Richard Aldington: An Autobiography in Letters

Article excerpt

Richard Aldington: An Autobiography in Letters, edited by Norman T. Gates. Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1992.

From his earliest years in London's literary circles in 1911, Richard Aidington has been a figure of controversy. As the youngest of the imagists (he was 19 when he began to edit the literary section of The Egoist in 1912, two years too young to enter the British Library's reading room), he was an intimate friend of many important writers in the formative years of literary modernism: Ezra Pound was an early mentor; F. S. Flint his closest companion; H. D. an admired partner. Others soon moved into the group that became a counterpart to the modernism of Bloomsbury: D.H. Lawrence, Amy Lowell, Harold Monro, John Cournos. Through his work on The Egoist, Aldington's literary circle widened to include the writers he published (Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, James Joyce and later T.S. Eliot) and journalists of Fleet Street (Clement Shorter, Bruce Richmond, Louise Morgan).

In person, Aldington was a dashing fellow: tall, attractive, witty, warm with friends, enduringly loyal, shy with strangers, reserved and independent, sexually appealing. His intimates always included lovers: Brigit Patmore in 1912 and later from 1926 through 36; H. D. from 1912 through 1919; Arabella Yorke from 1917 through 1928; and beginning in 1936, Netta McCulloch Patmore, who became his second wife and the mother of his only child in 1938.

Aldington's military service during the Great War (he was conscripted in 1916, demobilized in 1919) occasioned both love and war poetry; in 1929, he turned from verse to fiction, placing his experiences in the trenches in the context of a bitter satire of the English home front. Death of a Hero was immensely popular and for many readers established Aldington's reputation as a powerful writer and sharp social critic, a sensitive man both hurt and angered by the war. After several successful novels (The Colonel's Daughter [1931] and All Men Are Enemies [1933] are certainly still worth reading), Aldington turned increasingly to biography. His scholarship without the sanction of a university degree or position had always been worthy, from his early translations of Greek and Latin writers through his translations from French and Italian in the 1920's through the 1940s; from his early biography of Voltaire (1925) through his life of the Provencal poet Mistral (1956); from his anthology The Viking Book of Poetry of the English Speaking World (1941) through his collections of Wilde (1946), Pater (1948), and the Aesthetes (1950). His reviews also established Aldington as a critic as early as 1912; he was French reviewer for the TLS from 1919 through the early thirties, and continued to review books of all sorts for London papers throughout the 1920s and 1930s (especially the Times, the Nation, and the Spectator). His biography of D. H. Lawrence in 1950 was one of the first serious studies; it went beyond memoir to perceptive analysis and offered a valuable overview of Lawrence's life and work. Aldington's biography of T. E. Lawrence in 1955 managed to alienate everyone from Sir Winston Churchill to Robert Graves; however, it provided a wealth of information about Lawrence and was the first book to analyze the effect of Lawrence's illegitimacy, privileged upbringing and homosexuality on the career he fashioned for himself as Lawrence of Arabia.

The friends of Aldington's maturity included scholars (Glenn Hughes, Harry T. Moore), publishers (Charles Prentice, A. S. Frere) and younger writers (Eric Warman, Lawrence Durrell, Alister Kershaw). Aldington's faithfulness to early friends meant that he maintained life-long relationships, creating a widening circle of correspondents; Aldington's voracious reading in several languages and indefatigable curiosity meant that his frame of reference constantly increased. He was a writer from childhood and a published author from the age of most university sophomores; he remains a literary figure of still underrated influence, reputation and elegance. …


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