometimes for a price. For $3200 AUD per person, a couple can travel from Paris to Venice on today’s loving re-creation of the Simplon-Orient Express. The overnight journey is a romantic gesture par excellence. Mark and I could not afford that on our 2010 trip. We booked on the regular service but we didn’t get on that either. There was a strike and the train was cancelled. We had an exceedingly unromantic overnight bus trip to Milan instead. The Orient Express branded carpet at St Lucia station in Venice was as close as we got.