Ardent and enraged: Ford among the Suffragettes

VH_FMF_Selsey

(Ford Madox Ford and Violet Hunt at Selsey)

On 9 February 1911, The New Age published a letter to the editor from Giessen, in Germany, outlining the writer’s reasons for supporting women’s suffrage:

‘As for the question of militant tactics, I am certainly in favour of them. It is the business of these women to call attention to their wrongs, not to emphasise the fact that they are pure as the skies, candid as the cliffs of chalk, unsullied as the streams, or virginal as spring daffodils. They are, of course, all that—but only in novels. This is politics, and politics is a dirty business. They have to call attention to their wrongs, and they will not do that by being “womanly.” Why should we ask them to be? We cannot ourselves make omelettes without breaking eggs. Why should we ask them to?’[1]

Ford Madox Ford was in Giessen, enmeshed in the maze of the country’s civil law, as part of a ludicrous scheme to secure German citizenship and thus obtain a divorce from his wife Elsie, so that he might marry the novelist (and suffragette) Violet Hunt. His letter came just three months after ‘Black Friday’, 18 November 1910, when the police had physically – and, in some cases, sexually – assaulted the women demonstrators marching on Parliament.

Daily-Mirror-Front-Page-Published-Saturday-19th-November-1910

In his Ancient Lights, which appeared the following month, Ford would assert that, ‘Personally I am an ardent, an enraged suffragette.’[2] He was certainly a productive one. The previous year, he had published, in an English Review editorial, several pages on ‘Women’s Suffrage’, primarily an attack on the Liberal government’s pig-headedness, in particular the devious methods and bad faith shown by Asquith, and the press’s refusal to publish details of abuses together with its readiness to publish more sensational accounts based on dubious sources.[3]

‘In one of His Majesty’s gaols, the doctor officiating at the forcible feeding of one of the women caught her by the hair of the head and held her down upon a bed whilst he inserted—in between her teeth that, avowedly, he might cause her more pain—the gag that should hold her mouth open, and there was forced down her throat one quart of a mixture of raw oatmeal and water. In the barbarous and never to be sufficiently reprehended Middle Ages this punishment was known as the peine forte et dure.’

Ford granted the urgency of some of the major legislation that Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George wished to push through but pointed out, ‘that very urgency makes the necessities of the women by ten times the more urgent. For the reforms that Mr. Lloyd George and his friends desire are precisely social reforms and social reforms precisely concern women even more than men.’ There had been proposals to abolish the House of Lords’ legislative veto: ‘this may be for the good of the people or it may prove the people’s bane. But there can be no doubting that in making these demands Mr. Lloyd George and his friends are asking to be allowed to become the autocratic rulers of the immense body of voiceless and voteless women. As far as the men of the country are concerned the Cabinet will be at least nominally popularly elected. For women they will be mere tyrants.’[4]

Later that year, in four issues of The Vote, Ford published ‘The Woman of the Novelists’, in the form of ‘an open letter’, which became the seventh chapter of his The Critical Attitude (1911).[5] He remarked that, much of the time, when men talked about women, they were, in fact, talking about ‘the Woman of the Novelist!’[6] As readers and consumers of books, women could exert a significant influence over the ways in which male authors portrayed them; but, Ford suggested, ‘it should be a self-evident proposition that it would be much better for you to be, as a sex, reviled in books. Then men coming to you in real life would find how delightful you actually are, how logical, how sensible, how unemotional, how capable of conducting the affairs of the world. For we are quite sure that you are, at least we are quite sure that you are as capable of conducting them as are men in the bulk. That is all we can conscientiously say and all, we feel confident, that you will demand of us.’[7]

Six years after the Representation of the People Act, in the first part of Some Do Not. . ., which can be confidently dated to 1912, Ford has the Tory younger son of a Yorkshire landowning family discuss matters in general, and the Pimlico army clothing factory case in particular, with the young suffragette, Valentine Wannop:

Parades End. Call Sheet #14

(Adelaide Clemens as Valentine Wannop in the BBC/HBO/VRT television adaptation of Parade’s End)

‘Now, if the seven hundred women, backed by all the other ill-used, sweated women of the country, had threatened the Under-Secretary, burned the pillar-boxes, and cut up all the golf greens round his country-house, they’d have had their wages raised to half-a-crown next week. That’s the only straight method. It’s the feudal system at work.’

‘Oh, but we couldn’t cut up golf greens,’ Miss Wannop said. ‘At least the W.S.P.U. debated it the other day, and decided that anything so unsporting would make us too unpopular. I was for it personally.’

Tietjens groaned:

‘It’s maddening,’ he said, ‘to find women, as soon as they get in Council, as muddleheaded and as afraid to face straight issues as men! . . .[8]

Certainly by the following year, golf greens, along with tennis courts, bowling greens and racecourses, were among the casualties as Suffragette protest increased in militancy. It was in 1913 that the Women’s Freedom League published Ford’s pamphlet entitled This Monstrous Regiment of Women.[9] His title derives from the fervid Protestant John Knox, whose First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women appeared in 1558, damning rule by women as unnatural and repugnant. It was directed primarily against the Catholic Mary Tudor (as well as the Scots queen Mary Stuart and her mother) but, with monstrously bad timing, appeared just months before the accession to the English throne of Elizabeth – who was not amused.

Portrait-of-Mary-Tudor

(Mary Tudor)

Ford begins his pamphlet, in fact, with the great gains made for England in wealth and power during Elizabeth’s reign, following it with the rejuvenation of the institution of the British throne under Victoria, though he warns against running the theory too hard, given that another queen in that period was Mary, ‘who is generally known as “bloody”’, and also Anne, ‘who is principally known because she is dead’, though her reign, at least at home, ‘was one of comparative peace’. He concludes that, appealing to the reader’s common sense, rather than ‘to prove romantic notions’, he has merely set out to prove, and has surely proved, ‘that in England it has been profitable to have women occupying the highest place of the State.’

One of Ford’s critics remarks, sharply but perhaps not entirely unjustifiably, that Ford ‘took pleasure in feeling more qualified to diagnose the problems with women than women themselves’.[10] It’s certainly arguable that, while his support for women’s suffrage was genuine and sustained, he was often prone to wanting to have his cake and eat it. He was hardly unusual in that: indeed, there have been recent attempts to present such wanting as a coherent political strategy. As Joseph Wiesenfarth remarks, ‘Ford’s personal life suggests that he treated women as equals. He treated them as well and as badly as he treated men’.[11]

Treated – and was treated, at least in Ford’s own view. While at Giessen, he also began writing Women and Men: ‘I have personally been treated badly by men who behaved as if they were wolves. On the other hand I have been badly treated by women who behaved as if they were hyenas.’[12]

On the one hand, wolves; on the other, hyenas. It’s not just the BBC that knows about balance.

References

[1] The New Age, VIII (9 February 1911), 356-357; see Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 49.

[2] Ford Madox Ford, Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections (London: Chapman and Hall, 1911), 294.

[3] Ford Madox Ford, ‘The Critical Attitude’, English Review, IV (January, 1910), 332-338.

[4] Ford, ‘The Critical Attitude’, 333, 336.

[5] ‘The Woman of the Novelists’, The Vote, II (27 August, 3 September, 10 September, 17 September, 1910).

[6] Ford Madox Ford, The Critical Attitude (London: Duckworth, 1911), 151, 152.

[7] Ford, The Critical Attitude, 168-169.

[8] Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 145.

[9] The pamphlet is reprinted in Sondra Stang, editor, The Ford Madox Ford Reader (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1986), 304-317.

[10] James Longenbach, ‘The Women and Men of 1914’, in Helen M. Cooper, Adrienne Auslander Munich and Susan Merrill Squier, editors, Arms and the Woman: War, Gender, and Literary Representation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 108.

[11] Joseph Wiesenfarth, Ford Madox Ford and the Regiment of Women: Violet Hunt, Jean Rhys, Stella Bowen, Janice Biala (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), 27.

[12] Ford Madox Ford, ‘Women and Men—I’, Little Review, IV (January, 1918), 27.

Mr Joyce, that dull book, nymphs

Twat

On my way to the cemetery—just walking, not for any graver purpose—I pass a van (a bit grimy) parked almost opposite the school. When the recent news is of academy schools in dire financial trouble and declining resources allocated to the arts and creative subjects in English schools, how can this not be cheering? Clearly, the writer already possesses the tools necessary to engage in political comment and discussion as it’s generally practised in this country lately, certainly online. More, it’s even spelled correctly.

Perhaps not quite cheering enough to offset all the other stuff. Still, let’s raise a glass for James Joyce’s birthday: ninety-six years today since the guard on the 7 a.m. express train from Dijon handed over two copies of Ulysses, one for the author on his fortieth birthday and one for Sylvia Beach to display in the window of her bookshop, Shakespeare & Company. ‘That dull book,’ he said, when Sylvia told him she was printing a thousand copies, ‘you won’t sell a copy of it.’

Waterhouse, John William, 1849-1917; Hylas and the Nymphs

(Why yes, it’s Hylas and the Nymphs by J. W. Waterhouse:
photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery)

Joyce had troubles enough in his time, with self-appointed judges and moral guardians, but would probably have been surprised to find a censorious glare turned upon John William Waterhouse. It’s a worrying sign, this lamentable decision of the Manchester Art Gallery to remove Hylas and the Nymphs from public view. Whatever one’s feelings about that specific painting, this policing of the past, the kind of censorship that announces, in the first instance, that it’s not censorship, is unambiguously bad. To claim that such actions are taken to ‘prompt a conversation’ when erasing history only closes down conversations, is disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. And, alas, it’s given even more ammunition—as is evident from the yards of comments already posted about this news item—to the online (and offline) tribes who moan endlessly that their lives have been irretrievably ruined by those censorious and puritanical feminists who are plotting the ruin of western civilisation.

 

Prince of morticians

Beddoes

In an article in Future in 1917, Ezra Pound wrote in praise of Thomas Lovell Beddoes (who died on this day, 26 January, in 1849), ‘Elizabethan’, he argued, ‘that is, if by being “Elizabethan” we mean using an extensive and Elizabethan vocabulary full of odd and spectacular phrases: very often quite fine ones.’[1] (Before and after this date, Ford Madox Ford was arguing – frequently – that Joseph Conrad was ‘Elizabethan’).[2]

Pound owned a two-volume set of Beddoes’ writings (1890) and was obliged to offer thanks to its editor Edmund Gosse, of whom he had rather less than complimentary things to say on other occasions.

Beddoes published relatively little in his lifetime (he committed suicide at the age of forty-five) and it was the posthumously-published Death’s Jest-Book which Pound was focused upon.

‘Tremble not, fear me not
The dead are ever good and innocent,
And love the living.’ (IV, iii, 111-113)[3]

Pound was concerned to ask ‘why so good a poet should have remained so long in obscurity’. Was it largely a matter of chronology, of which poets are still alive and flourishing or lately dead and widely mourned?

‘No more of friendship here: the world is open:
I wish you life and merriment enough
From wealth and wine, and all the dingy glory
Fame doth reward those with, whose love-spurned hearts
Hunger for goblin immortality.

Live long, grow old, and honour crown thy hairs,
When they are pale and frosty as thy heart.
Away. I have no better blessing for thee.’ (I, ii, 291-298)

‘The patter of his fools,’ Pound says, ‘is certainly the best tour de force of its kind since the Elizabethan patter it imitates’:

‘My jests are cracked, my coxcomb fallen, my bauble confiscated, my cap decapitated. Toll the bell; for oh, for oh! Jack Pudding is no more.’ (I, i, 9-11)

Hanswurst-Jack-Pudding

Jack Pudding
(The Traditional Tune Archive: http://tunearch.org/wiki/Annotation:Jack_Pudding )

‘I try to set out his beauties without much comment, leaving the reader to judge, for I write of a poet who greatly moved me at eighteen, and for whom my admiration has diminished without disappearing.’

Thirty years later, at Pisa, Pound wrote:

Curious, is it not, that Mr Eliot
has not given more time to Mr Beddoes
(T. L.) prince of morticians
where none can speak his language[4]

That last line remembers Death’s Jest-Book once more (quoted in Pound’s essay):

‘Thou art so silent, lady; and I utter
Shadows of words, like to an ancient ghost,
Arisen out of hoary centuries
Where none can speak his language.’ (I, ii, 141-144)

As to our local connection: Beddoes was born in 1803, at 3 Rodney Place, Clifton, Bristol. His father, the eminent medical man, Dr Thomas Beddoes was married to Anna Edgeworth, sister of the novelist, Maria Edgeworth. Four years before the birth of his son, Dr Beddoes had succeeded in establishing the Pneumatic Institution in Hotwells, Bristol, concerned with treatment through the inhalation of various gases. At Hotwells, the first superintendent was Humphry Davy, whose experimental work included investigation of the properties of nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Alethea Hayter suggests that Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘first real habitation to opium’ may have resulted from a recommendation in Dr Thomas Brown’s Elements of Medicine, edited by none other than Dr Beddoes.[5]

If there were dreams to sell,
What would you buy?
Some cost a passing bell;
Some a light sigh,
That shakes from Life’s fresh crown
Only a roseleaf down.
If there were dreams to sell,
Merry and sad to tell,
And the crier rung the bell,
What would you buy?   (Dream-Pedlary, in Poetical Works, I, 46)

The Thomas Lovell Beddoes website is here: http://www.phantomwooer.org/

The poet Alan Halsey, who ran the Poetry Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye for nearly twenty years, has written on Beddoes and edited the 2003 edition of the later text of Death’s Jest-Book. He runs West House Books as both publisher and bookseller. His secondhand catalogue has some very choice items indeed:
http://www.westhousebooks.co.uk/

References

[1] ‘Beddoes (and Chronology)’, reprinted (with incorrect publication year of 1913) in Ezra Pound, Selected Prose 1909-1965, edited by William Cookson (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 348-353. All Pound quotations from this essay.

[2] See ‘Joseph Conrad’, English Review (December 1911), 69, 70; ‘Literary Portraits – XLI. Mr. Richard Curle and “Joseph Conrad”’, Outlook, XXXIII (20 June 1914), 848, 849; Thus to Revisit (London: Chapman & Hall, 1921), 100; ‘Mr Conrad’s Writing’, Literary Supplement to The Spectator, 123 (17 November 1923), in Critical Essays, edited by Max Saunders and Richard Stang (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2002), 230; Joseph Conrad (London: Duckworth, 1924), 18, 25; Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 127.

[3] References to Death’s Jest Book in The Poetical Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, edited by Gosse (Dent, 1890), Volume II, 5-158.

[4] ‘Canto 80’, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, fourth collected edition (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 498.

[5] Alethea Hayter, Opium and the Romantic Imagination (London: Faber and Faber, 1971), 27.

 

Noises off, spell checkers on

Burne-Jones, Edward, 1833-1898; Love Among the Ruins

(Edward Burne-Jones, Love Among the Ruins
National Trust, Wightwick Manor: photo credit National Trust)

A few days ago, I could hear a frequent but unidentifiable noise: upstairs as well as downstairs. Washing-machine? Sewing-machine? Drill? Just at the edge of the range of my hearing, so that I couldn’t identify the source of it either. Surely from one of the neighbouring houses but which one? Mechanical or electrical; varying duration; it had stopped; no, it hadn’t, it kept on happening. I finally decided that it was workmen taking down the scaffolding from a house thirty or forty metres along the road. But the salient point was that, once aware of the sound, even though it was barely audible, I couldn’t ignore it: the fact of it had lodged in my head and wouldn’t be shifted.

Now an impressive commotion at the door heralds the arrival of a copy of the 1975 edition of Penelope Fitzgerald’s Edward Burne-Jones: A Biography, supplied with promptness and efficiency by G. & J. Chesters of Tamworth. After finishing, The Knox Brothers, Penelope Fitzgerald’s remarkable group biography of her father and three uncles, the only one of her books that I’d not read was Edward Burne-Jones: I’d dipped into it but never read it through properly. Having determined to reread all her fiction—which I’d thought wonderful the first time around even while I was convinced that I’d missed at least half of what there was to see—I added the biographies, intending to start at the beginning.

Penelope_Fitzgerald_A_Life

I had the paperback edition, published by Sutton in 2003, with a brief preface by Christopher Wood. By the time I reached page twenty-five, which mentioned the French city of ‘Chatres’, I was so aware of the errors in the text that it had become as serious a distraction as bolt-removing workmen. But was it just a case of errors carried forward from the original publication? I found a limited preview of that on Google Books and checked a couple of examples. No, these were all Sutton’s own work, so I placed an order for the first edition. Just after I’d done so, I found an endnote in Hermione Lee’s superb biography of Fitzgerald, which mentioned the publishing history of her life of Burne-Jones: it had ‘two reissues, by Hamish Hamilton in 1989, and by Sutton Publishing in 2003, a bad edition full of misprints.’[1] Ah yes.

Long before I did any editorial work, I was a freelance proof-reader for a few years, always desperate for a little extra money. If you take to proofreading and sub-editing, and you have the type of eye and mind that lock on to errors of that sort, it’s impossible to shake the habit off (sometimes tiresome, no doubt, to those not afflicted in the same way). I was once moved to write to the American publisher of an edition of William Faulkner’s Collected Stories that I was reading, pointing out the appalling state of the text; on another occasion, I wrote to John Calder about a Wyndham Lewis novel, suggesting that Lewis’s writing was quite challenging enough without  the addition of occasional gibberish because the proof-reader (if there was one) had nodded off or had recourse to the bottle. In neither case did I hear back. Years later, when I read Pursuit, subtitled ‘The Uncensored Memoirs of John Calder’, I thought ‘unedited too: you should have let me—or, at least, somebody—proofread this, Mr Calder.’[2]

Spalding-Piper

Most recently dispiriting was the case of Frances Spalding’s joint biography of John and Myfanwy Piper, published by Oxford University Press.[3] It’s a beautiful book, six hundred pages long, with an extensive range of illustrations, both in colour and in black and white, well-designed and produced (although, despite my care, several of the colour plates were working themselves loose by the time I’d finished the book). A successful and highly-regarded biographer and art historian; an eminent university press; yet, in the first three pages, I read of a ‘Librian’ (this may be something vaguely astrological but it isn’t a keeper of books and manuscripts) and a sentence that started: ‘After this begun book was begun’, which seemed overgenerous with beginnings. Subsequently, among other delights, there was an antiquarian named William Stukley (referred to again, correctly spelt, within a few lines), an institution called the Royal Collage and a novelist named Henry Greene. Indefinite articles were missed out several times, there was an unsettling reference to Piper’s ‘panting’, Keynsham was shunted into another county and a village named Layock, near Melksham, was  invented for the occasion.

All of which, once again, only served to distract this reader from the text. It is, I know, an open secret that, while publishers generally used to see to this sort of thing, a great many now. . . don’t. Perhaps there’s some uncertainty as to where the burden of responsibility ultimately lies, which makes it all very twenty-first century—but there, I feel a bit of politics coming on. Perhaps better not. . .

References

[1] Hermione Lee, Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (London: Chatto and Windus, 2013), 457, n.25.

[2] Looking back now, I note Michael Horowitz’s comment, when reviewing the book in The Telegraph (18 March 2002): ‘Calder’s unimpeachable commitment to the defence of literature is heavily sabotaged by misspellings and glaring errors of fact, grammar, punctuation and attribution throughout the memoirs.’ I see that a paperback edition came out at the end of 2016, perhaps proofread for the occasion.

[3] Frances Spalding, John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

 

‘I suppose they think I don’t notice’: Ford Madox Ford on enemies

Brown, Ford Madox, 1821-1893; An English Autumn Afternoon

(Ford Madox Brown, English Autumn Afternoon: Birmingham Museum Trust)

On 16 January 1915, Ford Madox Ford (or Ford Madox Hueffer as he then still was) published ‘Enemies’, in his regular series of articles for the weekly periodical Outlook. His editor having signified to Ford that his writing about ‘German culture and the nature of the Prussian State’ (which became his first propaganda book, When Blood is Their Argument) had grown ‘monotonous’ to his readers. Ford now considered the subject of how one should act ‘when one discovers that one is hated’. He had, he said, awoken to the facts that ‘he has been seven times denounced to the British authorities as a German spy, and that the German papers clamorously demand the hanging of the poor present writer as a British variety of the observant tribe.’ And he added: ‘I seem all my life to have been helping over stiles lame dogs who, having recovered the use of their legs, used them for kicking me in the eye.’[1]

Ford_Madox_Brown

(Ford Madox Brown)

That habit was based on advice imparted to him by his much-loved grandfather, the painter Ford Madox Brown: ‘Fordie, never refuse to help a lame dog over a stile. Never lend money; always give it. . . ’[2] It was an attitude that, unsurprisingly, led to occasional difficulties. Alan Judd opens his biography with the story of a Georgian prince (‘every Georgian in Paris was a prince in those days’) who, in 1930s Paris, tapped the impoverished Ford for some cash. ‘Ford had never met the man before but let him have a cheque. The prince was outraged by the smallness of the sum and never visited Ford again, though he kept the cheque. It was for one half of the money Ford owned.’[3]

Literature, particularly, demanded such sacrifices. Ford’s first editorial venture, the English Review, was a critical triumph but a financial disaster. When he was editing his second periodical, the transatlantic review, Ford wrote to Gertrude Stein, ‘indeed I really exist as a sort of half-way house between nonpublishable youth and real money—a sort of green baize swing door that everyone kicks both on entering and on leaving.’[4]

Gertrude_Stein_by_Alvin_Langdon_Coburn

(Gertrude Stein by Alvin Langdon Coburn: Eastman Collection)

It was not just money, of course, but personal relations, the seemingly inevitable rows for various reasons and of various sorts: with Conrad, with Arnold Bennett, with A. E. Coppard, with Hemingway. Ford seemed constantly beset by betrayals or, at least, beset by the suspicion or conviction of betrayals. Violet Hunt forged his name on cheques. A journalist ‘from one of Mr Hearst’s papers’, who terrified both Ford and the bailiff-handyman Standing by his deranged handling of an axe when set to chopping wood, in the end ‘took down by shorthand my best story and sold it to a London magazine for £16 that I could well have done with myself. . . . I don’t know why people do things like that to me. I suppose they think I don’t notice. . . . ’[5]

‘I suppose they think I don’t notice.’ This could be the political slogan stitched on a million tee-shirts. ‘They must think we’re stupid,’ the Librarian murmurs as the latest idiocy is announced. I used to assent but now I hesitate. Marvelling anew at some of the people who still have ministerial jobs and the sheer brass neck of some of the responses to the crisis in the National Health Service, I suspect, rather, that ‘they’ no longer bother, that they have stopped even bothering to pretend. With another major scandal currently in the news, observers can only wonder at the weight of each of the usual factors: greed, gross incompetence, corruption, blindness brought on by ideological dazzlement. Even if you’re relaxed about the constant outsourcing of public service provision to private companies—which I’m not since it seems to me nothing more than governmental evasion of responsibility—it must be pretty obvious even to the true believers that the current system doesn’t actually work.

And it seems that it’s still possible, even usual, more than twenty-five years after the Maxwell debacle, for pension funds to be depleted so that the money can be shovelled into the pockets of the usual corpulent suspects. Remarkable.

‘I am not a combative person,’ Ford writes in his Outlook article. Many of us might say the same. But perhaps we could be made so?

 

References

[1] Ford Madox Ford, ‘Literary Portraits—LXXI: Enemies’, Outlook (16 January 1915), 79.

[2] Ford Madox Ford, Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections (London: Chapman and Hall, 1911), 197.

[3] Alan Judd, Ford Madox Ford (London: Collins, 1990), 1.

[4] Letter of 18 September 1924: Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 162.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, It Was the Nightingale (London: Heinemann, 1934), 148, 150-151.

 

A matter of fact, a matter of error

Evoe .

(‘Evoe’, Edmund Knox via Jot101: http://www.jot101.com/ )

On my way through the park, I pass four people, each accompanied by an average of 2.75 dogs. It seems a little excessive but the total is dominated by the woman gripping five leads, to each of which is attached to a dog of such slender proportions that, taken all together, they would barely comprise a single, ordinary-sized dog.

Perhaps I was taking refuge in such arithmetical precision because I’d been thinking of error, specifically of writers’ errors, even more specifically of novelists’ errors and wondering whether that was a contradiction in itself.

Penelope-Fitzgerald-Guardian

(Penelope Fitzgerald via The Guardian)

Edmund Knox, later ‘Evoe’ of Punch and father of Penelope Fitzgerald, began his editorial career as a boy, taking charge of the family newspaper, The Bolliday Bango. His brothers, ‘Dilly’, classical scholar and later code breaker, Wilfred, priest and teacher, and Ronald, the celebrated Catholic theologian, translator and writer of detective stories, all contributed to the Bango’s production. One venture was the detection of ‘a number of inaccuracies, even downright contradictions, in the Sherlock Holmes stories’. They sent a list of these to Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘in an envelope with four dried orange pips, in allusion to the threatening letter in The Sign of Four’, but received no reply.

Later, in 1911, Ronnie Knox expanded that original letter into a paper given to the Gryphon Club in Trinity College, Oxford. ‘A satire on all higher scholarship, including his brother’s work on Herondas and his correspondence with German textual experts’, which entailed Ronnie’s invention of Professors Ratzegger and Sauwosch. ‘He set out to show, strictly from internal evidence, that the Return stories are clumsy inventions by Watson, who had taken to drink. This would account, for instance for his neglect of his practice, and the ludicrous errors he makes in the colour of Holmes’s dressing-gown.’

Holmes-dressing-gown

(Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget)

It also prompted a letter from Conan Doyle to Ronnie, expressing ‘the amusement – and also the amazement’ with which he had read the article, going on to explain ‘the vexed point’ about the bicycle tracks in ‘The Adventure of the Priory School’.[1]

Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes, the title under which it was published the following year and reprinted several times since, is widely credited with inaugurating Sherlockian studies, ‘The Game’, the world in which Holmes and Watson are real people and Conan Doyle a useful agent. Knox pointed out that the incident of Percy Trevor’s bulldog biting Holmes on his way down to chapel was ‘clearly untrue, since dogs are not allowed within the gates at either University’, while an Oxford scholarship paper including ‘only half a chapter of Thucydides’ was also absurdly improbable. ‘And, worst of all, the dummy in the Baker Street window is draped in the old mouse-coloured dressing-gown! As if we had forgotten that it was in a blue dressing-gown that Holmes smoked an ounce of shag tobacco at a sitting, while he unravelled the dark complication of The Man with the Twisted Lip![2]

A remarkable proportion of the annotations in Leslie Klinger’s edition of the Holmes canon are concerned with inconsistencies or contradictions while the majority of the ‘capsule’ entries on individual stories in Dick Riley and Pam McAllister’s compilation refer to ‘Oddities and Discrepancies’.[3]

There are degrees and types of ‘error’, of course: firstly, internal, those inconsistencies within the Holmes canon, a man writing prolifically and often hurriedly, over long periods of time and great stretches of material, with occasional lapses hardly surprising. An ‘error’ of a slightly different kind is in the opening passage of Samuel Beckett’s Murphy, where a man has tied himself to a rocking-chair with seven scarves: their positions are detailed but total only six. There are other practical improbabilities and impossibilities (how the last scarf was tied, for instance), concerning which Hugh Kenner remarks: ‘A novel, in short, is a novel, not a map of the familiar world, and Beckett’s novels differ from most in the consistency of their insistence upon this principle.’[4]

Davenport-Murphy-rocking

(Guy Davenport, ‘Murphy rocking: prior to inversion’. Drawing in Hugh Kenner’s The Stoic Comedians: Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett, facing p. 98)

Indeed. But many novels, not excluding Joyce’s Ulysses, occupy a space so close to that familiar world that their breaths mingle. Joyce said he wanted ‘to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.’[5] That implies a certain documentary accuracy, a topographical precision – even in a work whose hero is an advertising canvasser based on Homer’s ‘man of many devices’.

In Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not. . ., Christopher Tietjens, home on leave, proposes as spiritual adviser to their son the priest who has appeared earlier in the novel: ‘Sylvia stood up, her eyes blazing out of a pallid face of stone: “Father Consett,” she said, “was hung on the day they shot Casement. They dare not put it into the papers because he was a priest and all the witnesses Ulster witnesses. . . . And yet I may not say this is an accursed war.”’[6]

casement-Irish-Post

(Roger Casement via The Irish Post)

Roger Casement was hanged, not shot, in August 1916. A reviewer of Some Do Not. . . took Ford to task for his ‘inaccuracy’, as Ford noted in his dedicatory letter to the second volume in the sequence, No More Parades, where he discussed his reasons for referring to Casement’s being hanged, specifically his conversation with a woman who could not, she said, bear the thought that the English had hanged him.[7] In his Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance, also published in 1924, Ford wrote about Conrad’s encounter with Casement in Africa and remarked that it was ‘as unspeakably painful to him when later Casement, loathing the Belgians so much for their treatment of the natives on the Congo, took up arms against his own country and was, to our eternal discredit, hanged, rather than shot in the attempt to escape’.[8]

Joyce went to enormous trouble to get the details of 1904 Dublin ‘right’. Ford too worried about factual accuracy in, particularly, the constituent parts of Parade’s End. He had always had ‘the greatest contempt’ for novels that were written with an obvious moral purpose. ‘But when I sat down to write that series of volumes, I sinned against my gods to the extent of saying that I was going—to the level of the light vouchsafed me—to write a work that should have for its purpose the obviating of all future wars.’ Given that intention, the rest followed: ‘So it was my duty to be sure of my details. For technical facts as facts I have no respect whatever. Normally I rather despise myself for playing for factual accuracy in a novel. It did no harm to Shakespeare not to know that Bohemia has no sea-coast or even to believe in the fabled virtues of the mandrake. I would just as gladly make such slips as not. But they give weapons to fools and if, in this case, I failed in factual correctness, I should betray the cause for which I was working.’[9]

One more. ‘It is my sense’, Guy Davenport wrote, ‘that I am always telling a story rather than projecting an illusory, fictional world. I am aware of the trap in argument whereby we can seem to square a story with reality, and I felt wonderfully helpless when various critics jumped on my “mistakes.” One brave Boston soul swore he was at that air show in Brescia, that Kafka wasn’t there (the crowd was estimated by La Sentinella Bresciana to be 50,000), and that Blériot did not look like my description. A Russian has written to know why I have Lenin speaking in a dialect he wouldn’t have used. And so on.’[10]

‘Wonderfully helpless’. Yes, in which world do you start? Or rather, when you’re standing up to your waist in water, in a strong current: which bank do you push for? A great many novelists now begin with ‘research’; some, alas, seem never to leave it, while the fiction is swept downstream.

As to facts, among other inhabitants of that borderland. . .

‘Facts do not find their way into the world in which our beliefs reside; they did not produce our beliefs; they do not destroy them; they may inflict on them the most constant refutations without weakening them.’[11]

 

References

[1] Penelope Fitzgerald, The Knox Brothers (London: Macmillan, 1977), 50, 105-106.

[2] Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes, reprinted in Blackfriars, I, 3 (June 1920), 156, 158, 159 – essay downloadable here: https://www.lib.umn.edu/pdf/holmes/Blackfriars_v1n3_1920_RA_Knox.pdf

[3] Arthur Conan Doyle, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, 2 volumes, edited with notes by Leslie S. Klinger (New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company 2005); Dick Riley and Pam McAllister, The Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Sherlock Holmes (New York: Continuum, 1999).

[4] Hugh Kenner, A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett (1973; Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996), 58.

[5] Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of ‘Ulysses’ and other writings, enlarged edition (1934; London: Oxford University Press, 1972), 69.

[6] Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 218.

[7] Ford Madox Ford, No More Parades (1925; edited by Joseph Wiesenfarth, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2011), 5-6.

[8] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad (London: Duckworth, 1924), 101, 129. All this and more elucidated by Max Saunders’ note in Some Do Not. . ., 218.

[9] Ford Madox Ford, It Was the Nightingale (London: Heinemann, 1934), 205, 206.

[10] Guy Davenport, ‘Ernst Machs Max Ernst’, The Geography of the Imagination (Boston: David R. Godine, 1997), 376.

[11] Marcel Proust, The Way by Swann’s, translated by Lydia Davis (London: Allen Lane, 2002), 149.

 

Sweet Thames, run softly

Callow, William, 1812-1908; The Rialto Bridge, Venice

(William Callow, Rialto Bridge, Venice. Photo credit: Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, Birkenhead)

Sunday. Slower breakfast, slower survey of the morning’s paper, just to see how hugely 2018 is improving on the previous year. Alas, alas. There seem to be remarkable numbers of people that our rich, highly developed democracy is failing in its basic duty of care. Taking in, among others, the very young, the very old, the poor, the sick, the mentally unwell, the homeless and, oh, women, we appear to be looking at the larger part of the population. Clearly, I must have miscalculated. Then a glance at the foreign news prompts the reflection that, were someone to announce in my hearing that he was a stable genius, I would be simultaneously checking the exits, counting the spoons and making very sure that I didn’t turn my back on him. But again, others clearly take a different view.

Still on the subject of floods and deluges. . . Ninety years ago, I was reading just recently, in the early hours of 7 January 1928, the River Thames flooded, as a result of a storm in the North Sea, which ‘created a tidal surge that raised the waters of the river to their highest recorded level.’[1]

‘As the river wall opposite Tate Britain collapsed the water surged across the road flooding the nine lower ground floor galleries and the basement.’ As for the artworks stored there, 18 were ‘damaged beyond repair, 226 oil paintings were badly damaged and a further 67 slightly damaged. The J. M. W. Turner works on paper stored in the basement were saturated and covered in mud although fortunately their colours hadn’t run. Incredibly, the newly completed Whistler mural in the Tate Restaurant remained undamaged although it too had been completely submerged.’
http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/day-thames-broke-its-banks-and-flooded-tate-britain

Tate Britain after flood of 1928

© Tate Archive, 2003

Thomas Dilworth mentions that Jim Ede (H. S. Ede), then assistant curator at the Tate—subsequently an early biographer of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and founder of the wonderful Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge—was keeping some of David Jones’s watercolours in that basement, as well as the drawings and watercolours by Turner. They were ‘submerged but kept dry by ark-tight carpentry of a set of cabinets.’ Jones, he adds, ‘appreciated the feat of carpentry as only a poor carpenter can.’

In this context, Dilworth also discusses Jones’s commission for The Chester Play of the Deluge—‘one of the great illustrated books but not as printed in 1927’—asserting that Jones ‘cannot have worked on these engravings for half a year without associating the biblical flood with the Thames flood’—but he then gives the date of the flood as January 1926, which I take to be a simple error.[2]

The Golden Cockerel Press edition appeared in 1927 but it was 1977 before Clover Hill Editions ‘for the first time printed Jones’s wood engravings with the care they should have received (and did not) in the Golden Cockerel edition of 50 years earlier.’[3]

david-jones-animals-going-to-the-ark

(David Jones, engraving number 5, ‘Animals going into the Ark’, via https://chesterculture.wordpress.com/ )

The casualties were not, of course, only among artworks. The Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London were also swamped, as were ‘many of the crowded basement dwellings into which the city’s poorest families were crammed.’
(Jon Kelly, ‘The great 1928 flood of London’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26153241 )

An estimated four thousand people were left homeless and, as Sylvia Townsend noted in her diary the following day: ‘Fourteen people were drowned in basements, poor souls, and a fish was caught in the kitchen of Battersea police-station. The basement of the Tate Gallery was filled, which may help to settle the question of the 20,000 Turner sketches. In the basement also were some Rowlandsons, and I suspect my Callow of Venice. Very watery and homelike for it.’[4]

Flood-1928-rescue-via-Guardian

(Flood of 1928 via The Guardian)

‘My Callow of Venice’ puzzled me a little. William Callow was a watercolour painter who died in 1908. The Tate now shows only an 1880 ‘Grand Canal Venice’, watercolour and graphite on paper, ‘presented by the artist’s widow’ in 1909. There is, though, a letter from Sylvia to David Garnett, which elucidates ‘my Callow’:

‘Talking of slighted works of art, have you ever been in the underground of the Tate? A long time ago I lent the Tate a small William Callow, and in 1964 I felt it my duty to see how it was getting on. So I wrote to the Curator and was given an appointment. There was a proper person, who took me down in a lift, and led me through this extraordinary graveyard, crammed with marble nudes wrapped in sheets of cellophane, great furry seascapes and lowering landscapes, portraits of pop-eyed children, blessed damozels, Derby winners; and paused in front of a very incompetent late Victorian nymph clutching some shred of muslin and made entirely of vinolia soap, saying, This, I think, is yours. There was a moment of black panic when I thought I should find myself obliged to make her mine. But in the end my William Callow was found in excellent condition, and quietly on show.
‘If you should ever feel inclined for a little Mortality, behold and fear, do go to the Tate underground.’[5]

 

 

References

[1] Peter Ackroyd, Thames: sacred river (London: Chatto and Windus, 2007), 227.

[2] Thomas Dilworth, David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet (London: Jonathan Cape, 2017), 97-98.

[3] Roderick Cave, The Private Press, Second Edition (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1983), 227; see Arianne Bankes and Paul Hills, The Art of David Jones: Vision and Memory (Farnham: Lund Humphries, 2015), 34-37.

[4] The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner, edited by Claire Harman (London: Virago Press, 1995), 10.

[5] Letter of 3 March 1968: Richard Garnett, editor, Sylvia and David: The Townsend Warner/ Garnett Letters (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994), 139.