Doolittle-Aldington, Hilda (H.D.), (1886-1961)

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The American poet Hilda Doolittle was born on September 10, 1886, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and died in Zurich in September 1961. From her analysis with Freud during 1933-1934 she left a diary, a written homage to Freud: Tribute to Freud, (1944), which represents a precious account of their warm and positive analytic relationship.

The only daughter of four children, her father was Charles Leander Doolittle, a professor of astronomy who, in 1897, began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. There Hilda discovered her calling as a poet, encouraged by her relationship with Ezra Pound, who at age 20, just a year older than she, had just been appointed instructor. Although her father forbade her to carry on a relationship with Pound, who would soon be expelled for immorality, Hilda kept up a correspondence with him that in 1911 brought her to Europe, where she would spend the rest of her life. She went initially to England with Frances Gregg, with whom she had a homosexual liaison, and soon met Richard Aldington, a poet six years younger than herself.

H.D. published her first poems in 1913, and married Aldington the same year. The couple lost their first daughter in 1915, but a second daughter, named Perdita in memory of the first, was born on March 31, 1919. Hilda's favorite brother, Gilbert, was killed in France in 1918, and her father, seriously affected by the news, died a year later. In 1919, H.D.'s marriage ended, as did her brief but intense friendship with D. H. Lawrence.

When H.D. had suffered post-partum depression after the birth of her daughter, she owed her recovery to Bryher (Winifred Ellerman), an energetic novelist and poet who became her companion and took her and Perdita to live in Greece. While living in Corfu, H.D. suffered an episode of depersonalization, an experience that held no particular interest for Have-lock Ellis, who was in some measure attracted to her. She also had a hallucinatory vision of "writing on the wall" that Freud characterized as a "dangerous symptom" when she told him about it. This vision may explain the mild and tender positive countertransference behavior that Freud adopted toward her.

Bryher, who had been analyzed by Hanns Sachs, acquainted H.D with psychoanalysis. An initial effort at analysis with Mary Chadwick in the spring in 1931 was a failure, but it led H.D. to begin treatment in Berlin with Sachs, who subsequently introduced her to Freud. By then well-known for her imagist verse, H.D. sought analysis to remedy a sense of sterility in her writing.

Freud had read some of her work, including Palimpseste, before their first meeting on Wednesday, March 1, 1933. In the diary she kept of her analysis (in spite of his disapprovalhe viewed it as resistance), she described him as "like a curator in a museum . . .; he is like D. H. Lawrence, grown old but matured and with astute perception. His hands are sensitive and frail" (1974, p 116). From the beginning of treatment Freud brought her to see his collection of antiquities and showed her a small statue of Athena: "This is my favorite," he remarked (p. 118). "You are the only person to have ever entered this room and looked at the objects before looking at me."

This first session set the tone of an analysis in which Freud quickly interpreted that "not only did I want to be a boy but I wanted to be a hero" (p. 120). His interventions made him into "the grandfather godfather, god-the-father" (p. 120). He told her at one point, "I was thinking about what you said, about its not being worthwhile to love an old man of seventy-seven," and H.D. wrote, "I had said no such thing and told him so. He smiled his ironical crooked smile. I said, 'I did not say it was not worthwhile. I said I was afraid.' But he confused me. He said, 'In analysis, the person is dead after the analysis is overas dead as your father"' (p. 141).

Freud also confided in her that "I do not like being the mother in transferenceit always surprises and shocks me a little. I feel so very masculine" (pp. 146-147). H.D.'s mother had traveled with her and Aldington when they were lovers, and later lived with her in Europe for long periods in the 1920s before her death in 1927; Freud viewed her as the root cause of H.D.'s confusion and homosexuality.

After three months of analysis, H.D. left Vienna on June 15, 1933. When she returned at the end of October, to remain until December 1, she was concerned about the rise of Nazism; she immediately perceived the danger that it posed for "the Professor." Once again, describing in unparalleled fashion during the next five weeks of exceptional sessions, she sketched a poetical and moving portrait. She did so without concessions; attracted by the strange and bizarre, by astrology and belief in paranormal phenomena, she sometimes confronted the convictions of an old man. For his part, Freud hoped to introduce into her mental universe the father figure and finally succeeded. "We have gone into deep matters," he told her after one session (p. 177); after another, he said, "Today we have tunneled very deep." (p. 18).

H.D. had further sessions in 1936 and 1937, rather more as psychotherapy, with Walter Schmideberg. Until his death she never failed to send Freud gardenias for his birthday. In 1944 she wrote her memoir, first entitled Writing on the Wall , which appeared in 1956 as Tribute to the World. Soon after World War II, H.D. turned toward spirituality and underwent a severe mental breakdown and deep depression.

Moving to Switzerland in the late 1940s, H.D. enjoyed a productive and successful career in the last years of her life, publishing several books of poems, memoirs, and short stories that brought her considerable attention in literary circles in the United States. A hip fracture in 1960 left her handicapped until her death on September 27, 1961.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Literature and psychoanalysis.


Appignanesi, Lisa, Forrester, John. (1992). Freud's women. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Doolittle, Hilda. (1974). Tribute to Freud. Boston: David R. Godine.

Holland, Norman N. (1973). "Freud and H.D." International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 50, 309-315. Reprinted in Freud as we knew him. (pp. 449-462). (Hendrik M. Ruitenbeek, Ed.). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. (2002). Analysing Freud: letters of HD, Bryher and their circle. New York: New Directions.