‘Another Bloomsbury’: Women’s Networks in Literary London
This essay is part of a project to tease out what Bonnie Kime Scott has called “a tangled mesh of modernists,” and to trace some of the networks of female modernists based in London at the start of the twentieth century, for (as Scott says), “women writers took a great deal of interest in one another.”  The lines of interest connecting female writers, editors, thinkers and facilitators, were also lines of energy and creative endeavour; these energies and initiatives formed the grid which supported Anglo-American modernism in Europe in the ’teens and ’twenties of the twentieth century.
The four women with whom I am especially concerned —May Sinclair, Charlotte Mew, Hilda Doolittle Aldington and Alida Klemantaski—were all based in London during the 1914-18 War.
Moreover, they were associated with two significant sites of English modernism, both physically located close to the British Museum: the Poetry Bookshop, established by Harold Monro in 1913, and the Egoist magazine, edited by Harriet Shaw Weaver from 1914 to 1919. They therefore represent what Gillian Hanscombe and Virginia Smyers have called “another Bloomsbury,” paralleling that of the more affluent artists and intellectuals grouped around Vanessa Bell and her sister Virginia Woolf:
To foreground these women is to turn inside-out the envelope of canonical male modernists, whom W.B. Yeats called the “Men of 1914”: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Percy Wyndham Lewis and Richard Aldington.
Most of these men had vital and even intimate links with the group I shall call the “Women of 1916,” not to speak of a certain rivalry. When Catherine Dawson Scott, subsequent founder of the International P.E.N. club,  and a friend of May Sinclair, met Pound and Aldington in the spring of 1913, not long before Aldington’s marriage to Hilda Doolittle and the take over of the New Freewoman/Egoist by these self-styled “men of letters,” she put them down as “choosy young gents.”  In 1916, Aldington was younger than both Pound and H.D. and nearly thirty years Sinclair’s junior, yet he patronised the older woman, remarking to a friend in 1916: “Little May is very sweet, and seems to understand in a way.”  Similarly, when the young Eliot became literary editor of the Egoist in 1917, he described the owner and editor Harriet Shaw Weaver, and his predecessor Hilda Doolittle, as “Miss Weaver, a funny little spinster, and Mrs Aldington, better known as ‘H.D.,’ a poetess”: the belittling adjectives and feminine nouns expose the patronising attitude of dominant males. 
Pound, for his part, championed a “virile art,” exemplified by the sculptures of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and asserted in the pages of BLAST.  At the same time, he excoriated as “Amygism” the Imagist movement in whose leadership he had been supplanted by Amy Lowell and whose outstanding practitioner was H.D. Gender was already firmly on the men’s agenda and not introduced into current discourse by the women emerging into public life and agitating for political rights at this time. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, when the struggle for female suffrage and the Great War coincided, the dominant culture in England was authoritarian, pragmatic and militaristic. By contrast, the culture promoted by the Women of 1916 was humanistic, idealist and often pacifist; in a review of Yeats’s Responsibilities and Other Poems (1914), H.D. criticized contemporary geometric art as a betrayal of late Romantic values and blamed the men of her generation for helping to bring about the “world calamity” of modern warfare:
H.D. was not alone in associating her art with that of the nineteenth-century Aesthetes, rather than the men of her own generation. Both May Sinclair and Charlotte Mew came to womanhood in the 1890s, when Mew’s first published story appeared in the Yellow Book.  Elaine Showalter includes Mew, at least, among her “Daughters of Decadence,” while she associates Sinclair with “Psychiatric Modernism” because of her pioneering work with the Medico-Psychological Clinic in Bloomsbury’s Brunswick Square. ] Sinclair’s latest biographer Suzanne Raitt, documenting her work as an idealist philosopher and as an active feminist, identifies her as a “Modern Victorian.”  Her modernity is evident in her ability to see across national boundaries. Well-known as a novelist on both sides of the Atlantic before the Great War, Sinclair was a key contact for Americans new to London. These included Ezra Pound, who arrived via Venice in 1909; Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, who visited from Chicago in 1910; and Hilda Doolittle who came from Philadelphia in 1911 and remained in Europe until her death, fifty years later.
In 1913, Harriet Monroe would publish in the first volume of Poetry the first poems of “H.D. Imagiste” to appear in print, sent from London to Chicago by her foreign editor, Ezra Pound. Not long after, Sinclair championed H.D.’s poetry in pages of the Egoist, explaining to Mew that she was defending the younger writer from a “rather spiteful” attack by the conservative Harold Monro. 
H.D.’s own connections confirm the impression that women’s interest in, and support of, each other was international—or, at least, transatlantic. Revisiting America after the War with the British poet Bryher, she would see two “singing sisters”: Amy Lowell in Boston and Marianne Moore in New York City.  Between 1914 and 1917, H.D. had worked closely with Lowell on the Imagist anthologies, networking with other contributors in Britain in a deliberately democratic way.  This collaboration challenged Pound’s editorial practice and set an example for transatlantic little magazines such as the Little Review (started in Chicago in 1914, but published in Paris throughout the 1920s). It was through Lowell that H.D.’s telling first volume of poems, Sea Garden, came out from her own London publisher Constable in 1916.  Moore, like Doolittle, was an alumna of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania; her poems were first published in the Egoist under Richard Aldington’s editorship in 1915. Six years later, in 1921, Moore’s first volume Poems appeared in London from Harriet Weaver’s Egoist Press, at the instigation of Bryher and H.D. By then, Moore was editor of the New York Dial, publishing not only Eliot and Pound, D.H. Lawrence and May Sinclair, but also Djuna Barnes, H.D., and Mina Loy, most of whom would be expatriates in Europe during the nineteen-twenties.
In 1916, when Aldington joined the army, H.D. took over his editorship of the literary pages of the Egoist, handing them over to Eliot the following year, as we have seen. At that time, her home was a room on the edge of Bloomsbury at 44 Mecklenburgh Square, within walking distance of the Egoist offices and the British Museum Reading Room, where both Marxism and Imagism were brought to birth.
Charlotte Mew had been born on Mecklenburgh Square nearly fifty years before and the Woolfs would later run the Hogarth Press from number 37, on the same terrace as number 44, until it was bombed during the Second World War.  Late in 1917, H.D. lent her room there to the Lawrences, who had been expelled from Cornwall on suspicion of spying for the Germans: it was here that D.H. Lawrence corrected the proofs of Women in Love and began to write Aaron’s Rod. Chapter Seven of that novel takes place in “The Dark Square Garden”: “it all seemed so sinister,” Lawrence wrote, “this dark, bristling heart of London”—and, perhaps recalling the coast of Cornwall, he describes the way “[the] houses of the Square rose like a cliff on an inner dark, sea,” while the wind “boomed and tore like waves ripping a shingle beach.”  In Aaron’s Rod, the Aldingtons feature as Julia and Robert Cunningham: a “half-bohemian” American writer married to “a stoutish young Englishman in khaki.”  In Bid Me to Live, H.D.’s later fictionalisation of the same period,  she and her husband feature as Julia and Rafe Ashton—poets whose marriage is, in the words of one critic, a “private war between the sexes,”  while Lawrence appears as the charismatic Federico. Like Ashton/Aldington, Federico/Lorenzo cannot resist attempting to control the writing of Julia/Hilda. 
In fact, 1916-1917 was H.D.’s annus mirabilis, when she was free from male control and could publish what she pleased. That year saw her emergence from Imagism and the appearance in the Egoist of ground-breaking longer poems like “Eurydice,” of which Pound disapproved.  So did Aldington and Lawrence, on the suggestive evidence of Bid Me to Live, where Rafe tells his wife to “boil” a poem down to “about a quarter of the length,” and Rico reproaches Julia for attempting to impersonate both Orpheus and Eurydice in a new poetic sequence, and advises her to “[s]tick to the woman speaking.”  As a vivid dramatisation of Eurydice’s last speech to Orpheus, this poetic monologue thrilled May Sinclair, who described it as “the challenge of the self-delivered, defiant soul sent up out of hell.”  “Eurydice” not only challenges the minimalist aesthetic of Imagism, but represents what Rachel DuPlessis has identified as a “struggle for cultural authority” analogous to feminists’ contemporary struggle for a political voice, which was being acted out on a personal level between this woman writer and the men around her.  Like the heroic voice that H.D. would invent for Helen of Troy in her late epic poem “Helen in Egypt,” Eurydice’s defiant speech to Orpheus ruptures centuries of male myth-making, feminine muteness and literary decorum:
A cursory comparison between Eurydice’s role as the speaking subject in this poem and Yeats’s representation of Maud Gonne as a second Helen of Troy (“A girl arose that had red mournful lips…”) suggests that, as early as 1917, Hilda Doolittle was preparing the ground for what Adrienne Rich in 1971 called, “the courage… to use the pronoun ‘I’.” 
During her year at the Egoist, H.D. published only three reviews: of Marianne Moore, Amy Lowell and Charlotte Mew. This foregrounding of women poets was more than a generous gesture or payback for support received: it seems to have been a conscious attempt to present the magazine’s readers with a body of writing by modernist women to compare with that of modernist men. In her review of Mew, in particular, H.D. issued a challenge to her male colleagues; pointedly celebrating Mew’s achievement in the “dramatic lyric,” a genre she inherited from Browning. H.D. wrote: “she alone of our generation… has succeeded in this form.”  As soon as Eliot had taken over the editorship, he published a riposte from Pound in the form of a review of his own first volume, Prufrock and Other Observations (1917). Sidelining H.D.’s remarks on Mew, Pound reasserted the male line with the words: “Mr. Eliot has made an advance on Mr Browning. He has also made his dramatis personae contemporary and convincing.”  That put the “poetesses” in their place for half a century or so until, assisted by feminist scholarship, “Shakespeare’s sister” dared to be born. 
Alida Klemantaski was born and bred a Londoner, like the much older Mew. Having grown up in Hampstead with her Polish family, she took lodgings in Bloomsbury, living for a time in Red Lion Square, where William Morris had had his workshops and which was still associated with intellectual socialism. While Sinclair was campaigning for the Vote on the street in the West End, Klemantaski (scarcely out of school) was campaigning in the East End.
These women’s experience of political activism in the Suffrage struggle must have shaped their practice in the literary arena; they learned how to network at ground level, to subvert existing structures and convert their disempowerment as individuals into a collective power base. We see a similar reconstruction of social relationships in Sinclair’s work with Jessie Murray at the Medico-Psychological clinic, and in Amy Lowell’s collaboration with H.D. on Some Imagist Poets. The analogues with their writing practices have yet to be studied.
In 1913, when Klemantaski was twenty, she discovered the newly-opened Poetry Bookshop in a Bloomsbury slum. The Bookshop was created by Harold Monro, publisher of Georgian Poetry and editor of two little reviews,  as a meeting-place for readers and writers of poetry and a lodging-house for American artists like Joseph Epstein and Robert Frost. Despite its resemblance to a down-market gentlemen’s club, the Poetry Bookshop was partly inspired by the shops recently opened by the Women’s Social and Political Union in their campaign for the Vote. These in their turn were modelled on the new-style tea-shops run by J. S. Lyons and the Aerated Bread Company. In the first decade of the twentieth-century, such shops were places that mediated between the public sphere of the workplace and private, domestic space; unlike male-dominated “public houses” or pubs, they were contact zones which could be freely entered by women as well as men, without loss of respect.  Monro’s ambition was to imitate the new entrepreneurs of the market-place and take poetry onto the streets for people’s enjoyment.
While no chain of Poetry Bookshops was created throughout the country, two women following Monro’s example converted a cobblers’ shop in Hull into The Poetry Shop, which flourished from 1919 to 1937.  Also in 1919, Sylvia Beach, returning to Europe from America after the War, visited London en route to Paris to set up shop near the Sorbonne under the sign of Shakespeare & Company.
Modelled on the Poetry Bookshop, this is best known as a poste restante and even rooming-house for expatriates like Georges Antheuil, Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. As well as selling books and little magazines, it was also a lending library for readers of English, a place for editorial meetings and book launches. Across the street was its French counterpart Les Amies du Livre, opened in 1915 by Adrienne Monnier, Beach’s life-partner, and signalling women’s love of reading in its very name. This did not prevent Beach and Monnier worshipping at the shrine of James Joyce, whose masterpiece Ulysses was published by Shakespeare and Company in 1922. A cartoon by Fitzgerald shows them as a pair of sirens, entertaining their Transatlantic friends and praying to “St. James.” Their bookshops were of course frequented by Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas; both couples were in long-term contact with H.D. and Bryher, and well-known to Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, expatriate editors of the Little Review, besides other female modernists on the US/UK/Paris axis such as Djuna Barnes, Nancy Cunard, Janet Flanner and Mina Loy.
Starting in March 1913, and for twenty-three years thereafter, people paid a modest sum to come into the former metalworking workshop behind London’s Poetry Bookshop and listen to verse being read aloud.  Few of these women and men would have had access to the privileged pre-war Bloomsbury salons of Yeats, say, or the Stephen sisters. The readings, on two nights a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), were held at 5.30 or 6 p.m. so that people could drop in after work, and lasted between thirty and forty minutes. Alida, now Monro’s assistant in the shop and the editorial offices above (and eventually to be his “boy” wife), ran the programme and participated in the live performances. So she was vital to a cultural development which coincided with a dynamic shift from Victorian rules of elocution to the modern art of verse speaking, then being encouraged by the newly-founded Poetry Society and brought into the curriculum by London University and the Royal Schools of Speech and Drama. Moreover, as a public, democratic and relatively non-gender-specific space for cultural events, the Poetry Bookshop anticipated the later twentieth-century concept of the communal Arts Centre, hosting lectures and presentations by the philosopher T.E. Hulme and the Futurist Tomaso Marinetti as well as poetry readings. 
A talented actress, like her contemporary “Rebecca West” (who took her pseudonym from the Ibsen heroine she had played before becoming the literary editor of the New Freewoman in 1913), Klemantaski had a “rich, young, contralto voice.”  She soon gained a reputation as a performer as well as a promoter of new poetry. While male poets like Pound and Monro normally read their own work, only a few female poets were willing to perform in public. They included Amy Lowell, Anna Wickham and Edith Sitwell. But among those who preferred Alida to read their poems were H.D. and Charlotte Mew, both of whom were first presented by the Poetry Bookshop in 1915. By 1916, when conscription came in, Bloomsbury felt its proximity to the battlefront (less than a day’s travel away for officers like Wilfred Owen and Osbert Sitwell, who visited the Bookshop when on leave from the trenches). By now, Monro like Aldington was in uniform and Alida formed a firm friendship with Hilda—another war-bride doing “men’s work” in wartime. Their letters bear witness to this, as does their collaboration over Charlotte Mew’s first volume of poetry, published like H.D.’s in 1916.
Mew, the last of our “Women of 1916,” met May Sinclair at the home of a mutual friend, the brilliant theologian and yachtswoman Evelyn Underhill, in the spring of 1913. Best known for her 1911 study Mysticism, Underhill had published a volume of poems, Immanence, in 1912. The two women were brought together by Catherine Dawson Scott, a prolific writer, literary hostess and political activist for working people and the women’s movement. Scott recorded in her diary: “when Charlotte Mew came I persuaded her to read to us [her poem] ‘The Farmer’s Bride,’ and May was so won over that she deserted me and they went away together.”  Though known to her friends as “Sappho” because of her long poem of that name, Scott was shocked to discover that Charlotte was not only a genius but a pervert: “are all geniuses perverts?” she asked herself, and Mew responded by referring to Scott (who was married to a doctor) as “Mrs Sappho”—which chimes with Amy Lowell’s insistence that Sappho was “Sapho [sic]—not Miss or Mrs.”  In her richly documented biography of Sinclair, Suzanne Raitt sums up the evidence for and against Sinclair having been “bothered” by Mew (as Scott so nicely put it), and notes that “[i]ronically it was this ‘late Victorian’ who confronted Sinclair with the limits of her own modernity by revealing her love to her.” 
Mew was in her late forties, with a career in short fiction behind her, when she began to be recognised as a poet. She lived with her mother and sister at 9 Gordon Street, close to 46 Gordon Square, the first Bloomsbury home of Vanessa, Virginia and Thoby Stephen. In May 1915 Sinclair invited Mew, Underhill and the Aldingtons to dinner with the no doubt intended result of Mew’s publication in the poetry pages of the Egoist.  Almost simultaneously, Alida Klemantaski came across another poem in the Nation, sought Mew out, featured her work at a Poetry Bookshop reading that Mew attended and, with the support of Sinclair and H.D., persuaded Harold Monro to publish the volume that appeared in 1916 as The Farmer’s Bride.
In her memoir of Mew, Alida Monro (as she then called herself) recalled two problems with the production of this book. The first was that the only compositor employed by the firm of printers used by the Poetry Bookshop was a Methodist who found blasphemy in it and refused to type-set it: “We were forced,” says Alida, “to employ a larger printer the other side of the river, whose compositors were not assailed by religious scruples.”  (She seems to imply that morals were looser on the South bank of the Thames, as in Shakespeare’s day.) This episode anticipates in little the scandal of Joyce’s Ulysses, which met objections from printers in London and New York and was eventually published by Sylvia Beach on the Left Bank of the Seine.  The second problem with The Farmer’s Bride was that Mew’s poetic lines were often (as she admitted) “abnormal in length.”  Since “she did not wish to be run over,” as Alida puts it, “a rather ugly quarto page had to be used.”  The Monros’ support for Mew’s determination to retain the spacing of her handwritten original anticipates Susan Howe’s efforts on behalf of Emily Dickinson.  These issues about the look of the poem on the page are perhaps symptomatic of female writers’ need for intellectual and economic control over the production of their work, as exemplified by Woolf’s experimentation with prose genres for her own Hogarth Press and H.D.’s freedom to publish poems of greater length as literary editor of the Egoist during Aldington’s absence at war.
Sinclair’s comments on both poets show that she was well aware of the significance of such freedoms. She praised in H.D.’s poetry “the power of the clean, naked, sensuous image to carry the emotion without rhyme” and admired in “Eurydice” the writer’s ability to move beyond “a narrow plot, tied by her Imagism.”  She also celebrated, in Mew’s poetry, “depths & depths of passion & sheer beauty” beyond the scope of most Imagists.  These remarks chime with Dora Marsden’s programme for “The Art of the Future,” which stated that “the soul breaks into evidence as readily as pain breaks into a cry,” and called on artists to represent these “movements of the soul” in their work.  In the same spirit, Mew made the cri de coeur or “cry from the heart” central to her poetic, and to her dramatisation of imagined states of mind. “One has not only the cry but the gesture and the accent,” she wrote, in her breathless, unpunctuated style.  Hence Mew’s aesthetic, like Marsden’s, was diametrically opposed to Eliot’s rash definition of poetry as “an escape from emotion”;  rather, she insisted that “the quality of emotion is the first requirement of poetry.” 
Suzanne Raitt has suggested that Mew’s “emotional theatre” represented for Sinclair a kind of swan-song for the decadent art they had both enjoyed at the fin-de-siècle.  As we have seen, these “Women of 1916” took their cue not from the “Men of 1914,” but from the late romanticism of Oscar Wilde and W.B. Yeats. H.D.’s idea of her “real artist personality” appears to derive from Wilde’s belief in the stylistic authority of the intense personality of the artist—a belief diametrically opposed to Eliot’s dogma of “impersonality.” Among both novelists and poets, we find an alternative aesthetic which is woman-centred and emotionally engaged, refusing the terms of Eliot’s formulaic distinction between “the man who suffers and the mind which creates.”  They esteem speech and performance as well as writing and print, and—in the spirit of Wilde—cherish the human personality as well as the poet’s art. In his later years, Yeats mastered the art of projecting himself into other selves, dramatic characters as often female as male. Mew called this “impersonation,” and she impersonates men as well as women in the poems of The Farmer’s Bride, presenting a Browning-esque alternative to the “impersonality” sought by the Men of 1914.  Moreover, while Eliot and Pound valued the written rather than the spoken word, the Anglo-Irish tradition of Wilde and Yeats placed a premium on the human voice: for them, in the words of Jacques Derrida, “the voice is consciousness.”  So it was for H.D. and Mew, in their appropriation of the dramatic lyric. Already experienced in minimalizing the verse monologue in poems like “Oread,” H.D. chose for her translation of Euripides’ Ion, begun in 1916, a “broken, exclamatory or evocative vers-libre.”  This resonates with Sinclair’s description of Mew’s “broken, dramatic manner” of voicing her poetry. 
Despite her reluctance to perform in public, Mew believed that the best vehicle of felt experience is the human voice: “All verse gains by being spoken, and mine particularly,” she told Dawson Scott.  Sinclair endorsed this, writing to Scott that Mew’s poetry “absolutely needed her voice, her face, her intonation and vehemence, to make it carry.”  Drawing on Scott’s diaries for 1913, Penelope Fitzgerald comments that, when reading:
Like Sinclair, Scott and Underhill were intensely moved by Mew’s private readings for her female friends; Scott says she had to pinch herself to keep back the tears, and Underhill felt as though she were “having whisky with my tea.” 
Unlike the public events at the Poetry Bookshop, these readings took place in the private space of the Dawson Scotts’ home. Half-an-hour’s train journey from Paddington Station, this suburban salon was accessible from Central London and apparently frequented only by women of Mrs. Scott’s acquaintance, while her doctor husband was at work in his surgery.  In this safe space, these women flouted Edwardian etiquette and broke with the social conventions as they broke into an “Art of the Future.” The venue, on the periphery of literary London and well away from Bloomsbury in both ethos and ethics, correlates with Celeste Schenck’s account of Mew’s “marginal modernism.”  Schenck goes on to ask an important critical question:
Reflections such as this suggest to Schenck that, with the examples of Alice Meynell, Charlotte Mew and Anna Wickham before us, as well as those of H.D., Gertrude Stein and Mina Loy, “we must renounce, salutarily, any hope for a unitary, totalizing theory of female poetic modernism.”  By implication, then, literary history must be re-written in a mode that admits difference—of gender, of genre—and of further difference within that difference; but that admission will entail the admissibility of marginal and marginalised modernists such as May Sinclair and Charlotte Mew. Suzanne Raitt notes Mew’s “inability to discount the body” in her reading, as if she were an early twentieth-century exemplar of the French feminist injunction that “Woman must put herself into the text—as into the world and into history—by her own movement.”  That kind of movement can be traced beneath the accepted histories of wartime London and beyond the binary aesthetics of literary modernism: it is still vivid amongst the “Women of 1916.”
 Scott, ed., The Gender of
Modernism: A Critical Anthology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
Arnold, Bruce. The Scandal of Ulysses. New York: St Martin’s Press,
BIO: Diana Collecott teaches British and American Literature and co-directs the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre at the University of Durham, England. She edited the special H. D. issue of Agenda, introduced the Virago edition of H. D.’s The Gift, and has contributed essays on H. D. to other centennial publications and symposia. She has also written on other American writers, such as Henry James, William Carlos Williams, and Denise Levertov. Her last published book is H. D. & Sapphic Modernism, Cambridge University Press, 1999.