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Section 9

Ezra Pound, 1885–1972

Ezra Pound.

Wedding announcement of Dorothy Shakespear (1886–1973) and Ezra Pound, London, 18 April 1914.

An earlier generation saw a succession of American-born women writers marrying Englishmen. But the pattern among the moderns of the pre- and post-WWI period was reversed, with American men such as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot wedding British brides. Pound’s marriage, in particular, proved an advantageous match for him. Ever since his arrival in 1908, he had been networking his way across the London literary scene. Union with Dorothy Shakespear (1886–1973)—an artist whose work appeared in the Vorticist journal, Blast, which was edited by his friend Wyndham Lewis—linked him to the “Celtic Twilight” and gave him access to that circle of late-Victorian Irish Aesthetes, for she was the daughter of Henry Hope Shakespear, a solicitor, and of Olivia Tucker Shakespear. His wife’s mother not only was a novelist, but the friend (and former lover) of W. B. Yeats, as well as a cousin of Lionel Johnson (1867–1902), the Decadent 1890s Bodley Head poet who had reportedly introduced Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas.

Ezra Pound.

Letter to Kate Buss, 27 October 1916.

When Ezra Pound arrived in London in 1908, he was fortunate to have May Sinclair (1863–1946), the novelist and critic whom Suzanne Raitt has rightly labeled a “Modern Victorian,” as his guide and guardian. She introduced him to Ford Madox Hueffer (later Ford), who was related by blood and by marriage to the Pre-Raphaelites. As he got on, Pound would return the favor by bringing her into his circle of “H. D.,” T. S. Eliot, and others who represented the new transatlantic literary movements. Even as Pound relied on Englishwomen such as Sinclair for assistance, he retained his ties with Americans, entering into correspondence with Kate Buss, a Massachusetts-born journalist with esoteric scholarly interests, who was fascinated, as he was, with Chinese literature.  (In 1922, she would publish Studies in the Chinese Drama.) To Buss, he confessed—or perhaps bragged about—how thoroughly Anglicized he had become and how detached from his native land, asserting that, with Britain at war, “It grows increasingly difficult to take any interest in anything that happens in America.” Nevertheless, he was not too preoccupied to work on the papers given to him by the widow of Ernest Fenollosa (1853–1908), the Orientalist who had left the U. S. for an academic career in Japan, or to use these to produce a study of Noh drama, published in London by Macmillan. (And he also found time, of course, to bad mouth to Buss his other British publisher, Elkin Mathews.)

Ezra Pound.

Lustra of Ezra Pound. [London: The Author, 1916]. Privately printed version of the edition published by Elkin Mathews.

J. M. Whistler’s performance of the American expatriate Aesthete in London—insolent, self-possessed, litigious, and dandified, with artfully arranged coiffure and facial hair—lived on in the later generation of transatlantic modernists, especially in Ezra Pound. Like Whistler, Pound delighted in mockery. His volume Lustra, which collected many of his previously published poems, contained such comic assaults on Victorian predecessors as his reduction of A. E. Housman (in “Housman’s Message to Mankind”) to a dreary chorus of “Oh, Woe, woe, woe, etcetera …” and banal observations: “London is a woeful place/ Shropshire is much pleasanter.” It was Pound’s use of sexually frank language, though, that got him into hot water with Elkin Mathews, who had feared controversy since his Bodley Head days as Oscar Wilde’s publisher in the Nineties. Before he would publish Lustra, Mathews demanded that Pound agree to expurgate the text. In return, he offered to produce two hundred copies of a less heavily censored version, with only four poems omitted, to circulate privately. Lustra featured Pound not only as a poet, but as a visual object, photographed by Alvin Langdon Coburn, with whom he was also collaborating in 1916 on the invention of “vortography.” This was the process of taking Vorticist-inspired, abstract images, using a device that combined the camera with mirrors, to create a fragmented and kaleidoscopic effect.

Gertrude Stein, 1874–1946

Gertrude Stein.

Three Lives. London: John Lane, 1915. English issue of the first edition, published in the U. S. in 1909 by Grafton Press, New York. Inscribed by Stein to Kate Buss.

Throughout the opening decades of the twentieth century, American exponents of new modernist styles continued to seek out, for the British issue of their books, the two figures who had defined Aesthetic book publishing in the 1890s: Elkin Mathews and John Lane. While Ezra Pound gravitated toward the more retiring (and easily cowed) Mathews, Gertrude Stein chose Lane as British publisher for what had been her breakthrough prose work in the U. S., Three Lives. For Lane, as J. W. Lambert and Michael Ratcliffe note, this book which contained three novellas about struggling women at the bottom of the American socio-economic ladder (including the character of “Melanctha Herbert,” described as an “intelligent, attractive negress”) signaled “at least an effort to embrace the avant-garde” on his part. According to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, the memoir that Stein ventriloquized through the voice of her lesbian partner, Stein’s acquaintance with Lane went back to 1912, during one of her visits to London. At the start of World War I, when Stein and Toklas were temporarily stranded in England, that acquaintance deepened into a social relationship, especially as Lane’s wife—the American-born writer, Annie Eichberg—was a fan of Three Lives. This copy of the book was presented later to Kate Buss, whom Stein described in a 1923 letter to Carl Van Vechten as a “newspaperwoman” from Medford, Massachusetts, who wrote for the Boston Evening Transcript and who was eager to write about her. In this remarkable inscription, Stein slyly—and perhaps “cattily”—takes liberties with the recipient’s name, ringing changes on “Kitty” and “Buss” (with echoes of “Puss/y”) that are both playful and sexually suggestive.

Amy Lowell, 1874–1925

Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1915.

Intending to advance the new Anglo-American movement in poetry, Amy Lowell had high hopes for her time in London in the summer of 1914. But transatlantic meetings were not always happy events. As Claire Healey reported in “Amy Lowell Visits London” (1973), at the dinner party that Lowell hosted there on 17 July 1914— an occasion meant to celebrate the anthology Des Imagistes (1914), edited by Ezra Pound, in which her poetry had appeared—rancor and acrimony were the main course. Part of the problem was the disputatious nature of Pound, her fellow American. But the bigger (in all senses of the word) obstacle to concord was Ford Madox Hueffer (later Ford Madox Ford)—grandson of the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Ford Madox Brown—who proved an ungracious guest and, afterwards, a most ungrateful one. He used the English Review to lambaste Lowell for her sexuality, her wealth, and even her size (though he was no sylph himself), writing of her as a “Neutral” who was “monstrously moneyed” and “monstrously obese.” Meanest of all his sneers at the lesbian poet from Brookline, Massachusetts, was his charge that this embodiment of modern female masculinity was a “coward,” who had fled London that summer to escape the outbreak of World War I. In the “Preface” to her own anthology, Some Imagist Poets, Lowell referred obliquely to some “Differences of taste and judgment” as having “arisen among the contributors” to Des Imagistes. Her volume included work by the bisexual American, “H. D.,” and her British husband, Richard Aldington, but not by Hueffer/Ford or Ezra Pound.

T. S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot, 1888–1965

Catholic Anthology, 1914–1915. London: Elkin Mathews, 1915.

Elkin Mathews had helped to birth British Aesthetic and Decadent book publishing, as co-founder in 1887 of the Bodley Head, which issued Oscar Wilde’s The Sphinx and Salome, among other important volumes. Having little taste for the controversies on which his business partner thrived, he split with John Lane in 1894 and went out on his own, specializing in poetry. But with Ezra Pound as one of his authors in the new century, Mathews found himself reluctantly drawn once again into the cultural crosshairs. According to Mathews’s biographer, James G. Nelson, the Catholic Anthology, edited by Pound, occasioned noisy protests and an unwelcome visit by Francis Meynell, son of the 1890s Catholic Aesthete, Alice Meynell. Pound took a liberal view of what constituted religious-themed work. His chief object in assembling the volume, however, was to showcase poetry by his new friend, T. S. Eliot. After his first trip to London in the spring of 1911, while he was a Harvard undergraduate on his study-abroad year at the Sorbonne, Eliot came to Oxford in 1914 and eventually settled in London. Pound, who was unfazed by the complaints of Catholic readers (or of anyone else), was determined to print Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which made the anthology famous forever, even as it laid the foundation for Eliot’s future career in Britain. In 1927, Eliot became a citizen of his adopted homeland.

H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), 1886–1961

H. D.

Sea Garden. The New Poetry Series. London: Constable, 1916.

Of all the transatlantic modernists, none was more closely aligned or imaginatively engaged with the Victorian artistic movements of Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism than Hilda Doolittle, the young woman from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who wrote as “H. D.” Cassandra Laity, the modernist scholar, credits Ezra Pound with introducing Doolittle—who, for a time, was engaged to marry him—to the work of the Pre-Raphaelite poets. Some forty years later, in 1948, Doolittle would complete (but never publish) the manuscript of White Rose and the Red, which Laity calls an “autobiographical novel set in Pre-Raphaelite London” that involved “recasting her male contemporaries as members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and H. D. as Elizabeth Siddal.” Norman Kelvin, editor of William Morris’s letters, has asserted, moreover, that H. D. based the male protagonist of her fictional narrative on Morris. Even in her first published volume, the book of poems titled Sea Garden, which was issued by the London firm of Constable, her debt as an “Imagist” to Pre-Raphaelite imagery was clear, especially in her intensely colored and eroticized flowers and her evocations of ship wrecks and sirens that recall Burne-Jones’s paintings of figures under the sea. Doolittle came to London in 1911, accompanied by her lesbian lover, Frances Gregg, but then married the British poet Richard Aldington in 1913. They remained legally married for decades, though they separated within a few years and Doolittle went off to live with her long-time partner, “Bryher” (Annie Ellerman), who was also a British writer.

This exhibition is associated with the conference, "Useful & Beautiful: The Transatlantic Arts of William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites," which will be held October 7–9, 2010, at the University of Delaware (Newark, DE) and at the Delaware Art Museum and the Winterthur Museum & Country Estate (Wilmington, DE).

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