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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: November 2007

6 - H.D. and revisionary myth-making

from Part II: - Authors and Alliances

Summary

H.D. (Hilda Doolittle [Aldington], 1886-1961), with these initials as her authorial signet, had a literary career as an author of lyric poetry, long poems, essay/memoirs and novels and, briefly, as a film-maker and actress. Born in the United States from a well-to-do, intellectual family, adherents of Moravian Protestantism, H.D. became an expatriate writer and British citizen, living in London and later in Switzerland. She had a complex relational life as a bisexual woman, was married with one daughter (from an affair), enjoyed a number of erotic relationships with men and women, and lived in a companionate, lesbian relationship with Bryher (Winifred Ellerman, 1894-1983) for the majority of her life. She was theoretically and personally invested in psychoanalysis, archaeological discoveries, classical culture, cinema, the occult and comparative religious study; she also meditated the array and meanings of her erotic and relational ties in richly layered prose and poetry, including memoirs of her brief but important analysis with Freud. Both world wars profoundly affected her writing. Indeed, many of modernism's most distinctive long poems were written in large measure to confront these wars, to give accounts of their damage and to construct alternative meanings.

H.D.'s critical reputation, like that of many other modernist women, was quite uneven until the advent of feminist scholarship. Despite her full writing career and panoply of fascinating texts, she was seen as Imagist (or short-poem writer) only, localised to some work in the 1910s as fully representative, with her total oeuvre sometimes marginalised and discredited. Some poets and fewer academics (like Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov and L. S. Dembo) always insisted on her pertinence; H.D.'s own careful archive at Beinecke Library, Yale University, set up by H.D. and Norman Holmes Pearson, assisted the recovery of her importance by a growing number of scholars.

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