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5 H.D.’sTrilogy asTransnationalPalimpsest Stein’s (anti)comparative nationalism grows in part out of her plane’s-eye view, the perspective of a traveler who quite literally sees geography from a different and distant perspective or angle of vision. For H.D., who decided to stay in London during World War II and therefore was subjected to England’s restrictions on travel, transnational transportation on this scale was not an option. Indeed, the opening image of Trilogy focuses on the transformations of local conditions under the sign of war: “rails gone, (for guns)” (CP2 509).1 H.D.’s primary reference with “rails” is the British war office’s melting of the wrought-iron fencing around her Knightsbridge neighborhood’s squares and gardens for munitions, which opens up urban geography in new ways. Whatever physical, literal travel H.D. and her speaker could engage in is distinctly local. And yet books—about Egypt and the Mediterranean, in particular— became a form of textual travel that significantly shaped H.D.’s approach to Trilogy. Through H.D.’s reading habits we can observe a clearer line of sight to the work of Ellen Churchill Semple than we can observe with Stein, and yet both writers use forms of environmental determinism as a strategy for testing the limits of nation and, more so in H.D.’s case, of empire as well. This, notably, converges with a paratactic disruption of syntax and narrative that both writers use to test national boundaries and hierarchies. Ellen Churchill Semple’s Geography of the Mediterranean Region: Its Relation to Ancient History, published in 1931, was the labor of two decades of research and travel and the product of dogged determination that allowed her to complete the work despite major health problems (Creese 317). Draw- H.D.’s Trilogy asTransnational Palimpsest | 125 ing heavily upon ancient literary and philosophical texts to illuminate what the geography of the Mediterranean looked like and the larger economic, technological, and cultural dynamics it could reveal, the book’s spatial and historical orientation allowed Semple a joyful return to her early academic roots in classical history. It failed to reach the same degree of prominence among academic geographers compared with her earlier works in part because the intellectual tide in the field had started to turn by the mid-1920s: at least within those academic circles, environmental determinism was by then an outmoded model, and Semple had been fully identified with it. But Geography of the Mediterranean Region was an impressively comprehensive and erudite work of scholarship, particularly in the eyes of academics in the adjacent fields of classics, sociology, and history, and it was an enjoyable , accessible read.2 One contemporary reviewer called it “perhaps the greatest study of the Mediterranean region ever written” (Becker 290). The book’s review history indicates that even beyond its appreciative specialized audiences, there was a receptive set of nonspecialist readers: soon after its publication, reviews began appearing on both sides of the Atlantic in mainstream publications as diverse as the Times Literary Supplement and the Spectator in Britain and the New Republic in America. Even the American Jesuitical weekly magazine America (which has been called the PBS for Catholics) reviewed the book soon after publication.3 The “attractive fashion” of Semple ’s writing (Spectator) no doubt helped to make it suitable for “the general reader at leisure in his armchair” (R.P.L.).4 It is likely that H.D. was among these readers.Her lifelong companion and lover Bryher owned Semple’s Mediterranean Region (Smyers 24), and its publication date of 1931 suggests an immediate relevance to H.D., since it appeared just before her 1932 Hellenic cruise with her daughter Perdita and Alice Modern, which became the subject of her story “Aegina” (Silverstein “Planting the Seeds”; Guest 205). Because Bryher supplied many of the historical and academic texts in preparation for the journey that she and H.D. took to Egypt with H.D.’s mother in 1922, it seems highly plausible that Bryher would have done so with this Hellenic cruise. Though the book has been catalogued by literary historians as a part of Bryher’s library, it would have resided in H.D. and Bryher’s joint library at Kenwin, the Swiss Bauhaus –inspired home that Bryher built for them in 1930–31. 5 Kenwin served as a “bolt-hole,” a home base away from family surveillance and a “point of departure for travel” for Bryher, H.D., and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813055145
Related ISBN
9780813060514
MARC Record
OCLC
900158401
Pages
208
Launched on MUSE
2015-02-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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