Richard Aldington in Leningrad

Michael Copp writes the below, which includes his own translations of extracts from and a précis of an article about one of Aldington’s visits to Russia late in his life.  –AF

D. Moldavsky, ‘Richard Aldington in Leningrad’, Neva, No.5, 1963, pp. 164-67.

We had already read him before the war. The first book of Richard Aldington to reach us was the novel, All Men are Enemies. This was a book full of hatred of war, of a terrible, concentrated anger, and also of love. Love was an oasis in the desert of human feelings. Then we read Death of a Hero and Very Heaven. Richard Aldington stood before us as an exposer of the petty bourgeois of all scales and dimensions. We perceived him as one of the most truthful and the closest to us of Western authors.

Moldavsky was surprised when Aldington asked to see the work of traditional artists such as Levitan. Aldington also expressed a wish to get hold of an album of Rublev [the great icon painter]. He enthused over Russian icons, and compared them favourably with the masterpieces of the Renaissance.

Richard and Catha spent several days in Leningrad. They visited the Kirov stadium, new housing quarters, the Summer Garden, and saw the famous statue of the Bronze Horseman. Aldington commented that only Parisians and Leningraders expressed such love of their city. In the summer garden Aldington showed Catha the statue of Krilov and recounted one of his fables for her benefit.

After a visit to the Russian Museum, Moldavsky presented Aldington with a volume of Russian lubki [popular Russian prints] of the XVII to XIX centuries. Aldington was greatly appreciative of this

extremely interesting book, illustrating Russian folklore.

Aldington was pleasantly struck by the news that his books were widely known and appreciated in Russia. People came up to him to voice their appreciation of his work in the Summer Garden, in the Authors’ Bookshop, and in the Hermitage.

When Aldington heard English voices in the Museum, he seemed to do his utmost to avoid meeting them. Once inside the Hermitage, Aldington paused in the middle of a room and proceeded to identify the painters, not only the famous masters, but also those considered second-rate. Moldavsky refers to Catha as ‘Kat’ throughout, and comments on her vivacity, as a contrast to her father’s more subdued manner. Richard was particularly at home in front of the Italian masters, giving Catha an informative commentary. He was delighted to see so many works by Frans Hals, Raphael, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Rubens.

When questioned, Aldington dismissed abstract art as rubbish. When asked about Salvador Dali he said that Dali began as a talented artist, and then indulged in all sorts of tricks. Catha disagreed with this verdict. They went the following day again to the Hermitage, this time to see the French section. First, Poussin and Houdon’s statue of Voltaire, standing next to which he was photographed. Then to the rooms of modern art. Moldavsky notes that Aldington was in raptures, faced with so many Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces: Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, etc. Richard sat for a long time in the Picasso room where he told Moldavsky that he had met Picasso on two occasions. They toured this room twice.

Aldington met writers at the House of Creativity in Komarov, went to the ballet, and appeared on television, in front of a group of young people. He told his young audience not to waste time, to take advantage of their opportunities, to use their leisure profitably: study Art, read books. Moldavsky notes that this hectic schedule was tiring for Aldington, and he was taken back to his hotel to rest.

They went to a record shop. Aldington wanted Mussorgsky, Catha wanted the song, ‘Moscow Nights’. Moldavsky recounts the episode here, when a brusquely impatient American customer, anxious to buy a complete set of Beethoven symphonies, demanded to be served first because he was in a hurry. When Aldington asked him why he was in such a hurry, the American replied that he only had three days. Aldington’s reply:

That’s three days more than is necessary.  I’d have thrown you out of here on the first day. You are giving a dreadful impression of your America here. You simply don’t understand where you are.

Just before Aldington died he sent a package to Moldavsky. It was his two-volume translation of the ‘Decameron’. It had been posted the day before Aldington’s death. A month later Moldavsky received the following from Catha:

I will not forget my visit to Leningrad, nor the fact that my father was happy there.

Michael Copp



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