Chiara by Ugolini"Dora Marsdon, Ezra Pound, H.D. and 'The Art of the Future' "

by Marina Camboni


"Dora Marsden, Ezra Pound H.D. and "The Art of the Future": A report on the new collaborative research project being pursued in five Italian universities



(art by Jo Ann Ugolini)

"The Art of the Future" is the title Dora Marsden gave to the editorial of the November 1st , 1913 issue of The New Freewoman, where the second part of Pound's "The Serious Artist" was also published. A couple of issues later the journal published a letter–signed, among others, by Pound himself–where it was asked that the name Freewoman be discarded from the title and, with it, all connection with feminism and related subject matters.

I would like to share with the readers of HOW2 some of the findings –and a few considerations–coming out of my work on the journal founded in 1911 by Dora Marsden, a suffragist and former member of the WSPU, and first entitled The Freewoman, then The New Freewoman, finally The Egoist. My plan is to first introduce the work I am doing and its aims, and then focus on a few key points in the relation between feminism and modernism. For this reason I shall divide my contribution into three sections, the first devoted to the larger research project which I direct and of which this study is also part. This section I shall conclude with an extensive quotation from the article Dora Marsden published in the last issue of The New Freewoman to explain why, with the January 1st 1914 issue, the title of the journal would become The Egoist. The second section will be devoted to an analysis and interpretation of the piece. The third, and final, will be devoted to the article Dora Marsden entitled "The art of the future," its relation to H.D.'s Notes on Thought and Vision and the mind/body (female) connection in modernist art.

Looking at modernist poetics from the perspective of these two women, I shall on the one hand trace the feminist–i.e. political and radical–roots of modernist art; on the other, I shall point out what direction that art might have taken had not the Pound/Eliot's version of modernist poetry and poetics been hegemonic.

 

I.

The study of the relationship between modernism and feminism is at the center of the research project: "Networking Women: Subjects, Places, Links: Europe-America, 1890-1939." It aims towards a rewriting of cultural history, involving five groups of women from different Italian universities, each with its own sub-project. The goal of the research is to participate in the on-going international debate on the twentieth century canon and on modernism by focussing on the complexity of the years under scrutiny and by re-reading the multifaceted relationships between art, life and history. This project proceeds from an assumption we share with the Russian semiotician Ju. M. Lotman, namely, that the past never ends–once and for all–but, rather, it always creates new values. Our intention is to contribute to the reconstruction of the multiple directions that were open in actual history but have been abandoned, and to bring them once again to the attention of the present.

Research focuses on a number of women who have, through their different initiatives: a) proposed, built, asserted an autonomous female subjectivity; b) stated different and radical redefinitions of masculine and feminine sexualities, of the social roles of men and women and of changes in sex relationships as a starting point for a new history and a new culture; c) assisted and supported the emergence of an (interethnic) international and supranational culture.

These women shall be considered not as pawns to be added to the checkerboard of modernism, or as isolated literary or cultural personalities whose exceptionality we want to consecrate; they will rather be studied in their qualities as founders of magazines and journals, creators of salons or theater groups, or as social and political activists. From this perspective, they will be considered as links connecting and promoting a vast array of human, political, cultural and literary relations. Their high intellectual activity, moreover, will be constantly related to the mass sociopolitical movements that characterized the period going from the last decade of the nineteenth century to the second World War: suffragism and pacifism, communism and anarchism, trade unionism and political reformism.

Within the overall scope of the general project, the sub-group of the University of Macerata, where I teach, is concentrating on the London scene and specifically on four women belonging all to the same generation, three of them English, and one American: Dora Marsden (1882-1960), Harriet Shaw Weaver (1876-1961), Bryher (Anne Winifred Ellerman, 1894-1983 and H. D. ( Hilda Doolittle, 1886-1961). We intend to investigate the network of personal, political and cultural relations these four women established through the journals they directed, financed and/or contributed to, in order to map the connections between art and life, politics and economy, gender and power. The three journals taken into consideration are: The Freewoman/The New Freewoman/The Egoist, Close-up and Life and Letters Today for the years 1935-39; they cover a time span running from the beginning of the century to World War II, thus living through the transitional interwar phase.

 

II. The Freewoman/The New Freewoman/The Egoist (1911-1919)

The study of The Freewoman/The Egoist (1911-1919), as well as that of its founder Dora Marsden and of Harriet Shaw Weaver, who financed the journal and directed the Egoist Press, intends to bring to the fore the mutual dynamic relationship between suffragist activism and the ethical and aesthetic thought based on individualism and emancipation taking shape within the section of British feminism which will eventually become the nurturing ground of the modernist avant-garde (H.D., T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Rebecca West, H.G. Wells, Upton Sinclair, Richard Aldington, Havelock Ellis, Edward Carpenter, Benjamin R. Tucker were, among others, contributors to the journal). At the same time, the personalities and key issues of the cultural debate promoted by both the journal and the publishing house–from women's suffrage to the problems connected with female identity, sexuality and social changes– are being closely scrutinized. Contributors and subscribers from both sides of the Atlantic were involved in such a debate, as indeed, both in London and in the United States "Discussion Clubs" were activated. We are also giving great attention to the interaction between feminism and economic thought, taking into consideration also the very concrete problems connected with the material survival of the journal itself (financial support, loans, investments, etc.).

The story of The Freewoman/The Egoist can be briefly told by simply studying the variations in its title and editorship.

1. The first number of The Freewoman, A Weekly Feminist Review, a magazine edited by Dora Marsden & Mary Gawthorpe, appears on 23 Nov.1911. It will carry this title until April 1912. In March of the same year Mary Gawthorpe resigns from the joint editorship for political reasons. In the first editorial, "The Bondwomen," Marsden illustrates both the scope and the aims of the magazine by rhetorically and negatively defining "the Freewoman" in antithesis with the "bondwoman." The antonyms "bond" and "free" are the polarized extremes of the opposition between static and dynamic, past-present and future, interior and exterior, material and spiritual-intellectual, independent and dependent. The opposition also brings to the fore Marsden's vision of things:

"Bondwomen are the women who are not separate spiritual entities–who are not individuals. They are complements merely. By habit of thought, by form of activity, each of them rounds off the personality of some other individual, rather than create or cultivate her own.

"Freedom is in the individual soul, and that no other force can either give it or take it away: (...) only Freewomen can be free, or lead the way to freedom. They will learn that their freedom will consist in appraising their own worth, in setting up their own standards and living up to them, and putting behind them their role of complacent self-sacrifice. For none can judge of another soul's value. The individual has to record its own."

The "Notes" which follow the editorial point out the importance of the magazine as an instrument that the feminist movement gives itself as a tool for reflexive thought: "For the first time, feminists themselves make the attempt to reflect the feminist movement in the mirror of thought."

In the intention of its founder, the magazine's distinctive contribution to the movement lies in the fact that while other magazines and journals stress the importance of "acquiring things," The Freewoman is interested in what women can become: "Our interest is in the Freewoman herself, her psychology, philosophy, morality and achievements, and only in a secondary degree with her politics and economics."

Among the regular contributors to the magazine are: Theresa Billington-Greig, founder of the Women's Freedom League; Ada Neild Chew, radical suffragist; H.G. Wells and Rebecca West. Supporters and contributors are also socialist Edward Carpenter, psychologist Havelock Ellis, anarchists Guy Aldred and Rose Witcup. Stella Browne, founder of the Abortion Law Reform Association, contributes under the pseudonym "A New Subscriber."

The debate centers on the relationship between individual life, sexuality and social change: there are articles devoted to marriage and free sex, birth-control and homosexuality. Many radical feminists and a number of men consider the magazine, in the words of writer R.W. Kaufman, "a torch in the night."

Benjamin R. Tucker, an American anarchist, maintains that The Freewoman is the most important publication of the time. During the first year of publication, D. Marsden's interests veer towards esotericism, Max Stirner’s philosophy (The Ego and His Own), religion and anarchism. Dora starts to plead for the liberation not only of all women but of all individuals.

2. With the issue of May 23, 1912 the magazine changes its sub-title. It becomes The FreewomanA Weekly Humanist Review.

Dora Marsden's virulent attacks on the Pankhursts and the politics of the WSPU and her closeness to anarchist positions–the radical themes the magazine deals with–create a general outcry against it. The distributor W.H. Smith refuses to distribute it. In October, 1912 the magazine closes. The publisher refuses to pay and the last issue is published with G.C. Beresford's contribution.

In the meanwhile, the success of the magazine has been such that Freewoman Discussion Groups have been created in Great Britain and in the United States. These groups continue to support the magazine. In America subscribers start a new politics of support.

3. Thanks tho the creation of a society of stockholders and the fundamental contribution of Harriet Shaw Weaver, the magazine resumes publication as a fortnightly with the title: The New FreewomanAn Individualist Review, edited by Dora Marsden. The first issue appears on June 15 , 1913. It costs 6. Regular contributors are Rebecca West and Benjamin R. Tucker, Barbara Low, Edward Carpenter. With n.5 (August 15), E. Pound, introduced by Rebecca West, starts his collaboration. He will be in charge of the literary part of the magazine which subsequently will have more and more space. R. Aldington, J. Cournos, D.Richardson and H.D. start to contribute.

4. The EgoistAn Individualist Review appears on January 1, 1914, once more edited by Dora Marsden, with R. Aldington and L.A. Compton-Rickett as assistant editors. With the new name, the literary part will be hegemonic. D. Marsden contributes less and less till she leaves the direction and becomes "contributing editor" with issue 13 (July 1914). Harriet Shaw Weaver takes over as director, Aldington is confirmed as editorial assistant.

In June, 1916 H.D. substitutes for Aldington–who leaves for the front. In June, 1917 T.S. Eliot becomes literary editor but as a matter of fact he takes full charge of the magazine. The last issue is published December,1919.

 

III.

What I would like to focus on now is the point of fracture beteween modernism and feminism as it is represented in the last issue of The New Freewoman. For this reason I shall quote extensively from the long piece Dora Marsden wrote for the "Views and Comments" section to explain the change of names of the magazine. Within the article itself, the letter Ezra Pound and other contributors wrote to the editor is reproduced. This time I shall not comment on the issues arising in the piece, but in the next issue of HOW2 I shall provide a short analysis and expand on the relation between Marsden, Pound and H.D.–respectively editor of and contributors to The New Freewoman–on their divergent aesthetic projects and directions the debate over "the new in art" could have taken if Pound had not dominated the scene.

The New Frewoman and The Egoist

a) A change of title.

"It is proposed that with our issue of January 1st, 1914, the title of The New Freewoman be changed to The Egoist."

Although The New Freewoman has been in existence only six months, it has become clear that its present title can be regarded only as a serious handicap. It contrives to suggest what the paper is not, and fails to give any indication whatsoever as to what it is. The implications following upon this suggested false identity are so clearly indicated in a letter addressed to us by a group of contributors, to whose generous support the paper has owed much from its start, that we may allow it to state this aspect of the case, and in publishing the letter we take the opportunity of acknowledging the courtesy of its authors. It runs:

We, the undersigned men of letters who are grateful to you for establishing an organ in which men and women of intelligence can express themselves without regard to the public, venture to suggest to you that the present title of the paper causes it to be confounded with organs devoted solely to the advocacy of an unimportant reform in an obsolete political institution.

"We therefore ask with great respect that you should consider the advisability of adopting another title which will mark the character of your paper as an organ of individualistis of both sexes, and of the individualist principle in every department of life.

"The letter bears the signature of regular contributors to the paper–Allen Upward, Ezra Pound, Huntly Carter, Reginald W. Kauffman, Richard Aldington. Our own dissatisfaction with the title is due to the fact that it fails to suggest itself for what it is.

"The critic who accuses us of selling 'Aeolian harps under the name of tin whistles’' indicates the positive element from which the paper suffers.

b) "Marked" Woman and "neutral" Egoist: reasons for the change

"We offer a commodity for sale under a description which is not only calculated to attract a section of the public for which in itself can have no attraction but which would be an active deterrent to those who should compose its natural audience. At the time the title was assumed there existed considerations strong enough to lead us to its adoption; these now no longer exist and we therefore propose that the change be made.

"In adopting the neutral title The Egoist and thereby obliterating the "woman" character from the journal, we do not feel that we are abandoning anything there would be wisdom in retaining. The emphasis laid on women and their ways and works was, as pointed out in the early days of the first Freewoman, more in the nature of retort than of argument. 'Feminism’ was the natural replay of 'Hominism’ and the intent of both these was more to tighten the strings of the controversy than to reveal anything vital in the mind of the controversialists. What women could, should, might, would do if they were allowed was to retort to those who said that such things they could, should, might, would not do and therefore should not be allowed. The feminist argument was an overture many times repeated to a composition voicing the great works of women. The controversialists are now tired, and the spectators can reasonably expect to have something of the main composition. What women–awakened, emancipated, roused, and what-not–what they can do, it is open for them to do; and judgment as unbiased as ever it is likely to be, is ready to abide by the evidence of their works' quality.

"The time has arrived when mentally-honest women feel that they have no use for the springing-board of large promises of powers redeemable in a distant future. Just as they feel they can be as 'free' now, as they have the power to be, they know that their works can give evidence now of whatever quality they are capable of giving to them. To attempt to be freer than their own power warrants means that curious thing–protected freedom and their ability, allowed credit because it is women is a 'protected' ability. 'Freedom' and 'ability' recognised by permission, are privileges which they find can serve no useful purpose."

c) "Egoism"

"The moment when we propose attaching to ourselves a new label seems the right one to answer an objection raised by a contributor, Mr. Benj. R. Tucker, in the present issue, against a former statement that we 'stand for nothing.' The Egoist (we suppose he will say) at least will stand for egoism.

"The irony of 'standing' for a thing lies in the fact that the first return the thing stood for makes is to bring its advocates kneeling before it. A man will lie down prone before the thing he 'stands for' and serve it, and the one assertion of egoism is, to our minds, that a man shall make it his concern with things to force them to minister to him. Standing for anything whatsoever means setting that thing on a pedestal, demanding that all around it shall pay it tribute. 'Let Justice be, though the heavens fall'; if for Justice we read, all or any of the things which have been 'stood for' in human history –and their number is legion–we assemble the hosts of tyrants to which men have presented their souls to be scourged since the world began. From among these tyrants there is nothing to choose. They apply the scourge with equal zest. Liberty is as tender as Moloch, Justice is as white-handed as them all. The egoist stands for nothing: his affair is to see to it that he shall not be compelled to kneel; and provided that he remains standing, all that he need of those things, before which men have bowed down because they first consented to 'stand for' them, shall be his for the getting. Mr. Tucker rakes up our past propositions against us: it is a kindly service as it enables us to train them a little clearer. 'We stand for the empowering of individuals' we have said. Our usual modesty, we fear! We hope that we may empower individuals: we think we shall. We know we do empower ourselves, our contributors, and those who find pleasure in reading us: three admirable achievements of which the most admirable is the first. But ourselves apart, we do not 'stand for' the empowerment of any...

"Primarily the paper is...written to please ourselves. If, while making things clear to ourselves, we make difficulties for our readers, we have done nothing alien to that which we set out to do."

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Marina CamboniBIO: Marina Camboni is Professor of American Literature at the University of Macerata (Italy) and has published a number of studies on contemporary American women poets as well as a translation of H.D.'s Trilogy.

 

 

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