Correspondent Michael Copp writes to note the following reference to RA in Christopher Hassall’s Edward Marsh: A Biography (Longman, 1959). This message was sent in April 1932 via Derek Patmore, the son of Brigit Patmore:
‘Do give Richard my love, also, if you think fit, a modest request that he won’t slog quite so hard and, I think, indiscriminately at his rotters. To be really disgusted with them it is essential one should believe in their existence, which one can’t do if he plasters them with incompatible defects.’ (p. 575)
The contrast in viewpoint between Aldington’s belief that the horrors of the First World War couldn’t be exaggerated, and Marsh’s measured, establishment viewpoint is palpable.
Brigit Patmore’s memoir My Friends When Young (Heinemann, 1968) has an intro by Derek Patmore; both discuss RA engagingly.
I’m pleased to see that there have been a couple of recent academic articles directly discussing Richard Aldington by an Italian scholar, Elisa Bolchi.
In a 2015 issue of the journal Textus, Bolchi published the article ‘“Italy means most to me”: Richard Aldington, Politics, and Translation in Two Italian Archives’. The article engages with Aldington’s correspondence with his Italian translator Alessandra Scalero, highlighting the care he took in dealing with translations, and his love for Italy.
Bolchi has also written recently for the journal Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism a piece entitled ‘Darkened Lands: a post-pastoral reading of Richard Aldington’s Death of a Hero.’ The essay reads Aldington’s great war novel in terms of the experience of war as anti-pastoral, while noting that in times of war pastoral conventions are often employed.
It’s great to see some more scholarship specifically on Aldington appearing. Please do let me know if you’re writing about Aldington, or if you’ve seen scholarship that I might not have come across.
Richard Aldington is buried in Sury-en-Vaux, which is not exactly on the tourist trail – I’ll confess that I haven’t yet been to pay my respects. I talked a few weeks ago with Hugh Schofield, the BBC’s Paris Correspondent, who had come across RA as a result of the following article in La Voix du Sancerrois, about an enthusiast who has done just that.
The article is available via PressReader.com, including some excellent images. If you read French, excellent; if not, you can right click on the article, then select “Copy”, which will allow you to copy the text to paste into your favoured translation engine.
Mr Schofield tells me that he may write a broadcast piece touching on issues of the transience of literary fame via this very concrete example; I’ll post it here if and when that comes to pass.
If Mr Taylor is reading and would like to write about his trip to Sury-en-Vaux, I’d be glad to hear from him at a[dot]frayn[at]napier.ac.uk.
This book is not an attempt to measure modern literature by a Christian yardstick. It is not, fundamentally, literary criticism at all. It is rather an enquiry into the assumptions as to the nature and purpose of Man which underlie much of modern writing. (p. 1)
The book was published only three years after Nicholson’s Anglican confirmation at the age of 26. He remained a practising Christian; the context of the Second World War is also worth considering in the need to discern value in the relationship between man and literature.
He goes on to say:
It seems to me very significant, therefore, that such important writers as Eliot and Joyce, and so many of the younger men, should be reasserting a view of Man which is in strong contradiction to that held by those who have been a dominant influence in the literature of the earlier years of this century. (p. 1)
As you’ll see from the index page, H.G. Wells and D.H. Lawrence are uppermost in Nicholson’s mind when he makes this comparison.
Nicholson concludes his chapter on George Bernard Shaw with the following comparison:
It must be allowed of Shaw, however, that he did not at the same time both deny the importance of sex and fill his books with it, as such later writers as Richard Aldington have done. He never wasted his time by writing of what to him did not seem to matter, and as a result his characters never have the purposelessness which is so noticeable in much modern fiction. (p. 31)
While Amis’s assessment has a grain of hard truth about it, it’s difficult to recognise this technicolor version of Aldington. The notion that he denied the importance of sex is remarkable: interpersonal and romantic relationships are vital to Aldington’s characters, as they were in his life.
Nicholson sees Aldington’s fiction as exemplifying what he defines as the Natural Man. The Second World War context comes to the fore in his definition:
In the writers whom we must now consider there was a swing over from the assumptions and beliefs of the realists. Instead of Pelagian Man, we get Natural Man; instead of Liberalism, Totalitarianism. Since I have defined the Pelagianism of the realists as the denial of the doctrine of Original Sin, it may be as well to consider Natural Man, in the same terms. Natural Man, then, is Man in his first innocence, before the Fall. If a Fall is envisaged at all, it is believed not to have taken place in Man’s nature, but merely in society. The return to the state of the first grace, the return to Eden is to be achieved, therefore, by the revolt against society and institutions and by the return to the primitive. (p. 62)
He goes on, having discussed other major examples, to discuss Aldington following on from Huxley. Nicholson puts Aldington alongside Charles Morgan, an author little read now, and perhaps best known for his Cold War play The Burning Glass (1954).
Nicholson blames the need for such novelists to appeal to a wide audience:
The middlebrow novelist depends for his sale on subscription lending libraries, which draw their clients largely from the suburban classes, especially from married women. While it is obvious that the real Natural Man will have no scruples about lying, thieving or killing, such attributes do not commend themselves even to the daydreams of the suburban housewife. Living in comfortable circumstances and surroundings, she does not sympathise with anarchist or anti-social tendencies. (p. 103)
This remarkable assessment leads, then, finally to Nicholson’s brief discussion of Aldington.
Both of them [Aldington and Morgan] are skilled novelists; both poets and men of wide reading. Both, in fact, use a good deal of conscious artistry to give an effect of high literary “tone.” Quotations from the poets most fashionable in advanced circles are displayed like “arty” pictures to impress the visitors. Aldington came forward in the direct line of descent from Lawrence. In All Men are Enemies he tells a story of the aftermath of the War, in which he seeks in particular to emphasise and romanticise the sense of touch. In later novels he has become more cynical. To a certain extent he may be satirising those people and institutions who frustrate Natural Man in the fulfilment of his desires. But I think the cynicism is due more to realisation, perhaps not fully conscious, of what the acceptance of Natural Man would really lead to. Those who had started by seeing Natural Man as Lawrence had seen him were beginning to see him as Montherlant sees him. This, I think, is the cause, or part cause of a good deal of the pessimism and cynicism of the ’20’s. (Another cause, of course, was the disappointment of hopes for a better social order which had been raised during the War and immediately before it. In the minds of many people during the ’20’s there was therefore a sudden loss of faith in both Natural Man and Liberal Man.) (pp. 105-6)
Nicholson gets close to giving Aldington credit, and the assessment that the later novels aren’t so strong is not unfair. To me it’s particularly interesting that Nicholson identifies Aldington as a disenchanted writer particularly in a post-war context. It’s also worth noting that he engages with Aldington only as a novelist, just as with Amis’s assessment; there’s little sense here that either later critic has any sense of Aldington the poet.
Please keep your eyes open for Aldington references and let me know if you find particularly good or interesting ones!
I picked up a copy of the gargantuan edition of Kingsley Amis’s letters years ago from the excellent Scarthin Books. It wasn’t because I have any particular affection for Amis, but because it was in the £1 section, and I figured that somewhere in its 1212 pages there’d be some juicy commentary on other writers that I could use for colour in academic writing.
Aldington receives a solitary mention, in a letter of 13 August 1948 to Philip Larkin. The letter covers his self-centred take on his wife Hilly’s pregnancy, as she awaited the birth of their first son, Philip, and eviscerates an undergraduate friend, Christopher Tosswill. He goes on:
I re-read one of the well-known works of mR zodz [sic] Mr. A. Huxley recently: Antic hay. I find it suffers from a desire to be greeted as cultured, a desire to put things in somehow if they interest him (all that architecture rubbish, and that cabaret), a lack of consistency in character (Emily has got to be non-cultured to appeal to Gumbril and cultured to appeal to Huxley and Gumbril), and above all a desire, seen at its crudest in the works of Mr. R. Aldington, to be treated as ‘the writer above all others who has summed up and defined the ’twenties with the compassion of the true artist and the penetration of the social historian’ – j’agree, old boy? In spite of his panache (ahem) he remains fundamentally a boring writer, I find. (p. 178)
Amis’s criticism of Aldington’s crudeness seems to have a touch of the pot and kettle, particularly in context in this letter. I’d be interested to know if anyone had any thoughts about the comparison with Huxley – I’ll confess I haven’t read Antic Hay for many years. One wonders how an older Amis (he was only 26 when writing this letter, and yet to achieve any meaningful literary success) might’ve looked back on this assessment.
Just before Christmas I signed a contract with Karnac Books, a division of Routledge, for my biography of the Russian-American psychoanalyst Gregory Zilboorg (1890-1959). I am delighted and encouraged to have the promise of publication as I write. I am now on Chapter 9 of a projected 17 chapters and feel that I am making good, slow but satisfyingly steady progress.
The current chapter, ‘Bloomingdale and Berlin’, covers 1926-1931– a fascinating period. After earning his American diploma in medicine from Columbia University, Zilboorg worked at Bloomingdale mental hospital in Westchester, then received a fellowship to spend 1928-1929 at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute– what a year to be in that city! This was Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin, a capital in ferment just before Hitler came to power. When the Nazis took over, the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute became the Göring Institute and the psychoanalysts with whom my father had worked all fled, mostly to the United States, where they would become my father’s life-long colleagues.
In July of 1929 Zilboorg attended the eleventh International Psycho-Analytic Congress in Oxford, where I’ll be in mid-March to do some research and to see the two colleges (Lady Margaret Hall and Queen’s) where sessions and receptions were held.
All this is a long way from Kiev, where the biography begins, and the two revolutions and the Russian front during the First World War, which are the subjects of early chapters. New York in the early 1920s and the immigrant experience are the background to Chapters 6 and 7. Ahead are chapters in which Zilboorg sets up in a private practice, works with patients who range from prisoners at Sing Sing to George Gershwin, Marshall Field and Lillian Hellman, travels professionally to South America and Europe, and converts to Catholicism. His work on schizophrenia is still widely respected, but he is best known for his historical writing, particularly his History of Medical Psychology and Mind, Medicine, and Man.
All this is also a long way from Richard Aldington… but in some ways not at all. I have been engaged in ‘life writing’ throughout my scholarly career and read a great deal about Freud and psychoanalysis when working on H.D. Aldington’s war on the western front and my work on that prepared me in many ways to deal with my father’s experience on the Russian side of the Eastern front. I spent a week at the Beinecke in October, where Zilboorg’s papers are and where I spent many weeks working on H.D.’s papers beginning in 1987. And biography is a wonderful art, one which inevitably begins and ends in the same place. I am thoroughly enjoying the experience of research and writing, and I hope that some of those who have read my work on Aldington will also be interested in this book.
The article mainly analyses H.D.’s late Hirslanden notebooks, but in doing so it also points to the importance of her correspondence with Aldington. RA, as Gifford points out, reported H.D.’s reading experiences of the Alexandria Quartet to Durrell in correspondence, available in Literary Lifelines: The Richard Aldington–Lawrence Durrell Correspondence, ed. by Ian MacNiven and Harry T. Moore (1981).
Gifford suggests, among other things, that making this connection brings forth the possibility of productive readings of H.D.:
we may consider not only how knowing Durrell’s works alters the nature of some of H.D.’s cryptic references in her late writings that have only recently come into print, but it also indicates how H.D. would have given scholarship a productive reading of The Alexandria Quartet had she lived longer. We might also start to look to Durrell’s influence from H.D. as a predecessor[.]
A quick reminder that contributions to the NCLSN are always welcome. Are you working on Aldington? I’m happy to publicise your research. Are you working on someone in Aldington’s vast network of literary contacts? I’d like to hear from you, too.
I’m interested in hearing from both academic and non-academic Aldingtonians. If you just want to talk about your enthusiasm, that’d be great. Do you have a favourite bit of Aldington that you’d like to highlight? What’s your connection to Aldington and why is he important to you? Is there a story, poem, or novel that you think is unjustly neglected and you’d like to say something about why? Do you have a rare edition, or think you’ve uncovered something previously unknown? If you can write a bit about it, that would be great!
I would be really glad to receive contributions from members, readers and followers. I’m keen to widen the spread of contributors, and believe that the blog offers a great way to do so. I can either add you to the blog as an author, or you can e-mail me your piece to afrayn [dot] ac [at] gmail.com.