Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Aldington entered the British army in 1916, the year of the Battle of the Somme, and was so traumatized by his experiences that he returned from the war with a case of shell shock from which it took eight years to recover. In his fiction, he tried to achieve a catharsis, pouring out his anger in such novels as Death of a Hero (1929), The Colonel’s Daughter (1931), and All Men Are Enemies. All the works are autobiographical.

All Men Are Enemies skips over the war itself, leaping from 1914 to 1919, but the conflict forms the spine of the narrative. In trying to make sense of the hideous slaughter, Aldington is often repetitive, and his plot lacks direction. The love story is compelling, but its sense of drama is frequently lost in the endless lectures on what is wrong with everything. He has Antony telling his father that “patriotism is bunk, and that we’re all exploited by catchwords to enrich a set of devils and gratify the power sense of sadistic old men and women.” Yet Mr. Clarendon, understandably, does not listen.

Though many critics were impressed by the fervor of Aldington’s prose, to say nothing of his message, All Men Are Enemies was not treated too kindly. Louis Kronenberger called it “an outpouring of miscellaneous information, ideas and sentiments in a pretentious desire to invent man’s salvation in a mixed up world.” Another reviewer, however, L. A. G. Strong, more generously called it the best thing that Aldington had done, saying that it possessed none of the “crossness and ineffectual anger that has spoiled some of Mr. Aldington’s work in the past.”

Aldington’s style is often florid, his tendency to modify his nouns with multiple adjectives betraying poetic antecedents. He said that he especially tried to depict physical love “to create new sensations in the mind of the reader by evoking the reactions and emotions experienced when one human being touches another.” Yet many of his descriptions, albeit mildly erotic, may seem, in the light of the sexual revolution, outdated and even ludicrous: “Her lithe limbs clasped him with passionate eagerness, and almost at once he felt her body shaken with ecstasy, and she moaned softly.” The resemblance to D. H. Lawrence is rather more than coincidental.