A Young Girl Lives with H.D. in 1930s Europe as Fascism Approaches
With Alice Modern, novelist Michelle Auerbach has crafted a compelling coming-of-age novel set in 1930s Vienna and Switzerland.
Alice Modern, H.D., 1930s Europe
Vienna is a city of tensions, fears, desires, and historic momentum. It’s the city of Sigmund Freud, the Viennese Opera, the Jewish culture of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and portents of the future that everyone is striving to ignore. Enter Alice Modern, who embodies a city spinning into history. She is a Jewish girl living in a bourgeois household that, on its surface, seems permanent and immutable. Alice no longer fits into this sta9c world, having served as a nanny for the poet HD and writer Bryher in Switzerland and having been exposed to free love, promiscuity, homosexuality, and women as ar9sts and agents in their own lives. This book is a tour through psychoanalysis, literary history, and the ending of the old world through the loves and passions of Alice Modern. Modernist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and her lover, Winifred Ellerman (known as Bryher), are central protagonists in this story of 1930s Europe.
In this graceful, erotically lush novella, young Alice Modern tells the tale of leaving her bourgeois Jewish home in Vienna to work as a nanny in the household of H.D. and Winifred, caring for their young child Perdita. Entranced by the keen literary lives of “Kat” and “Gryphon” in Switzerland, Alice begins to transcend her tightly-bound life and discover who she is and might become. Her world opens and her sexuality awakens in a time of political turmoil and existential hazard, reckoning with her own inner storms and the approaching flames of fascism and holocaust.
Reviewer Laird Hunt notes, “This taut, handsome tale brings the gone world so gleamingly to life you could imagine it was all happening just yesterday or earlier today or even tomorrow. Not only does Auerbach write excellent sentences, she deploys them with great care and craft to build a gripping tale of war, love, friendship, and the deep wells of the mind.” Much of the material on H.D. was sourced from her correspondence with Bryher and from Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book.by