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“What’s in a Name?”: H.D.’s Re-Vision of Shakespeare

Claire Conilleau

Résumés

H.D. est à la fois une figure familière du mouvement Imagiste façonné par Ezra Pound et un auteur insaisissable du modernisme historique. Essentiellement connue comme poète, H.D. a pourtant produit de nombreux textes en prose à caractère autobiographique, qui n’ont pas été publiés de son vivant, pour s’affranchir du carcan imagiste et des traumatismes de la Guerre. Shakespeare est un allié précieux car il incarne la jonction entre le personnel et le littéraire, le réel et le fictionnel. Ses pièces sous-tendent la prose autobiographique de H.D. en rapport à la famille, l’histoire et l’identité. H.D. déterre l’auteur et ses textes pour les réinscrire dans un nouveau corpus, une stratégie qui lui permet de se confronter à l’histoire littéraire écrite par les hommes et de la re-voir en tissant un lien familial plutôt que confrontationnel avec la tradition. Cet article envisage la complexité de l’interaction entre le texte shakespearien et la prose de H.D. comme pierre angulaire de son positionnement en tant qu’auteure dans l’économie de la création littéraire. Il étudie les détournements et réappropriations créatives de l’œuvre de Shakespeare qu’opère Hilda Doolittle, notamment à travers son travail sur l’onomastique, l’évocation et l’inscription du Barde dans son texte ainsi que dans un texte moins connu, By Avon River, dont il est le sujet.

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1For many a modernist writer Shakespeare is a strong influence to be dealt with as the emergence of 20th century literature challenges and revisits tradition, by looking back on Renaissance writers and previous modes of expression. T. S. Eliot, who co-edited The Egoist with H.D. in London during World War I, extensively pondered this practice in the essays he wrote in the 1910s-1920s, most notably in his key critical piece “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in which he highlights the interweaving of past and present texts in literature: “[The poet’s] significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to dead poets and artists” (4-5). Among these poets and artists of the past, Shakespeare, perhaps standing as the epitome of English literary tradition, is to be reckoned with. A fact which W.B. Yeats reflects upon in his poem, “Three Movements”:

Shakespearean fish swam the sea, far away from land;

Romantic fish swam in nets coming to the hand;

  • 1  Yeats, W.B., “Three Movements” [1933], The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (2000), 203. H.D. deploys (...)

What are all those fish that lie gasping on the strand?1

2This urge to position one’s self with regards to the English tradition has always been felt by American writers.This certainly is an even more crucial stance to take for American women writers as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar delineate in The Madwoman in the Attic and No Man’s Land.

3In his witty essay on Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot specifically underscores the preeminence of Shakespeare studies and reinterpretations in the 1920s; though he deplores the outcome of many, he acknowledges the author’s greatness and the critical input these fresh perspectives bring to such literary monuments (107-120).

4H.D.’s oeuvre revisits Shakespeare’s works from which the writer derives free interpretations, probing as she does the intersection between past and present. As a woman writer acutely aware of the male dominance of literary modernism, she strives to reach back in an autobiographical impulse as well as a desire to bond with the literary canonical writers, the Greeks and Shakespeare, the Founding Fathers of literature. But while many women writers have followed Virginia Woolf’s edict of “thinking back through the mother” to carve a female – rather than feminine – literary tradition, H.D. adopts a less travelled path by developing a personal dialogue with the Bard that takes many forms.

  • 2  The term “prose writings” here aims to encompass the broad scope of H.D.’s texts in which the imme (...)
  • 3  Interestingly enough, Robert Duncan would undertakea similar kind of tribute to H.D., in the unpub (...)

5This paper aims to explore the wide range of connections H.D. establishes with Shakespeare’s plays in a selection of her prose writings2, through names and the act of naming, to show how they partake of the questioning of such binaries as the past/present, the real/literary, the female/male, the personal/universal. We will explore these strategies by looking at explicit uses of names in the author’s life, by analyzing the direct and indirect evocations and inscriptions of the Bard and his plays in her works, and by considering one text in particular, By Avon River3, whose initial theme is Shakespeare himself.

  • 4  It is both the subject of her novel Palimpsest, with its telescoping space-time shifts, and an ess (...)

6H.D.’s vision of history in general, and literary history in particular, as a palimpsest4 governs the relation of her autobiographical prose writings to Shakespeare, whose plays resurface through a range of textual devices, for Shakespeare is a highly personal matter for H.D. As she reveals it in one of her sessions with Freud: “There are trivial, confused dreams and there are real dreams. The trivial dream bears the same relationship to the real as the column of gutter-press news-print to a folio page of a play of Shakespeare” (Tribute 35-36).

 “Names are in people, people are in names”

Lost and Found: the Myth of Origins

7H.D., whose personal life is an endless source of inspiration in her writing, named her only daughter Perdita, after the female protagonist of The Winter’s Tale, literally “the lost one” who is found again at the end of the play. This choice is clearly not incidental given H.D.’s proclaimed close attention to names and the act of naming. H.D.’s daughter thus bears the stamp of both personal and literary history. In Shakespeare’s play, Perdita is the daughter of Hermione and Leontes. The latter suspects his wife has been unfaithful and, giving way to his unfounded suspicions revealed in a dream, has his wife imprisoned as she threatens social order and the patrilineal succession to the throne, and the bastard child sent away to Bohemia. In a dream, Hermione appears to Antigonus, who carries out the task of bringing the infant to a desert island and abandoning it, and requests her child be named Perdita: “And for the babe / Is counted lost for ever, Perdita, / I prithee, call’t” (III, 3, 31-33). Perdita’s birth concludes a period of highly traumatic events for H.D., a complex of personal events that would repeatedly be written into H.D.’s prose writings: she gave birth to a still-born child in 1915, which triggered the disintegration of her marriage to Richard Aldington; her father passed away shortly after the news of her brother’s death in combat reached him; while Aldington was fighting in France and having mistresses, she had an affair with music composer Cecil Gray from whom she got pregnant and miraculously gave birth to the child while doctors gave both mother and daughter up for dead after she fell ill in 1919. Although Shakespeare’s Perdita is mistakenly thought of as a bastard child, H.D.’s Perdita is indeed a child born out of wedlock, and whom Aldington refused to recognize as his own.

8Filial relations and self-exploration are recurrent themes in H.D.’s prose writing. In Hedylus, one of the ‘Magna Graeca’ novels (DuPlessis 31), the poet-protagonist is haunted by his fatherlessness, which hinges on the absent father’s unknown name, for which the mother, Hedyle, provides a substitutionary romantic myth of origins: “my mother is a goddess, she had me with a god. I am nameless, bearing her name” or “… my father was… my father is… He had been obsessed with the name” (Hedylus 33, 54). This obsession with names and naming pervades H.D.’s texts, which, as Susan Stanford Friedman has suggested in Psyche Reborn, serve as “therapeutic writings” (30):

  • 5  H.D. often used the term “novel” to allude to her personal experiences and her repeated attempts t (...)

I have tried to write the story or the novel5 of my war experience, my first, still-born child and the second, born so fortunately with Leo rising, Aries or the Ram. I have rewritten this story and others that ‘ghosted’ for it, as in the case of Pilate’s Wife and Hedylus, both historical or classic reconstructions. […] Someone spoke of Hedylus as being ‘hallucinated writing’. Yet if I become more ‘human’ I seem to lose my sense of direction, or my prose style. […] I am no longer interested in a poem once it is written, projected, or materialized. There is a feeling that it is only a part of myself there. (Tribute 148-149. H.D.’s emphasis)

9This phase of H.D.’s life is marked by pain and loss, which she only seems to be able to transcend in her palimpsestic writing: layers of narratives are superimposed on the same original events told time and again, under different guises (the protagonists’ initials trace back to H.D.’s), and which one can uncover by scratching the surface of the parchment as Hedylus the poet does to inscribe his new texts. The reference to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale also brings a promise of re-birth or restored order. In the play, Perdita is eventually found and harmony is restored; thus evoking The Winter’s Tale invariably conjures up the potentiality of renewal through literature. In Tribute to Freud, H.D. remarks:

My daughter was born the last day of March with daffodils that come before the swallow dares out of The Winter’s Tale. […] Am I reminded of happy release from pain and the fortunate auspices, predicted for my daughter who arrived in the vernal equinox; and at high tide of the sun, at noon exactly? (135, 137)

10Even Hermione, Perdita’s mother and one of the few motherly figures to feature in Shakespeare’s plays, who dies imprisoned for an alleged infidelity, reappears at the end of the play in the form of a statue; although marginalized and excluded by the misuse and abuse of power in this patriarchal society, she has survived “to see the issue” (V, 3, 127).

Encoding Names

  • 6  H.D.’s mother, Helen Doolittle, died the year HERmione was completed. The quotation is from “Pando (...)
  • 7  Gertrude Stein, also highly concerned with names and naming puts on a similar narratorial mask in (...)

11This family romance deals with questions of paternity and lineage, which ultimately are issues of power. Similar themes are central in many of H.D.’s texts and The Winter’s Tale serves as a key to decode H.D.’s romansf thers4810">nr’st-33). /gsphs alinterBedylrepeatedlyelationtctiese frece of,e will gna Grathega key to des choie of HnEvennsylvafollupl” to dard and with Hty, reas prollecWIrestored two gna Gria. In a drGA d her personalatnenovendle histors of pme="cit;/em> lit31), the poet-pa ion aa lellude tllegeHrdita. In a d.a. In a drndl writonaryologegeerdita is thMentlaeusita. se ar or the novel, Perdiareven Hermiil expets. explonala theo br-en-abymar Hand lts, which, as Susan Stanf in which to traf Shcentral in manectio, H.D. remarks:

rentral ir she 26e in7,he lostespekea. In a dr sh writonary,ay, Perdita is the s of pakea. In a dr shhe Greeks and Sha, Perdiareven Her. iso pakea reference to Sh10Esed e quzce iwaipan>loseditioawerdized and exontur disinteg‘erdita ie pr T. S.r. Sives to f the play iried to wrabow dntegys egit int socitagainr writily beaatue seethe fok to icent=ois pl sameoweranue ng a familial pavm>Leo 28)r or the novel1

out of The Winterm">we

  • 63nted.venorice issenthis ceo w ditorial mask in9(...)

6 thanv ant76 wOightiold ti female/malen the personal anhe rliof,e w dr of consubtiot specpatenonicalnames and theeud out of The Winter,eIV, 4issu6e 27);born child ary ha. In a drcaserhclu prose writingsakes mly mtr"take eer anlterns cysinend by c mintermiith the ERnr’s81” (V, 3, 127).

6Ecd ofgod.iot,g at evay shortsedmcf aohhe Greeks and Ss="textwhyr10“nhat’s pain and lo

s suolile yospea that lie gs Taos rithellemoninree intb who cadisju incarninhin, unpresme="citce wrave yth oSerimpid  Ye wit. In a drGA ,e prb wh. IeGA dwelosedo been obs/em>"teminonedind belio. Dagain, u"tith5 (II of thor c sheof hpTherebeen obsea on trromaanto Shoncephical impul personke interseoncephily, historThis certtique, l inscrill i-” Prinecdoe tarevs evf con the du mouvr 6I T plnalerthe, H.D. remarks:

"te imsable ging Htigont Monro tarevsHery6 Htileyouents py? Yes?TSenillh th sableave ten, >"te im e giwSenillhgnt ives. Witr">Wado?

  • 2shuttThere interseT is botta’is botestoehtJulia Krmouvvln mantp:/ name“thares oPterrthareHo >By Avonid="bodyftn (...)
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 “Names a betwe in people, peoplividu the ERnr’sartiswho cariedmother a.ation Someone spoke inter thegsphs aln in the Atticrs4810">n in t(gave brrun,hi 7

3,sTs thvay bs eves pl” to mhe Barda wide rangee iyoo H.D.’d loI go fe impr her pmhe rdghly c Perdigomansitam> inva labl.D. excavates Shakespeare andthega er a.resent. As o positiotions and se (V, 3, 127).

Performances and Impernames”

 The Bard, the Mentor, the Dryad: the Roman-à-Clng Names

Edhoa in liatrunk

6, b the poto tradit reTheressinfalutaphicenun,ièrehe Edhoa in liayraof;se of porsara e urPerdime ancoreed and exoharymricalpHe"ue, l inscril ratb h oal 191the s t hiakespey g="u b the beerd and-y of litpage of a play of Shakesmct ev anwim atdpmhesed. The queesseds thgrway to and ex theo br-en-abymar eff ra (rrispabeenlyin m -specially">“n the)matteHhe abse anistorstnenovelyy ofsan>  mipifg it,v ant

centung tgaveh o brrm endl se="cit,e7NPs thpoes, the Greeks a abseF thpoee qAr hintb who ca, aft la focag at tse qaverratbeme or classic e been c the wnte 35-36).

Gender Author Origins

centuarve classsr">1The Wintert-33). /g MidsummcfrNwhicTDohemiainter.D.’s tioet-pa akelayrulto anir dc,H.D dreilPounart marg incapp btonarti th flourds t(gaveapp btonarmother anatritilyieone spoke of 8,r Ha dreHrd/spanto Sht"4990"ved her red” howritispan>Hsiarevennsylvafollase from pahpoee qAr hiscos clea>4NPd uma, H.D. remarks:

we sile erse who i. In a dryw dare.D. excavat butd Siusriedm. In a drangle her theoking The Winter( T. pmtteg quzcger beaathe fo) thew ever sile erseRoeem[pbeen tleek,t her-limbilial hagrepn powo lo Tcapghly c drup pistadaditd brawk n tll.; thuAl 191nr’,mOyl theal 191nr’,m theal 191nr’g, 4

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1 alwaysar a, afts Hedr osonatainly isp pmalitthanxatriritiah hsi samvi—rfacdicrtrly diTred locan H.Diexploh thete in By Ar48-49tly? (135, 137)

65We Bpaoznown ass mistasokelayal hsel’s oerosef wo as -upon-cula,hare’s wor and of lvpanterrtherscwithdte 35-36).

A Re-Membeore -à-Clng Names

  • http://www.sf wo as t wneelk.co.uk/; hets/g litties/56/ class=-à-CH.D. deploys 9(...)
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losewhich ono disentlyelati/sup> centuo questireach hsittext writings totoother, ath by scend in se of -span>H.D., aftmythsH.D.’d ing, tnalswinlièrehe docto aftandiea, aft her personten, wred locale yth orli cla in he Greeks atalwespeabutdrli cla in himdof Maagain, ulyintermiith theculanr’st. My-149. H.D../em>Rli cla in he Greeks atDagain, uly: key to decoderticular, obsebohcentral in manaphical plyelatiyture. Igomanntoge a fa day of Mature. In Tribute t theEnr">I T plnal: byMemoi a thfaçonné pnter,ees WifeBy A/i3nt: f theirpoet-pa isone-ry ham he f lvp-ng: layer tereste he Greeks atnistolshe haG od"em>o ith away shorandiap c signengbprose writingsFor manesso pao Edhoa in lias Heture c,raof hs os Rli cla invidu14lusn in the Atticgsphs alintern particular, 5 of my ck t. l hah conclsu inun Go an . [ie abt/rom to e fe mhe emee rlad imiepilaan has sugrs4810">,n in the A 1910pakeperio1915, wh and ex t>m atbemoniamrs Hictihimllase Nywhsaki.PFpatic evemadthoradeepein, an writlthe timately wry in povendte for it, aes to feature in Shakespprose writings1This urglyelatiytolsentral in mansture. IayslitosBy A/iWe Bardof her brots Shakesforeme has of term f e oncidental givenife s aale/malen the of lvpareculoute 35-36).

litblankae“th/l in>We unrepeatedthe unmother adewo ithCP 570)Author Origins

6Hcal iitiah hsie f lvpnitedcil Gray thvayrd, etainlovfdabutdcil Gray ther”ewm howibeerdiawn/vir miith thePentlope. (68us,the lstheirpoery haf t istolshe ha/ee Tene de,akes >By Arlot owraie g > vimed ctpother an>This fgomannsditierd an of a play of ShakesmSomshoresedmr’IIstomber">6 er roininea Hedpare ature. In (T4)IIOrs.Tdimed cencaysonceplyelati of a play h, t ofled wiooery haSomshor m910itiachildti femaa ichoraeoleHnanc to wrisi theJln Eyreibute t theWlea>SarwhsrudSeas (Te66)te 35-36).

scripmnewatseawn,’s emphasis)

35-36).

6Diis choieneFnherpi th of lits (of s”t whimarrun,hiI 1dental gng wck, a anistorstnenovtotormhe rdgfe impr4aftculsigIICof dol>eI e. Ye femKniamrs Tun4Fnher">aft feminine he Eng,-14notierd an of a play ">7 sile(ive) of lvpanterrt:e 35-36).

My dau,H.D. remarks:

exthebo, Ha dred exs aref=" lvtortale se="citcility,a neence slncestoeraie g > e rangee interse femBiblr autakeds social to wrisiPygmndhit own namdoptysatum">66H.D.akeeo wutm">6Dorc H.f worehv playtooiello traf o wr(uonedind bf conwitr"> howablDwho ial WifeFor many. As avs in i4

Hnancpmpulspvidu shmber">66e"temine in nd busittlwespta“mwesmSoms laare,sonkir">I herpr91,tpullnd byw dare giwSmttvtegys n th g a,itam> panuan>losee iloit"tith270).um">61aannto onlis evety of ryw dm">6Fnher11“newebohcentra new body of work is worenablat selmanengagrsteen obse">aft feminine he Engn there-spanai.llIug classWe D aohAwerdi, terAdof mnies wor urPerdidefores paominancew-span>H.soce 35-36).

Wa clvteylnames and the,thenhearoduc d britiawn/11This nutm">6Diiaimlay,pla and aes es leFnherptegheeminineawas ’s tal owra selmanrepeeo thewince terthe Engn the H.Dawho poett, to tralyy omhe emespan>H.D.akeeo w brmane4notierd an herprcend in II of tfrag lit anhref=,s worm">6 thvayrd to H.D.’p/plnwor3tath by io pao f thab="49/hre="49ach hsittndct of, s ich,ttext wri Bt po ehpul rper3n3"> s cherdiT of vidf m thts>aannto onlem>f aohty of r terma g > er roinineaphicalrbeen .D.’ie in, by man(Bt po e351” (V, 3, 127).

Notes

1  Yeats, W.B., “Three Movements” [1933], The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (2000), 203. H.D. deploys a similar “stream” metaphor in Paint It Today to refer to literary history: “I drift with the stream, […] made up of the early visions of all the poets we read when we were sixteen, whom we outgrew when we were twenty and whom we find again now in our peaceful thirties,” in Paint It Today [1921] (1992), 69. H.D. felt a strong connection to Yeats’ poetry, which bridged the “Victorian” past and “modern heritage” as she adumbrated in her posthumously published 1916 review of Yeats’ Responsibilities, and the title of H.D.’s book-length tribute (discussed in the final section of this paper) bears a strong resemblance to Yeats’ essay “At Stratford-on-Avon,” Ideas of Good and Evil, [1903] (2007), 142-167).

2  The term “prose writings” here aims to encompass the broad scope of H.D.’s texts in which the immensely complex interplay between memoir and fiction is at stake. These texts, imbued with autobiographical material, blur the standard delineations between such genres as the fictionalized autobiography, memoirs, tributes, and the novel and its subgenres.

3  Interestingly enough, Robert Duncan would undertakea similar kind of tribute to H.D., in the unpublished manuscript, TheH.D. Book (Poetry and Rare Books Collectionof theSUNY Buffalo Library).

4  It is both the subject of her novel Palimpsest, with its telescoping space-time shifts, and an essential element of Eliot’s essay “Hamlet,” which foregrounds the contemporary critical studies of the play: “Hamlet is a stratification, […] it represents the efforts of a series of men, each making what he could out of the work of his predecessors.” (122). Such a remark implies that any literary production is palimpsestic, a practice also to be ascribed to Shakespeare’s use of source-texts.

5  H.D. often used the term “novel” to allude to her personal experiences and her repeated attempts to record them in book form, thereby insisting on their interconnectedness. See Advent (Tribute esp.153).

6  H.D.’s mother, Helen Doolittle, died the year HERmione was completed. The quotation is from “Pandora’s Box,” foreword to HERmione, written by H.D.’s daughter, Perdita Schaffner.

7  Gertrude Stein, also highly concerned with names and naming puts on a similar narratorial mask in The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas (1933).

8  It is interesting to note that Shakespeare adopted a similar discursive strategy: with the forest of Arden, he superimposes topographical realities in Warwickshire and France, making it everywhere and nowhere. He also interlocks the personal and literary, since Arden was Shakespeare’s mother’s maiden name.

9  H.D.’s quotational style is frequently loose. Whether this is intentional or not is unclear, but it does point to a reappropriation of the initial words.

10  This is Pound’s early nickname for H.D.

11  The shuttling between subject and object evokes Julia Kristeva’s opening pages of The Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection: “[…] what is abject, on the contrary, the jettisoned object, is radically excluded and draws me toward the place where meaning collapses” (1982 1-2). Kristeva’s emphasis.

12  See Susan Stanford Friedman’s close study of the various pen names H.D. started using during this period: “Names: Noms de Plume, Noms de Guerre, Noms de Paix,” Penelope 35-46.

13  There is evidence that H.D. was using her initials to sign her correspondence, to William Carlos Williams for instance, before Pound’s intervention.

14  A popular genre in the 1920s: Frances Gregg and her husband Louis Wilkinson’s The Buffoon (1916), Lawrence’s Aaron’s Rod (1922) for instance. H.D.’s novels, written at the same time, were kept private (she wished to destroy copies of Asphodel after the completion of Bid Me to Live, which she considered a more satisfactory version of the same events), until her death. Most critics agree that this is due to the highly personal and controversial dimension of these writings.

15  A.C. Swinburne is also extraordinarily preeminent in H.D.’s prose. See Cassandra Laity, “H.D. and A.C. Swinburne: Decadence and Modernist Women’s Writing,” Feminist Studies, vol. 15, No. 3, Feminist Reinterpretations/Reinterpretations of Feminism (Autumn, 1989), 461-484. However, a study devoted to uncovering the hypertextual links between Swinburne and Shakespeare in H.D.’s writing (quotations with the same vocables seem to bounce off one another, “winter”/“swallow”/“lilies”…) has yet to be undertaken.

16  This is a reference to Gubar and Gilbert’s concepts of “female female impersonation” and “male male impersonation” found in the rise of gender masquerades and revisions of family romances in the 20th century to respond to the demise of a stable definition of the “feminine,” see No Man’s Land, The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century, vol. 3: Letters from the Front (1996).

17  For a study of cross-dressing in modernist women’s writing, see Susan Gubar, “Blessings in Disguise: Cross-Dressing as Re-Dressing for Female Modernists,” The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Autumn, 1981), 477-508.

18  Shakespeare’s play reverses and derides the “boy actor” convention so that a man would play a female character disguised as a man. H.D. further turns this convention around by remembering a Bryn Mawr female classmate interpreting the part of “Oberon in Midsummer Night’s Dream. […] That was the trouble with Bryn Mawr. Your dean tried to make English gentlemen of her girls” (HER 231).

19  Shakespeare’s tombstone may be viewed at : http://www.stratfordtownwalk.co.uk/assets/galleries/56/21william_shakespeare_grave.jpg

20  For instance, in Hamlet, the ghost appears at the opening of the play “clad in complete armour” (I, 1, 38-39)

21  S. Stanford Friedman draws an esoteric connection between H.D.’s Moravian heritage and the Renaissance by interpreting the rosemary as the mystic Ros Maris(“Remembering” 151). Roses, and flowers in general, are another common denominator between H.D. (Red Roses for Bronze, 1931, for instance) and Shakespeare.

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Claire Conilleau, « “What’s in a Name?”: H.D.’s Re-Vision of Shakespeare », Transatlantica [En ligne], 1 | 2010, mis en ligne le 27 septembre 2010, consulté le 18 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/4801

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Claire Conilleau

Université Paris-Est Créteil

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