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From Huy to Primrose Hill: An Early Twentieth-Century English Re-Playing of a Fifteenth-Century Liégeois Nativity Play

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2024

Meg Twycross
Affiliation:
Lancaster University
Sarah Carpenter
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
Elisabeth Dutton
Affiliation:
Université de Fribourg, Switzerland
Gordon L. Kipling
Affiliation:
University of California, Los Angeles
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Summary

Richard Aldington (1892−1962) was a prolific reviewer and translator in his time, though probably better known to later readers as an Imagist poet and author of the First-World-War novel Death of a Hero. In autumn 1924 he published The Mystery of the Nativity, his translation of a fifteenth-century text in Walloon French. In December 1924 there was a performance of his translation in the Church Room of St Mary the Virgin Primrose Hill, London. Neither this performance nor Aldington's translation itself have made their way into standard accounts of the revival of religious drama in England in the early twentieth century. This chapter will make a brief analysis of Aldington's handling of the text and consider what inferences can be drawn about the performance of it at St Mary's from materials preserved in the parish archive and in the archive of George Allen & Unwin Ltd, and from the brief press notices I have found to date.

Beyond the citation of his source text Aldington does not indicate in the published edition how the play first came to his notice or what in particular prompted him to undertake the translation. But correspondence preserved in the archive of his publishers, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, reveals that the initiative for the publication came from Aldington himself, who enclosed a copy of his translation in a letter dated 24 March 1924, in which he notes that he had permission from Gustave Cohen, the editor of the French text, to publish his translation of it without charge. Aldington's friendship with Cohen at a later stage of his life is documented by his most recent biographer. But the letter of 1924 indicates that he was already in correspondence with him at this point, and a batch of letters written in 1921 by Aldington to Cohen, published in 2003, shows that Aldington had sent his translation to Cohen for comment, and identifies Aldington as the author of an anonymous review of Cohen's edition in the Times Literary Supplement 31 March 1921. The choice of text reflects Aldington's deep interest in medieval French literature, amply attested in his translation and reviewing work. The particular subject matter of the play evidently attracted him for what he saw as its poetic power rather than for its ostensible doctrinal import.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2024

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