Three Generations of Moravian Women
Pictured here at age 13, Hilda Doolittle [far left] sits with her mother, Helen Eugenia Wolle Doolittle [front, center], and her grandmother, Elizabeth Weiss Seidel Wolle [back row, second from right]. They sit in front of the family home in Upper Darby, where they moved when Hilda was nine years old. The daughter of Helen Wolle Doolittle, young Hilda belonged to Bethlehem’s close-knit Moravian community in a way that her father, as an outsider, never could. To H.D., the Wolles represented the interconnectedness of religion and art. Her uncle, J. Fred Wolle, founded the Bach Choir of Bethlehem. H.D.’s own mother was an accomplished musician and artist, though she was also “morbidly self-effacing.” As an adult, H.D. came to recognize her mother as the source of her own creative and spiritual gifts, as well as a profound doubt of those gifts. Poems such as “Helen” and Helen in Egypt, in which H.D. re-imagines the story of Helen of Troy, reveal the poet’s feminist commitment to the revision of patriarchal mythology, as well as a daughter’s wish to reclaim and connect to her mother. While H.D.’s mother was the source of orthodox Moravian beliefs, H.D.’s grandmother Elizabeth Wolle—or Mamalie, as H.D. called her—shared with her granddaughter a heterodox strand of Moravianism that celebrated a female holy ghost, the sanctus spiritus. This concept of female divinity provided H.D. with a means of rewriting the biblical story of Mary in her modernist long poem Trilogy.