Richard Aldington – Death of a Hero,1929

Guild of Handicraft

“The Simple-Lifers? Oh, yes, I remember. Well, there was a set of people down there, who had fled from the horrors of the mechanical age—you know, the usual art-y sort, Ruskin-cum-William Morris . . .“

“Handlooms, vegetable diet, long embroidered frocks, with home-spun tweed trousers from the Hebrides? I know them. ‘News from Nowhere’ people. What a gospel to lead nowhither!”

“Yes. Well they were to lead the simple life, work with their hands part of the time, and do arts and craft and write the rest of the time. They were also to show the world an example of perfect community life. They used to make the farm-girls dance round a Maypole—the boys wouldn’t come, they stood in the lane and jeered.”

“And what happened?”

“Well, those who hadn’t private incomes got very hard up, and were always borrowing money off the two or three members who had money. The arts and crafts didn’t sell, and the toiling on the land had very meagre results. Then they got themselves somehow into two or three cliques, talking scandal about them, and saying they were ruining everything by their selfish behaviour. Then the wife of one of the rich members ran away with one of the men, and the other rich members were so scandalised that they went away too, and the whole community broke up. The village was very glad when they went. The farmers and gentry were furious because they talked Socialism and the ideal State to the labourers. And all the labourers’ wives were furious because the Simple-Life women tried to brighten up their lives and make them furnish their cottages ‘artistically’ . . .”

Richard Aldington, 1892-1962. Death of a Hero, 1929

Fiona MacCarthy described the Simple Life as “a rethinking of aesthetics. ‘the absence of things’…”. Utopian artistic communities developed globally in the 19th century as an alternative to the industrialisation of society and the mass production of art and design. Aldington here satirises the radical beliefs and activities of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the individual artist-craftworkers who adopted the rural life and revived old craft techniques. The Simple Lifers were a British community of artists and craftsmen and women who: “In the spring of 1902, when the back-to-the-land movement was at its height, an exodus began to Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. East End London workmen – jewellers, silversmiths, enamellers, cavers, modellers, blacksmiths, cabinet-makers, book-binders and printers – fled from the rushed and crowded life of the big city to a rural idyll of craftsmanship and husbandry which was, at the time, all good socialists’ dream. This extraordinary idealistic movement was to have a lasting impact not only on the lives of the 150 London immigrants and their leader, the architect, Charles Robert Ashbee, but also on the nature of the little town they occupied. The Guild of Handicraft had been formed in Whitechapel in 1888. It blended an attitude to art, design and manufacture with a view of how society might be changed for the better. This book traces its fortunes and misfortunes, hilarious and grave, and the many eccentrics, idealists and men of letters and the arts who were involved, including William Morris, Roger Fry, Mrs Patrick Campbell, Edward Carpenter, Holman Hunt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Lowes Dickinson and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Set in the heart of the Cotswolds, Fiona MacCarthy’s account of this attempt to resolve the dilemma faced by artists and craftsmen working in a mass-produced society, documents one delightful and intriguing experiment in utopian social history. Fiona MacCarthy – The Simple Life: C. R. Ashbee in the Cotswolds, Faber and Faber, 2011

Image: Guild of Handicraft, Chipping Campden, 1902-1908

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Richard Aldington-Death of a Hero,1929

“Do you think she is beautiful?”
“Beautiful? Yes, in a way, but she isn’t one of those horrid regular beauties. You notice her at once in a room, but you’d never see her on the walls of the Academy. It isn’t her beauty so much as her personality, and that you feel more by intuition than by observation. And yet the effect is beauty.”
“Are you very much in love with her?”
“Why, aren’t you? Isn’t every one?”
“In love with her?”
George was silent. He was not sure whether the question was naif or very much the reverse. Elizabeth changed the conversation.
“What do you ‘do’?”
“Oh, I’m a painter, and I write hack articles for Shobbe and such people to earn a living.”
“But don’t you sell your pictures?”
“I try to; but you see, people in England aren’t much interested in modern art, not as they are on the Continent or even in America. They want the same old thing done over again and again with more sugar. One thing about the British bourgeois — he doesn’t know anything about pictures, but very stoutly stands for what he likes, and what he likes is anything except art. The newest historians say that the Anglo-Saxons come from the same race as the Vandals, and I can well believe it.”
“Surely there are some up-to-date collectors in England.”
“Why, yes, of course, probably as many as anywhere else, but too many of them collect pictures as an investment and so only take what the dealers advise them to buy; others are afraid to touch English art, which has gone soggy with Pre-Raphaelitism and touched imbecility with the anecdotal picture. There are people with taste and enthusiasms, but they’re nearly all poor. It’s much the same in Paris. The new painters there are having a terrific struggle, but they’ll win. The young are with them. And then in Paris it’s rather chic to know the latest movements and to defend the rebel artists against the ordinary mass ignorance and hostility. Here they’re still terrified by the fate of Oscar, and it’s chic to be a sporting imbecile. The English think it’s virile to have no sensibilities.”
“Are you English or American?”
“English, of course. Should I care about them if I were not? In a way, of course, it doesn’t really matter. The nationalist epoch of painting is over — it’s now an international language centred in Paris and understood from Petersburg to New York. What the English think doesn’t matter.”

Richard Aldington, 1892-1962                        Death of a Hero, 1929

Described by George Orwell as “the best of the English war books” and by Aldington as a threnody, a death dirge, a lamentation, Death of a Hero, is a semi-autobiographal account of George Winterbourne, an idealistic artist who enlists in the army at the outbreak of World War I. The narrator is pessimistic about the presence of art in Britain, and perceptively understands that art will become an international language.

Richard Aldington – Death of a Hero,1929

Needless to say, Mr. Upjohn was a very great man. He was a Painter. Since he was destitute of any intrinsic and spontaneous originality, he strove much to be original, and invented a new school of painting every season. He first created a sensation with his daring and brilliant

Christ in a Bloomsbury Brothel”, which was denounced in no unmeasured terms by the Press, ever tender for the purity of Public Morals and the posthumous reputation of Our Lord. “The Blessed Damozel in Hell” passed almost unnoticed, when fortunately the model most unjustly obtained an afliliation order against Mr. Upjohn and thus drew attention to a neglected masterpiece, which was immediately bought by a man who had made a fortune in intimate rubber goods. Mr. Upjohn then became aware of the existence of modern French art. One season he painted in gorgeous Pointilliste blobs, the next in monotone Fauviste smears, then in calamitous Futuriste accidents of form and colour. At this moment he was just about to launch the Suprematist movement in painting, to which he hoped to convert George, or at any rate to get him to write an article about it. Suprematist painting, which has now unfortunately gone out of fashion, was, as its name implies, the supreme point of modern art. Mr. Upjohn produced two pictures in illustration (the word is perhaps inaccurate) of his theories. One was a beautiful scarlet whorl on a background of the purest flake white. The other at first sight appeared to be a brood of bulbous yellow chickens, with thick elongaged necks, aimlessly scattered over a grey-green meadow; but on closer inspection the chickens turned out to be conventionalized phalluses. The first was called Decomposition-Cosmos, and the second Op. 49, Piano.

Mr. Upjohn turned on both electric lights. in his studio for George to study these interesting productions, at which our friend gazed with a feeling of baffled perplexity and the agonized certainty that he would have to say something about them, and that what he would say would inevitably be wrong. Fortunately, Mr. Upjohn was extremely vain and highly nervous. He stood behind George, coughing and jerking himself about agitatedly.

“What I mean to say is,” he said, puncturing his discourse with coughs, “there you’ve got it.”

“Yes, yes, of course.”

“What I mean is, you’ve got precise expression of precise emotion.”

“Just what I was going to say.”

“You see, when you’ve got that, What I mean is, You’ve got something.”

“Why, of course!”

“You see, what I mean to say is, if you get two or three intelligent people to see the thing, then you’ve got it. I mean you won’t get those damned block-headed sons of bitches like Quijasso and Caesar Frank to see it, I mean, it simply smashes them, you see.”

“Did you expect them to?”

“You see, what you’ve got is complete originality and The Tradition. One doesn’t worry about the hacks, you see, but what I mean to say, one does mildly suppose Quijasso had a few gleams of intelligence, but what I mean is they won’t take anything new.”

“I get the originality, of course, but I admit I don’t quite see the traditional side of the movement.”

Mr. Upjohn sighed pettishly and waved his head from side to side in commiserating contempt.

“Of course, you wouldn’t. What intelligence you have was ruined by your lack of education, and your native obtuseness makes you instinctively prefer the academic. I mean, can’t you SEE that the proportions of Decomposition-Cosmos are exactly those of the Canopic vase in the Filangieri Museum at Naples?”

“How could I see that,” said George, rather annoyed, “since I’ve never been to Naples?”

“That’s what I mean to say,” exclaimed Mr. Upjohn triumphantly, “you simply have no education what-so-ever!”

“Well, but what about the other?” said George, desiring to be placable; “is that in the Canopic vase tradition?”

“Christ-in-petticoats, No! I thought even you’d see that. What I mean is, can’t you see it?”

“They might be free adaptions of Greek vase painting?” said George tentatively, hoping to soothe this excitable and irritated genius. Mr. Upjohn flung his palette knife on the floor.

“You’re too stupid, George. What I mean is, the proportion and placing and colour-values are exactly in the best tradition of American-Indian blankets, and what I mean is, when you’ve got that, well, I mean, you’ve got something!”

“Of course, of course, it was stupid of me not to see. Forgive me, I’ve been working at hack articles all day, and my mind’s a bit muzzy.”

“I mildly supposed so!”

And Mr. Upjohn, with spasmodic movements, jerked the two easels round to the wall. There was a short pause in the conversation. Mr. Upjohn irritatedly cast himself at full length upon a sofa, and spasmodically ate candied apricots.


Richard Aldington, 1892-1962                        Death of a Hero, 1929

Described by George Orwell as “the best of the English war books” and by Aldington as a threnody, a death dirge, a lamentation, Death of a Hero, is a semi-autobiographal account of George Winterbourne, an idealistic artist who enlists in the army at the outbreak of World War I. The narrative is deeply pessimistic depiction of the pointlessness of war, the complacency of English bourgeois society, and the moral hypocrisy of the new woman, whose attitude and behaviour shows little compassion towards soldiers at war, living or dead. The painter Frank Upjohn, who invents a new style of painting every season, is a satirical portrait of modernist artists and poets, suggested by Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound.