glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Doolittle, Hilda (1886-1961)  
page: 1  2  

The books help make up what H.D. termed the "madrigal cycle" and follow her life from leaving Bryn Mawr feeling an academic failure through her intense love relationships with Pound and Gregg, her departure from the United States and the launch of her literary career, her subsequent marriage and its dissolution, to Perdita's birth and Bryher's entry into her life as caretaker and lover. The erotic female-female-male situations found in this work represent a scenario often repeated in her life.

As has been pointed out by critics, H.D.'s novels diverge from concurrent works and thought in the portrayal of female homosexuality. Bryher often considered herself a boy, and popular thought held that lesbians were males born with the wrong anatomical parts. But H.D. did not view her attraction for women as a result of mistaken identity or as a self-destructive compulsion.

Gregg, H.D.'s first female lover, gets written into the texts as a complex character who has both devastating and restorative effects on H.D.'s life. Bryher figures into the narratives as a healing presence who allows for a supportive union of two autonomous and loving partners that H.D. did not feel attainable in a heterosexual world laden with inequalities.

H.D. wrote these novels at a time when she was feeling the constraint of having been labeled an imagist early on in her career and was searching for ways to loosen that stricture. The confessional prose that she penned, though not for the world to see immediately, is a scripting of her life with herself as creator/writer at the center.

And in this process, she inquires into her imaginative and erotic selves, focusing particularly on the healing and generative power of female-oriented sexuality. She celebrates woman as writer and as desiring subject. Susan Stanford Friedman explains that HERmione is "A gynopoetic, a lesbian erotic, [that] displaces the male loop of textual desire."

The central character refuses to be obliterated by a male desire to render her sexual, beautiful, and therefore passive for him and turns to a more spiritually gratifying lesbian love. H.D. writes this novel in highly stylized modernist prose, filled with interior stream-of-consciousness expression and nonlinear narratives.

H.D. recalls in these novels a yearning for a twin as a maternal replacement, a complementary figure to share and enhance her sense of self-worth. Having a partner so close to her own psyche meant walking a fine line between self-aggrandizement and self-annihilation.

This tension gets echoed in poetry from the same period, here figured as matched arms in combat:

It was not chastity that made me wild, but fear
that my weapon, tempered in different heat,
was over-matched by yours, and your hand
skilled to yield death-blows, might break

With the slightest turn--no ill will meant--
my own lesser, yet still somewhat fine-wrought,
fiery-tempered, delicate, over-passionate steel.
("Toward the Piraeus" 115-21)

In her later life and work, H.D.'s intense feelings for women shift toward reverence for a somewhat remote mother or goddess figure necessary as a healing presence. H.D. wrote often of the renewal that an unconventional female energy could bring.

H.D.'s inspiration was frequently derived from her passionate feelings for women, as she maintained strong women-centered paradigms throughout her writing. Directly and indirectly, her work expresses the complexity of homosexual desire and the calming and restorative power she felt in lesbian love.

Jennifer S. Wilson

  <previous page   page: 1  2    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature

   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Lesbian, 1900-1969

American lesbian literature prior to Stonewall exploited the "outlaw" status of the lesbian as it moved from encrypted strategies of expression to overt political celebrations of woman-for-woman passion.

literature >> Overview:  Bisexual Literature

Although Western culture's reliance upon binary systems of classification and identification has meant the practical erasure of bisexuality, as such, from literary and cultural analysis, bisexual experiences appear in many literary works from ancient times to the present.

literature >> Overview:  Modernism

Despite the widespread homophobia in the Modernist movement, several of its practitioners were homosexual; some of them wrote openly about homosexuality, and the groundwork was laid for the gay liberation movement.

literature >> Overview:  Poetry: Lesbian

Since the 1960s, the general trend in lesbian poetry has been collective and political rather than purely aesthetic.

literature >> Barnes, Djuna

American novelist Djuna Barnes sought new forms of self-representation of lesbians in the face of society's compulsory heterosexuality.

literature >> Ford, Charles Henri (1910?-2002), and Parker Tyler (1904-1974)

Members of New York's early twentieth-century avant-garde, Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler are also the authors of a widely suppressed and largely unread experimental novel of 1930s gay life, The Young and Evil.

literature >> Hall, Radclyffe

Radclyffe Hall, who lived her lesbianism openly and proudly, is best known for The Well of Loneliness, arguably the most important lesbian novel ever written.

literature >> McAlmon, Robert

American publisher and writer Robert McAlmon made significant contributions to twentieth-century literature, both by publishing avant-garde writers and by depicting a queer subculture in his own works.

literature >> Sappho

Admired through the ages as one of the greatest lyric poets, the ancient Greek writer Sappho is today esteemed by lesbians around the world as the archetypal lesbian and their symbolic mother.


Friedman, Susan Stanford. Penelope's Web: Gender, Modernity, H.D.'s Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

_____, and Rachel Blau Duplessis, eds. Signets: Reading H.D. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.

Guest, Barbara. HERself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World. Glasgow: William Collins Sons, 1984.

Laity, Cassandra. "H.D. and A.C. Swinburne: Decadence and Modernist Women's Writing." Feminist Studies 15:3 (Fall 1989): 461-484.

_____. "Lesbian Romanticism: H.D.'s Fictional Representations of Frances Gregg and Bryher." Introduction to Paint It Today by H.D. Karla Jay, ed. New York: New York University Press, 1992. xvii-xlii.


    Citation Information
    Author: Wilson, Jennifer S.  
    Entry Title: Doolittle, Hilda  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated January 13, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


This Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.