HERSELF DEFINED: The Poet H.D. and Her World by Barbara Guest
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HERSELF DEFINED: The Poet H.D. and Her World

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Far preferable to Janice S. Robinson's H.D. (1982), poet Guest's critical biography of Hilda Doolittle--""H.D.""--is continually clear-eyed, closely contextual, and attentive to H.D.'s striving works (""a vital background composed of limited organisms""). The landmarks of H.D.'s life here become a series of pirouettes in the small space of hyper-artistic consciousness--the posturings, the revelations, the achievements. There's full, thoughtful discussion of: the early love affair with Ezra Pound, while still in Pennsylvania; his European molding of Hilda into ""H.D., imagiste""; her au courant self-definition as a Greek goddess (in that milieu, ""people enjoyed long conversations about purity and simplicity, their eyes fastened on the heavens where dwelt the Greek constellations""); her linkup with rich and nurturing Bryher; her many male lovers (D. H. Lawrence, Richard Aldington, and Cecil Gray, who sired H.D.'s daughter); her analyses with Havelock Ellis, then Freud. And Guest also willingly deals with H.D.'s poetry and prose--without divorcing it from such personal issues as H.D.'s physical beauty, her neuroticism, and her money matters. (Guest judges H.D.'s best prose to be that of the 1950s--especially Helen in Egypt, written when H.D. was past 60.) Occasionally, it's true, Guest's evocative, allusive prose takes a jazzy or cutesy false step. (""Like Mary Poppins arriving by umbrella from another world, the Quaker lady from London, Harriet Weaver, appeared. . . ."") But such slips don't detract much from the shrewd literary/psychological/social portrait here--with an H.D. who truly comes across as the distinctive, rare cultural phenomenon she was: the tangent that illuminates the center by its small, off-angled light.

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 1983
Publisher: Doubleday