Authors: Richard Aldington

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet and novelist


Richard Aldington was one of the founders of the Imagist school of poetry and one of the important “warrior” literary figures who emerged out of World War I. He was the son of a lawyer who lived in Portsmouth, England, although the family moved to Dover a few years after he was born. Living in these small port cities gave Aldington an appreciation for the nearby countryside, and he was an avid hiker. Because he lived in Dover throughout his later youth and adolescence, Aldington and his family frequented nearby France for short vacations. Aldington would always maintain a deep affection for France and would live there most of his last sixteen years, the last three near the small central village of Sury-en-Vaux.{$I[AN]9810001349}{$I[A]Aldington, Richard}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Aldington, Richard}{$I[tim]1892;Aldington, Richard}

Richard Aldington

(Library of Congress)

Aldington became a part-time sportswriter after briefly attending University College; he covered a few events each week on commission and began writing short pieces and poems for the large London periodical market. Living on the fringes of the London literary world, Aldington quickly found other writers who shared his ideals and goals, especially two American poets, Ezra Pound and H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), who would introduce him to a wider literary circle. It was Pound, aided by Aldington and H. D., who originated the Imagist school of poetry. Three of Aldington’s poems appeared in the November, 1912, issue of Poetry, which had printed in its second issue Pound’s statement of the new movement’s ideals. Aldington’s three poems were the first to be published under the name “Imagist.” As the movement grew, it acquired its own periodical, The Egoist, in 1913, and Aldington became its literary editor. At this time, H. D. and Aldington were married. (They were separated in 1919 and divorced in 1938.)

In June, 1916, Aldington was accepted into the British army. The experience of fighting on the Western Front was as shocking to Aldington as it was to many others. While he wrote some excellent poems on the war, such as those found in Exile, and Other Poems, he is better remembered for his 1929 novel, Death of a Hero–like many of the war novels, a semiautobiographical portrait of how the Great War affected a generation of men who had fought in the trenches. Although the original work was censored for giving an accurate portrayal of front-line language and life, uncensored versions have been printed since 1965. Aldington followed this work a year later with a collection of short stories about the war, Roads to Glory.

In many respects, Aldington reached his greatest literary fame in the early 1930’s. He had produced many articles and reviews in British and French periodicals throughout the 1920’s, his Imagist poetry was being revived, his current poetry was respected, and more recent works (especially Death of a Hero) had made him a well-known literary figure. He would continue to write until late 1957, becoming a respected member of the British literary scene–though not an author well received by the masses.

In the 1950’s, Aldington’s name again made literary news, this time as the author of three very controversial biographies: first, D. H. Lawrence: Portrait of a Genius But . . . ; second, Pinorman: Personal Recollections of Norman Douglas, Pino Orioli, and Charles Prentice; and Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry. The first two works greatly upset many within the English literary world, as they challenged the conventional portraits of these men, all of whom had been Aldington’s close friends. The biography of T. E. Lawrence, easily the best-researched work Aldington ever produced, created an even greater, more widespread furor, as it knocked Lawrence of Arabia off the pedestal on which he had been put during and after World War I. Aldington was attacked by the popular press; in addition, the literary critics in Great Britain and the United States who had been upset with his two earlier works created a wall of silence around his last works.

Aldington, however, remained a well-respected writer in other European countries. The French honored him with the Prix de Gratitude Mistralienne for his 1956 study on the Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral, and he died in 1962 after having completed a three-week tour of the Soviet Union at the invitation of the Soviet Writers’ Union.

Richard Aldington was an important British literary figure in the first half of the twentieth century, although he was rarely considered to be in the first rank of writers or poets. The value of his work has become better recognized by literary scholars and cultural historians as the final literary battles he fought recede further from current events and enter the realm of scholarship.

BibliographyAyers, David. “Proto-Fascism of Richard Aldington’s Death of a Hero.” In English Literature of the 1920’s. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. Examination of Death of a Hero focuses on the novel’s relationship to fascism and its treatment of war, women, and male-male relations. Part of a larger work that places novels and other English literature within the context of social issues and the literary history of the 1920’s.Crawford, Fred D. Richard Aldington and Lawrence of Arabia: A Cautionary Tale. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998. A detailed description of the controversy arising from Aldington’s biography of T. E. Lawrence. The frequent quotations from Aldington provide an excellent portrait of his character in middle age, and other material gives insights into his life as poet.Doyle, Charles. Richard Aldington: A Biography. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. Comprehensive biography does ample justice to Aldington’s multifaceted gifts as a writer. The chapter “The T. E. Lawrence Affair, 1950-55,” concerning Aldington’s biography of Lawrence, makes fascinating reading not only for Aldington’s debunking of the Lawrence myth but also for its depiction of the legal intricacies involved in publishing controversial material. Includes a valuable contribution to secondary material on Aldington.Doyle, Charles, ed. Richard Aldington: Reappraisals. Victoria, B.C.: English Literary Studies, University of Victoria, 1990. Collection of essays reconsiders Aldington’s reputation as poet, novelist, and writer of nonfiction. The assumption behind this collection is that Aldington was unjustly blacklisted as a result of his frank treatment of T. E. Lawrence.Gates, Norman T. The Poetry of Richard Aldington: A Critical Evaluation and an Anthology of Uncollected Poems. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1974. A thorough study that reviews the criticism of Aldington’s poetry from 1910 to the early 1970’s and assesses his position as a poet and speaker of his time. This scholarly and appreciative work has located 129 uncollected poems in newspapers, periodicals, and unpublished manuscripts, as well as early books of his poetry omitted from The Complete Poems. Includes a valuable bibliography of primary and secondary sources.Gates, Norman T., ed. Richard Aldington: An Autobiography in Letters. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992. Comprehensive selection of letters presents a recounting of Aldington’s life story through the author’s own words. The letters provide the author’s opinions of other modernist writers; describe his love for his wife, the American poet H. D., and for his mistresses; discuss his work on the editorial staffs of The Egoist and the Criterion; and offer information about other aspects of his life.Goldman, Jane. “The Egoist, War, Hell, and Image: T. S. Eliot, Dora Marsden, John Rodker, Ezra Pound, and Richard Aldington.” In Modernism, 1910-1945: Image to Apocalypse. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Aldington is one of the authors whose work is examined in this study of the rise and development of modernist and avant-garde literature and literary theory from the heyday of Imagism to the apocalypse movement.Kershaw, Alister, and Frédéric-Jacques Temple, eds. Richard Aldington: An Intimate Portrait. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1965. Anthology presents favorable commentary on Aldington from various distinguished persons, including T. S. Eliot, Lawrence Durrell, Sir Herbert Read, and C. P. Snow. Includes an excellent bibliography of Aldington’s writings.McGreevy, Thomas. Richard Aldington: An Englishman. 1931. Reprint. New York: Haskell House, 1974. Early, appreciative study of Aldington provides critical commentary on his works up to 1931. Covers Aldington’s poetry and his novels, with emphasis on Death of a Hero.Smith, Richard Eugene. Richard Aldington. Boston: Twayne, 1977. Comprehensive survey of Aldington’s work includes criticism of Aldington’s major novels as well as his work as a biographer, translator, and critic. Notes that his leadership in the Imagist movement during the 1920’s was but a small part of his varied and productive literary career.Willis, J. H., Jr. “The Censored Language of War: Richard Aldington’s Death of a Hero and Three Other War Novels of 1929.” Twentieth Century Literature 45, no. 4 (Winter, 1999): 467-487. Critiques four novels written after World War I–Aldington’s Death of a Hero, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, and Frederick Manning’s The Middle Parts of Fortune–to demonstrate how these authors responded to the obscenity laws of the 1920’s, which made it difficult for writers to portray realistically the bitter experiences of modern warfare.Zilboorg, Caroline. “’What Part Have I Now That You Have Come Together?’: Richard Aldington on War, Gender, and Textual Representation.” In Gender and Warfare in the Twentieth Century: Textual Representations, edited by Angela K. Smith. New York: Manchester University Press, 2004. Analysis of Death of a Hero focuses on the novel’s treatment of World War I and its depiction of the relationships between men and women during the war.
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