Scope and Contents
The H.D. and Bryher papers house the personal papers of the poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) and her lifelong friend, lover, and companion, Annie Winifred Ellerman (Bryher). The collection, which ranges from 1916-1972, highlights H.D. and Bryher’s correspondence with their contemporaries, and some miscellaneous materials.
The collection consists of one box of material, containing four series: “Series I: Correspondence,” “Series II: Bryher’s Correspondence,” “Series III: Third Party Correspondence, and “Series IV: Miscellaneous Materials.”
“Series I: Correspondence contains H.D.'s outgoing correspondence to John Cournos, Mary Herr, Katharine McBride, and others. She writes to Katharine McBride on several topics, including thanking her for considering her as a participant at Convocation and for a citation awarded her at the 1960 Convocation. “Series II: Bryher's Correspondence” contains Bryher’s correspondence with Alice Alt, Mary Herr, and others. Bryher's correspondence with Mary Herr reveals much about Bryher's political opinions and life in London during World War II, while her correspondence with Alice Alt, the former companion of H.D.'s daughter Perdita, provides information about her later life in Switzerland and H.D.'s health. H.D. and Perdita occasionally added brief notes to Bryher's outgoing letters. “Series III: Third Party Correspondence” contains miscellaneous letters pertaining to Mary Herr, Norman Holmes Pearson, and others. These letters include one from Mary Herr to Katharine McBride reporting that she gave H.D. the Citation and programs from Convocation. “Series IV: Miscellaneous Materials” includes a photograph of H.D. from circa 1920, materials related to Bryn Mawr College (where H.D. attended for three semesters), clippings, programs from various events, book covers, and miscellaneous bibliographical lists.
H.D. was a unique poet: an exploratory feminist writer who was also deeply engaged with the classical tradition. However, this collection contains little of her writing, and instead highlights her personal relationships: with her friends; with Bryn Mawr; with her daughter, Perdita; and with her companion, Bryher.
Copyright and Rights Information
The H.D. and Bryher papers are the physical property of the Special Collections Department, Bryn Mawr College Library. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns.
Biographical / Historical
H.D. (1886-1961) and Bryher (1894-1983)
The poet and philhellenist H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) was born in 1886 in Bethlehem, PA. Around 1895, the Doolittle family moved from the Moravian community in Bethlehem to Upper Darby. While living in Pennsylvania, H.D. met fellow poets Ezra Pound, to whom she was briefly engaged, and William Carlos Williams. Both of the young men were students at the University of Pennsylvania, where Hilda's father was a professor of astronomy. She began attending Bryn Mawr College in 1905 as a day student and made the acquaintance of fellow students Marianne Moore and Mary Herr. After three semesters, H.D. withdrew from college. Her motives for leaving are not clear, although the catalyst may have been illness, poor grades, or her relationship with Ezra Pound. Years later she would write to Mary Herr (1959 July 19) that she was "practically invisible" at the college.
H.D. departed for Europe in 1911 with her friend Frances Gregg and her mother (Frances, with whom H.D. was in love, was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts). H.D. again associated with Pound, who was living in London. He helped to launch her poetic career in 1913 by sending three of her poems to Poetry Magazine with the accompanying signature "H.D., Imagiste." While in London, H.D. also mingled with such celebrated writers as D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot, and in 1918 she married the novelist Richard Aldington. Although H.D. later divorced Aldington, she retained his name.
In 1918 H.D. met the author Annie Winifred Ellerman, who called herself Bryher. Bryher was a writer, critic, and literary patron and friend of modernist writers including Marianne Moore and Gertrude Stein. She was editor of the early film journal Close-up and the literary magazine Life and Letters Today. Her best known works during her life were historical novels such as Beowulf (1948), The Fourteenth of October (1952), and The Roman Wall (1954). Two less-known early works of fictionalized autobiography, Development and Two Selves, which explore modernist modes of expression and deal with the development of an individual lesbian consciousness, have been recently re-printed.
The two women became friends, lovers, and lifelong companions. H.D. credited Bryher with saving her life during a period of severe depression and illness that coincided with the birth of H.D.'s daughter Perdita, whom Bryher later adopted. They spent time in Paris with other writers and were involved in the film industry during Bryher's second marriage to Kenneth MacPherson. Throughout her life, H.D. suffered episodes of depression and illness. While in Vienna (1933-34) she was analyzed daily by Freud at Bryher's urging and later wrote about the experience in her Tribute to Freud. H.D. and Bryher lived together in London through World War II, afterwards migrating to live in Switzerland, where H.D. died in September 1961. H.D.'s poems and novels, which are marked by a sparse use of language, a deep engagement with the classical tradition, and feminist thought, garnered a wider audience after her death. In 1960 she became the first woman to win the Award of Merit Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
There are other collections of H.D. and Bryher's materials at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, the Houghton Library Manuscript Department at Harvard University, the Lilly Library of Indiana University, Bloomington; the University of Rochester, Special Collections; the Film Institute of the Museum of Modern Art; and the Rosenbach Library of Philadelphia.
For additional information about H.D., see, among other publications:
Friedman, Susan Stanford. Psyche Reborn: The Emergence of H.D. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.
Guest, Barbara. Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World. New York: Quill, 1984.
King, Michael. H.D., Woman and Poet. Orono: National Poetry Foundation, 1986.
Robinson, Janice S. H.D.: The Life and Work of an American Poet. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982.