We Are Everywhere: Lesbians in the Archive

Who was Silvia Dobson?

Silvia Dobson in the 1930s

Silvia Dobson, born in 1908, was a friend and lover of the modernist poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.). After meeting in 1934, they began a brief love affair that was, in Dobson’s words, much more important to [her] than it was to H.D. Though the affair quickly ended, Dobson and H.D. remained friends, visiting and corresponding frequently until H.D.’s death in 1961. Dobson kept every letter.

In 1979, years after H.D.’s death, Barbara Guest interviewed Silvia Dobson for a biography of H.D, Herself Defined. Dobson “soft-peddled” her “love affair with H.D,” stressing instead their friendship. Many of H.D.’s friends and former lovers denied the poet’s bisexuality in conversations with Guest in an effort to respect the poet’s privacy. Even Bryher, H.D.’s longtime partner, denied having a romantic relationship with H.D., insisting “Hilda and I were cousins.”

          Bryher (left) and H.D. in 1960

Drawing of Woodhall, Dobson’s farm, designed for a Christmas card. H.D.’s room is the only upstairs window showing at the back of the home.

Guest’s biography left Dobson dissatisfied. Though she had already planned to sell her H.D. letters to the Beinecke, in 1983, Dobson decided they would be more useful to future scholars if accompanied by “truthful” and “transparent” contextual notes. So, “after half-a-century acting as a straight person,” she set to work, turning her personal archive into A Mirror for a Star, A Star for a Mirror, which presents hundreds of letters and postcards alongside nearly four hundred pages of Dobson’s own notes. Never published or intended to be seen outside the reading room, the manuscript frankly discusses Dobson’s own lesbianism and the experience of growing up queer on the fringes of H.D’s modernist circles.

Article profiling Dobson and her farm, Woodhall, June 13, 1941