Richard Aldington, Poet, Soldier and Lover: the years 1911-1929 is the story of a writer at the heart of the pre- and post-war British literary scene; of two artists who cared passionately for each other but who tried to live according to a ‘new’ sexual morality – with unanticipated and devastating outcomes; of a man whose sexual drive constantly overpowered his emotional integrity; and of an poet who struggled to find beauty in the ugliness of war and its aftermath, and who wrote the most powerful – and successful – British novel that came out of The Great War. The book tells the story of
- the early years (1911-15) in which Aldington figured as one of the Imagist poets and one of a set of young artists who revitalised pre-war London and were the founders of Modernism; the years in which he fell in love with, and married, a fellow Imagist, the American poet, H.D.; the years in which he came to form close relationships with Ezra Pound and D.H. Lawrence;
- the war years (1916-19) in which his personal and literary life fell apart, his marriage breaking up under the strain of his experience as a combatant on the Western Front, the loss of a (still-born) child and his subsequent love affairs; the years in which he nevertheless made a significant contribution to British combatant war poetry;
- the post-war years (1920-28) in which he painfully tried to put his life together again, to combat shell-shock and survivor’s guilt and to re-establish his literary career; the years in which, along with T.S. Eliot and Herbert Read, he laid the foundations of modern literary criticism but during which his relationships with the leading figures of Modernism deteriorated, while yet another long-term personal relationship disintegrated;
- the weeks in 1928 and 1929 in which he wrote Death of a Hero, his blistering and best-selling attack on all that had made that terrible war possible, and his own ‘goodbye to all that’: he would never again be domiciled in England.
Yesterday is not a milestone that has been passed, but a daystone on the beaten track of the years, and irremediably part of us, within us, heavy and dangerous. We are not merely more weary because of yesterday, we are other, no longer what we were before the calamity of yesterday.
(Thomas MacGreevy used this quotation from his friend Samuel Beckett’s book on Proust as an epigraph for his 1931 study of Aldington, Richard Aldington, An Englishman. )
Richard Aldington, Poet, Soldier and Lover: the Years 1911-1929 by Vivien Whelpton is published by Lutterworth Press. Available on Amazon, price £30.
Reviews and Comments:
"This is a sensitively handled and painstakingly researched account of a contradictory, troubled and complex personality. Whelpton interweaves the story of his life with illuminating commentary on his work to give the most vivid account yet of Richard Aldington."
Dr Kate Kennedy, Girton College, Cambridge
"An impressively researched and clear-sighted biography; it provides a compelling portrait and reappraisal of the writer Richard Aldington, one of the most powerful yet neglected voices of the First World War. Aldington's tangled personal and literary affiliations before, during and after the war are unravelled with great skill."
Adrian Barlow, President of the English Association