"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Other Bloomsbury or H.D. in the Square

The Imagist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) was also a novelist and I have just finished her roman à clef entitled Bid Me to Live, not published until 1960 but probably drafted in the late 1920s around the time her former husband, Richard Aldington, was writing his powerful and acerbic war novel, Death of a Hero (1929).  Set in Bloomsbury in 1917-18, H.D.'s novel is a more subtle work of art and has the finely crafted patterning of a poem as it tries to capture the fragile mood of poets and painters and musicians in wartime London in Queen's Square (confusingly this is what she calls Mecklenburgh Square where she lived with Aldington while he was a soldier as there is also a Queen Square nearby).  Thinly disguised pictures of these two plus Dorothy Yorke, D.H. and Frieda Lawrence ("Rico"), the composer Cecil Gray and Ezra Pound fill out a story of what used to be called 'free love' and higher Bohemian behaviour a little apart from the Big Guns of posh Bloomsbury not far away.

H.D.'s very fine novel has a passage where the authorial persona describes her work on a poetic chorus-sequence: "It would take forever to get what she wanted, to hew and chisel those lines, to maintain or suggest some cold artistry."  The 'cold artistry' of this novel is a subtle and precise instrument.  

The book also reminds one what a great thing those Virago Modern Classics were, putting out work like this with an intelligent introduction by Helen McNeil and a fascinating afterword by H.D.'s daughter, Perdita Schaffner.


Northern Son said...

I love HD's poetry and nice to see someone keeping the flame alive. I also notice that you are the only blogger I've seen to mention the Welsh Book of the Year... Amid the plethora of prizes it's one that gets forgotten... Though maybe there'll be more fuss when the shortlist gets announced on Monday at Hay

Nicholas Murray said...

I think that Wales generally is off the literary map in many ways. And many of the people going to Hay will not realise that they are actually in Wales while they are there!

Anonymous said...

I did enjoy your reading your blog.