From her early childhood onward, H. D. was aware of others’ expectations of her. Her mother, a devoutly religious woman, was a highly conventional wife, and her father, an astronomer at the University of Pennsylvania, hoped his daughter would be an important scientist. After her study at Bryn Mawr College, however, H. D. began pursuing poetic goals. In 1911, she went to Europe and decided to remain there among the many other expatriate American writers.
In 1913, Hilda Doolittle submitted some of her poems for publication under the pen name H. D., a name that was given to her by her onetime fiancé, the poet Ezra Pound. Pound and other male poets and thinkers always influenced H. D.’s life and writing; however, she made deliberate efforts to find a name and a voice for herself as a woman author among these strong male influences. She would remain close to Pound for years to come, but in 1913 H. D. married another poet, Richard Aldington. Her first collection of poems, Sea Garden, appeared in 1916, and she published a number of additional volumes within a decade, including Hymen (1921), Heliodora and Other Poems, and Collected Poems of H. D.
Near the end of her marriage to Aldington, in 1918, H. D. met the woman who would be her lifelong companion—Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman MacPherson). That year and the following one would bring a number of dramatic events for her, including the deaths of her father and brother, the birth of her daughter, Frances Perdita, and a life-threatening case of pneumonia. In 1920, Bryher took H. D. to Greece to recuperate physically and emotionally.
Known during her lifetime as a poet, H. D. also wrote a number of autobiographical and semiautobiographical novels. Two of the most significant, written in the 1920’s, are Palimpsest and HERmione. In addition, she composed a number of essays on film and acted in several experimental films, including Borderline (1930), produced by her friend Kenneth MacPherson. Two additional experiences influenced much of her later work: psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud in the 1930’s and living in London during the German air raids of World War II. The war produced the three collections of poems that became Trilogy (1942-1944), and Freud’s influence on her writing is clear in Helen in Egypt (1961). Helen in Egypt, a reconsideration of the story of Helen, was the last of her works to be published during her lifetime.