Date of Award

2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

English

First Advisor

Bob Perelman

Abstract

This dissertation reads the work of modernist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle, 1886-1961) through the lens of the maternal body, which was systematically repressed and concealed in the first half of the twentieth century despite the very public nature of women's reproductive issues in this period. H.D.'s era was one which saw the changing legal status of women, the medicalization of childbirth marked by its movement from the home to the hospital, the entry of women into the medical profession, the mainstream popularity of eugenics, the development of the psychoanalysis, and the rise of the technology of film. H.D.'s life and work provides a unique opportunity to bring together these major events of twentieth-century history with literary studies, not only because of H.D.'s connections to the Imagist movement, avant-garde cinema, and psychoanalysis, but also because of her personal experiences as a childbearing woman, a bisexual mother, and a patient of Freud. While her personal and social situation kept her on the fringes of modernist literary history throughout her lifetime, the variety of her pursuits positions her as a quintessential modernist figure. Through my sustained investigation of H.D., I argue that the childbearing woman, in all her functional physiological capacities, can be a central author figure. On the broadest level, my work interrogates the relationship between the medical and technological advances of the early twentieth century and the literature of the modernist period. By focusing primarily on H.D., I demonstrate how modernist literature grows out of an individual poet's continual personal contact with the changing technologies and medical institutions of her time. This interface between poet and culture is very much informed by H.D.'s social and biological status as a woman. Each of my chapters takes as its theme a particular possibility of female reproduction: stillbirth, birth, abortion, and pregnancy and lactation. I not only demonstrate how the socio-historical situation of the poet-as-childbearing-woman shapes the production of H.D.'s modernist writing but also I reveal how these themes exist as pervasive anxieties in modernist culture.