Last year, having been invited to participate in a public discussion of the poet H.D., I decided to explore H.D.’s fictional works, virtually none of which appeared during her lifetime. Many of these, even just ten years ago, were available only to scholars willing to visit the Beinecke at Yale, where most of her manuscripts and papers are housed. But almost everything’s in print now.
Though I admire H.D.’s poems, I did not expect my prose project to be pleasurable, and it wasn’t. I don’t know how many of her novels and novellas I read, but I found all of them (with one exception, dealt with below) annoying. Mainly they are exactly what people mean by “self-indulgent.” The reader is exposed to the spectacle of the writer hunting around for a style worthy of her personal melodrama. Inefficiency and joyless obscurity abound. Even the one I liked is not a great book or anything.
But none of this matters. I say I didn’t find the project pleasurable, but I did find it engrossing. I became very invested in coming to some kind of reckoning with H.D.’s personality, mainly because I saw that over the years I’ve known and been friends with quite a few H.D.s—at least four. The key difference being that the H.D.s in my life could never have written any of H.D.’s mature poetry. But all of them could have written her novels. Except for Bid Me to Live. Read More