Richard Aldington was born Edward Godfree Aldington in Portsmouth, England, on July 8, 1892. Life for Life’s Sake: A Book of Reminiscences (1941), his genial autobiography, presents an amusing, cordial, and meticulously honest persona to his readers. That version of Aldington’s personality is also celebrated in Richard Aldington: An Intimate Portrait (1965), sketches written by twenty-two people who knew him (including Roy Campbell, Lawrence Durrell, T. S. Eliot, Herbert Read, Alec Waugh, and Henry Williamson), and lovingly collected by Alister Kershaw and Frédéric-Jacques Temple. Those letters that have been published—A Passionate Prodigality, Aldington’s letters to Alan Bird, 1949-1962 (1975) and Literary Lifelines, correspondence between Richard Aldington and Lawrence Durrell (1981)—reveal a witty, considerate, and self-deprecating egotist, who could, when angered by incompetence, hypocrisy, or prejudice, portray his target in pitiless satire; he could also ridicule weaknesses in friends and in writers he greatly admired. The subjects were not always able to see the humor in his satiric sketches.
Contradicting the more generous interpretations of Aldington’s character and behavior is the unflattering fictionalized portrait of Rafe in Bid Me to Live (1960), a novel by H. D. (Hilda Doolittle, who was married to Aldington from 1913 to 1938, though their marriage dissolved during World War I). Charles Doyle’s 1989 biography of Aldington provides one of the most detailed accounts of his life currently available. In general, it is possible to divide Aldington’s long literary career into four broad phases: Imagist poet from 1912 to 1919, literary essayist and translator from 1919 to 1928, novelist from 1928 to 1938, and critical biographer from 1939 to 1957.
From his childhood, Aldington recalled with pleasure long walks through the English countryside unspoiled by automobile traffic, his observations as an amateur naturalist and astronomer, and freely reading romances and British poetry in his father’s large, general library. He also remembered, and satirized in his novels, the sentimentality, patriotic chauvinism, and narrow philistine manners of middle-class, Victorian citizens in the city of Dover. Like the hero of his novel Rejected Guest, Aldington attended University College, London, and, like the hero of Very Heaven, he was forced to leave college by his father’s financial failure. In 1911, Aldington began his professional career by reporting sporting events for a London newspaper and, in his spare time, writing poetry for publication. He was introduced to Ezra Pound and H. D. by Brigit Patmore, and he soon met Harold Monro, William Butler Yeats, May Sinclair, and Ford Madox Ford.
Aldington’s first literary life, which ended in World War I, was given focus by his relationship with H. D. (they were married in October, 1913) and his involvement in the Imagist movement in poetry. Aldington credited H. D. with writing the first Imagist poems, influenced by Greek forms, written in the free verse of the French Symbolists. The Imagists avoided the florid language of Georgian poetry by paring images to concrete, exact details and revising for concise, clear diction. In Aldington’s view, H. D.’s aesthetic sense influenced his poetry, and also that of D. H. Lawrence and Amy Lowell. The point of Aldington’s exaggeration, surely, was to remove Pound from the leadership of the Imagists. Aldington insisted that Pound merely named the group, arranged for the first publications in the Chicago magazine Poetry in 1912, and organized the first anthology, titled Des Imagistes, in 1914. Critical of Pound’s despotic editorship, Aldington clearly preferred the democratic efficiency of Lowell, who organized and published three volumes titled Some Imagist Poets in 1915, 1916, and...
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