Richard Aldington

Richard Aldington (8 July 1892 – 27 July 1962), born Edward Godfree Aldington, was an English writer and poet.

Aldington was known best for his World War I poetry, the 1929 novel, Death of a Hero, and the controversy resulting from his 1955 Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Inquiry. His 1946 biography, Wellington, was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Early life

Aldington was born in Portsmouth, the son of a solicitor, and educated at Dover College, and for a year at the University of London.[1] He was unable to complete his degree because of the financial circumstances of his family. He met the poet Hilda Doolittle in 1911 and they married two years later.


Aldington's poetry was associated with the Imagist group, and his poetry forms almost one third of the Imagists' inaugural anthology Des Imagistes (1914). Ezra Pound had in fact coined the term imagistes for H.D. and Aldington, in 1912.[2] At this time Aldington's poetry was unrhymed free verse, whereas later in his verse the cadences are long and voluptuous, the imagery weighted with ornament.[3] He was one of the poets around the proto-Imagist T. E. Hulme; Robert Ferguson in his life of Hulme portrays Aldington as too squeamish to approve of Hulme's robust approach, particularly to women.[4] However, Aldington shared Hulme's conviction that experimentation with traditional Japanese verse forms could provide a way forward for avant-garde literature in English, and went often to the British Museum to examine Nishiki-e prints illustrating such poetry.[5][6]

He knew Wyndham Lewis well, also, reviewing his work in The Egoist at this time, hanging a Lewis portfolio around the room and on a similar note of tension between the domestic and the small circle of London modernists regretting having lent Lewis his razor when the latter announced with hindsight a venereal infection.[7] Going out without a hat, and an interest in Fabian socialism, were perhaps unconventional enough for him.[8]

At this time he was also an associate of Ford Madox Ford, helping him with a hack propaganda volume for a government commission in 1914 [9] and taking dictation for The Good Soldier when H.D. found it too harrowing.

In 1915, Aldington and H.D. relocated within London, away from Holland Park very near Ezra Pound and Dorothy, to Hampstead, close to D. H. Lawrence and Frieda. Their relationship became strained by external romantic interests and the stillborn birth of their child. Between 1914 and 1916 he was literary editor of The Egoist, and columnist there.[10] He was assistant editor with Leonard Compton-Rickett under Dora Marsden.[11]

Harriet Monroe considered 'Choricos', Aldington's finest poem, 'one of the most beautiful death songs in the language' [12]'a poem of studied and affected gravity'[13]

The gap between the Imagist and Futurist groups was defined partly by Aldington's critical disapproval of the poetry of Filippo Marinetti.[14]

World War I and aftermath

Aldington joined the British Army in 1916, during the Great War, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Royal Sussex Regiment during 1917 and was wounded on the Western Front.[15] Aldington never completely recovered from his war experiences, and may have continued to suffer from the then-unrecognised phenomenon of posttraumatic stress disorder.

Aldington and H. D. attempted to mend their marriage in 1919, after the birth of her daughter by a friend of writer D. H. Lawrence, named Cecil Gray, with whom she had become involved and lived with while Aldington was at war. However, she was by this time deeply involved in a lesbian relationship with the wealthy writer Bryher, and she and Aldington formally separated, both becoming romantically involved with other people, but they did not divorce until 1938. They remained friends, however, for the rest of their lives.

Relationship with T. S. Eliot

He helped T. S. Eliot in a practical way, by persuading Harriet Shaw Weaver to appoint Eliot as his successor at The Egoist (helped by Pound), and later in 1919 with an introduction to the editor Bruce Richmond of The Times Literary Supplement, for which he reviewed French literature.[16][17] He was on the editorial board, with Conrad Aiken, Eliot, Lewis and Aldous Huxley, of Chaman Lall's London literary quarterly Coterie published 1919–1921.[18] With Lady Ottoline Morrell, Leonard Woolf and Harry Norton he took part in Ezra Pound's scheme to "get Eliot out of the bank" (Eliot had a job in the international department of Lloyd's, a London bank, and well-meaning friends wanted him full-time writing poetry).[19] This manoeuvre towards Bloomsbury came to little, with Eliot getting £50 and unwelcome publicity in the Liverpool Post, but gave Lytton Strachey an opening for mockery.

Aldington made an effort with A Fool i' the Forest (1924) to reply to the new style of poetry initiated by The Waste Land. He was being published at the time, for example in The Chapbook, but clearly took on too much hack work just to live. He suffered some sort of breakdown in 1925.[20] His interest in poetry waned, and he was straighforwardly envious of Eliot's celebrity.[21]

His attitude towards Eliot shifted, from someone who would mind the Eliots' cat in his cottage (near Reading, Berkshire, during 1921), and to whom Eliot could confide his self-diagnosis of abulia.[22] Aldington became a supporter of Vivienne Eliot in the troubled marriage, and savagely satirized her husband as "Jeremy Cibber" in Stepping Heavenward (Florence 1931).[23] He was at this time living with Arabella Yorke (real given name Dorothy), a lover since Mecklenburgh Square days.[24] It was a lengthy and passionate relationship, coming to an end when he went abroad.[20]

Later life

He went into self-imposed "exile" from England in 1928.[25] He lived in Paris for years, living with Brigit Patmore, and being fascinated by Nancy Cunard whom he met in 1928. After his divorce in 1938 he married Netta, née McCullough, previously Brigit's daughter-in-law as Mrs. Michael Patmore.

Death of a Hero, published in 1929, was his literary response to the war, commended by Lawrence Durrell as "the best war novel of the epoch". It was written while he was living on the island of Port-Cros in Provence as a development of a manuscript from a decade before. Opening with a letter to the playwright Halcott Glover, the book takes a variable but generally satirical, cynical and critical posture, and belabours Victorian and Edwardian cant.[26] He went on to publish several works of fiction.

In 1930, he published a bawdy translation of The Decameron. In 1933, his novel titled All Men are Enemies appeared; it was a romance, as the author chose to term it, and a brighter book than Death of a Hero, even though Aldington took an anti-war stance again. In 1942, having relocated to the United States with his new wife Netta Patmore, he began to write biographies. The first was one of Wellington (The Duke: Being an Account of the Life & Achievements of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, 1943). It was followed by works on D. H. Lawrence (Portrait of a Genius, But..., 1950), Robert Louis Stevenson (Portrait of a Rebel, 1957), and T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Inquiry, 1955).

Aldington's biography of T. E. Lawrence caused a scandal on its publication, and an immediate backlash.[27] It made many controversial assertions. He was the first to bring to public notice the fact of Lawrence's illegitimacy and also asserted that Lawrence was homosexual. Lawrence lived a celibate life, and the claim was contested by some of his close friends (of whom several were homosexual). He attacked Lawrence as a liar, a charlatan and an "impudent mythomaniac",[28] claims which have coloured Lawrence's reputation ever since. Only later were confidential government files concerning Lawrence's career released, allowing the accuracy of Lawrence's own account to be gauged. Aldington's own reputation has never fully recovered from what came to be seen as a venomous attack upon Lawrence's reputation. Many believed that Aldington's suffering in the bloodbath of Europe during World War I caused him to resent Lawrence's reputation, gained in the Middle Eastern arena.

Aldington died in Sury-en-Vaux, Cher, France on 27 July 1962, shortly after being honoured and feted in Moscow on the occasion of his seventieth birthday and the publication of some of his novels in Russian translation. He did not approve of the Communist "party line", though, and the Russians did not succeed in making him endorse it.[29] His politics had in fact moved far towards the right, but he had felt shut out by the British establishment after his T. E. Lawrence book. He lived in Provence, at Montpellier, Aix-en-Provence and Sury-en-Vaux.

On 11 November 1985, Aldington was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner.[30] The inscription on the stone is a quotation from the work of a fellow Great War poet, Wilfred Owen. It reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."[31]

A savage style and embitterment

Aldington could be very critical. He accused the Georgian poets of being "regional in their outlook and in love with littleness. They took a little trip for a little weekend to a little cottage where they wrote a little poem on a little theme." He also, however, provided aid and support to other literary figures, even those, such as the alcoholic Harold Monro, whose work he attacked most viciously.[16][32]

Alec Waugh, who met him through Harold Monro, described him as embittered by the war, and offered Douglas Goldring as comparison; but took it that he worked off his spleen in novels like The Colonel's Daughter (1931), rather than letting it poison his life.[33] His novels in fact contained thinly-veiled, disconcerting (at least to the subjects) portraits of some of his friends (Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, Pound in particular), the friendship not always surviving. Lyndall Gordon characterises the sketch of Eliot in the memoirs Life for Life's Sake (1941) as 'snide'.[34] As a young man he enjoyed being cutting about William Butler Yeats, but remained on good enough terms to visit him in later years at Rapallo.

His obituary in The Times in 1962 described him as "an angry young man of the generation before they became fashionable", and who '" remained something of an angry old man to the end".[35]



  1. Peter Jones (editor), Imagist Poetry (1972), p. 163.
  2. Michael H. Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism (1984), p. 69.
  3. Hughes, Glenn, Imagism and the Imagists Stanford University Press, 1931 (reprinted) Biblo and Tannen, New York, 1972
  4. Robert Ferguson, The Short Sharp Life of T. E. Hulme (2002), p. 85.
  5. Arrowsmith, Rupert Richard. Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African and Pacific Art and the London Avant Garde. Oxford University Press, 2011, pp.103–164. ISBN 978-0-19-959369-9
  6. Video of a Lecture discussing Aldington's use of Japanese Visual Art, London University School of Advanced Study, March 2012.
  7. Paul O'Keefe, Some Sort of Genius (2000), p. 164..
  8. John Paterson, Edwardians.
  9. When Blood is Their Argument: An Analysis of Prussian Culture
  10. Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (1971), p. 279.
  11. Robert H. Ross, The Georgian Revolt (1967), p. 69.
  12. Monroe, Harriet, A Poet's Life, Macmillan, New York, 1938
  13. Hughes, Glenn Imagism & The Imagists, Stanford University Press, 1931 OCLC 3267558
  14. Robert H. Ross, The Georgian Revolt (1967), p. 71.
  15. 1 2 Carole Seymour-Jones, Painted Shadow (2001), p. 173.
  16. Lyndall Gordon, Eliot's New Life (1988), p. 231.
  17. Nicholas Murray, Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual (2002), p. 103
  18. Carole Seymour-Jones, Painted Shadow (2001), pp. 342–6.
  19. 1 2 Caroline Zilboorg (editor), Richard Aldington and H.D.: Their lives in letters 1918–61, p. 185.
  20. Carole Seymour-Jones, Painted Shadow (2001), p. 229.
  21. Stanley Sultan, Eliot, Joyce, and Company (1987), p. 32.
  22. Carole Seymour-Jones, Painted Shadow (2001), pp. 471–2.
  24. Jonathan Bate, Chris Baldick, The Oxford English Literary History: Volume 10: The Modern Movement (1910–1940) (2002), p. 43.
  25. Michael Copp (editor), An Imagist at War: The Complete War Poems of Richard Aldington (2002), p. 18.
  27. The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 6th Edition. Edited by Margaret Drabble, Oxford University Press, 2000 Pp16
  28. Thomas MacGreevy. In: Richard Aldington: An Intimate Portrait. 1965. p. 52
  31. Lyndall Gordon, Eliot's New Life (1988), p. 278.
  32. Alec Waugh, The Early Years (1962), p. 182 and p. 193.
  33. Lyndall Gordon, Eliot's Early Years (1977), p. 167.
  34. Jones, Peter, Imagist Poetry, Penguin Books, London 1972 ISBN 0-14-042147-5


The Religion of Beauty

The Religion of Beauty (subtitle Selections From the Aesthetes) was a prose and poetry anthology edited by Aldington and published in 1950. Listed below are the authors Aldington included, providing insight into Aldingtons generation and tastes:


Aubrey BeardsleyMax BeerbohmVernon Lee – Edward MacCurdy – Fiona MacLeodGeorge MeredithAlice MeynellGeorge MooreWilliam MorrisFrederic W. H. MyersWalter PaterRobert RossDante Gabriel RossettiJohn RuskinJohn Addington SymondsArthur SymonsRachel Annand TaylorJames McNeill Whistler


William AllinghamHenry C. BeechingOliver Madox BrownOlive CustanceJohn DavidsonAustin DobsonLord Alfred Douglas – Evelyn Douglas – Edward DowdenErnest DowsonMichael FieldNorman GaleEdmund GosseJohn GrayWilliam Ernest HenleyGerard Manley HopkinsHerbert P. HorneLionel JohnsonAndrew LangEugene Lee-HamiltonMaurice Hewlett – Edward Cracroft Lefroy – Arran and Isla LeighAmy LevyJohn William MackailDigby Mackworth DolbenFiona MacLeod – Frank T. Marzials – Théophile Julius Henry MarzialsGeorge MeredithAlice MeynellCosmo MonkhouseGeorge MooreWilliam MorrisFrederic W. H. MyersRoden NoëlJohn PayneVictor PlarrA. Mary F. Robinson – William Caldwell Roscoe – Christina RossettiDante Gabriel RossettiAlgernon Charles SwinburneJohn Addington SymondsArthur SymonsRachel Annand TaylorFrancis ThompsonJohn TodhunterHerbert TrenchJohn Leicester Warren, Lord de TableyRosamund Marriott WatsonTheodore Watts-DuntonOscar WildeMargaret L. WoodsTheodore WratislawW. B. Yeats

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