Date of Award

8-10-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Randy Malamud

Second Advisor

Tanya Caldwell

Third Advisor

LeeAnne Richardson

Abstract

Hilda Doolittle is best known as the imagist poet H.D. In a career lasting a half-century, H.D. also penned essays, memoirs, fiction, and translations of classical Greek works. Regardless of the genre, H.D. reveals much of her self in her work. Immediately following World War 1, she confronted her traumatic experiences during the war years. During World War II, she concentrated on the relationships—primarily with males—that had formed her identity. In the last work published in her lifetime, she conveyed what she had learned in her lifelong quest for identity. I explore selections from H.D.’s work in these three categories.

Due to the traumatic responses exhibited in World War I, trauma theory captivated physicians of the body and the mind. A much-debated aspect was the value of the narrative in overcoming trauma. H.D. seemed intuitively to grasp the importance of the narrative but, like many trauma theorists, first hoped to uncover the “truth.” She began this search in 1921 by writing two autobiografictional accounts of her war years; by 1940, she wrote her final volume recounting these events. She had learned that the “truth”—if it exists—is less important than remembering, repeating, and working through one’s experiences. In the 1940s and 1950s, H.D. turned to memoirs to pay tribute to her family, Sigmund Freud (with whom she underwent analysis), and fellow poet Ezra Pound. Each acts as a modern elegy acknowledging the importance of her lost loved ones yet freeing herself from their power over her. Finally is Helen in Egypt, a poem with prose captions in which H.D. imparts the lessons she has learned. She now grasps the illusiveness of “truth” and instead emphasizes the lifelong quest for identity ahead of us all.

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