The corresponding divorcees

Richard Aldington and H. D.
March 1, 1996

The 123 letters published in their entirety in this volume date from March 1929 to June 1961. The majority were written after the end of the second world war; although Richard Aldington and H. D. exchanged over 1,200 letters during their relationship of nearly 50 years, both sides of the correspondence have survived only from this postwar period, H. D.'s earlier letters having been either lost, or destroyed by Aldington. Almost two-thirds of the selection which Caroline Zilboorg has published was written by Aldington, but this is balanced by her extensive biographical commentary, based around other unpublished material.

The correspondence essentially chronicles Aldington and H. D.'s relationship during the last period of their lives, and begins in earnest eight years after they were divorced. The most significant event in Aldington's working life after the war was the publication of his iconoclastic biography of Lawrence of Arabia, which fundamentally affected the critical reception of Aldington's work. Before this he made his living from literary journalism, translating, writing novels, biographies, and poetry, and editing anthologies - he was one of the last professional men or women of letters: "I have been journalising and hack-booking it for close on 50 years" he wrote to H. D. in 1957. But after the T. E. Lawrence biography he believed that: "The press attacks have killed me as an author pro tem", and in the last five years of his life he relied, to some extent, on financial support from H. D., and from her companion Winifred Ellerman.

In turn, throughout their correspondence, Aldington offered support to H. D. in her writing and research, providing information about such diverse subjects as the history of blank verse and the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and advising H. D. about the publication of her work. H. D. dedicated a lot of time to writing which she did not bring to a final form and publish - about the autobiographical Synthesis of a Dream, she wrote "it is so difficult to assess this prose I [it] may seem exaggerated, hysterical and probably mad." Nonetheless she wanted Aldington to read the manuscripts, and respond critically to her work.

In the past 15 years or so there has been increasing interest in H. D.'s work, associated with the rethinking of the place of women authors in the history and theory of modernism. Interest in Aldington has not kept pace and only a few of his books are still in print. The publication of this intimate and interesting (though occasionally excessively annotated) correspondence, with its engaging discussions of the reputations of some of H. D. and Aldington's early contemporaries, may stimulate greater interest in a writer who has become rather neglected, while providing invaluable access to primary resources for scholarship.

Dominic Rowland is a part-time tutor in English, University College, London.

Richard Aldington and H. D.: The Later Years in Letters

Editor - Caroline Zilboorg
ISBN - 0 7190 4570 3
Publisher - Manchester University Press
Price - £40.00
Pages - 1

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