"DESTROY," H.D. had pencilled across the title page of this autobiographical novel. Although the manuscript survived, it has remained unpublished since its completion in the 1920s. Regarded by many as one of the major poets of the modernist period, H.D. created in Asphodel a remarkable and readable experimental prose text, which in its manipulation of technique and voice can stand with the works of Joyce, Woolf, and Stein; in its frank exploration of lesbian desire, pregnancy and motherhood, artistic independence for women, and female experience during wartime, H.D.'s novel stands alone.
A sequel to the author's HERmione, Asphodel takes the reader into the bohemian drawing rooms of pre-World War I London and Paris, a milieu populated by such thinly disguised versions of Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, May Sinclair, Brigit Patmore, and Margaret Cravens; on the other side of what H.D. calls "the chasm," the novel documents the war's devastating effect on the men and women who considered themselves guardians of beauty. Against this riven backdrop, Asphodel plays out the story of Hermione Gart, a young American newly arrived in Europe and testing for the first time the limits of her sexual and artistic identities. Following Hermione through the frustrations of a literary world dominated by men, the failures of an attempted lesbian relationship and a marriage riddled with infidelity, the birth of an illegitimate child, and, finally, happiness with a female companion, Asphodel describes with moving lyricism and striking candor the emergence of a young and gifted woman from her self-exile.
Editor Robert Spoo's introduction carefully places Asphodel in the context of H.D.'s life and work. In an appendix featuring capsule biographies of the real figures behind the novel's fictional characters, Spoo provides keys to this roman à clef.
|Publisher:||Duke University Press Books|
|Product dimensions:||6.06(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.72(d)|
About the Author
H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1886. In 1911 she went to Europe where, with Ezra Pound and Richard Aldington, she became a leading member of the Imagist movement. She published many volumes of poetry, from Sea Garden in 1916 to Helen in Egypt in 1961, the year of her death. Her novels include Bid Me to Live (A Madrigal) and HERmione.
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By Robert Spoo
Duke University PressCopyright © 1992 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
France. France swirled under her feet for now that the boat was static it seemed, inappositely, that the earth must roll, revolve and whirl. Hermione clutched the railings of the stairs and the broad flight of stairs leading upstairs whirled and turned with her as the narrow cabin step ladder of steps leading down into the sordid ship's belly had never, it appeared, even in its worst days, done. The memories of sea storm were pacific compared with this thing: stairs that inappositely whirled under her and a bed that when she flung herself upon it, heaved and swayed under her, heaving and swaying and swaying with the heave and sway of faded rose buds in loops that was the almost effaced but still reliable pattern of the salmon-coloured paper of the wall she stared at. Stairs in her imagination heaved and sank under her. She seemed about to float away, lax, bodiless.
"There is nothing wrong with you." Madame Dupont, their boat acquaintance, had stayed with them, had the room down the corridor one remove from the rooms of Hermione and the two Rabbs. "There is nothing wrong with you." Hermione managed to heave aloft on one elbow and by a determined and valiant effort keep the bed steady under her elbow while she listened. "There is nothing wrong with you." A dark figure stood in the doorway. It drew nearer. It was clothed like a sister of charity in black, it had a black hat pulled over its eyes, the very hat they had all so bargained over this morning, shopping in Havre with Madame Dupont. Madame Dupont, had insisted on it. "My sister and my brother-in-law will be so shocked to see me back from New York without the proper black things. I didn't get them in New York as they are so expensive." Madame Dupont had arranged her mourning to suit her purse and her convenience. Was it French simply? Putting on black when she got to Havre, saving her best black, not wearing black on the boat. This mourning de convenance seemed suddenly to Hermione inconsolably amusing. She would begin to laugh and laugh and laugh. She would never be consoled. Imaginez vous, buying the things in Havre where it was cheaper ... cheaper for someone you cared for, but Madame Dupont hadn't even cared for her mother. Said so. Told them frankly "you see ... he was a very old man. But even that ... in France ... But you see ..." and she had whispered the tale of her dot-less marriage with a rich old man who had (whispers) and her mother knew it. French. France already on the boat had come true ... just that horrible story, true. Things happened out of de Maupassant, any de Maupassant story might come true, Boule de Suife, fat pretty cocotte in the railway carriage going to bed with the Parisian officer (Bouile de Souife was it?) and then everyone cutting her afterwards ... that was France, de Maupassant was true. Literature was true. If de Maupassant was true then life and letters met, were not sub-divided, hermetically shut apart. Helen thy beauty is to me was still hermetically sealed and a star, but de Maupassant in one terrible instant became real, a reality. Terrible and strong. They said it was Flaubert's illegitimate child. Writing. How marvellous. Writing. She must write. Hermione must write. She must write this: salmon-coloured wall paper ... faded; elegant Louis Seize gilt clock (on the elegantly empty mantel piece) that doesn't go; standing in the door-way a grotesque figure, stiffly erect, in the correct posture of her new cheap mourning, Madame Dupont saying, "but there is nothing wrong with you."
Hermione's elbow kept the bed quiet for a moment. The bed for a moment, was forced, by her effort, to rest firm and four-footed on the floor. "But Madame Dupont, I never said there was." "No, Madame Rabb tells me. You think you are suffering from the effects of the boat. You are not." "I don't think anything—" "Don't interrupt. You think, owing to erroneous impressions, that you, having kept well on the ship, are now ill. The people who thought they were ill on the ship are now well. Is this some sort of punishment for my arrogance, you may well think. But you need not. God in his goodness will eradicate this error from your mind—" O God, Hermione would begin to laugh and laugh and laugh. Her elbow could not now keep the bed from wobbling. The bed itself capered on one foot, on three feet, up—down— "O, O, thank you." If she had known Madame Dupont was a Christian Scientist she would not have wasted Eau de Cologne on her on the boat. If she had so known. Should Hermione remind Madame Dupont of those sunny, dazzling, sick sterile days when everyone said that they would so much rather the boat went down? Or those terrible intense days of baffling salt-whipped storm when there was no one to talk to and only she and Fayne Rabb had survived the mêlée? She had not then said to Madame Dupont "you are not sea-sick" though Madame Dupont kept on now insisting "you are not land-sick. There is, I assure you, nothing wrong. Mrs. Rabb, who persists in error, says you had better rest here. We are going out for lunch. But I persist in this. You will be all right for dinner."
"Brrrr sous la livre—Brrrr sous la livre" went on and on and on. A raucous voice persisted that something was some number of sous (brrrrring over it) the livre and what was a livre anyhow. Livre, livre. A book. A book. It was all a book. They had wandered out of a world into a book. They were dream people and they were wandering in the pages of a book. They were like black flies and they crawled across the print ... no, it was not print, it was a hard cobbled street winding a little and leading to a shrine. The street climbed the hill and the cobbles hurt the thin soles of Hermione's still sea-worthless feet. Climbing the street toward a door—a cathedral was it—the voice going on and on making long echoes like some voice "off" in some obvious stage set. The scenery was worn out, obvious. This was never true, could never have been. Livre. "But a livre is a book isn't it? What is a livre anyhow? Where is that hateful old Dupont creature? She might make herself useful for once. But what a mercy anyhow she's left." She was gone, for the nonce (shopping again?) Madame Dupont, cheap mourning and another half-mourning hat (still cheaper) with a spray of artificial half-mourning wheat sheaves on it. They had themselves bought hats, Hermione and the two Rabbs, were now wearing them, Fayne and her mother, Clara they now called her, Clara Rabb and Fayne Rabb and Hermione had bought hats, wonderful hats, soft about their faces, without linings, not so expensive—sans doublure—no, the bigger one. Madame Dupont had helped them, helped them buy exquisite wide straw hats for something about three francs, very extravagant Madame Dupont had said, harrowing the dumpy little milliner's assistant who might have been Boule de Souife come to life only she had such odd tobacco coloured eyes such white skin, somehow dumpy but with white skin like a magnolia. A common girl in a little back-water of a shop, draper's assistant and the masts of the boats showing through the uneven squares of the narrow window over the counters of cheap calico and bunches of artificial cherries and plum and magenta ribbons. Boule de Souife. Hermione had whispered "Boule de Souife" and Madame Dupont had dropped the bunch of magenta bignonias she had almost bought instead of the half mourning wheat sheaves to exclaim, "what, but Mademoiselle, you don't know what you're saying." "I wasn't saying anything. Only remembering—" "You picked up strange ideas in your French studies. You seem to have been oddly coached." Coached. Where had she got that word? Her husband the new American-French one, had learnt his English in Oxford. Coached. "You mean—taught?" "Taught. Yes. What did I say?" "I don't know—please don't be upset, Madame Dupont. It's France simply." "I can't see that there's anything for you to get upset about in France. You have your good home and your good parents to return to." Why must she so spoil everything? Black beetle, frog, horrible black beetle French-American frog, getting the best you can out of everyone, out of every country. Sending me back or wanting to. "Can't you see, frog, black beetle" Hermione almost shouted at her "that I adore your country?" Country. Country. Boats bumped up narrow salt canals and there were women in little flower bonnets, white wings to their bonnets like gull wings. Bretons, Madame Dupont told them.
Havre. This was Havre, Havre. Havre. Small boys looking like thin anaemic little girls dressed up in tight short hideous unbecoming little trousers, with curls (some of them) shouting after them, "Engl-eesh. Engl-eeesh. Beef-steak." "O Clara they think we're Engl-eesh." The little boys had persisted and shouted until Hermione had had to turn, stick her tongue out at them, thank them, Messieurs for their hearty welcome to their beautiful patrie where in America they were all taught French children were so polite vous savez till they disappeared and the market was a mass of wine coloured carnations, what were they? "O yes, thank you, Madame Dupont, oeillets, we want some, bunches." "O God, stick your face in them Fayne Rabb. Where have they come from? Wine, wine, they smell of wine, sops-in-wine." "O God Clara look, look they're wet and smell them and how cheap, nothing, all these for only (work it out) about ten cents" and Madame Dupont was scolding "you are always so—extravagant. It is extravagant reckless Americans like you Mademoiselle Hermione who spoil our people." Sops in wine. I shall go mad with it. Yes, I know I'm too hot and the heat loves me. My head is still going round and round and the salt is sweet from the little clean tide washed canals. They are dreams these Breton women. They are gulls. French. Not frogs. Not hawks. Gulls. Sea-people with wings. How can I ever go further than this? "can't we have supper on that same little pavement, O damn Madame Dupont. No, we simply can't trail all that way back to meet her, in order to save a half a franc on the dinner and couverts (all the bread you can eat) compris. I'll pay the extra. What did it amount to anyhow? The four of us about fifty cents a piece and she said it was too much. I'm too tired. I'll stay here alone. Let me die here. O yes bring me an omelette like last night. Merci, you are so heavenly to understand my French. How kind of you to understand my French. How heavenly of you to understand. O like last night, exactly, like last night—last night—"
The sunset even like last night, faint flamingo rose touching the sails in the little clean salt-water canal like roses on snow. And the Breton hats, children even, little girls in gull-wing hats. They must wear them. They must wear them. They say it's for good luck. Someone had told her. Where? Was it Pierre Loti? Something had come true again anyhow, something one had read came true ... Pierre Loti most likely, even the little girls, babies even, wear the gull winged bonnets for good luck.
Sailors like Pêcheur d'Islande with red pom-poms so odd on their blue tam o'shanters that they call berets. O France let me die here, let me die, press me to you, beautiful book, a flower's leaf floated here by chance, a moth with dried wings spread out ... between your vivid pages.
"Did she die here?" O, but she couldn't, she couldn't have died, the smoke wreathing in its hideous obscene whirl upward across these (perhaps) very roofs. "I can't believe that she died here." But O horrible, horrible suppose it had never happened. Suppose that it was going to happen. For it never could have happened, but it was true. But it could never really have happened. O it was only a story they told us like old King Cole and the Seven Sisters and the prince who turned into a frog. Frog. Frog. It was only a frog story without even the Black Forest intense wood-reality of Grimms tales. It was not even a legend out of the woods, not a real fairy-story. Something made up and French story books were never any good. So it wasn't true. It was a bad story. On the floor. Here, here it was they burned ... no, no, no, no, it wasn't true. Hideous smoke wreathing up. "I wish we hadn't come to Rouen." "What?" "I don't know. So tired, all these cathedrals. Saint Ouen. How about going back there?" "But it was you who said you wanted—" "O don't say it. Don't say it. Don't say it was I who wanted to come, to come here, to come even to Rouen. O it was the Fennels at the Art Academy, friends of Mrs. Anderson (she wanted me to meet them) who put me up to it. He had made a lot of drawings of the rose-window in the Cathedral and the South Kensington (I think they call it) Museum in London bought them. They put me up to it. Everyone has to see Rouen."
And Madame Dupont, saying good-bye at Havre, said they must come here, putting them on the boat, the river boat, because it was cheaper. For one had to see something. One came to France to see something—but why this? Why had she come to France? It was only a story like the Seven Sisters or was it the Seven Brothers turning into Swans; it was only a story like the little Mermaid who wanted feet. O God, God and she died for it wanting feet. O God don't you see, it was something real that happened. It was written on the pavement with the date, a circle and the French words. One dared not read them. Not even herselfthere. She had gone away into the air and she was a Spirit and she was France. O book you are worse than Saint John. I could never read those terrible words and here it is written, all written on the pavement and it happened like the Crucifixion. But one can't. One can't think of it. Here eyes looked out under a hat wreathed with corn flowers, a soft hat like they were wearing and her body was strong and small and like Fayne Rabb's. O don't, don't let's talk about it. Get them away from it. Hermione had spoiled the afternoon (but how much more devastatingly had everyone, had everything spoiled hers) for people had to come, had to stoop over the pavement to see the words written. But it was impossible. It was out of a book. Horrible long pages of French History crowded in between Physical Geography and the Latin or Geometry ... it was only French history, tiresome out of a tiresome book and the print bad and she had wanted to crown the king at Orléans. And they had caught her. Caught her. Trapped her with her armour and her panache and her glory and her pride. They had trapped her, a girl who was a boy and they would always do that. They would always trap them, bash their heads like broken flowers from their stalks, break them for seeing things, having "visions" seeing things like she did and like Fayne Rabb. This was the warning. Joan of Arc. O stop them. Stop them. They're hurting her wrists. God in Heaven. It was Saint Margaret that she called to. Saints all around Rouen, saints standing rather faint and tenuous on faint long feet. Come down, walk down, see—stop them. Saint Margaret. Saint Michael. Streets and the heat coming back and the reality and Clara reading, "visitors would do well to profit by the neighbourhood—br—br—br—" Hermione could not hear her. Clara was reading out of another book, the wrong sort of book. O France, France, terrible book. Like the revelations. It was like the revelations. Someone had given her a little book and said "eat it." She must eat the little book. Not scan it like other people. O it wasn't a question of scanning the little book, France. She must eat it, eat it, honey and worm-wood. "It's not far. Hadn't we better see the tower where they imprisoned her?" O God more horrors. Turn away. The English soldier was crossing the two sticks and the thin saint's hand was reaching for the cross. The cross was in the hands of the witch and people were shouting, "crucify Him, crucify Him." The witch was very tired and sick with all the noise and sweat of people. Her people. His people. Not that I loved Caesar less—red anemones. Corn flowers. O funny mad moth. O moth with blue wings. They have caught you moth, moth with blue wings. The black smoke shrivels your blue wings. People are shouting, blasphemy. They curse the witch of Orléans. The witch of Rouen. Going. Black. "O don't touch me. This heat. Get out. No. I am rather disappointed in it. Let's get back to Saint Ouen where it's cool anyhow and leave alone these ugly tourist centres." Tourist centres. O let me find lilies. "Yes. Clara. Thanks ever so much. We didn't have enough lunch. My fault. Idiot. I wanted to stay in Ouen. Yes. I know I'm fretful. No, I'm not disappointed. It was (wasn't it) our duty to come and see the spot. It said so in the guide book." No monument. Nothing. France was all her monument. O queen, Artemis, Athene. You came to life in Jeanne d'Arc. She's a saint now. I'd be a saint if I let them get to me. So would Fayne Rabb. I don't want to be burnt, to be crucified just because I "see" things sometimes. O Jeanne you shouldn't ever, ever have told them that you saw things. You shouldn't have. France. You loved France. But it was a story. Something out of a book. "Yes, Mrs. Rabb ... Clara. Let's go back. We had to see the place, certainly. Let's get out of this heat anyway."
Excerpted from Asphodel by Robert Spoo. Copyright © 1992 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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What People are Saying About This
"Asphodel is a brilliant experimentalist text important to the history and theory of both modernism and women's writing."—Susan Stanford Friedman, author of Penelope's Web: H.D's Fictions and the Engendering of Modernism
"This novel . . . is a considerable lyric meditation on femaleness, sexual and maternal choices, and the meanings of war, history, and violence. Its publication adds a striking text to the modernist canon."—Rachel Blau DuPlessis, author of H.D.: The Career of that Struggle
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Falls from th earth to the underworld and says wow better then shadow traviling