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.