H.D.: The Fusion of Classicism and Modernity
With foundations rooted deeply in an appreciation for and understanding of classicism, H.D. fused ancient Grecian literature, thinking and mythology with modernistic feminism, bisexuality and psychoanalysis to establish for herself a prominent voice among her contemporaries. Born Hilda Doolittle in 1886 to Helen and Charles Doolittle, her education was fostered by the intellectual curiosity of her parents (an artist and an astronomer, respectively) and the proximity of The University of Pennsylvania. Closely associated with poet Ezra Pound, she spent much of her adult and professional life surrounded by literary contemporaries. Doolittle was a woman whose work was not limited to a single interest but instead expanded to envelop several of the most outstanding facets of modernism: the exploration of women within a literary movement, the exploration of homosexuality and the exploration of self through psychoanalysis.
H.D.’s major contribution to modernism is most often recognized as her use of poetic imagery. After only two years at Bryn Mawr, H.D. moved to England, where much of her poetry was written. Pound, a close friend and twice-fiancée not only facilitated her acceptance into the literary circles of expatriate American writers, but also her entrance into the literary world. Affixing the signature "H.D., Imagiste," Pound submitted H.D.’s early verses to Harriet Monroe’s Poetry Magazine, which were accepted and published (Scott). Her poetry remains at the forefront of the imagist branch of modernism, a division whose writers dedicate themselves to the direct treatment of the subject, the prohibition of any word that not essential to the presentation, and the pursuit of musical phrase rather than strict regularity in their rhythms. (A Brief Biography)
Doolittle’s non-verse and prose work is marked significantly by autobiographical writing. Her most notable long work, Asphodel, is, as she described it, “an effort to free [herself] of the . . . ‘H.D. Imagiste’ role” that was established soon after the publication of her first poetic volume, Sea Garden (1916). (Spoo ix) The “valuable and intimate account of female expatriation,” Asphodel is “a portrait of young artists whose experiences are very different from those of their male counterparts” (xi). Asphodel is greatly the story of World War I and its social repercussions; it is a story Doolittle struggled to delineate throughout her career, completing several works of varying structures of which Asphodel is the earliest. It is written in two parts, its composition displaying the explicitly modern technique of strict structural control paired with “elusive, digressive” writing (xiii). In addition to the structure of the novel, the content of Asphodel is distinctively modern, as it is marked by digressions regarding lesbianism, the social destruction of the first World War and the plight to...