In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Biography
  • Correspondence
  • Reception

American Literature H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)
Lara Vetter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0030


H.D. (b. 1886–d. 1961) was an American modernist writer whose career spanned over five decades. Born Hilda Doolittle in the tight-knit Moravian community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, H.D. was the daughter of a noted astronomer, Charles Doolittle, and a Moravian musician and artist, Helen Wolle Doolittle. When she was a child her family moved to Philadelphia, a city home to a number of figures who would also become major American modernists—Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams—and H.D. knew them well. As a young adult, however, she left the United States for Europe, spending the rest of her life in London, England, and Switzerland. One of the first writers of English vers libre, H.D. began her career as a founding member of imagism, a short-lived but highly influential aesthetic movement that eschewed 19th-century sentimentalism for stripped down, objective verse that broke with conventional poetic form. She continued to write poetry, evolving into a writer of epic verse in her later years. She was also a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction prose, a translator of ancient Greek, and, briefly, a filmmaker and actor. Briefly engaged to Ezra Pound, married for a time to Richard Aldington, and bearing a child (Perdita) by the musician Cecil Gray, H.D. had romantic relationships with men and women, the longest and most significant with Winifred “Bryher” Ellerman, daughter of a wealthy English entrepreneur. H.D. survived and chronicled both world wars—the first in a flat in London’s Bloomsbury, the second in South Kensington—and the destructiveness of militarism and war is a constant theme throughout her life’s work. She also saw renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud as a student and analysand in 1933 and 1934, and her work draws on, and struggles to reenvision, his insights about the unconscious. Freud dubbed her the “perfect bi[sexual],” and her writing unwaveringly attends to gender and sexual politics. She is also known for her esotericism, her lifelong and intensive study of alternative forms of spirituality, as a way to imagine healing a broken 20th-century world. It is this facet of her work that has drawn the attention of 20th-century poets such as Robert Duncan. The first female recipient of the Award of Merit Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, H.D. was central to the origins of modernist poetry, and the number of renowned 20th- and 21st-century poets who cite her influence—including Adrienne Rich and Denise Levertov—is a testament to how her writings still resonate today.

Reference Works

There are not many reference books on H.D. as of yet. Boughn 1993, a bibliography, is an invaluable resource, and the H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) International Society web pages offer information for the newcomer to H.D. studies. The H.D. Newsletter printed brief notes and scholarship in the late 1980s, and Sagetrieb and, later, Paideuma have published some of the best criticism on H.D. to date. H.D.’s papers are held by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University; the H.D. Papers Finding Aid for this archive is online. Debo and Vetter 2011 offers guidance for teaching H.D.’s work.

  • Boughn, Michael. H.D.: A Bibliography, 1905–1990. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993.

    A meticulous descriptive bibliography both of primary and of secondary sources on H.D. is invaluable. Of special interest are records of periodical publications of H.D.’s writings and early reviews.

  • Debo, Annette, and Lara Vetter, eds. Approaches to Teaching H.D.’s Poetry and Prose. New York: Modern Language Association Press, 2011.

    Bringing together twenty-two contributors, and advice from many other H.D. scholars, this collection offers resources for teaching H.D.’s work.

  • H.D. (Hilda Doolittle).

    Heather Hernandez’s page for H.D. contains a wide range of materials, including Louis Silverstein’s chronology (Silverstein 2006, cited under Biography) and printings of H.D.’s children’s stories and reviews.

  • H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) International Society.

    This is the official webpage for the author society. It contains a wide range of resources and a blog that is kept updated with recent publications and events. Information on how to join the H.D. International Society is also located here.

  • H.D. Newsletter. 1987–1991.

    This short-lived publication contained early criticism on H.D., as well as remembrances and short pieces on biography and archival research. All of the volumes are indexed on the H.D. home page, and some of the articles are available there.

  • H.D. Papers Finding Aid. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

    H.D.’s papers—including correspondence, photographs, unpublished and published poetry and prose, and other personal effects—are held by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. The Finding Aid contains a link to digital images of some of the photographs and manuscripts in the collection.

  • Paideuma: Studies in American and British Modernist Poetry. 1972–.

    Formerly a journal devoted to scholarship on Ezra Pound, in 2002 Paideuma broadened its focus to include other early imagist and objectivist poets, such as H.D., William Carlos Williams, and Marianne Moore. Some of the best scholarship on H.D. has been published in this journal.

  • Sagetrieb: A Journal Devoted to Poets in the Imagist/Objectivist Tradition. 1982–2014.

    Until 2002, some of the best original scholarship on H.D. appeared on the pages of Sagetrieb, which specialized in H.D., Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and others in the imagist/objectivist vein.

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