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Refracting the Religious: Reworking Origins in H.D., Djuna Barnes and Laura (Riding) Jackson

Claire Conilleau
p. 67-84


Cet article explore la relation dialectique aux questions religieuses et spirituelles dans l’œuvre poétique de H.D., de Djuna Barnes et de Laura (Riding) Jackson. En dépit d’un profond rejet des systèmes et des institutions, leur langage poétique est émaillé de références, citations et allusions bibliques dont l’effet est de constituer une poétique d’autorévélation et d’auto(pro)création. L’analyse des modalités de traitement de la question spirituelle dans l’œuvre poétique de ces auteurs permet de montrer qu’elles réfractent le religieux afin d’interroger l’origine et l’originalité de toute création.

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Author's notes

I am indebted to Antoine Cazé for suggesting this notion at the 2013 AFEA Annual Convention. The metaphor of refraction is one H.D. is fond of and uses repeatedly, as in “The Flowering of the Rod” (H.D. 1998, 165-166).

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  • 2 Barnes’s biographer, Phillip Herring, writes of her reaction to her friend Emily Coleman’s conversi (...)

1In “A Prophecy or a Plea”, Laura (Riding) Jackson states: “Probably, because these are going to be intensely human times, there will be no gods” (Riding 1992, 278). But, thinking back to her poetry of the early 1920s and her collaboration with the Fugitives, she wrote in the 1980 introduction to the reissue of her Collected Poems: “I was religious in my devotion to poetry. But in saying this I am thinking of religion as it is a dedication to, a will to know and make known, the ultimate knowledge … Poetry made itself the secular twin of religion” (Riding 2001, xxx-xxxi; Billitteri 97). The poet’s statements highlight the dialectical relation between the human and the divine, between the singularity of a voice and the plural generality at work in literary modernism. If H.D. and Djuna Barnes do not use spiritual terminology as regards their poetic function, their poems and prose works bristle with religious elements—despite Barnes’s notorious skepticism and cynicism towards religion.2 Regardless, she owned numerous books about religion, including a heavily annotated copy of the Bible, which is a testament to the fact that, like H.D., she studied sacred texts; she also bequeathed half of her estate to Saint Bride’s Church and Christopher Wren Church in London.

  • 3 27 June 1884 letter from Mallarmé to Léo d’Orfer.

2This preliminary paradox in their relation to the religious recalls the reconfiguration initiated by Mallarmé in his call against “the old, evil scarecrow––God”, as well as his vision of the poetic enterprise: “Poetry is the expression, by means of human language brought back again to its essential rhythm, of the mysterious meaning of the aspects of existence: it thus endows with authenticity our sojourn and constitutes the sole spiritual task” (Rhodes Peschel 10).3 As Mallarmé here asserts, radical iconoclasm enables a mise en scène and does not conflict with a mystical idea of poetry even though it may be modified as a result. This double process invites us to resort to the optical metaphor of refraction to describe this phenomenon that includes both the way in which a text incorporates the influence of a hypotext and the new light it sheds on this hypotext as it is rewriting it—that is to say the dialectical relation between the “original prototype”, which often constitutes a common heritage, and the “modern product” (Jaén and Gutleben 7).

3The full involvement and exaltation that (Riding) Jackson, H.D. and Barnes manifest in their poems turn them into transcendental loci in which to weave together spirituality, language and humanity. In so doing, they seem to subscribe to the definition T. S. Eliot formulates of the artistic emotion which, by orchestrating an encounter between the poet and tradition, is “impersonal.” Paradoxically, it is the personal material at the poem’s origin that, through the alchemic process of the poem, brings forth the impersonal: “the more perfect the artist … the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material. … The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done.”4 By analyzing the eminently dialectical relation that H.D., Barnes and (Riding) Jackson have with religion, we aim to suggest they proceed to a refraction of the religious to question the origins of the poem and their poetic originality.

  • 5 “The religious being precisely the use and integration of the holy and of the divine for the benefi (...)
  • 6 Gilles Deleuze states: “we must have a minor language inside our language … not pretending, not pla (...)
  • 7 See A Survey of Modernist Poetry, 1927.

4A biblical subtext and intertext, apparent through connections to sacred texts are poetically subverted. Despite the references, allusions, and quotes, the poems are never about the religious as Meschonnic defines the term.5 H.D.’s, Barnes’s and (Riding) Jackson’s iconoclasm towards “the old, evil scarecrows” and the facetiousness of a singularity coexisting with an impersonal subjectivity hint at, in their modernism, a Deleuzian “minoritarian-becoming.”6 If (Riding) Jackson is among the first poet-critics to use the term “modernism”,7 she was well aware of the internal discrepancies within this literary moment. As early as 1928, she claims her affiliation to an “authentic modernism” which she delineates as being:

not a part of a ‘modernist’ programme but a natural personal manner and attitude in the poet to his work, and which accepts the denomination ‘modernist’ because it prefers this to other denominations; also because there is a conspicuous force operating at great odds to free the poem of many of the traditional habits which prevented it from achieving its full significance. (Riding & Graves 75, my italics)

5In “The Personal God”, Barnes’s poetic subject derides beliefs that have been perpetuated through habit—a blind collective faith stifling the individual: “Creeds of a kind we’ve always had/To crouch by our dim fireside.” This “Personal God”, envisioned in its potential construction, emerges from the flaws of traditional religions, particularly Catholicism, whose precepts and rites—such as the link between religious practice and offering, particularly pecuniary—are undermined by the poetic subject:

He’ll breed no circle of platters
Nor take root in your yearly fees;
He’ll ask no patient toll of tears
Nor the terrible toll of the knees. (Barnes 32-3)

6The poet here operates a refraction: her god is humanized (“My God shall halt and be human”) and the poetic voice is almost deified by the function of prophet and creator it takes on. In H.D.’s work, the poet herself also has the power of the priest or the prophet: “[a]t the core of her unsystematic spirituality is her belief that the artist, someone said to be ‘gifted’ … to mediate and bring transcendent visions to the secular world” (Augustine 63). This is unambiguously asserted as in “The Master”, where H.D. superimposes religion and psychoanalysis (the “Master” is Freud):

And it was he himself, he who set me free
to prophesy,

… (he said)
‘you are a poet.’ (H.D. 1986, 458)

  • 8 See Stanford Friedman 1981, 157-296.
  • 9 Barnes was also enthralled by texts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; she was an avid reade (...)

7As Susan Stanford Friedman has shown,8 spiritual syncretism is an essential characteristic of H.D.’s oeuvre. The religious refraction it triggers creates a poetic space for those who have been left out of “grand narratives”, to borrow Lyotard’s terminology, such as the multifaceted Lady in Trilogy—“mer, mere, mère, mater, Maia, Mary,//Star of the Sea,/Mother”—who carries “the unwritten volume of the new” (H.D. 1998, 71, 103). In contrast, Barnes is less interested in the religious figures and more fascinated by the archaic language, which we know to have played a role in the writing of biblical texts, which she conceives as an aesthetic object.9 She orchestrates a collision between this archaic language and informal, grammatically unorthodox phrasing to place a triple emphasis on the individual who is the origin (“I”), the recipient (“me”) and the nature (“personal”) of the creation: “I’ll build me a personal God.”

8In “The Sin”, (Riding) Jackson describes a nun’s dress whose folds and movements are aestheticized and eroticized, and appear to reveal a secret which the piece of clothing would ordinarily keep concealed:

She walks there
To swish the hem of her gown
Ecstatically against it.
And for this luxury
The sensuous courtyard
Makes her an award of secrecy.

At night
She takes off the blackness of her chastity
And bares the whiteness of her sin. (Riding 1992, 76-77)

9Constrictive consonants—sibilants and palato-alveolar fricatives that (Riding) Jackson especially favors as we will see with “Disclaimer of the Person”—abound to “convey a sense of the continuous and of friction.”10 The alliterative repetitions liken the poem to a psalm and the rustling of language seems to promise a revelation11 in a set of imagery conjuring up the Lady’s depiction12: “her veils were white as snow,//so as no fuller on earth/can white them” (H.D. 1998, 97). The reversal of traditional associations (at first, the eye may be tempted to read the “whiteness of her skin”) partakes of the axiological displacements that all three poets practice. By establishing a parallel with Nietzsche, Robert Azzarello sees in Barnes the performance of an inversion of aesthetic values: “what is conventionally ugly is beautiful and vice versa” (Azzarello 105)—a reversal that evokes the flowers of H.D.’s Sea Garden. We also see a collision between the sacred and the profane, as well as a questioning as to what constitutes the origin of the poem.

10Barnes’s use of biblical quotes and allusions is seminal in her poetic meditation on origins and beginnings. Whether they are epitaphs, used in the body or the margins of poem, quotations are frequent in poems written after Nightwood (1936). Further, these biblical quotes are emptied of their religious meaning to be recharged as literary texts. “Fall-out over Heaven” is framed by a quotation from The Waste Land and one from Isaiah at the onset of the poem, and from St. John at its closing:

I’ll show you fear in a handful of dust.
The Waste Land, line 30

And dust shall be the serpent’s meat.
—Isaiah: lxv.25

The atom, broken in the shell,
Licks up Eden’s reach, and Hell.

To Adam back his rib is thrown,
A mole of woman quakes, undone.

She, supposing him to be the gardener…
—John: xx.15

11Following Genette’s remarks on the intertext, we can note that the lay-out of the quotes contributes to transcending the poem from its thresholds, but also invites the reader to ponder what constitutes the poetic as well as its origin. Their sequential order invites us to read backwards: in this poem about biblical involution in a post-apocalyptic landscape, Barnes mimetically treats this theme by making Eliot’s poem the original source, presenting it before biblical texts. The typographical marks of biblical quotes highlight their materiality. Daniela Caselli mentions Barnes’s marginalia in her copy of the Bible. Next to Genesis 1:1, as a young girl she penciled: “this is merely a statement” (Caselli 85). In Barnes’s œuvre, Caselli concludes, the multiplication of inter- and intratextual references are elements of the “impurity” of her works, making them “agents of genealogical counterfeiting”, that also “expose how a tradition of originals never existed but always needs to be invented as such” (ibid. 86).

12The aesthetic religiosity that we find in the poetry of H.D., (Riding) Jackson and Barnes underwrites a religious aesthetic. Their poetic project aims to block the denotative power of all religious symbolism in order to recharge its signifiers, to deploy them in a metaphysical quest that proceeds through displacements and inversions, and to question origins.

13The allusion to the Grail, which in the Christian mythology has been identified as Christ’s cup at the Last Supper, is one of the common topoi of western literature to figure the impossible quest—an apt metaphor for (Riding) Jackson’s poetic work, which she “renounces” after the publication of her Collected Poems in 1938. Traditionally associated with the meal and its symbolism, it is mentioned as empty, “famished”, and is in no way a promise of abundance and fullness in “The Signs of Knowledge” (Riding 2001, 229-233). But the Christian symbolism is displaced by the poet; initially empty, it is the promise of a becoming-full:

By one sign shall you first know All,
See more than world of much contains:
The sign of emptiness,
An empty grail, an empty world
Of world drained to be world-full. (Riding 2001, 230)

14Scarcity is embodied through figures of speech (polyptoton, anadiplosis, epizeuxis) which culminate in the neologism, “world-full.” Here, as often in H.D., (Riding) Jackson hyphenates the two words. This tendency shows a desire to circumvent the limits and rules of language so as to mean more and to be able to “get in touch with forces whose presence is not perceived by ordinary vision” (Moulin 18). The emptiness is refilled to evoke the possibility of absolute knowledge and poses the world simultaneously as container and as a new measurement of content. In the poem, the link between the Grail and the world resides in the power of the word:

By words the world has end,
By words which brought
From first articulation, worldless stir,
To the last throbbing phrases. (Riding 2001, 229)

15The power of the word is both a creative and destructive force, and it gives the poem the seal of transformation and transcendence. As we adumbrated for Barnes’s “The Personal God”, the poetic voice is messianic: a grammar of revelation, here encapsulated in the “when”/“shall” couple, is at work even if the successful realization of the poetic and metaphysical enterprise is unclear. The reader easily perceives that the tension towards an end enjoins the poet to pursue the mystical momentum that animates him. In “There is No Land Yet” (Riding 2001, 199), the poetic subject acknowledges the impossibility to express truth with the language available in the actuality of the poem: “With dripping mouth it speaks a truth/That cannot lie, in words not born yet.” The adverb is the mark of a hope; “yet” creates expectation—that of a language capable of expressing the entire spectrum of human experience. The neoplatonician vision of a unified and unchanging world, as well as a positioning towards a fundamental revelation to come govern (Riding) Jackson’s poems, as Paul Auster pinpoints:

we witness her trying somehow to peel back the skin of the world in order to find some absolute and unassailable place of permanence, and because the poems are rarely grounded in a physical perception of that world, they tend, strangely, to exist in an almost purely emotional climate, created by the fervor of this metaphysical quest. (Auster 64-65)

  • 13 Chief among which are Barnes’s Book of Repulsive Women and Ladies Almanack (where Dame Evangeline M (...)

16Certain commonly accepted beliefs are swept. In (Riding) Jackson’s “Disclaimer of the Person”, the poetic subject adopts a radical stance: “In the beginning God did not create./There was no creation./There was no God” (Riding 2001, 251). This atheism aims to free oneself of a primary authority and enables the poem to take on this (pro)creating function. Further in the collection, the first lines of “In the Beginning” place the poem as the true Genesis through the use of spatial deictics and the contrastive intonation they command when reading: “That was not the genesis:/This is the genesis” (Riding 2001, 357). This phrase presupposes, on the one hand, the coexistence of two texts (unlike the radical claim of “Disclaimer of the Person”), and on the other hand, the deictics serve to create a distance— the use of the lower case letter has a similar effect—with what is accepted as the source of creation. (Riding) Jackson seems to be presenting a remedial to the genesis and places the female figure at the center of the divine Creation’s narrative, as do Barnes and H.D.13 (Riding) Jackson’s poetic subject poses enunciation, which the poem occasions, as the origin of existence, in adherence to St. John, I :1-3. This belief in the power of the word is shared by Barnes and H.D., particularly in her study of the Jewish kabbalah (Stanford Friedman 1981, 279-284). In Trilogy, H.D. does not negate the Book of Genesis which she quotes in italics (“In the beginning/was the Word”) but still looks for the parallels between prehistory, religious myths, legends and the contemporary world to write a personal, unifying faith: “there was One//in the beginning, Creator/Fosterer, Begetter, the Same-Forever” (H.D. 1998, 17, 54-55). By diverting the biblical precept and the linguistic performativity inherent in it, (Riding) Jackson wants to show that the word which creates life and is thus “divine”— that is to say a force creating life in its absolute transcendence (Meschonnic 13)—is a function of the individual who self-engenders in the present tense of the poem. In “Dust”, Barnes shares this divine function of the human (“this hemisphere of pain,/Built by the voice of man”, Barnes 58). Thus, they come within the scope of Walter Benjamin’s remarks on the Adamic language. According to Benjamin, man’s linguistic essence consists in the fact that he names things: “man communicates his own mental being in language (insofar as it is communicable) by naming all other things” (Benjamin 1996, 64). But unlike Barnes and H.D., for (Riding) Jackson, an ontological silence precedes all forms of existence. In that respect, she endeavored, in the course of her poetic career, to fuse the divine and the sacred:

The beginning was that no saying was.

There was that I did not say.

I was not because I am.
I am because I say. (Riding 2001, 251)

17In “Disclaimer of the Person”, this principle is embodied by the predominance of the letter <s> and its phonemic realizations, /s/ et /z/, which are to be found in the poem’s key words: “is”, “to say”, “myself” and “because”, as Daniela Ciani notes (304). (Riding) Jackson plays on the power of the letter <s> to represent linking and symetry which enable her to buttress the equation set by the poetic subject between “being” and “saying”, between the immutable essence and the creative enunciation. Existence is solely made possible by speaking in the first person:

Myself is all that was not said,
That never could be said,
Until I said ‘I say.’
I say. (Riding 2001, 251)

18(Riding) Jackson thus indicates that language is at the origin of any actualization of existence—represented by the inverted commas—, and that it is the individual who is his/her own demiurge. The rejection of creation narratives by (Riding) Jackson, Barnes and H.D. permits above all to assert a (pro)creative singularity associated with the auto-biographical displacements that run through their writings.

19The linguistic performativity of “In the Beginning” hinges on the power of the biblical word to create, but displaces this power onto the poetic word which produces the poetic subject. Away from (Riding) Jackson’s abstraction and her divine poetic subject which self-engenders in the poem, Barnes works the material to shape just as singular a divinity in the prophetic future of the poem. These alternative narratives to the Creation recall the analysis that Benjamin does of the second story of the Creation in which it is the clay—and not the word—that creates man:

The second version of the story of the Creation, which tells of the breathing of God’s breath into man, also reports that man was made from earth. … In this second story of the Creation, the making of man did not take place through the word: God spoke—and there was. But this man, who is not created from the word, is now invested with the gift of language and is elevated above nature. (Benjamin 1996, 68)

20In “The Personal God”, Barnes subverts this principle’s connection to the earth and gives primacy to the material over the spiritual in order to claim a singularity and a uniqueness. The assertion of a singularity, against any institutionalized religion where the collective stamps it out, fuels the poetic subject’s (pro)creative posture:

We stick to the same old pattern. All daubed and kissed and marred,
But I’ll use my own gray plaster
And I’ll build me a personal God.

I’ll work my clay as I find it (Barnes 32-33)

21The poetic subject transforms into a demiurge-craftsman through the use of the profane material and through the singular voice it affirms. This vision echoes Pound’s remarks on the role of the poet, but also (Riding) Jackson’s words:

For while poets have been the parasites of the spiritual world they were born to, sucking up old essences, these others have suffused the physical world with the breath of creation, they have turned visions into actualities. The artist too must turn producer: and his visions must be begotten … in the steady light of a life he not only confronts but, because he enters upon it fortified by personal faith alone, even creates … He, the human impulse, is the only premise. He is the potter. He is the maker of beauty, since all form originates in him, and of meaning, since he names the content. (“A Prophecy or a Plea”, Riding 1992, 276, 279)

  • 14 This truth evokes (Riding) Jackson’s lines: “That was not the genesis:/This is the genesis” (Riding (...)

22The emergence of the singular on the ashes of a blind collective force that we find in Barnes, H.D. and (Riding) Jackson, and other modernists, epitomizes the shift Deleuze underscores between the singular, the personal and the individual: “Singularities are the true transcendental events” (Deleuze 2004, 118). He also posits that “[f]ar from being individual or personal, singularities preside over the genesis of individuals and persons” (Ibid.).14 If the material differs, Barnes, H.D. and (Riding) Jackson divinize the human to prophesy the poet’s function as a demiurge-craftsman who sculpts a very personal spirituality that proceeds through syncretism or “heterogenous series” (Ibid. 259). In “The Satirics (They called Jesus…)”, the poetic subject weaves together, in the body of the poem, quotations, Biblical Latin and biographical allusions (Barnes 167). This hybrid composition, constructed as a stack of borrowed elements, is not devoid of irony (the poetic subject introduces itself as “I, Jock one Corbeau, one time a holy fowl”, in contrast with the opening line “They called Jesus the holy fowl”) and seems to place on par the religious, literary and personal references, the human and the divine, and their axiological reversal, producing a sort of glossolalia annihilating frontiers and categories.

  • 15 For Jane Malcolm, “the figurative woman whose language is procreative and originary” is a common th (...)

23As Jane Augustine suggests, “H.D.’s first intuitions of the artist’s power came to her through her fascination with Bible stories, Greek myths, and fairy tales that she read as a child” (Augustine 63). Drawing from a variety of sources (Christian, Egyptian, Greek, Hermetic, Alchemic, cabalistic, or astrological), the poet devises a visionary subjectivity which is both personal and communal (“here am I, Amen-Ra,/Amen, Aries, the Ram;” H.D. 1998, 30). This attempt to bring together these elements—“chasm, schism in consciousness/must be bridged over” (Ibid. 538)—is also manifest in Barnes and (Riding) Jackson. In In Extremis, Baker remarks that the poems composed while (Riding) Jackson was in Egypt are permeated by revelation and prophecy, and that the cosmogony the poet deploys in her oeuvre is multifarious, much like H.D.’s poetics. But if the references to different myths and religions are apparent in Barnes’ and H.D.’s poetry which capture their own metamorphic processes, it is not the case with (Riding) Jackson. About “The Lady of the Apple”, Baker comments that (Riding) Jackson conjures up various mythical and religious tales (Eve, Hestia, the sphinx) without the allusions ever being made explicit because the poet above all seeks to transcend the “local divinities” (Baker 131) to posit that the word was Woman:15

Turn up the earth, uncover her tomb, turn up
Her Pentecostal cheek, immaculate
And slain with lilies. Numbers in the blood
Unpetal and a resurrection springs
Out of the woman’s mouth for the last act
Of love: a word. (Riding 1993, vi-vii)

24We see in this ‘smooth’ syncretism—where references are absorbed and unidentified as such—allows her to assert and justify her poetic originality. Moving away from the existing tales, myths and legends, this originality is precisely postulated in “As Well As Any Other.”

I can dwell separately on what we know
In common secrecy,
And celebrate the old, adoréd rose,
Retell—oh why—how similarly grows
The last leaf of the tree.

But for familiar sense what need can be
Of my most singular device or me,
If homage may be done

As well by anyone?

Mistrust me not, then,
… and if I seem to shun
Unstrange and much-told ground:
For in peculiar earth alone can I
Construe the word and let the meaning lie
That rarely may be found. (Riding 2001, 43)

25“Retelling” is inconceivable in (Riding) Jackson’s poetic project for it implies treading too familiar paths, haunted by tradition, and does not enable the poet to use her “most singular device.” Only the exploration of unknown territories may bring a revelation which is always to come. This vision of the poet’s role as a pioneer evokes the final lines of H.D.’s “The Walls Do Not Fall” (“we are voyagers, discoverers/of the not-known”, H.D. 1998, 59). About (Riding) Jackson’s originality, Robert Graves wrote:

[She] was the one poet of the time who spun, like Arachne, from her own vitals … and the only one who achieved an unshakeable synthesis. … She was remarkable as being in the period but not of the period, and the only woman who spoke with authority in the name of Woman …: a perfect original. (Graves 331-332)

26In Pilate’s Wife, H.D. stated: “Poetry … is living. … Jesus had taught that. … what an inheritance; to have all the past to draw on, all those fantastic shapes and images … blending with an actual re-created present” (H.D. 2000, 134). H.D.’s, (Riding) Jackson’s and Barnes’s refractions between the divine and the human empty the symbolism out of the religious. But the religious is nevertheless summoned for its aesthetic value and to trigger a meditation on poetic creation, its origins, and originality. The leitmotif of the Genesis persists throughout their writing which bristles with questions about beginning and poetry’s relation to tradition. If we can expect an exaltation of the personal in a body of work that so clearly emphasizes singularity, H.D., Barnes and (Riding) Jackson aim to forge an impersonal subjectivity. The common belief in a text that can effect world transformation entices them to produce a poetry that universalizes without doing away with the individual. In Fables of Agression, Fredric Jameson argues that the move from the exterior sphere to the interior one is characteristic of high modernism: “the most influential formal impulses of canonical modernism have been strategies of inwardness, which set out to reappropriate an alienated universe by transforming it into personal styles and private languages” (Jameson 2). If Barnes and (Riding) Jackson are not fully incorporated in canonical modernism—unlike “the early H.D.”, although her place in modernism is much more complex than initially envisioned—, it is clear their procreative poetics is part of the approach Jameson delineates. Their dialectical relation towards the religious also enables these poets to come to grips the patriarchal heritage, in the margins of which their texts emerge and function to revise the great stories of the past and to reinscribe women in the present of the writing.

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2 Barnes’s biographer, Phillip Herring, writes of her reaction to her friend Emily Coleman’s conversion to Catholicism: “Barnes was envious of her faith but not tempted by it” (Herring 254).

3 27 June 1884 letter from Mallarmé to Léo d’Orfer.

4 Eliot, T. S., “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, (last visited 1 Sept. 2013).

5 “The religious being precisely the use and integration of the holy and of the divine for the benefit of a ritualization-socialization which becomes unavoidably theological and political” (Meschonnic 26, unless otherwise indicated, the translation is mine).

6 Gilles Deleuze states: “we must have a minor language inside our language … not pretending, not playing or imitating the child, the madman, the woman, the animal, the stammerer or the foreigner, but becoming all these, in order to invent new forces or new weapons” (Deleuze & Parnet 2007, 4-5).

7 See A Survey of Modernist Poetry, 1927.

8 See Stanford Friedman 1981, 157-296.

9 Barnes was also enthralled by texts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; she was an avid reader of the Oxford English Dictionary to collect lexical oddities she could employ in her writing (Barnes 7-15).

10 Jenny, Laurent, Le Sens des sons, 2011, np, (last visited 1 Sept. 2013).

11 Revelation as unveiling is at the heart of (Riding) Jackson’s poetry: “A poem is an uncovering of truth” (Riding 2001, 484).

12 This portrait is evocative of the Transfiguration, see Matthew 17:2.

13 Chief among which are Barnes’s Book of Repulsive Women and Ladies Almanack (where Dame Evangeline Musset is the prophet of a gynocentric community) and H.D.’s The God, Trilogy as well as Notes on Thought and Vision or Pilate’s Wife. In Notes on Thought and Vision, she writes: “Christ and his father, or as the Eleusinian mystic would have said, his mother, were one” (Notes 50-52). Incidentally, this example evokes the Moravian community H.D. grew up in where the female principle is linked to the Holy Spirit.

14 This truth evokes (Riding) Jackson’s lines: “That was not the genesis:/This is the genesis” (Riding 2001, 357). She continued her work on truth and language in The Telling where she clarifies the relation between the singular and the collective: “we bear … each singly the burden of the single sense of manifold totality … as a speaking self of it” (Riding 1972, 6).

15 For Jane Malcolm, “the figurative woman whose language is procreative and originary” is a common thread in the poet’s work. Malcolm, Jane, “That breeding silence she”: Laura Riding’s Gendered Ethics and the Limits of the Word ‘Woman’”, Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory, vol. 65, No. 3, Autumn 2009, 63.

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Bibliographical reference

Claire Conilleau, « Refracting the Religious: Reworking Origins in H.D., Djuna Barnes and Laura (Riding) Jackson », Caliban, 35 | 2014, 67-84.

Electronic reference

Claire Conilleau, « Refracting the Religious: Reworking Origins in H.D., Djuna Barnes and Laura (Riding) Jackson », Caliban [Online], 35 | 2014, Online since 01 January 2014, connection on 28 July 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Claire Conilleau

Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3.

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Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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