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Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)


Novelist, poet, literary critic, editor, one of the founding fathers of English Modernism. Ford published over eighty books. A frequent theme was the conflict between traditional British values and those of modern industrial society. Ford was involved with a number of women, including the novelist Jean Rhys who described their unhappy relationship in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie.

"But for the judging of contemporary literature the only test is one's personal taste. If you much like a new book, you must call it literature even though you find no other soul to agree with you, and if you dislike a book you must declare that it is not literature though a million voices should shout you that you are wrong. The ultimate decision will be made by Time." (from The March of Literature, 1939)

Ford Madox Ford was born Ford Madox Hueffer in Merton, Surrey. His father was an author and the music editor of The Times, his grandfather was the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown, and his uncle William Michel Rossetti. Ford's literary-artistic milieu included Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Morris. Partly because of family connections in Germany and France, Ford traveled on the Continent several times in his youth. He was educated at the Praetorius School at Folkstone. When his father died, the family moved to London. Ford continued his education at University College School, but he never went to college. However, he spoke fluent French and German, some Italian and Flemish, and had good knowledge of Greek and Latin. At the age of nineteen he converted to Catholicism

Ford's first book was The Brown Owl (1891), a fairy tale, which was illustrated by his grandfather. Ford was just 18 when the book was published. In 1894 Ford married Elsie Martindale. The marriage was unhappy and broke up in 1908, but Ford never divorced her. According to some sources he had nearly twenty major relationships with women over the course of his lifetime. Ford was not especially handsome but looked very ordinary - he was fat, had a mustache and blond hair. He smoke Gauloises and had bad teeth. His memory was exceptional - he could quote long passages from classics and he once started a French translation of his work without a copy of the book or a note. Scandals around Ford - he an affair with his wife's sister - the social ostracism, ill-health, and financial anxiety led eventually to a nervous breakdown in 1904.

"Only two classes of books are of universal appeal: the very best and the very worst," Ford wrote in Joseph Conrad (1924). He had met the author in the late 1890s and collaborated with him on The Inheritors (1901) and Romance (1903). Conrad's use of mediating narrators impressed Ford deeply. Later he used the technique in The Good Soldier.

In 1906-08 appeared Ford's first major work, the Fifth Queen trilogy. It was based on the life of Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII. In 1908 Ford launched the English Review, which attracted such contributors as Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells, John Galsworthy, Henry James, and Anatole France. Ford lost control of the Review in 1910, a time of crisis in his life, which was associated with his romance with the writer Violet Hunt. In the same year Ford was ordered to pay his wife funds for the support of their two daughters. When he refused he was sent to Brixton prison for eight days.

At the age of forty-two Ford published The Good Soldier, which is generally considered his his masterpiece. The story about adultery and deceit revolves around two couples, Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, and their two American friends, John and Florence Dowell. The story is presented through the mind of John Dowell, who recounts the events of their life, Florence's affair with Edward, the "good soldier," and her subsequent suicide. Through Dowell's confused and perhaps unreliable narrative Ford attempted to recreate real thoughts. "You may well ask why I write. And yet my reasons are quite many. For it is not unusual in human beings who have witnessed for the the sack of a city or the falling to pieces of a people to desire to set down what they have witnessed for the benefit of unknown heirs or of generation infinitely remote; or, if you please, jut to get the sight out of their heads." (from The Good Soldier) The technique was a forerunner of such works as Samuel Beckett's Molloy (1951) and J.M. Coetzee's In the Heart of the Country (1977). The Good Soldier was also Ford's own favorite of his early books. Before writing it he had noted that he had "never really tried to put into any novel of mine all that I knew about writing."

During World War I Ford served as a lieutenant in the Welch Regiment. Ford wrote the poem 'Antwerp' which T.S. Eliot considered the only good poem he'd met with on the subject of war. During the Battle of the Somme in 1916 Ford was shell-shocked and in 1917 he was invalided home. Ford's war experiences inspired some of his poetry and propaganda pieces.

After the war Ford lived in isolation in the country but become bored and moved with the painter Stella Bowen to France. In Paris, he founded The Transatlantic Review. Hemingway was its deputy editor. They published works by Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings and Jean Rhys. Ford changed his name in 1919 from Ford Madox Hueffer to Ford Madox Ford. In 1925 his lover, Violet Hunt, was legally restrained from describing herself as Ford's wife.

His ironic view of the British society Ford expressed in No More Parades (1925), in which he stated: "No more hope, no more glory, not for the nation, not for the world I dare say, no more parades." Between the years 1924 and 1928 appeared Ford's most ambitious work, the four-volume novel Parade's End. W.H. Auden wrote that "there are not many English novels which deserve to be called great: Parade's End is one of them." The central character is Christopher Tietjens, whose struggle of a public and personal survival is pictured with impressionistic technique. Tietjens's wife is unfaithful, he is betrayed by friends, and his deepest values are threatened. In A Man Could Stand Up (1926) and Last Post (1928) Tietjens frees himself from the outdated ethical values and tries to make a separate peace with the world.

The last decade of Ford's life was divided mainly between the U.S. and southern France. In later life he lived with a much younger artist, Janice Biala, an American. In 1937-38 he was visiting lecturer in literature at Olivet College in Michigan. There he began to plan his last work, The March of Literature (1939). It was written for general readers and explored what is valuable in literature, starting from ancient Egypt and China and continuing up to modern times. The first half of the book was written during the summer of 1937 in Michigan , where he stayed with his friends Allen and Caroline Tate. He then went with Janice Biala, his last consort, to Paris and after return to Michigan in April 1938, he finished the work by July. Ford died at Deauville, France, on June 26, 1939. It is generally agreed that Ford's finest literary achievements were made as a novelist, but he also was significant as an editor who discovered and promoted new writers. Ford's own literary tastes were unpredictable and far from academic. He often considered critics hopelessly pompous or pedantic. In The March of Literature he wrote that Defoe was "an utterly humdrum writer", Dostoevsky "has the aspect of greatness of an enormously enlarged but misty statue of Sophocles", and the excitement in reading Joyce comes almost "entirely from his kill in juggling words as a juggler".

For further reading: Ford Madox Ford by Richard A. Cassell (1961); Ford Madox Ford: The Essence of His Art by R.W. Lid (1964); The Limited Hero in the Novels of Ford Madox Ford by Norman Leer (1966); The Life and Work of Ford Madox Ford by F. McShane (1965); Ford Madox Ford by C.G. Hoffman (1967); The Saddest Story by A. Mizener (1971); Critical Essays on Ford Madox Ford, ed. by R.A. Cassell (1987), Ford Madox Ford by A. Judd (1990); Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life by M. Saunders (1996); The Art of Ford Madox Ford by Kenneth Bendiner (1997); Ford Madox Ford: A Reappraisal, ed. by Robert Hampson and Tony Davenport (2001) - See also: Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford: The Collaborative Texts ; The Ford Madox Ford Homepage ; Dedicatory Letter to Stella Ford

Selected works:

  • The Brown Owl, 1891
  • The Feather, 1892
  • The Shifting of the Fire, 1892 (with J. Conrad)
  • The Questions at the Well, 1893 (as Fenil Haig)
  • The Queen Who Flew, 1894
  • Ford Madox Ford, 1896
  • The Cinque Ports, 1900
  • Poems for Pictures and Notes for Music, 1900
  • The Inheritors, 1901 (with J. Conrad)
  • Rossetti, 1902
  • Romance, 1903 (with J. Conrad)
  • The Face of Night, 1904
  • The Benefactor, 1905
  • The Soul of London, 1905
  • Hans Holbein, 1905
  • The Heart of the Country, 1906
  • Christina's Fairy Book, 1906
  • The Fifth Queen, 1906
  • Privy Seal, 1907
  • From Inland, 1907
  • An English Girl, 1907
  • The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 1907
  • The Spirit of the People, 1907
  • The Fifth Queen Crowned, 1908
  • Mr. Apollo, 1908
  • The "Half Moon," 1909
  • Songs from London, 1910
  • A Call, 1910
  • The Portrait, 1910
  • High Germany, 1911
  • Ladies Whose Bright Eyes, 1911 (rev. ed. as Daniel Chaucer, 1935)
  • The Simple Life Limited, 1911 (as Daniel Chaucer)
  • The Critical Attitude, 1911
  • Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections, 1911
  • The New Humpty-Dumpty, 1912 (as Daniel Chaucer)
  • The Panel, 1912 (rev. ed. Ring for Nancy, 1913)
  • Collected Poems, 1913
  • Henry James, 1913
  • The Desirable Alien, 1913 (with V. Hunt)
  • The Young Lovell, 1913
  • Mr. Fleight, 1914
  • Antwerp, 1914
  • Between St. Dennis and St. George, 1915
  • When Blood is their Argument, 1915
  • The Good Soldier, 1915
  • Zeppelin Nights, 1916 (with V. Hunt)
  • translation: The Trial of Barbarians by P. Loti, 1917
  • On Heaven, and Poems Written on Active Service, 1918
  • A House, 1921
  • Thus to Revisit, 1921
  • Mr. Bosphorus and the Music, 1923
  • The Nature of Crime, 1923 (with J. Conrad)
  • The Marsden Case, 1923
  • Women and Men, 1923
  • Some Do Not, 1924
  • Joseph Conrad, 1924
  • No More Parades, 1925
  • A Man Could Stand Up, 1926
  • A Mirror to France, 1924
  • New Poems, 1927
  • New York Essays, 1927
  • New York Is Not America, 1927
  • Last Post, 1928
  • A Little Less Than Gods, 1928
  • No Enemy, 1929
  • The English Novel, 1929
  • When the Wicked Man, 1931
  • Return to Yesterday, 1931
  • The Rash Act, 1933
  • It Was the Nightingale, 1934
  • Henry for Hugh, 1934
  • Provence, 1935
  • Vive le Roy, 1936
  • Mightier Than the Sword, 1937
  • The Great Trade Route, 1937
  • The March of Literature, 1938
  • Critical Writings, 1964
  • Letters, 1965
  • Buckshee, 1966
  • Your Mirror to My Times, 1971
  • The Bodley Head Ford Madox Ford, 1962-1971 (5 vols.)
  • Pound / Ford, 1982
  • The Ford Madox Ford Reader, 1986
  • A History of Our Own Time, 1988
  • The Correspondence of Ford Madox Ford and Stella Bowen, 1993

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