H. D.: Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Doolittle, Hilda. "Chapter One." In HERmione, pp. 3-8. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1981.

In the following excerpt from HERmione, a posthumously published novel, Doolittle opens the autobiographical work with a detailed inner portrait describing the mindset and torturous feelings experienced by protagonist Her (Hermione) Gart.



Her Gart went round in circles. "I am Her," she said to herself; she repeated, "Her, Her, Her," Her Gart tried to hold on to something; drowning she gasped, she caught at a smooth surface, her fingers slipped, she cried in her dementia. "I am Her, Her, Her," Her Gart had no word for her dementia, it was predictable by star, by star-sign, by year.

But Her Gart was then no prophet. She could not predict later common usage of uncommon syllogisms; "failure complex," "compensation reflex," and that conniving phrase "arrested development" had opened no door to her. Her development, forced along slippery lines of exact definition, marked supernorm, marked subnorm on some sort of chart or soul-barometer. She could not distinguish the supernorm, dragging her up from the subnorm, letting her down. She could not see the way out of marsh and bog. She said, "I am Hermione Gart precisely."

She said, "I am Hermione Gart," but Her Gart was not that. She was nebulous, gazing into branches of liriodendron, into network of oak and deflowered dogwood. She looked up into larch that was now dark, its moss-flame already one colour with the deciduous oak leaves. The green that, each spring, renewed her sort of ecstasy, this year had let Her down. She knew that this year was peculiarly blighted. She could not predict the future but she could statistically accept the present. Her mind had been too early sharpened.

She could not know the reason for failure of a somewhat exaggeratedly-planned "education," was possibly due to subterranean causes. She had not then dipped dust-draggled, intellectual plumes into the more modern science that posts signs over emotional bog and intellectual lagoon ("failure complex," "compensation reflex") to show us where we may or where we may not stand. Carl Gart, her father, had been wont to shrug away psychology as a "science." Hermione Gart could not then know that her precise reflection, her entire failure to conform to expectations was perhaps some subtle form of courage.

It was summer. She wasn't now any good for anything. Her Gart looked up into liriodendron branches and flat tree leaf became, to her, lily pad on green pool. She was drowned now. She could no longer struggle. Clutching out toward some definition of herself, she found that "I am Her Gart" didn't let her hold on. Her fingers slipped off; she was no longer anything. Gart, Gart, Gart, and the Gart theorum of mathematical biological intention dropped out Hermione. She was not Gart, she was not Hermione, she was not any more Her Gart, what was she?


Her Gart stood. Her mind still trod its round. I am Her Gart, my name is Her Gart. I am Hermione Gart. I am going round and round in circles. Her Gart went on. Her feet went on. Her feet had automatically started, so automatically she continued, then stumbled as a bird whirred its bird oblivion into heavy trees above her. Her Gart. I am Her Gart. Nothing held her, she was nothing holding to this thing: I am Hermione Gart, a failure.

Her eyes peered up into the branches. The tulip tree made thick pad, separate leaves were outstanding, separate bright leaf-discs, in shadow. Her Gart peered far, adjusting, so to speak, some psychic lens, to follow that bird. She lost the bird, tried to concentrate on one frayed disc of green, pool or mirror that would refract image. She was nothing. She must have an image no matter how fluid, how inchoate. She tried to drag in personal infantile reflection. She said, "I'm too pretty. I'm not pretty enough." She dragged things down to the banality. "People don't want to marry me. People want to marry me. I don't want to marry people." She concluded. "One has to do something."

The woods parted to show a space of lawn, running level with branches that, in early summer, were white with flower. Dogwood blossom. Pennsylvania. Names are in people, people are in names. Sylvania. I was born here. People ought to think before they call a place Sylvania.

Pennsylvania. I am part of Sylvania. Trees. Trees. Trees. Dogwood, liriodendron with its green-yellow tulip blossoms. Trees are in people. People are in trees. Pennsylvania.


Pennsylvania had her. She would never get away from Pennsylvania. She knew, standing now frozen on the wood-path, that she would never get away from Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania whirled round her in cones of concentric colour, cones … concentric … comic sections was the final test she failed in. Conic sections would whirl forever round her for she had grappled with the biological definition, transferred to mathematics, found the whole thing untenable. She had found the theorem tenable until she came to comic sections and then Dr. Barton-Furness had failed her, failed her … they had all failed her. Science, as Bertram Gart knew it, failed her … and she was good for nothing.

Music made conic sections that whirled round in circles but she was no good for music and in Pennsylvania it had never occurred to people to paint green on green, one slice in a corner that made a triangle out of another different dimension. Such painting, it was evident to Her Gart (static, frozen in early summer on a woodpath) must lead to certifiable insanity.

Seeing in a head that had been pushed too far toward a biological-mathematical definition of the universe, a world known to her as Pennsylvania go round and form words within worlds (all green) Her Gart said, "I am certifiable or soon will be." She realised precisely that people can paint nor put such things to music, and science, as she saw it, had eluded her perception. Science as Carl Gart, as Bertrand Gart defined it, had eluded her perception. Her Gart went on. "I must hurry with the letters."

She flung herself down, the letters flung down with her. Pennsylvania contained a serviceable river, more rivers than one dreamt of, torrents of white water running through deep forests. A river and white streams held nothing … nothing … she wanted sand under bare heels, a dog, her own, some sort of Nordic wolfhound; a dog that would race ahead of her while breakers drew up, drew back; she wanted a dog, nothing else, no one else. She wanted to be alone on some stretch of sand with dunes rising at the back and behind sand dunes, stretches of fibrous marsh grass, Indian paintbrush and the flat, coloured water lilies.

Another country called her, the only thing that would heal, that would blot out this concentric gelatinous substance that was her perception of trees grown closer, grown near and near, grown translucent like celluloid. The circles of the trees were tree-green; she wanted the inner lining of an Atlantic breaker. There was one creature that could save her, a hound, one of her own choosing, such a hound as she had often dreamt of, and one country … a long sea-shelf. Pennsylvania could be routed only by another; New Jersey with its flatlands and the reed grass and the salt creeks where a canoe brushed Indian paintbrush.

She felt herself go out, out into this water substance, Water was transparent, nor translucent like this celluloid treestuff. She wanted to see through reaches of sea-wall, push on through transparencies. She wanted to get away, yet to be merged eventually with the thing she so loathed. She did not struggle toward escape of the essential. She did not sigh as people did in those days, "Well, I'll some day get to Europe." Europe existed as static little pictures, the green and mosaic of several coloured prints of Venice and Venice by moonlight. Paul Potter's Bull and the lithographic prints to ruin Turner's victory. Pictures were conclusive things and Her Gart was not conclusive. Europe would be like that. She had felt no rise of emotion at the turn of speech that led "faculty ladies" in their several manners to coo, "Pollaiuolo at Vicenza, no it was Crivelli, don't you remember, at Verona?" Verona, Vicenza, Venice even, were so many boxes of coloured beads to be strung or to be discarded. Her Gart wanted a nobler affinity. She did not know what it was she wanted.

She wanted the Point. She wanted to get to Point Pleasant. She wanted the canoe, she wanted a mythical wolfhound. She wanted to climb through walls of no visible dimension. Tree walls were visible, were to be extended to know reach of universe. Trees, no matter how elusive, in the end, walled one in. Trees were suffocation. "Claustrophobia" was a word that Her Gart had not yet assimilated.

"Agoraphobia" rang some bell when Mrs. de Raub said, "I have agoraphobia, fear of the market place you know." Yet though a distant bell rang somewhere, it followed with no wide door opening. Her Gart had no a, b, c Esperanto of world expression. She was not of the world, she was not in the world, unhappily she was not out of the world. She wanted to be out, get out but even as her mind filmed over with grey-gelatinous substance of some sort of nonthinking, of some sort of nonbeing or of nonentity, she felt psychic claw unsheathe somewhere, she felt herself clutch toward something that had no name yet.

She clung to small trivial vestiges, not knowing why she so clung. Like a psychic magpie she gathered little unearthed treasures, things she did not want, yet clung to. She said, "What made me think of that slipper pincushion with Maria Frederick embroidered in pinheads on it?" She opened eyes that snapped wide open like metallic open-and-shut doll eyes. The eyes were glass now, not filmed with psychic terror. She saw trees now as trees. She said, "How funny … I thought I had got at something and I remembered the green blue ribbon pincushion cut out like a slipper, with Maria Frederick on it."