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Richard Aldington established himself in the literary world of London as a youthful poet, but later in life he increasingly devoted his attention to prose fiction, translation, biography, and criticism. His first novel, Death of a Hero (1929), drew favorable attention, and it was followed in 1930 by Roads to...

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Richard Aldington established himself in the literary world of London as a youthful poet, but later in life he increasingly devoted his attention to prose fiction, translation, biography, and criticism. His first novel, Death of a Hero (1929), drew favorable attention, and it was followed in 1930 by Roads to Glory, a collection of thirteen short stories. Aldington continued to publish fiction until 1946, when his last novel, The Romance of Casanova, appeared.

From early in his career, Aldington was highly regarded as a translator. He translated Remy de Gourmont: Selections from All His Works (1929; 2 volumes) from French, The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio (1930) from Italian, Alcestis (1930) from classical Greek, and other works from Latin and Provençal.

Aldington wrote biographies of the duke of Wellington (1943) and of Robert Louis Stevenson (1957), along with Voltaire (1925), D. H. Lawrence: Portrait of a Genius But . . . (1950), and Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry (1955), along with a substantial body of critical essays.

Other miscellaneous works include Life for Life’s Sake: A Book of Reminiscences (1941) and Pinorman: Personal Recollections of Norman Douglas, Pino Orioli, and Charles Prentice (1954). Aldington also edited The Viking Book of Poetry of the English-Speaking World (1941).

Achievements

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Despite Richard Aldington’s extensive publications in criticism and in a variety of literary genres, he remains inextricably associated with the movement known as Imagism, of which he was certainly a founding member, along with the American poets H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Ezra Pound.

Although only twenty years old when Imagism was conceived in 1912, Aldington found himself part of a minirevolution against wordiness and imprecision in poetry, a revolution formulated in terms of advocacy of effective images and cogent free verse.

Aldington’s later poems, though eliciting occasional praise from distinguished critics, actually did little to enhance the reputation he had earned as an Imagist. In 1947, Aldington was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his biography of Wellington, and shortly before his death he was invited to Moscow, where his achievements were celebrated by the Soviet Writers’ Union.

Other literary forms

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Richard Aldington was one of the principal Imagist poets. Each of his Imagist poems renders one impression of a scene, and most of these poems are short. “Whitechapel,” which is frequently anthologized, evokes the sounds and sights of the section of London for which the poem is titled. Aldington’s poems were collected in small volumes, including Images, 1910-1915 (1915) and Images of War (1919), among many others. The full range of his poetic skills can be seen in The Complete Poems of Richard Aldington (1948).

Aldington also conceived masterfully ironic short stories. Set in England in the modern period, these stories frequently pit an individual idealist against a hypocritical society. The collections Roads to Glory (1930) and Soft Answers (1932) contain the best of these contemporary sketches. In addition, Aldington’s translations of French, Italian, Greek, and Latin poems, fiction, and prose number more than twenty-eight volumes, including poems by Folgóre da San Gimignano that Aldington titled The Garland of Months (1917), Voltaire’s Candide, and Other Romances (1927), Julien Benda’s The Great Betrayal (1928), and The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio (1930).

Aldington’s literary reviews and critical studies demonstrate his scholarship, his genial wit, and his delight in the critical evaluation of contemporary and classical literature. His astounding capacity for work enabled him to produce hundreds of entertaining and informative essays of literary history and criticism. His introductions to the 1953 Penguin editions of D. H. Lawrence are valuable for their personal and critical insight. Aldington’s volumes of short essays, most of them originally published as review essays in periodicals, include Literary Studies and Reviews (1924), French Studies and Reviews (1926), and Artifex: Sketches and Ideas (1935).

His biographical and critical studies delighted and infuriated readers. Aldington wrote his first biography, Voltaire (1925), about the satirist who shared Aldington’s skepticism. The next two biographies championed the work of a contemporary novelist who was then under attack: D. H. Lawrence: An Indiscretion (1927) and D. H. Lawrence: A Complete List of His Works, Together with a Critical Appreciation (1935). The Duke, Being an Account of the Life and Achievements of Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington (1943) was Aldington’s most popular historical biography; for this rollicking life story, Aldington won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1947. The great majority of his critical biographies were published after Aldington ceased writing satiric fiction. Of interest to literary historians are his later studies of contemporary writers: D. H. Lawrence: Portrait of a Genius But . . . (1950), Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, a Lecture (1954), A. E. Housman and W. B. Yeats, Two Lectures (1955), and Lawrence L’Imposteur: T. E. Lawrence, the Legend and the Man (1954). The Prix de Gratitute Mistralienne was awarded to Aldington’s Introduction to Mistral (1956).

Achievements

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Judged on the basis of his contemporary influence as a poet, reviewer, and novelist, Richard Aldington should be regarded as one of the major modernists; that his current reputation fails to match his achievements evidences the uncertainties of literary fame. His best-selling novel Death of a Hero, despite its enormous popularity in the decade after its publication in English and its many translations, has been out of print since the 1980’s and is likely to remain unavailable. Sparked by the publication of various collections of his letters, there has been a revival of interest in Aldington as a literary figure who knew other writers, but no comparable resurgence of scholarly interest in Aldington’s work has taken place. His biographical studies of D. H. Lawrence and T. E. Lawrence were widely read and almost as widely denounced when first published, because they presented brutally honest portraits of their subjects; in the context of current literary biographies, their critical attitude toward lionized literary greats seems measured, and perhaps even mild. Aldington’s literary essays are models of clear, evaluative prose. His Imagist poems, which were lauded by other poets and critics of poetry when first published, still seem fresh, though the Imagist movement ended more than seventy years ago. Aldington’s long fiction appealed to a large reading public, who delighted in his satire, his wit, and his richly detailed portraits of contemporary culture.

Bibliography

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Crawford, Fred D. Richard Aldington and Lawrence of Arabia: A Cautionary Tale. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998. A detailed description of the controversy arising from Aldington’s biography of T. E. Lawrence. The frequent quotations from Aldington provide an excellent portrait of his character in middle age, and other material gives insights into his life as poet.

Doyle, Charles. Richard Aldington: A Biography. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. This most comprehensive and up-to-date biography of Aldington does ample justice to his many-faceted gifts as a writer.

_______, ed. Richard Aldington: Reappraisals. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria Press, 1990. A collection of essays that reconsider Aldington’s reputation as poet, novelist, and writer of nonfiction. The assumption behind this collection is that Aldington was unjustly blacklisted as a result of his frank treatment of T. E. Lawrence.

Gates, Norman T. The Poetry of Richard Aldington: A Critical Evaluation and an Anthology of Uncollected Poems. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1974. A thorough study that reviews the criticism of Aldington’s poetry from 1910 to the early 1970’s and assesses his position as a poet and speaker of his time. This scholarly and appreciative work has located 129 uncollected poems in newspapers, periodicals, and unpublished manuscripts, as well as early books of his poetry omitted from The Complete Poems. Includes a valuable bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

_______, ed. Richard Aldington: An Autobiography in Letters. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992. An effort to display Aldington’s temperament and experiences by means of selections from his correspondence.

Kempton, Daniel, and H. R. Stoneback, eds. Writers in Provence: Proceedings of the First and Second International Richard Aldington Conferences. New Paltz, N.Y.: Gregau Press and the International Richard Aldington Society, 2003. These essays on Aldington presented at an international conference shed light on his works and life.

Kershaw, Alister, and Frédéric-Jacques Temple, eds. Richard Aldington: An Intimate Portrait. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1965. An anthology of favorable comments on Aldington from various distinguished persons, including T. S. Eliot, Lawrence Durrell, Sir Herbert Read, and C. P. Snow. Also contains an excellent bibliography of Aldington’s writings.

McGreevy, Thomas. Richard Aldington: An Englishman. 1931. Reprint. New York: Haskell House, 1974. An earlier, full-length study of Aldington, with critical commentary of his works only up to 1931. An appreciative study, it covers Aldington’s novels and poems, with emphasis on Death of a Hero.

Smith, Richard Eugene. Richard Aldington. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A comprehensive survey of Aldington’s work, noting that his leadership in the Imagist movement during the 1920’s was but a small part of his varied and productive literary career. Includes criticism of Aldington’s major novels as well as his work as a biographer, translator, and critic. A selected bibliography is provided.

Zilboorg, Caroline, ed. Richard Aldington and H. D.: Their Lives in Letters, 1918-1961. New York: Palgrave, 2003. A collection of letters between two Imagist poets who were husband and wife, with a commentary and introduction that sheds light on their poetry.

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