H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

Lara Vetter

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

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H.D. (b. 1886–d. 1961) was an American modernist writer whose career spanned over five decades. Born Hilda Doolittle in the tight-knit Moravian community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, H.D. was the daughter of a noted astronomer, Charles Doolittle, and a Moravian musician and artist, Helen Wolle Doolittle. When she was a child her family moved to Philadelphia, a city home to a number of figures who would also become major American modernists—Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams—and H.D. knew them well. As a young adult, however, she left the United States for Europe, spending the rest of her life in London, England; Switzerland; and other European cities. One of the first writers of English vers libre, H.D. began her career as a founding member of imagism, a short-lived but highly influential aesthetic movement that eschewed 19th-century sentimentalism for stripped down, objective verse that broke with conventional poetic form. She continued to write poetry, evolving into a writer of epic verse in her later years. She was also a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction prose, a translator of ancient Greek, and, briefly, a filmmaker and actor. Briefly engaged to Ezra Pound, married for a time to Richard Aldington, and bearing a child (Perdita) by the musician Cecil Gray, H.D. had romantic relationships with men and women, the longest and most significant with Winifred “Bryher” Ellerman, daughter of a wealthy English entrepreneur. H.D. survived and chronicled both world wars—the first in a flat in London’s Bloomsbury, the second in South Kensington—and the destructiveness of militarism and war is a constant theme throughout her life’s work. She also saw renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud as a student and analysand in 1933 and 1934, and her work draws on, and struggles to reenvision, his insights about the unconscious. Freud dubbed her the “perfect bi[sexual],” and her writing unwaveringly attends to gender and sexual politics. She is also known for her esotericism, her lifelong and intensive study of alternative forms of spirituality, as a way to imagine healing a broken 20th-century world. It is this facet of her work that has drawn the attention of 20th-century poets such as Robert Duncan. The first female recipient of the Award of Merit Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, H.D. was central to the origins of modernist poetry, and the number of renowned 20th- and 21st-century poets who cite her influence—including Adrienne Rich and Denise Levertov—is a testament to how her writings still resonate today.

Article.  15024 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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