In The American H.D., Annette Debo considers the significance of nation in the artistic vision and life of the modernist writer Hilda Doolittle. Her versatile career stretching from 1906 to 1961, H.D. was a major American writer who spent her adult life abroad; a poet and translator who also wrote experimental novels, short stories, essays, reviews, and a children’s book; a white writer with ties to the Harlem Renaissance; an intellectual who collaborated on avant-garde films and film criticism; and an upper-middle-class woman who refused to follow gender conventions. Her wide-ranging career thus embodies an expansive narrative about the relationship of modernism to the United States and the nuances of the American nation from the Gilded Age to the Cold War.
Making extensive use of material in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale—including correspondence, unpublished autobiographical writings, family papers, photographs, and Professor Norman Holmes Pearson’s notes for a planned biography of H.D.—Debo’s American H.D. reveals details about its subject never before published. Adroitly weaving together literary criticism, biography, and cultural history, The American H.D. tells a new story about the significance of this important writer.
Written with clarity and sincere affection for its subject, The American H.D. brings together a sophisticated understanding of modernism, the poetry and prose of H.D., the personalities of her era, and the historical and cultural context in which they developed: America’s emergence as a dominant economic and political power that was riven by racial and social inequities at home.
“In The American H.D., Annette Debo examines the importance of the history and identity of America—in the context of theories of nation-state and nation-building—to H.D.’s artistic vision. Debo’s opening chapters invoke the world into which H.D. was born—a mere generation after the end of the Civil War, a decade after the end of Reconstruction—as characterized by a diverse country defining itself as homogenous. Debo’s analysis of the telling influence of the Harlem Renaissance on H.D.’s work comprises a nuanced reading of H.D.’s study of whiteness itself. A final chapter addressing the fraught relationship between women of H.D.’s class and the concept of nation will take its place as a significant corrective to the field of H.D. scholarship. This magisterial study of H.D. as a quintessentially American writer will forever change how we read and teach this great twentieth-century poet.”—Cynthia Hogue, Arizona State University
“The American H.D. reminds us that the nomadic lives of expatriate modernists contain within their transnational scope a rootedness in the landscapes, literary cultures, histories, and politics of their place of national origin. Doing for H.D. what Wendy Flory’s The American Ezra Pound did for its subject, Debo charts the biographical, political, and literary traces of H.D.’s Americanness. The land- and seascapes of H.D.’s national identity constitute a kind of ‘environmental determinism’ that shapes her literary identifications and placement within an American literary canon that includes Thoreau, Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, and Moore. A valuable addition to the growing corpus of work on H.D., The American H.D. is a thoroughly researched and illuminating examination of the tensions between the exilic and the national as they played out in her life and work.”—Susan Stanford Friedman, author, Analyzing Freud: Letters of H.D., Bryher, and Their Circle