The H.D. Biography Wiki

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In light of the new international recognition of H.D.’s Trilogy, this wiki, edited by Celena Kusch and Rebecca Walsh and launched in October 2014, offers a collaborative space for H.D. scholars worldwide to share annotations, connections, notes, and details that might not otherwise surface in scholarly publications. See Citing the Wiki and Conditions of Use and Information for Contributors

Contents:


H.D.’s Childhood and Family

H.D. was born 10 Sept. 1886. Her father, Charles Leander Doolittle (1843-1919) was a professor of astronomy, and his obituary from the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific gives a good summary of his professional accomplishments. H.D.’s mother, Helen Eugenia Wolle Doolittle (1853-1927) is the subject of much of her autobiographical fiction, including The Gift. H.D. also provides brief portraits of her mother, father, and brothers in Tribute to Freud (Pantheon Press, 1956).  Writing of Helen Wolle Doolittle, H.D. notes, “My father’s 2nd wife was the daughter of a descendant of one of the original groups of the early 18th-century, mystical Protestant order, called the Unitas Fratrum, the Bohemian or Moravian Brotherhood. Our mother’s father was part mid-European by race, Polish I believe, the country called itself then, when his forefathers left it, though it became German and then fluctuated like the other allied districts back and forth as in the earlier days of the Palatinate struggles. Livonia, Moravia, Bohemia–Count Zinzendorf, the founder of the renewed Bohemian brotherhood, was an Austrian, whose father was exiled or self-exiled to Upper Saxony, because of his Protestant affiliations. The Professor [Freud] was an Austrian, a Moravian actually by birth” (Tribute to Freud 47-8). In contrast, H.D. calls her father “one thing. He is New England, though he does not live there and was not born there. He comes from those Puritan fathers who wear high peaked hats in the Thanksgiving numbers of magazines. They fought with Indians and burned witches” (Tribute to Freud 50). [contributed by Celena E. Kusch]

H.D. describes her home extensively in The GiftPaint It Today, and HERmione. In Tribute to Freud, she writes,

There were two’s and two’s and two’s in my life. There were the 2 actual brothers (the 3 of us were born within 4 years). There were the 2 half-brothers; there were the 2 tiny graves of the 2 sisters (one of those was a half-sister but there were the 2 or  twin-graves). There were the 2 houses, ours and our grandparents’ in the same street, with the same garden. There were the 2 Biblical towns in Pennsylvania, Bethlehem where I was born, and Philadelphia, where we moved when I was 8. There were for a time in consciousness 2 fathers and 2 mothers, for we thought that Papalie and Mamalie (our mother’s parents) were our own ‘other’ father and mother, which in fact, they were.
     There were 2 of everybody (except myself) in that first house on Church Street. There were the 2 brothers who shared the same room; the 2 half-brothers might turn up at any time, together; there were the 2 maids who slept in the room over the kitchen; there were my 2 parents in their room. (Tribute to Freud 46). [contributed by Celena E. Kusch]
4-Generation Pedigree Family Tree for H.D. from Wikitree

4-Generation Pedigree Family Tree from Wikitree

The Gift by H.D.: The Complete Text (Ed. and intro. Jane Augustine, Gainesville: UP Florida, 1998) includes H.D.’s memoir of her childhood as well as her notes about her family history and genealogy. Augustine’s edition also includes images from H.D.’s childhood.

A map of Bethlehem from 1886 shows Church Street. H.D.’s childhood home was at 10 E. Church St., located in the SE block of the intersection of New and Church Streets. An earlier, 1874 map notes the homes of Helen Wolle Doolittle’s relatives and family as well as the vacant property on Church Street where H.D.’s family later built their home.

An thirteen-generation family tree based on H.D.’s notes in The Gift, the Silverstein Chronology, and other genealogists’ work is available through wikitree.com[contributed by Celena E. Kusch]


H.D.’s Moravian Background

Following Barbara Guest’s characterization in Herself Defined: H.D. and Her World, many critics and journalists introduce H.D. by noting she was born in a Moravian community. Barbara Guest’s exact words in chapter two of Herself Defined are: “Hilda Doolittle was born September 10, 1886, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where she spent her childhood in a Moravian community” (9). Guest thought that the word “Moravian” has ethnic reference, which it does not — it is the name of a church, analogous to “Lutheran” and “Methodist” – but Guest’s misunderstanding led her to imagine a segregated Czech enclave and a strict religious upbringing for H.D. that affected her for the rest of her life. It never happened. The accurate account of H.D.’s childhood appears in H.D.’s own words in The Gift by H.D.: The Complete Text. My introduction explains the multiple connections between her memories recalled during WW2 of fifty years before while she was reading the history of a hundred and fifty years before. I explain the mingling of history, theology and her own experience that she invokes to support her belief that her maternal ancestors gave her the literary and psychic gifts she is to use to help win the war. The understanding of H.D.’s biography, as with any writer’s life, begins by reading what the writer wrote. [contributed by Jane Augustine]

See Augustine, Jane. “A Note on the ‘Moravian Muddle,'” H.D.’s Web: An E-newsletter 5(2009): 34-5. http://www.imagists.org/hd/hdsweb/winter2009.pdf

See notes on historic Bethlehem, PA, in the National Park Service document, “Historic Moravian Bethlehem Historic District,” (Rev. 8-86).


H.D. before Europe (including Bryn Mawr)

 


H.D., American in Europe (including Frances Gregg and Ezra Pound)

Tracking H.D.’s travels from 1911-1921 with locations from the Silverstein Chronology and fair use images of locales (spreadsheet format). [contributed by Celena E. Kusch]

 


H.D. Expatriate (including marriage to Richard Aldington and WWI)

Tracking H.D.’s travels from 1911-1921 with locations from the Silverstein Chronology and fair use images of locales (spreadsheet format). [contributed by Celena E. Kusch]


H.D. with Bryher between the Wars

 


H.D. and Cinema

During the years 1927 to 1933, H.D. and her intimate associates, Kenneth Macpherson and Bryher (Winifred Ellerman), were absorbed by the advent of cinematic art. They lived and worked together in Switzerland, at first from a pension in Territet, later at a Bauhaus-designed villa on the shores of Lake Geneva. There, they established the cineaste magazine, Close Up which propounded cinema as a “high” art form inseparable from social worth to the human community. Macpherson edited Close Up; Bryher was founder and co-editor; H.D. contributed essay-reviews now classic in the study of her work. Despite their important contributions to the new field of film art, however, their language at times includes an element I’ve termed “linguistic racialism.”

            Close Up opened a dynamic conduit for passionate international exchange of information and ideas. Correspondents for the magazine sent reports and opinions from cities such as Berlin, London, Moscow, New York and Los Angeles. Their exchanges sought active connection with writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance. A special issue in August, 1929 on “Negro Films” addresses concerns regarding racial images on screen and calls for black-produced independent films, noting depiction, otherwise, of “the white man’s negro.” In his experimental film Borderline, Macpherson tries to counter stereotypes as well as fuse racist action in a Swiss village with imagery of lynching in America. To H.D., Bryher and Macpherson, art on screen must show truth—the truths of race, of war, of economic reality. Nevertheless, some of the writers in the magazine include unconsciously racialized language. While these cineastes upheld a fervent, nearly evangelical attitude towards the artistic and social seriousness of films, their views echo cliche admiration for “the primitive” (currently known as “romantic racism”) coupled with forms of semantic insensitivity.

It is startling to encounter, in a 1929 book on cinematography by Close Up contributor Oswell Blakeston, an extended denotation of the word “nigger” that totally ignores its implications. Blakeston published Through a Yellow Glass, a how-to book on cinematography, with POOL, the film and book production entity set up by Macpherson and Bryher. The book’s glossary of technical terms cites, along with such indigenously cinematic terms as “close-up, fade-in, iris-in (effect of an opening circle),” the word “nigger” as the technical term for a cinematographic device described as “a black shield to cut off rays of light.” The text advises its use when “you want a lamp shooting on to a set and yet keep its rays shaded from the lens of the camera.” In the June 1930 issue of Close Up, Blakeston interviews a professional filmmaker, Basil Emmett. The film expert, replying to a question about shooting close ups, advises, “To get any god-damned effect that has some vitality you must shoot through the cracks of two niggers.” An asterisk then leads the reader’s eye to an editorial footnote which glosses, “A ‘nigger’ is a black screen, used to shield the camera from rays of light.” Incidentally, the OED shows no citation of the word for this technical denotation.

In one of her regular columns for Close Up, the novelist Dorothy Richardson, without any sense of irony, describes a scene she has enjoyed from the early sound film “of the cotton fields,” titled Hearts of Dixie, admiring its presentations of “sambos and mammies at work, piccanninies at play.”

The self-consciously avant-garde group were limited, as other modernists of the time, by certain vestigial ways of thinking. Despite leaps of brilliant intellectual and artistic insight, they did not understand implications of their own borderline racial politics. As poets and novelists, they cherished words, demanding attention to the energies abiding in language. They were, however, in this instance, self-blinded by absorbed linguistic habits.

[contributed by Charlotte Mandel]

Link to Borderline film in Paris Review

Link to Monkey’s Moon film at City Lights Bookshop


H.D. and World War II

See notes on elements of H.D.’s poetic response to the war in Trilogy in The H.D. Trilogy Wiki.


H.D. post-war

 


External Links

Debo, Annette. “Hilda Doolittle (H.D.).” New Directions. New Directions Publishing, 2014.
Silverstein, Louis. “Louis Silverstein’s H.D. Chronology.” Ed. Heather Hernandez. Imagists.org. Imagists.org, 2009.

For Further Research

Guest, Barbara. Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984.

Robinson, Janice C. H.D.: The Life and Work of an American Poet. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982.

White, Eric W. Images of H.D. London: Enitharmon, 1976.


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