Richard Aldington was born Edward Godfree Aldington in Portsmouth, England, but spent most of his youth in Dover before enrolling at University College in London in 1910. A year later, his family having suffered from a financial reverse, Aldington left the college and went to work for a newspaper. He had already developed a keen interest in poetry and soon met others who shared his enthusiasm, including the Americans H. D. and Ezra Pound. Pound urged that the three promulgate their poetic affinities for precision, economy of language, striking images, and free verse, and Aldington and H. D. agreed, thus creating the literary movement known as Imagism.
Pound encouraged Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, a new literary magazine, to publish Imagist verse, and in 1912, three poems by Aldington appeared, earning their author forty dollars and publicly establishing the twenty-year-old poet as a representative of the new movement. In London, Aldington met William Butler Yeats and other luminaries. He visited Paris and Italy and, in 1914, having married H. D. in the previous year, became assistant editor of a journal named The Egoist, which developed into a significant outlet for Imagist productions. In the same year, ten of Aldington’s poems were published in Des Imagistes, an anthology edited by Pound that also included poems by H. D., James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, Amy Lowell, and William Carlos Williams, among others.
Aldington’s first collection of his own work was Images, 1910-1915, which came out in 1915, by which time he had also embarked on his long career of literary translation, publishing The Poems of Anyte of Tegea and Latin Poems of the Renaissance that year. In 1916, he volunteered for military service and saw action on the front until the end of the war. He was eventually discharged from service with the rank of captain. His experiences of the horrors of combat sent him back to England a changed man, and his marriage to H. D.—which had already suffered from their prolonged separation—proved unable to survive the challenge of their collective trauma. Though not officially divorced until 1938, Aldington and H. D. actually ended their marriage shortly after World War I.
Returning to London’s literary life, Aldington resumed his career as poet and critic, accepting a position writing for the Times Literary Supplement and continuing to publish poems, translations, and criticism. He eventually decided, however, to move to the country, where he hoped to be able to work without distraction. This move was successful, and Aldington read, wrote, and translated diligently in his rural environment for several years, visiting Italy in 1922 and in 1926. In 1924, he published his first long poem, A Fool i’ the Forest, which may be retrospectively regarded as a final departure from the Imagist lyrics of his youth. By 1927, Aldington was spending time in Paris, where he met Ernest Hemingway and Hart Crane, and in 1928, he decided to leave England for good.
In 1929, Aldington published the novel Death of a Hero, which was based on his own experiences during World War I. This year also saw the appearance of another long poem, The Eaten Heart. Aldington remained in Italy and France during most of the next several years, with trips to Africa, Spain, and Portugal, and, as always, he worked steadily wherever he was. By the time European totalitarianism drove him from the Continent in 1935, Aldington had three more novels, another long poem, and a book of short stories in print, along with more translations.
With Benito Mussolini dominating Italy, Francisco Franco holding sway in Spain, and Adolf Hitler ruling Germany, Aldington, whose attitude toward Britain had not changed since 1928, looked westward. He crossed the Atlantic in 1935 and lived for several months in Tobago before moving to the United States, where he eventually took up residence in Connecticut. He had published Life Quest, a long poem, in 1935, and in 1937 he published a novel titled Very Heaven and his last long poem, The Crystal World.
Despite his initial enthusiasm for the United States, Aldington gradually became disenchanted with American life. In 1943 he published The Duke, Being an Account of the Life and Achievements of Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, the Wellington biography that would later win Aldington the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In 1944, he spent some time as a Hollywood film writer, but, shortly after the war, he returned to France. In 1946, The Romance of Casanova, a novel, marked the end of Aldington’s publication of fiction. From this point onward, though he remained industrious, his output was restricted to criticism and biography.
Aldington had been a personal friend of D. H. Lawrence and had always admired Lawrence’s work, and in 1950 he issued D. H. Lawrence: Portrait of a Genius But . . . , a work that was followed by two publications that would damage Aldington’s reputation and income for the rest of his life. Pinorman, a memoir focused on Aldington’s old acquaintance Norman Douglas, aroused resentment among Douglas’s friends and adherents, who regarded it as a betrayal on Aldington’s part. Still more controversial was Lawrence of Arabia (1955), which attacked the putative heroism, modesty, and truthfulness of a revered hero of World War I. Lawrence’s admirers exerted some remarkable efforts to prevent the publication of this book, and when it at length appeared, many of them engaged in vehement personal attacks on Aldington. These attacks caused a serious reduction in Aldington’s royalties, as booksellers and publishers refused to handle his works, and he remained on the defensive and in financial difficulties for the rest of his life.
Aldington went on to publish Introduction to Mistral (1956), Frauds (1957), and Portrait of a Rebel: The Life and Work of Robert Louis Stevenson (1957). In 1962, he went to the Soviet Union at the invitation of the Soviet Writers’ Union and was honored there for his contributions to literature. He died on July 27, 1962, near Sury-en-Vaux, France.