Richard Aldington

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Newsletter Table of Contents


(The Richard Aldington Newsletter)


Vol. 42, No. 4 and vol. 43 no. 1                  Winter 2014 -- Spring 2015

Editor: Andrew Frayn, Department of English and Acting, School of Arts and Creative Industries, Edinburgh Napier University, Merchiston, Edinburgh. EH10 5DT. UK. E-mail:

Associate Editor: Justin Kishbaugh, Department of English, Duquesne University, 600 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15282  USA

RA and H.D. Website:
Correspondent and website editor: Paul Hernandez
Correspondents: Michael Copp, Simon Hewett, Stephen Steele, F.-J. Temple, David Wilkinson, Caroline Zilboorg.
Bibliographer: Shelley Cox. Biographers: Charles Doyle, Vivien Whelpton.

The Editor writes: please note my new contact details above.  I’m delighted to say that from 1 August 2015 I will be Lecturer in English at Edinburgh Napier University.  This appointment should also facilitate the regular appearance of the NCLS, as I will more consistently be undertaking academic work.  I thank you all for your patience in waiting for newsletter updates in the last eighteen months.



The noted scholar of war poetry Jon Stallworthy died in November 2014.  Professor Stallworthy was a particular supporter of Wilfred Owen and Louis MacNeice, and made many valuable contributions to the discussion of First World War poetry.  NCLS member Adrian Barlow responds to Stallworthy’s death and his thoughts on ‘war poetry’ as a category on his blog (CTRL + click links).


Obituaries in major UK newspapers can be found as follows: Guardian; Telegraph; Independent.




Vivien Whelpton’s biography was reviewed by Robert Crawford in the London Review of Books (vol. 37, no. 2) on 22 January 2015.  If you register for free, you can access the review (and all other online LRB material) for 24 hours.



It was pleasing to note that in a recent blog, Times Literary Supplement assistant editor Michael Caines discussed RA’s ‘Knowledge and the Novelist’, his penultimate article for the magazine he served with such distinction through the 1920s as its French Literature correspondent.  Caines engages sympathetically with Aldington’s searching test of novelists’ understanding of the world in which they lives, and discusses the response to the article in correspondence.




RA’s work continues to be read, discovered and co-opted in disparate places.  One website which returns to Aldington’s work on a regular basis is the campaign website Stop NATO, which opposes global militarism.  The organisation’s head, Rick Rozoff, has posted a number of selections from Aldington’s writings about war, both poetry and prose.  A recent post on the site collects links to RA’s work.


A useful pointer can also be found at Little Review Reviews, which looks at many of the influential journals of the early twentieth century a hundred years on.




Professor Vincent Sherry (Washington University in St Louis) referred to Richard Aldington in a talk at Grinnell College, Iowa, as reported in that institution’s newsletter.  Sherry, perhaps best known as the author of the seminal The Great War and the Language of Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2003) and a former President of the Modernist Studies Association, also discusses RA’s Imagist poetry in his recent book Modernism and the Reinvention of Decadence (Cambridge UP, 2014).




Editor Andrew Frayn touched on RA’s Death of a Hero in his paper ‘Counting the Cost: The First World War, Calculability and Rationalism’ at Aftermath: The Cultural Legacies of World War I, a conference organised by NCLS member Max Saunders (21-3 May 2015, King’s College London).  Professor Shawn Tucker of Elon University spoke on ‘The Wasteland as War Literature: Verdenal, Aldington, Survivor Guilt, and Freudian Defence Mechanism Humour’. Correspondent Caroline Zilboorg presented on ‘Gregory Zilboorg’s The Passing of the Old Order: A Russian Jewish Psychoanalyst’s Struggle for Perspective’.



H.D. and Feminist Poetics

September 17-19, 2015

To commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary of Lehigh University, the Department of English will host a conference that celebrates the life, works, and legacies of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania's own Hilda Doolittle. The conference will also feature an "H.D. and Biography" roundtable that showcases new and emerging biographical projects focusing on H.D. herself or on individuals who were significant in her life.

In related news, the English Department at Lehigh University is delighted to announce that H.D. will be awarded a posthumous honorary degree at the spring commencement ceremony. One of H. D.’s relatives, Beth Wolle McKay, who was herself among the cohort of first women at Lehigh in the 1970s, will accept the degree on H. D.’s behalf. We look forward to celebrating this honor at the H.D. and Feminist Poetics conference in September.

Please contact Jenny Hyest at for further details.




Notice was given in the last NCLSN of the publication of Lucy McDiarmid’s Poets and the Peacock Dinner.  The book was also reviewed in the New Yorker on 24th February.  List members and Aldingtonians may well take issue with the notion that RA is ‘all but forgotten’, as the reviewer Dan Chiasson suggests.


Book Reviews


Lucy McDiarmid, Poets and the Peacock Dinner: The Literary History of a Meal (Oxford UP, 2014)


Lucy McDiarmid has used a legendary photograph, taken on 18 January 1914, to embark on an intriguing literary and cultural journey. From this apparently small event she has coaxed some fruitful insights into the rivalries and collaborations of the seven men caught by E.F. Shipley’s camera. The dinner to honour Wilfrid Scawen Blunt took place at his Sussex home, Newbuildings, and was a self-conscious effort by a group of younger poets to link themselves with an exemplar of an older generation.

            ‘The Peacock Dinner’ photograph first caught my attention many years ago at The Harry Ransom Research Center, and subsequently I was shown, and allowed to handle, another copy of it at the home of F.S. Flint’s son and granddaughter. It is reproduced regularly in biographies and in critical and literary histories of twentieth century modernism.

            The dinner came about as the result of the collective efforts of Ezra Pound, Lady Augusta Gregory, W.B. Yeats, and Blunt. There is, thus, a strong Irish element to the background of this story, and no one is better placed or qualified than McDiarmid, with her deep knowledge of Irish cultural history, to unravel and clarify the details and complexities. McDiarmid stresses the importance of the intimate friendships that existed between Blunt and Lady Gregory, between Lady Gregory and Yeats, and between Yeats and Pound. McDiarmid examines the sonnets that Lady Gregory wrote after her affair with Blunt had ended, and indicates that from then on “[t]heirs was no longer an intimacy between lovers but between writers.” It was Pound who strongly wanted to meet Blunt, and the original idea was for Blunt to be invited up to London for a dinner at the Dieudonné Restaurant, but in the end “the mixed bag of London poets that Yeats and Pound were able to round up” [Yeats and Pound, plus Richard Aldington, F.S. Flint, Sturge Moore and Victor Plarr] made their way to Newbuildings. Instead of attending an avant-garde Soho get-together Blunt would host them on home ground in an upper-class English manor house. What were the motives behind this desire to make some sort of connection with Blunt? A crucial factor was his provocative and outspoken anti-imperialism. One example of Blunt’s domestic political activism occurred in 1888, when his public protest against the eviction of Irish tenants led to his being sentenced to a two-month jail sentence. The visiting poets too were in turn being provocative since they would be sharing in his notoriety, and challenging the literary establishment. McDiarmid points out that they were not so much drawn to the literary conservatism of his conventional poetry as to his scandalous glamour, a major source of which was his link to Byron (he married Byron’s granddaughter). Pound was intrigued by Blunt’s “potent mix of sex, politics, aristocracy, and poetry” (Blunt was a serial womaniser).

Lady Gregory was behind two of the most significant elements of the dinner: the peacock on which they would all dine and the marble box that would contain poetic offerings from the visitors. As McDiarmid points out, Lady Gregory would have been innocently unaware of the fact that the peacock served to emphasise “the display of male courting behaviour” and that the gift of the presentation marble box carved by Gaudier-Brzeska and decorated with a blatantly nude female figure “embodied a message about the sexual implications of the dinner and anticipated the sexual and professional rivalry of its three celebrity poets”.

Speeches were exchanged and poems were read – opportunities for conflict and competition. Turning to the photograph, McDiarmid emphasises that “the jostling for status, the oblique antagonisms, and the hierarchical alignments are visible . . .” The photograph presents a very neat symmetry, with its conspicuous “celebrity gap between the center and the margins”, and one wonders how this might have been vitiated had Frederic Manning and John Masefield attended. Even more disruptive would have been the presence of H.D. as a woman and as another modernist poet. Chapter 5, ‘Alliances and Rivalries’, provides a detailed and fascinating analysis of the various means by which the participants jockeyed for position, or did not, as in the case of Flint: “he hadn’t used women for professional advancement”. Flint also resented the fact that he felt, probably correctly, that he had only been invited to act as minuting secretary/reporter by taking down notes in shorthand of the event.

Towards the end of her scholarly and engaging investigation into this event, McDiarmid writes: “The peacock dinner, then, should not be seen as a discrete event, an eccentric gathering of random poets for a unique and peculiar testimonial occasion, but as one point in a long continuum, a series of interlocking personal connections . . . The photograph freezes the moment when the seven male poets, professional poets in seven different ways, stood in their symmetrical arrangement, together and apart.”

Michael Copp


Vivien Whelpton, Richard Aldington: Poet, Soldier and Lover, 1911–1929.  Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2014.  414pp.  ISBN 978 0 7188 9318 7.  PB £30.00; EPUB £23.86; PDF £31.80.

Twenty-five years after Charles Doyle’s previous biography, Vivien Whelpton’s compendious new life of Richard Aldington covers the most important phase of his career, from aspiring poet to successful novelist via his military service.  Whelpton’s impressive research for Richard Aldington: Poet, Soldier and Lover, 1911–1929 draws on and makes available in print for the first time a vast array of archival material, as well as making use of the myriad romàns a clé by the Imagist circle and their many acquaintances.  The volume adds to Doyle’s less detailed but more comprehensive volume, expanded and embellished by valuable editions of correspondence that were not available to Doyle including Norman T. Gates’s Richard Aldington: An Autobiography in Letters (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992), Michael Copp’s Imagist Dialogues: Letters between Aldington, Flint and Others (Lutterworth Press, 2009), and Caroline Zilboorg’s two selections of the Aldington–H. D. Letters, combined as Richard Aldington and H. D.: Their Lives in Letters, 1918–61 (Manchester University Press, 2003).  These all work, implicitly or explicitly, to correct unfair and inaccurate portraits of Aldington that derive from selective (mis)readings of him and his work in a number of biographies of H. D., notably Janice S. Robinson’s H. D.: the Life and Work of and American Poet (Houghton Mifflin, 1982) and Barbara Guest’s Herself Defined (Doubleday, 1984).

            Whelpton continues this tradition of treating Aldington more sympathetically.  Even where many previous accounts of these situations have seen him as culpable or antagonistic, here he gets a fair hearing.  Whelpton notes that in the case of H. D.’s pregnancy by Cecil Gray, Aldington ‘was agonisingly aware that it was his behaviour that had caused this mess’ (189).  While he is not excused, as the memorable description of John Cournos as ‘the emotional refuse bin for both Aldingtons’ demonstrates (127), it is refreshing to read an empathetic account, one which realises that decisions about relationships and sexual conduct are not taken lightly, however easy they are to judge as such in retrospect.  This is particularly pertinent given Aldington’s sensitive and thoughtful approach to life and love, even if that approach came at times from unusual positions and arrived at unorthodox conclusions.

            The volume begins by moving briskly from Aldington’s south coast childhood through his brief time at the University of London, getting promptly to his burgeoning literary career and mature relationships.  This material will be familiar to readers of previous biographical works such as Helen Carr’s magisterial The Verse Revolutionaries (Jonathan Cape, 2009), although Whelpton gives interesting additional detail in showing his journey to finding a literary identity.  Situating him in terms of the older and more settled Pound and Flint is revealing.  The volume reminds us that Aldington was still growing up and finding his feet as a man as well as a literary figure: it’s all too easy to forget that he was only twenty years old in 1912 when his first poems were published in Harriet Monroe’s recently-founded Poetry magazine.

            Whelpton posits that Aldington’s military experiences and their subsequent impact have been neglected by previous biographers (19), and works to address this.  The focus on the effect upon him of the First World War is of course timely, as centenary commemorations  show little sign of abating.  A maelstrom of contradictions and conflicting emotions characterises the period after Aldington’s enlistment, as Whelpton notes: he was ‘robust and healthy’ (130), but repulsed by the grime of army fatigues; chaotically busy in service but able to find serenity at weekends and on leave with H. D.; the sensitive, sensual, romantic, thoughtful poet, repelled by the coarseness of intoxication and misogynist sexuality central to military relaxation, but also showing ‘a genuine delight in his fellow men’ (129) at their kindnesses and willingness to make the best of the situation.  Aldington also served for an unusually long time in the lines and was in France, barring training periods, for almost two years, during which he endured gas bombardment.  He was physically and mentally affected by the war during it, immediately after it, and also long after the explosions of the subsequent global conflict faded.  Whelpton addresses this well, and it will surely be a key aspect of her projected volume on the latter part of Aldington’s life.

            Poet, Soldier and Lover makes it clear that, in addition to his well-known expertise as poet, translator, editor, later novelist and biographer, Aldington was an acute critic of industrial modernity.  From the 1912–13 ‘Letters in Italy’ in The New Age journal, their tone not unfairly described by Whelpton as ‘that of a 20-year-old aspiring to be cosmopolitan, witty and knowing’ (61), Aldington is alert to the problems of mass culture, his brash critique suffused with a youthful verve that has its own charm.  Even at such an early age, he was a perceptive commentator.  But it is his assessments of the war and its aftermath—his journalism written in the shadow of the conflict as he was struggling to write creatively—that really show him as engaged fully with the world.  The quotations from his 1920–22 articles in Poetry show the extent of his post-war struggle. He complains in a 1920 ‘Letter from London’ that ‘the whole of Europe is in an ungodly mess as a result of the war [...] almost the whole life of the nation has become commercialised; [...] art and artists are in a lamentable state of disorder and neglect’ (242).  Pleasingly, Whelpton devotes a reasonable amount of analysis to the works of the post-war decade such as A Fool i’ the Forest (1924), and returns to the quotation on the original dustcover to situate the poem (presumably with Aldington’s input?) as ‘the contest between the ideals of the old Art civilisation and the new Trade civilisation’ (265).  Aldington sees the creative act as inextricable from wider circumstances.  As a professional writer without financial patronage, who consequently really needed the money from his commissions, he was more than many other modernist writers subject to the caprice of the market.  The post-war situation in the UK was even more precarious for many without Aldington’s literary skill and contacts.

            Indeed, the sections dealing with the war and the 1920s are the volume’s strongest.  Whelpton’s biography really shines when Aldington is necessarily the focus.  When Aldington is part of a group he often manages both to be pivotal and operate on its fringes.  At least, he often saw himself as marginal in groups where to others he seemed central.  His youth put him in the awkward position of feeling a need to show deference to elders in a modernist group prizing youthful iconoclasm.  He also felt out of step due to his unstable upbringing and lack of a university education.  Negotiating these issues while his character was being formed led to a personality that was collegial but determinedly individualistic.  During the war Aldington continued to write and edit but his situation, both geographical and emotional, meant that he became increasingly detached from his pre-war networks.  Whelpton draws out well the ways in which his experiences set him apart from figures such as H. D., F. S. Flint and Ezra Pound.  They did not or could not fight and, while all were largely sympathetic to the others’ literary aims, Aldington was singular in his approach.  That increasing separation allows him to shine for himself and not be compared to others, rather than paling in comparison to the spare beauty of H. D.’s Imagist verse or Pound’s brio as Imagism’s P. T. Barnum.  The end of the 1920s is evoked well, particularly the personal maelstrom that Aldington suffered as he had the burst of productivity and explored the painful memories that saw the manuscript of Death of a Hero finished.

            I find the book most problematic in its literary judgments.  Notions of what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ poetry do not seem to have a clear rationale, and Aldington is sometimes found wanting where I would prefer a more empathetic reading of the text, an attempt to understand his writing rather than holding him to account and subject to evaluative aesthetics.  For example, Aldington’s city poems such as ‘Cinema Exit’ and ‘In the Tube’ are deemed Aldington’s ‘least satisfying’ by Whelpton (96).  However, to me this is just the point of the poem.  It is not meant to satisfy; it is meant to jolt the reader into a realisation of the potential problems of industrial modernity.  Whelpton concludes that he does not reconcile the worlds of what John Gould Fletcher describes as ‘a sense of the sordidness of existence, of the wayward and casual beauty with which nature decks that sordidness’ (96).  This I read as a sophistication of Aldington’s poetry, and part of the modernist belief that poetry should be didactic and engaging, rather than determinative: he invites readers to consider their own position and find their own solutions.  Aldington’s project is a different one to those of poets such as Eliot, Graves and Sassoon, to whom he is implicitly or explicitly compared and found wanting (e.g. 208).  He seeks to avoid reinforcing the discourse of the English elite.  While he is most often analysed in terms of the tenets of Imagism (here and generally), he was quickly dissatisfied with that mode and its focus on precision and distance, values which fed into the critical model for the analysis of literature that was being formalised in essays such as Eliot’s germinal ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919).  Aldington is a more emotional poet who is prepared to defend that position, as Whelpton notes, although we see him wrestling with this position in correspondence with Herbert Read in 1925 (259).  He is also prepared to recognise the value of this in other works, such as when he describes Journey’s End as ‘Bad art, perhaps, but the stuff of life & deep emotion’ (324).

            Whelpton’s volume would also benefit from drawing further attention to the previously-unpublished manuscripts that are included and quoted from.  Material is present all the way through the volume that has previously been unavailable outside of research libraries not always easily accessible.  One wonders if the location of the Aldington archive at Southern Illinois University has contributed to its neglect, although the Morris Library have been excellent keepers of these valuable works.  I draw attention here particularly to instances such as the poem beginning ‘It is bitter, watching the bright leaves fall’ (239) that meditates on love and separation but is presented suggestively at the end of the chapter detailing his split from H. D.  An attempt at dating and some analysis of the poem would enhance the availability of this delicate, elegaic and previously-unknown work.

            Whelpton’s account is formidably thorough, and a valuable addition to the biographical resources previously available to the Aldington scholar; it will also be useful to students of the First World War, modernist literature, and the early twentieth century.  NCLS members will welcome this new account, and those with institutional affiliations should certainly order the volume for their libraries.  Poet, Soldier and Lover is a well-finished, attractive book even if the main print is a little small.  This is almost certainly due to the pressures of producing a manageably-sized physical object from the wealth of information it contains.  The photographs give a real sense of the people and places that feature.  However, in the digital world, I find it hard to understand how a pdf file can be more expensive than a paperback book, particularly when most presses now produce pdfs in the proofing process.  I hope that when the initial pressing sells out and the volume has broken even, a lower pricing point might appeal to a greater readership while the First World War and its literature are highly visible.  Vivien Whelpton has made an important contribution to Aldington scholarship, and I await the proposed volumes detailing Aldington’s early and late years with interest.


Andrew Frayn