- The American H. D. by Annette Debo
As part of a wave of new scholarship on H. D., Annette Debo's The American H. D. is the first book-length study to explore "the significance of the concept of nation" for H. D. as a person and a writer (ix). There has been a spate of new editions of H. D.'s work in recent years—including The Gift in 1998, The Sword Went Out to Sea in 2007, Majic Ring, White Rose and the Red, and The Mystery in 2009, and Bid Me to Live in 2011, all published by the University Press of Florida—plus a number of new critical works, including The Cambridge Companion to H. D. (2012). All of these demonstrate the nascent consolidation of her place not only within [End Page 393] the modernist canon but also in the teaching of modernism. This is evidenced by Debo's other recent volume, Approaches to Teaching H. D.'s Poetry and Prose (2011), co-edited with Laura Vetter. Debo's first monograph on H. D. proves that she is a rigorous, innovative, and engaging H. D. scholar.
Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1886, H.D. lived in America until the age of twenty-five, when she left the U.S. for Europe. She returned to the U.S. for a visit in 1920 but "lived as an expatriate for most of her adult life" (3). Until recovering her American citizenship in 1958 at age seventy-two, she was a British citizen, having married the English writer and poet Richard Aldington in 1913. Despite this, "H. D. always considered herself American, an identity that significantly impacted her writing" (ix). It is H. D.'s "enduring feelings of Americanness" (ix), her "deep bond with the nation of her birth" (22), and the influence of these feelings upon her writings that drive this study. Debo's thesis, then, is that "H. D. was irrevocably shaped by American people, places, and institutions" (28) and that "her American identity was fundamental in her literary imagination" (212). Throughout her continual changes of residence and her "frenetic traveling" (36), Debo suggests, "H. D. carried her nation with her" (212). However, this national American identity was relatively new and still under (deliberate) construction. As Debo notes, H. D. herself asks in Asphodel: "What is American? That's just it. Asking us to be something that has never yet been defined" (quoted on xiv).
In five chapters plus an introduction and an epilogue, Debo examines various characteristics of the nation as depicted in H. D.'s writings. Debo's introduction reviews and analyzes the approaches she draws from the "nation theory of both historians and postcolonialists" (xiv), among whom are Ernest Renan, Hans Kohn, Anthony D. Smith, Benedict Anderson, Eric Hobsbawm, Homi K. Bhabha, and Timothy Brennan. With these reference points, "analysis of H. D.'s texts and life is contextualized within an understanding of the modern nation-state and the history of the United States" (xiii). The large scope of this study, which examines H. D.'s work from the beginning to the end of her career, is underpinned by a substantial ballast of archival material drawn from various libraries. However, this text is as much a biographical discussion as a literary one, and relatively lengthy sections read as a cultural history of Americanism. Debo's methodology is historicist; she examines H. D.'s Americanness within a larger discussion of the changing nature of the American nation within H. D.'s lifetime.
The first chapter examines H. D.'s upbringing in the United States and pays particular attention to her personal and literary relationship with Bryher and Marianne Moore. This reading is a reaction to criticism that suggests that H. D. did not represent her historical moment; Debo is concerned to "locate H. D. in American history . . . in the history that shaped her as a writer" (xiv-xv). She addresses "what being American meant during H. D.'s time" (xiv), and that investigation provides a highly useful starting point given that "it...