Richard Aldington (1892-1962)

Richard Aldington was born in 1892 in Hampshire. He was educated at Dover College and the University of London. In 1913 he was a literary editor of the journal “The Egoist”. In 1916 he joined the Army and fought in World War I as a private in the infantry; later he became an officer. He was demobilized soon, however, for he was badly wounded. The War experiences caused his hatred and anger which were well described in his early books. His attitude to those who sent people to death on the battlefield is vividly reflected in his two volumes of stories: “Roads to Glory” (1930) and “Soft Answers” (1932). After the First World War the so-called “lost generation” appeared in Europe and European Literature. The mood of the young generation was that of profound pessimism and disillusionment. They participated in the War hoping to find their lost ideas; instead, they only suffered from its effects.

His narrative “Sacrifice Post” is one of the stories from “Roads to Glory”. It is about the tragic fate of a young man, Lieutenant Davison, who is sent “straight into the worst job on the battalion front”. He doesn’t like his position, “a sacrifice post”, where “your job was to get killed if the enemy attacked. You weren’t allowed to retreat”. Davison “saw that the war had been wearing him down”. Once he is asked to report to the Orderly Room, and there, in the Headquartes, he has got an appointment to the Corps Signal School. “It wasn’t as good as going home on leave, but the next best thing — three weeks out of the bally line.” The duties of the Corps Signal School are interesting, and Davison enjoys his training there. Only the swiftness of the days disappoints the Lieutenant. He is thinking a lot and writes down his thoughts and feelings in his notebook. Then he writes down. “Patriotism is not enough… What is patriotism in an Englishman is nationalism, imperialism, arrogance in a German and vice versa. All nations teach their children to be “patriotic”, and abuse the other nations for fostering nationalism. […] And, if we must fight, let us fight those who exploit and destroy mankind.”

Bill Davison understands that his ideas and feelings will be displeasing to those in Authorities. But he can’t help feeling and thinking. He even makes a decision to ask his father to send him to Oxford where “he could learn all about everything […] and then spend the rest of his life trying to help to put the muddle straight”. “He dreaded the idea of going back” to the Sacrifice Post. But he has to return to the Post, like a punishment for his thoughts written down in his notebook. His carelessness is mortal. The Authorities are afraid of Davison’s way of thinking and “report the matter”. No sooner has he reached the Post than he is hit by the bullets and dies. “Even the Army couldn’t stop a man’s thinking, though apparently it might object to a private notebook.”

Aldington didn’t live much in his own country. The last years of his life he spent in America and France. In 1962 he visited the Soviet Union, and he was greatly impressed by the vital power and energy of the Soviet people.

Death of a Hero” (1929) is his first and the most important novel. The novel contains a passionate protest against the war and the bourgeois social order. The style of the book is tense and uneven. From the very beginning we come to know that the death of the main hero, George Winterbourne, is not heroic at all. The attempt of the bourgeois society to create a strong military character of him fails. George is a kind-hearted, peaceful young man, he can’t withstand the existing order of things. He is alone with his misery and his doubts. His disillusionment in private life goes side by side with his dissatisfaction in Art to which he devotes all his life. Neither his wife Elizabeth, nor his pretentious parents understand George. Thus the only way out for Winterbourne is to volunteer for the Front, to find his ideas and aim in life there. But seeing the terrible sufferings of the rank and file who have to give their lives for the enrichment of others, George can’t bear the injustice of the world, preferring death to shameful life. This work of Aldington is anti-military; the style of the novel makes the reader see and feel war as the cameramen do. The author reveals his anti-military theme through his characters, their thoughts and actions.

Aldington is a master of battle-scene descriptions. His language abounds in military terms; it is expressive, dynamic and helps to create realistic images and pictures. But the problems of the “lost generation” bring George Winterbourne and the author to a deadlock, for they can’t find the way out.

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