Circles: H.D./Bryher

Oh boy.

Although you’d never know it from the tangle of arrows below, I actually tried, tried to make this diagram intelligible, but when you’re mapping the relations of H.D. (Hilda Doolittle, born on this day in 1886) and Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman), complication is a given. They were, respectively, an American writer best known for her poetry, and an English writer born into fantastic wealth, whose historical novels are now largely forgotten. Their relationship lasted from 1918 to H.D.’s death in 1961 but as the diagram indicates, this was a far from exclusive arrangement.

There is already an overlap with our first attempt at this diagram thingummy in the person of Peter Warlock. As with that debut attempt, this representation is of necessity subjective, selective and simplified, and it’s easier to read if you click through and view it on its own. And if it looks complicated to you, just imagine being Perdita…

If nothing else this serves as a placeholder for things to come back to: the amazing film Borderline (in which Bryher looks like she’s been CGI’d in from decades into the future), the Swiss Modernist masterpiece Villa Kenwin, Robert McAlmon’s posthumously published roman à clef The Nightinghouls of Paris, not to mention the autobiographical Being Geniuses Together…and on and on.

Further reading
Borderline madness (Bryher et al)
Berenice Abbott | portraits (James Joyce, Djuna Barnes, Robert McAlmon, Sylvia Beach)
Strange Flowers guide to Berlin: part 3 (Djuna Barnes, Robert McAlmon)
Dada Baroness, Strange Flowers guide to Berlin, part 2 and 4, I am such miserable thing (Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven)
To the very dregs (Peter Warlock)
Dress-down Friday: Djuna Barnes, Djuna 40/80/120 (Djuna Barnes/John Glassco)
“A huge old baby vulture”, Dress-down Friday: Edith Sitwell, Edith speaks (Edith Sitwell)
Witch’s Cradle (Peggy Guggenheim)


  1. This is FANTASTIC! Not to mention Perdita getting her own tag, the precious tot.

    I would love to know more about Bryher’s financial blessings, beyond the context of funding friends’ projects. It seems her brother got the bulk of daddy’s fortune, in that typical “daughters must marry wealth if they want it” English way.

    • Interesting – I hadn’t really looked into Bryher’s family life that much, and only just found out that she was born out of wedlock. Apparently she inherited less than a million pounds. Obviously it went a long way in the 1930s, but it was a fraction of what the brother got.

  2. AM

    What’s Maggie Thatcher doing in that photo?

  3. Bravo!
    Always up for a game of Six Degrees of Robert McAlmon!

  4. A great first draft, but there are entities who are deserving inclusion who did not make the first round. This reminds me of Nat Barneys diagram of all her loves. I think you could and should keep going with this. After all what is McAlmon without Kay Boyle and what is Kay without Emmanuel Carnevalli. How does the Black Sun Press crowd fit into the mosaic. etc. This could keep expanding forever back in time and into the future as well as laterally.
    Perdita , Cecil and Peter I do not know at all. I will follow that line on my own and learn something new. Am still smarting from the Dolly hoax…

    • Nat Barney’s time will come!

      I didn’t want it to be too multi-dimensional, i.e. I was trying to avoid too many offshoots not directly associated with the subject(s). This could be extended ad infinitum, but I also sense that way madness lies…

      • Much madness is divinest sense
        to a discerning eye…

        Just investigated Villa Kenwin
        It mirrors Bryher’s psyche
        It does not delight in beauty
        or pleasure
        It is abstemious to a fault

  5. thombeau

    Okay, now I’m wondering if Kenneth Macpherson and Robert McAlmon ever hooked up. I’m going to assume they did, even if there’s no proof of it!

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  12. Late to the party, but—definitely need to include Paul Robeson, with whom H.D. had a relationship around the time they made Borderline. Very nice work!

  13. Awesome work! How lovely to stumble across. I do think you should add Marianne Moore, Bryher was, after all, her unofficial patron. H.D. and Bryher published Moore’s first collection of poetry (against her permission) – and their lifelong friendship / correspondence is wonderful reading. Adrienne Monnier should be added to Bryher and Beach. As per her inheritance, I actually have a copy of Sir Ellerman’s will – and while Bryher was left only a fraction of what her brother’s fortune was, it was a substantial amount that secured her financial comfort (and others).

    • Thanks for the comment. Naturally these things can be extended indefinitely, but I had to stop somewhere! And I’ve just found another fascinating hitherto unknown (to me, at least) with Bryher which I will be writing about soon…

      • Oooh! How exciting. Yes, I realise the insanity regarding the relationships. I’m wondering if your fascinating connection relates to Havelock Ellis? Her relationship / friendship with that psychoanalyst provides super interesting readings of her two “semi-autobiographical” works, “Development” and “Two Selves.” It also helps to understand her incredibly complicated construction of self as a boy. Have you read her article on Elizabethan players? It’s fascinating – and since I requested it from the Beinecke, is now available on their website for public reading. Wonderful stuff.

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