H.D. (1886-1961) first composed ASPHODEL in 1921-1922 and revised it a few years later. Subsequent writings about her life in England during World War I eventually led to BID ME TO LIVE (1960), which she considered the most satisfying version, and she asked that all copies of ASPHODEL be destroyed. One copy survived and was made available at Yale University. Robert Spoo edited the manuscript and supplies a helpful introduction and commentary on the persons behind the fictions, for this is a roman a clef (a form popular with many of H.D.’s circle of writers) that invites the reader to compare the real and the invented characters.
The novel traces H.D.’s life from her departure for Europe in 1911 to the birth of her daughter in 1919. The protagonist, called Hermione Gart, is in love with her traveling companion Fayne Rabb (based on Frances Gregg), but this friend returns to America and marries. Hermione then marries Jerrod Darrington (based on Richard Aldington). Emotional upheavals continue — a miscarriage, near death from pneumonia, the birth of a baby girl by another man, separation from her husband, love for another woman (based on Bryher). Increasingly the war infects lives as surely as does the influenza virus.
Like other modernist texts, the novel is experimental in form. Passages are often circuitous and recursive rather than immediately clear. Yet as images repeat and develop, H.D.’s intensely personal vision merges with larger psychological insights and connects to the global horrors of guns and bombs.
The title is taken from W.S. Landor: “There are no fields of asphodel this side of the grave.” The mood of the novel is somber, yet the images are often beautiful and captivating.