Happy Birthday, Mr Ford

ford-joyce-pound-quinn

(Messrs Ford, Joyce, Pound and Quinn: Paris, 1923)

Today is the birthday of Ford Madox Ford, born Ford Madox Hueffer in Merton, Surrey, 17th December 1873. Even excluding the several pseudonyms he used, there are plenty of other versions of his name, many of them—such as ‘Forty-Mad-Dogs Hueffer’—traceable to the always inventive Ezra Pound.[1]

I tend to mention Ford a lot because he comes easily to mind, my mind anyway (among an increasing number of other minds). But then anyone interested in modern literature will probably have read his The Good Soldier; anyone really interested in modern literature will probably have read, or intended to read, or at least know something about, Parade’s End, his superb tetralogy about England before, during and after the Great War. ‘About England’—that is to say, about landscape, class, gender, love, sex, history, politics, social conventions, religion, psychological breakdown—and other things.

Ford was always attentive to anniversaries, birthdays—and Saints’ days. According to the dates given at the back of the book, he began writing When the Wicked Man—not one of his best novels, by a country mile—in Paris, on his birthday, 17 December 1928 (he went on with it in New York and finished it aboard R.M.S. Mauretania, off the Scillies, 1 December 1930.) More famously, we find this claim in the ‘Dedicatory Letter’, addressed to Stella Bowen, which first appeared in the 1927 Albert & Charles Boni edition of The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion:

‘Until I sat down to write this book—on the 17th December 1913—I had never attempted to extend myself, to use a phrase of race-horse training. Partly because I had always entertained very fixedly the idea that—whatever may be the case with other writers—I at least should not be able to write a novel by which I should care to stand before reaching the age of forty; partly because I very definitely did not want to come into competition with other writers whose claim or whose need for recognition and what recognitions bring were greater than my own. I had never really tried to put into any novel of mine all that I knew about writing. I had written rather desultorily a number of books—a great number—but they had all been in the nature of pastiches, of pieces of rather precious writing, or of tours de force. But I have always been mad about writing—about the way writing should be done and partly alone, partly with the companionship of Conrad, I had even at that date made exhaustive studies into how words should be handled and novels constructed.
‘So, on the day I was forty I sat down to show what I could do—and The Good Soldier resulted.’[2]

FMF_SB_Corr

In his lifetime, Ford published almost eighty books: say seventy-eight if we don’t count The Panel and its slight revision for American publication, Ring for Nancy, as separate items. For numerologists, 2017 has been the seventy-eighth year since his death. (Ford studies take many forms, some of them a little worrying. Mais passons.)

And I see that I read my first Ford book – good grief! – forty years ago. (Acutely numerate Ford scholars might narrow their eyes at this point, suspecting a massaging of the figures—‘Really? Exactly forty?’—but you can trust me on this.)

People occasionally ask, ‘Are there any others that are really good?’ I try to be scrupulous in separating the ones that I think are ‘really good’, say a dozen or so, maybe more, from those that have points of interest for the Ford specialist (just about all of them). Keeping it tight: if historical novels, particularly set in the Tudor period, are your thing, you may already have come across The Fifth Queen trilogy. It centres on Katharine Howard and on a chap called Thomas Cromwell, not an unfamiliar name these days. Then I’ve always had a fondness for The Young Lovell, set in 1486, concerning magic and a belle dame sans merci; and Ladies Whose Bright Eye, set in the fourteenth century (though with one foot in the twentieth), which might just edge it, because of its high spirits.

FMF_EE

Then England and the English, which is cheating slightly since this is another trilogy, comprising The Soul of London, The Heart of the Country and The Spirit of the People. Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance was written at speed in the months following Conrad’s death. Ford refers to it as a novel but it gives a much more vivid sense of how Conrad actually was than many scrupulous biographies of him. No Enemy, written mostly in 1919, was published in America ten years later (and first published in the UK seventy-three years after that). Dancing along the border between fiction and autobiography, it has folded into it many of Ford’s experiences and perceptions of the recent war: suffering from shell-shock, he had, in effect, to learn to write again.

From Ford’s final decade, I’d probably pick It Was the Nightingale just ahead of the outrageously enjoyable Return to Yesterday; and Provence would just edge out the slightly more eccentric Great Trade Route, so Ford’s beloved adopted home rather than the embodied idea and the sometimes uneasy grappling with the American South.

That, of course, leaves out of account entirely the poetry, the critical essays, the letters, the fairy tales, the art criticism. . . Still, it’s a start.

And of the two heavyweights? People sometimes ask: Coleridge or Wordsworth? Eliot or Pound? Lennon or McCartney? The Good Soldier or Parade’s End? I say: both, though acknowledging that, on the quiet, one leans this way or that.

Val-Christopher

(Adelaide Clemens as Valentine Wannop, Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens
in the BBC/HBO adaptation of Parade’s End)

‘The day of her long interview with Tietjens, amongst the amassed beauties of Macmaster furnishings, she marked in the calendar of her mind as her great love scene. That had been two years ago: he had been going into the army. Now he was going out again. From that she knew what a love scene was. It passed without any mention of the word “love”; it passed in impulses; warmths; rigors of the skin. Yet with every word they had said to each other they had confessed their love; in that way, when you listen to the nightingale you hear the expressed craving of your lover beating upon your heart.’[3]

Yes.

References

[1] This one crops up in Pound’s interview with D. G. Bridson, in New Directions 17, edited by James Laughlin (New York: New Directions, 1961), 166. Another version was ‘Freiherr von Grumpus ZU und VON Bieberstein’: Brita Lindberg-Seyersted, editor, Pound/Ford: The Story of a Literary Friendship (London: Faber & Faber 1982), 141.

[2] Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (1915; edited by Max Saunders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 3.

[3] Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 322.

 

The Last of England; or London; Sinclair, Sebald, Ford

Morning-West-Bay

I was sitting at the dining table of a rented holiday cottage in West Bay, idly totting up the senses in which the title of Iain Sinclair’s chapter might be read: ‘After Sebald’ is the title of chapter four of The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City. Grant Gee’s 2012 film Patience is subtitled (parenthetically) After Sebald; and Sinclair follows in Sebald’s footsteps, to an extent, in company with the poet Stephen Watts, a friend of Sebald’s, who sometimes walked with him. Chronologically, Sinclair is, of course, after—later than—Sebald; he is also pursuing him, or an image of him. Much of his writing draws on similar tropes of memory and deep autobiography to those of Sebald: again, this is, in a sense, ‘after’ him. He also touches on the Sebaldian afterlife of conference, festschrift, memorial, tribute: and the influence of Sebald, as man, walker and writer, as presence, as image of ‘writer’, on others, including the writer Rachel Lichtenstein, with whom Sinclair has collaborated in the past. And the afterworld is an abiding concern in Sinclair’s fictional or metafictional world, not least here in the moving elegiac conjuring of Martin Stone. ‘Slow down. Lose yourself among walks laid out with sufficient complexity to confuse the dead. To keep them to allocated spaces. To the chipped ballast of memorial slabs holding them in the ground.’[1]

Post-lunch, convalescing from such mental exertions, I trip over Sinclair’s mention of a book called The Last of England (2004) by Randall Swingler. Now, to a close reader of Ford Madox Ford, that title, The Last of England, sets dogs barking and bell ringers swinging on their ropes.

Brown, Ford Madox, 1821-1893; The Last of England

(Ford Madox Brown, The Last of England: Birmingham Museums Trust)

By way of brief explanation, for those immune to such infections, The Last of England is a famous painting by Ford Madox Brown, maternal grandfather of Ford Madox Ford. It exists in two versions—or three, counting the watercolour replica in the Tate—the oil on panel of 1855 (Birmingham Museums Trust) and the 1860 version (oil on canvas: The Fitzwilliam Museum), which seems entirely suitable in the context of any discussion of a writer whose name, nationality and status are far from stable and are strongly marked by doubleness, trebleness—or more. (Sentences like that sometimes appear to be occupational hazards for those with ambitions to write about Ford.)

As well as his several unsurprising references to the picture’s title in his 1896 biography of grandfather Brown, Ford used the phrase in his great postwar tetralogy, Parade’s End, twice in the opening volume and once in the final one. There is a finer symmetry than is at first apparent: the single mention in the closing volume is balanced by the fact that Last Post is itself ‘the last of England’ for Ford in several senses. The whole of the tetralogy had been written abroad but constituted his most searching fictional analysis of this country, while Last Post moved on from recent history to glance at possible futures. Thereafter, the material of his fiction lay elsewhere, in France and the United States. And, arguably, Last Post, his last ‘English’ novel, was the last of his books to be aimed at a primarily British audience.

FMF_IWN

Ford used the phrase twice more, in It Was the Nightingale, the autobiographical volume most closely related in its themes and treatment to his great novel. Once, because of the restrictions that were being brought in against immigration:

‘What then was to become of England of the glorious traditions? It had been political fugitives and martyrs that had given England her place among the nations. It had been the Flemish weavers, the Anabaptists, the Huguenots, the ceaseless tide of the discontented from every nation that had given England, not alone her tradition of freedom, but her crafts, her system of merchanting, her sense of probity, her very security. . . . This then was the last of England, the last of London. . . . ’

(Cue two minutes’ silence here, looking around us, as we must.)

The second instance concerns Ford’s leaving England for France in November 1922: ‘There was, as I passed through Trafalgar Square, a dense fog and the results of a general election coming in. . . . an immense shouting mob in a muffled and vast obscurity. The roars made the fog sway in vast curtains over the baffled light-standard. That for me was the last of England.’[2]

So, for a moment, familiar with the poet Ted Walker’s memoir and Derek Jarman’s film, plus a couple of other uses of the phrase in book titles, I paused, breathing a little heavily. Had I missed something really significant? I’d heard of Randall Swingler, come across him in a couple of literary histories, in memoirs by several figures, including E. P. Thompson and Julian Symons, which appeared in PN Review—which had also published George Barker’s ‘Elegy’ (‘Randall Swingler, that most honest man’)—and especially in Swingler’s ‘The Right to Free Expression’, published in Polemic, with annotations by George Orwell.[3] As a committed Communist, Swingler was never going to hit it off with Orwell: taking such exception to Orwell’s ‘The Prevention of Literature’ and referring to its author as ‘singularly independent of factual evidence’ made sure of that.

The 2004 publication date Sinclair mentioned made me pause, even within my pausing, though reprints or revised editions of Swingler, who died in 1967, were plausible. Then I suddenly registered the reference to J. H. Prynne, which pointed pretty definitely to Randall Stevenson’s volume in The Oxford English Literary History, Volume 12: 1960-2000: The Last of England?

Last-London
Not to suggest for a moment that Sinclair’s bracing, exhilarating and often extremely funny book should be defined by a tiny error—but while some errors are merely errors, others exist for just such occasions, to connect with, and stimulate, those ready for such connection. In the past, I’ve commented to others about books particularly poorly proofread who turn out not to have noticed any errors at all; on the other hand, often having read a book I then see a review of it which points in tones of thunder to outrageous shortcomings, blunders and misrepresentations that completely passed me by. Swingler for Stevenson would be puzzling or a speck of grit in the eye for a minority of Sinclair’s readers, I suspect. Even if they noticed, would it really matter to them? Not unless they too had a selection of phrases like ‘the last of England’ wired up to the alarm system of their memory banks.

Besides, that ‘error’ (which already seems to need the qualification of quotation marks) seems quite at home in Sinclair’s chronicle of complex networks of connection and affiliation, all of a piece with a universe of chance encounters, names slightly misheard, images glimpsed through the interstices of blurry weather. ‘We impose connections in a futile attempt to find meaning in a maelstrom of possibilities.’ Elsewhere, he writes: ‘In the state that manifests itself when projects are launched, and when they dictate their terms by way of coincidences and excited discoveries, unexpected phone calls, emails from strangers, I found it difficult to sleep. The streets had become a displacement dream.’ And one more: ‘What I was groping towards was the conviction that different writers, laying down different maps of the same place, enlarge the potentialities of the city. Geography shifts. Individuals dissolve. Place is burnished and dissolved.’[4]

There’s a fascinating video on the London Review of Books website at the moment: Stewart Lee interviewing Iain Sinclair. The fact that Lee several times refers to Sinclair’s book as The Last of London seems to fit as well. . .

https://www.lrb.co.uk/audio-and-video

 

References

[1]
Iain Sinclair, The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City (London: Oneworld, 2017), 58.

[2] Ford Madox Ford, It Was the Nightingale (London: Heinemann, 1934), 86, 137. One of the book’s later editors describes it, in fact, as ‘a companion volume to Parade’s End, reiterating the concerns of the tetralogy with renewed urgency’. See John Coyle, editor, Ford Madox Ford, It Was the Nightingale (1934; Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2007), xiv.

[3] George Orwell, Smothered Under Journalism: 1946, edited by Peter Davison, revised and updated edition (London: Secker and Warburg, 2001), 432-443. Davison’s footnote (443) mentions Swingler’s volumes of poetry and his editorial involvement with several journals in the 1930s and 1940s. Barker’s poem is in PN Review 27, volume 9, number 1 (September-October 1982).

[4] Sinclair, The Last London, 18 (I see I’ve quoted this once before but think it’s earned a repeat), 42, 54.

 

 

A feather in the wind

Sea-1

Between Eype and West Bay, a fierce wind rocks us on the cliff path. A couple of days later, at lunch in the Watch House Café, the sound is almost deafening at times, sails flapping on high and rolling seas. On the slope above the shore, you can lean steeply and confidently into the wind. The sea is foaming, furious, tiny tumbleweeds of spume blown in cartwheels across the sand, thinning to threads of washing suds, smears along the beach.

In a high wind, I often feel as I do when watching a raging sea: a sense of awe at such naked strength and power but also extreme pleasure in the knowledge that they are, precisely, irresistible. No matter how misdirected, demented and destructive human behaviour becomes, the wind will blow, the sea will rise and fall. In such a wind, resistant, your feet solidly planted, you feel your body’s strength but also sense its limits.

Back-to-West-Bay

In An Affair of the Heart, Dilys Powell, the celebrated film critic who also wrote several fine books about Greece, remembered a people called the Perachorans. She was married to the archaeologist Humfry Payne, who, in 1929, was appointed director of the British School of Archaeology in Athens. A year later, he initiated an excavation at Perachora, a settlement on the Gulf of Corinth, and Powell spent a good deal of time in and around the area. She wrote, ‘They grow old, they die, but they are the same. And I reflected with astonishment – for in imagination it is always oneself who is stable in an inconstant world – that I was the feather in the wind.’[1]

It’s a resonant image. Sixty years on, the world is a little more inconstant, a little less stable. Just a little. Still, it’s hardly surprising that the wind has always been a favourite literary symbol, from Homer through to the Romantic poets and beyond, seemingly apposite in a staggering variety of contexts, wind as god, wind as breath, wind as inspiration or omen or threat or simply impersonal force.

‘My thoughts were a great excitement’, W. B. Yeats remembered, ‘but when I tried to do anything with them, it was like trying to pack a balloon into a shed in a high wind.’[2] Indeed, we’ve all experienced that, no doubt. Or something like it. Or vaguely resembling it. Although lately it seems that, even when just a little excited, people tend to take to social media. Sometimes, they bring along thoughts with that excitement.

Karen_Blixen_and_Thomas_Dinesen_1920s

(Karen Blixen with her brother Thomas on the family farm in Kenya in the 1920s)

Karen Blixen, writing of her farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills, sited at an altitude of over six thousand feet that ‘the wind in the highlands blows steadily from the north-north-east. It is the same wind that down the coasts of Africa and Arabia, they name the Monsoon, the East Wind, which was King Solomon’s favourite horse.’[3] And it may well have been: he seems to have had 4000 to choose from, or 40000, depending on the version you settle on. A great many horses, in either case; and a great many wives and concubines too.

Having made our effortful way back from the beach—at an angle of something less than ninety degrees—we sit listening to the howling in the chimney, raising our voices a little. That in turn recalls (of course) the narrator of Ford’s The Good Soldier: ‘And I shall go on talking, in a low voice while the sea sounds in the distance and overhead the great black flood of wind polishes the bright stars.’[4] And it occurs to me to wonder, given the level of noise in this wind, just how much the narrator (‘talking in a low voice’) wanted to be heard; or rather, how much it mattered. Without getting too detailed, if his listener is the now-mad Nancy Rufford it probably doesn’t matter much at all: the murmur of a voice amidst the chorus of the wind will do.

‘Wind in the Work of Ford Madox Ford’. That could be worked up into something, surely. The sentence from The Good Soldier has its traceable ancestry, primarily Ford’s own poem, ‘On Heaven’, which includes the line ‘Through the roar of the great black winds, through the sound of the sea!’[5] And more than twenty years later, at the close of Provence: From Minstrels to the Machine, another strong wind—the mistral this time—plays a central role in the drama, unless it’s a comedy:

Provence.dj

‘And leaning back on the wind as if on an up-ended couch I clutched my béret and roared with laughter. . . .We were just under the great wall that keeps out the intolerably swift Rhone. . . . Our treasurer’s cap was flying in the air. . . . Over, into the Rhone. . . . What glorious fun. . . . The mistral sure is the wine of life. . . . Our treasurer’s wallet was flying from under an armpit beyond reach of a clutching wind . . . . Incredible humour; unparalleled buffoonery of a wind . . . . The air was full of little capricious squares, floating black against the light over the river. . . . Like a swarm of bees: thick. . . . Good fellows, bees. . . .’

A ‘delirious, panicked search’ then begins, for the scattered banknotes (those ‘little capricious squares’), for passports, for citizenship papers. The money that was to finance a year or two of rest has mostly gone. ‘But perhaps the remorseless Destiny of Provence desires thus to afflict the world with my books’, Ford concluded—as if he would ever have willingly stopped writing, mistral or no.[6]

Back in Bristol, it’s oddly calm today. Hardly a flicker in the heaped brown leaves. I type at the top of a page: ‘Calm in the Work of Ford Madox Ford’. Nothing’s come yet.

References

[1] Dilys Powell, An Affair of the Heart (London: Souvenir Press, 1958), 173.

[2] W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1955), 41.

[3] Karen Blixen, Out of Africa (1937; Harmondsworth: Penguin 1987), 14.

[4] Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (1915; edited by Max Saunders, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 18.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Collected Poems (New York: Oxford University Press, 1936), 8.

[6] Ford Madox Ford, Provence (London: Allen & Unwin, 1938), 367-368.

 

‘Depressed by the world but better in ourselves’.

Letters-LM

In a letter of 3 November 1961, Louis MacNeice wrote to Allen Tate and his wife Isabella: ‘We get more & more depressed by the world but better in ourselves.’[1]

(I could write that to any number of people right now: so half of it is optimistic, no?)

MacNeice had recently moved to a half-time contract with the BBC. He’d begun an affair with Mary Wimbush the previous year and, shortly after he and Mary were involved in a car crash that autumn, MacNeice asked his wife Hedli for a divorce. She refused, supposedly on the advice of ‘their mutual friend’, Allen Tate, who had told Hedli that his wife wouldn’t give him a divorce for five years and he was ‘so grateful to her!’[2]

Tate divorced Isabella Gardiner in 1966 and married Helen Heinz, who survived him (he died in 1979); MacNeice died in 1963. So Tate’s extensive experience of marriage and divorce in late 1961 derived from his relationship with the novelist Caroline Gordon. They married in May 1925, divorced in 1945, remarried the next year and finally divorced again in 1959.

caroline-gordon

(Caroline Gordon via http://porterbriggs.com/)

Gordon’s early mentor was Ford Madox Ford, whom she worked for as secretary in New York in the mid-1920s and remained friends with, in Paris, Provence and Tennessee, for the rest of his life. ‘A few days later Ford heaved a sigh and asked me if I had done any writing. I told him that I had started a novel but that I was going to have to throw it away. He heaved another sigh and said, “You had better let me see it.” I brought him the manuscript a few days later. He read the manuscript through, then said: “Why has nobody told me about this? What were you going to say next?” I recited the sentence. He said, “That is a beautiful sentence. I will write it down.” This procedure was repeated several times. It ended with Ford taking my dictation for three weeks. The result was a novel called Penhally.’[3] Or, as she wrote to her friend Sally Wood, a little nearer to the time: ‘Ford took me by the scruff of the neck about three weeks before I left, set me down in his apartment every morning at eleven o’clock and forced me to dictate at least five thousand words, not all in one morning, of my novel to him. If I complained that it was hard to work with everything so hurried and Christmas presents to buy he observed “You have no passion for your art. It is unfortunate” in such a sinister way that I would reel forth sentences in a sort of panic. Never did I see such a passion for the novel as that man has.’[4]

Ford-Gordon-Biala-Tate

Caroline Gordon; Janice Biala; Ford Madox Ford; Allen Tate: Summer 1937, via Cornell University Library: https://digital.library.cornell.edu/catalog/ss:550910

Gordon would publish eight more novels, as well as several volumes of short stories and criticism, including A Good Soldier: A Key to the Novels of Ford Madox Ford, based on a lecture she gave at the University of California, Davis, in which, recalling her first reading of Ford’s 1913 historical romance, The Young Lovell, she remarked: ‘I have since come to feel that this novel, which is almost unobtainable and has been read by comparatively few people, is the key to Ford’s life work.’[5]

Gordon_Coll_Stories

I find this, in my current reading: ‘We impose connections in a futile attempt to find meaning in a maelstrom of possibilities.’[6]

True enough. Last word for MacNeice, then: with such an embarrassment of riches to choose from, try this, which I only came across the other day and have a liking for, ‘Prologue (to The Character of Ireland)’:

‘Facts have their place of course but should learn to keep it. The feel
Of a body is more than body. That we met
Her, not her, is a chance; that we were born
Here, not there, is a chance but a chance we took
And would not have it otherwise.’[7]

 

 

References

[1] Letters of Louis MacNeice, edited by Jonathan Allison (London: Faber, 2010), 687.

[2] Jon Stallworthy, Louis MacNeice (London: Faber and Faber, 1996), 457.

[3] ‘Caroline Gordon’, in Sondra Stang, editor, The Presence of Ford Madox Ford (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981), 200; see also Brita Lindbergh-Seyersted, A Literary Friendship: Correspondence Between Caroline Gordon & Ford Madox Ford (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1999).

[4] Sally Wood, editor, The Southern Mandarins: Letters of Caroline Gordon to Sally Wood, 1924-1937 (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1984), 51.

[5] Caroline Gordon, The Good Soldier: A Key to the Novels of Ford Madox Ford (Davis: University of California Library, 1963), 19.

[6] Iain Sinclair, The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City (London: Oneworld, 2017), 18.

[7] Louis MacNeice, Collected Poems, edited by Peter McDonald (London: Faber, 2007), 781.
 

 

 

Ezra Pound, Stella Bowen and ‘the stylist’

Ford-_E_Pound_Rapallo_1932 Stella-Bowen-photo

(Ford Madox Ford and Ezra Pound, Rapallo, 1932; Stella Bowen, 1920s, Cornell)

On 30 October 1885 Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho. (‘Here he lies, the Idaho kid,/ The only time he ever did.’)[1] On 30 October 1947, Stella Bowen, painter and writer, died at the age of fifty-four, three weeks after the birth of her grandson, leaving her last painting (‘Still Life with Grapes’) unfinished.[2]

Stella met Pound during the First World War, when the studio she shared with her friend Phyllis Reid was lent for a party, to which Pound came. ‘To me’, Stella remembered, ‘he was at first an alarming phenomenon. His movements, though not uncontrolled, were sudden and angular, and his droning American voice, breaking into bomb-shells of emphasis, was rather incomprehensible as he enlightened us on the Way, the Truth, and the Light, in Art.’[3] Thereafter, largely through Pound, she and Phyllis met everyone: Eliot, Yeats, Wyndham Lewis, May Sinclair, Violet Hunt, Arthur Waley, Edward Wadsworth and others, including Ford Madox Ford.

Solitaire

Stella Bowen, Ford Playing Solitaire, Paris 1927
(Private collection: via https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/stella )

By the autumn of 1917, Stella was exchanging letters with Ford, she in London, he still stationed in Redcar, on the Yorkshire coast. They would live together for almost ten years. The first cottage they shared was Red Ford, in Pulborough, ‘a leaky-roofed, tile-healed, rat-ridden, seventeenth-century, five-shilling a week, moribund labourer’s cottage.’[4] ‘Penny, (not Pound) the goat, the sweet corn, Mrs Ford and the hole in the roof are still, here, going strong’, Ford wrote to Herbert Read in June 1920.[5] That summer, they moved to Bedham, ten miles away, while the indispensable Mr Hunt was still working on Coopers Cottage. Pound visited them there, ‘once, just before he and Dorothy migrated to Paris’, Stella remembered.[6] Or, in Ford’s own, lengthier version: ‘And Mr Pound appeared, aloft on the seat of my immense high dog-cart, like a bewildered Stuart pretender visiting a repellent portion of his realms. For Mr Pound hated the country, though I will put it on record that he can carve a sucking pig as few others can.’[7]

Two months before Pound’s visit to Bedham, the poet John Rodker published at The Ovid Press, in a limited edition of 200 copies, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley by ‘E. P.’ The press’s backers included May Sinclair and Pound himself but was primarily financed by Mary Butts, then married to Rodker.[8] Butts was one of the first friends that Stella made when she moved to London, when they both worked on a Children’s Care Committee in the East End.

Mary_Butts

Mary Butts (Photo by Bertram Park, 1919: Beinecke Library, Yale University)

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is a long poem or suite of poems, numbering eighteen in all. The centre of the work (poems IX and X) is occupied by two poems contrasting different types of writer. The first, ‘Mr Nixon’, is often taken to refer to Arnold Bennett. Pound wrote to Ford that Rodker ‘thinks both he and I will be murdered by people making personal application of necessary literary constructions verging too near to photography.’ He went on: ‘My defence being that “Mr Nixon” is the only person who need really see red, and go hang himself in the potters field or throw bombs through my window.’[9]

A ‘potter’s field’ is generally applied to a burial place for paupers and unidentified strangers but Bennett, famously, was from ‘the Potteries’, his most celebrated novels (certainly up to 1920) all focusing on the ‘Five Towns’, centres of the pottery industry. In his prose collection Instigations, published in April 1920, Pound wrote of Wyndham Lewis’s Tarr (1918): ‘What we are blessedly free from is the red-plush Wellsian illusionism, and the click of Mr Bennett’s cash-register finish.’ When this essay was reprinted many years later, Pound added a footnote to the effect that he’d ‘rather modified his view of part of Bennett’s writing’ when he finally got around to reading The Old Wives’ Tale.[10] Still, three years before Virginia Woolf’s famous essay ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’, Pound has the same realist novelists in his sights; and there is a clear imputation to Bennett of predominantly mercenary motives.

HSB-Ovid

What other ‘people making personal application of necessary literary constructions verging too near to photography’ might Pound’s poem suggest? The second type of writer in that central pair of poems, is termed ‘the stylist’:

Beneath the sagging roof
The stylist has taken shelter,
Unpaid, uncelebrated,
At last from the world’s welter

Nature receives him,
With a placid and uneducated mistress
He exercises his talents
And the soil meets his distress.

The haven from sophistications and contentions
Leaks through its thatch;
He offers succulent cooking;
The door has a creaking latch.[11]

‘Unpaid, uncelebrated’: a pretty stark contrast with the famous and successful ‘Mr Nixon’. If this draws—as it surely does—on Ford and Stella in their first Sussex cottage, just what does this imply about Pound’s view of Ford at this juncture? There’s sympathy—as you’d expect in a friendship that extended over thirty years—even an acknowledgement of the justification for that withdrawal, that ‘taking shelter’. But I think there are indications of something more, a taking leave, a sense of retrospect or valediction, for all the prominent use here of the present tense.

For himself, Pound feels, despite all the usual frustrations of shrinking periodical outlets, paltry funding, uncooperative editors and the rest, a sense of burgeoning strength after a hugely productive few years, culminating in Homage to Sextus Propertius (1919) and now Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, with the Cantos too definitely under way. As for the others, the ones who mattered to Pound: T. S. Eliot had published Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) and Poems (1919); Wyndham Lewis, like Ford, had been to the war but had also just published Tarr while, since March 1918, The Little Review had been serialising Ulysses by James Joyce, whose A Portrait of the Artist had appeared in 1916 and his Exiles in 1918. And Ford? Since 1915 and his entry into the British army, he had published only a handful of articles and stories, and one volume of poems, On Heaven and Poems Written on Active Service (April 1918). Pound’s brief review of that book was not a positive one (‘Time was when he held a brief for good writing’).[12]

Poem X is a subtle and artful performance, with its long first sentence and feminine rhymes; the polysyllabic ‘sophistications and contentions’ enacting just what ‘the stylist’ has retreated from, set against the plain language in which the—leaking—‘haven’ is described; these, together with the choice of verbs and the forms those verbs take, combine to suggest passivity and diminution. In fact, this is part of a long-running story, Pound always urging the active, the intense, the harder edge against what he felt to be Fordian impressionism’s softer, vaguer character and reliance on the visual. Still, there are hints here that, in Pound’s eyes, Ford’s strongest creative period might be over. Of course, as David Moody remarks, Pound ‘could not know that growing in the stylist’s mind was the best English novel of the Great War, a work of wide-angled and deep truth-telling that would cut to the heart of the war and culminate in a brilliantly written act of post-war reconstruction based on his life in that Sussex country cottage.’[13]

stellabowen-drawnfromlife

But then – a ‘placid and uneducated mistress’. Really? Stella? We may be tempted to see in ‘placid’ further hints of passivity or self-effacement or male constructions of ‘desirable’ qualities, considering at the word’s origins in the verb ‘to please’. And yet. . . the dictionary gives only ‘calm’, ‘not easily upset or excited’. As for education: Stella wrote that Pound ‘took the trouble to occupy himself with our joint education’—Phyllis Reid and Stella herself—and, wondering about his and others’ efforts, she remarked: ‘I can only suppose that they found my complete lack of education something of a novelty! The clean slate.’ Then too, reviewing her relationship with Ford, she recalled that, while he got his cottage, domestic peace and a baby daughter, she herself got out of it ‘a remarkable and liberal education, administered in ideal circumstances’.[14]

In the autumn of 1917, in Imaginary Letters, a series begun by Wyndham Lewis, Pound wrote of an ‘eminently cultured female’ named Elis—and her cousin, ‘who knows “nothing at all” and is ‘ten times better educated.’ She asks him ‘sane’ questions. She is ‘“wholly uneducated”. That is to say I find her reading Voltaire and Henry James with placidity.’[15] In the summer of 1914, Lewis had written that ‘[e]ducation (art education and general education) tends to destroy the creative instinct’ while Pound, in another 1917 piece, wrote that ‘[t]his little American had rotten luck; he was educated – soundly and thoroughly educated’.[16]

No, ‘uneducated’, for both Stella and Pound at this juncture, was not a particularly simple matter. In any case, the friendships continued, apparently untroubled by poems about stylists, mistresses and leaky havens.

References

[1] Rex Lampman’s ‘Epitaph’ is in Pound’s Pavannes and Divagations (1958; New York: New Directions, 1974), vii.

[2] Drusilla Modjeska, Stravinsky’s Lunch (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), 169: the painting is reproduced as Plate 15.

[3] Stella Bowen, Drawn From Life (London: Collins, 1941), 48.

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

[5] Ford, Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 103.

[6] Bowen, Drawn From Life, 81.

[7] Ford Madox Ford, It Was the Nightingale, 138.

[8] See Mary Butts, The Journals of Mary Butts, edited by Nathalie Blondel (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 132 and fn.; Nathalie Blondel, Mary Butts: Scenes from the Life (New York: McPherson & Co., 1998), 71-72.

[9] Brita Lindberg-Seyersted, Pound/Ford: The Story of a Literary Friendship (London: Faber & Faber 1982), 36-37.

[10] Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, edited by T. S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1960), 429 and footnote. In 1937, a letter to Michael Roberts included a reference to ‘nickle [sic] cash-register Bennett’: Ezra Pound, Selected Letters, 1907-1941, edited by D. D. Paige (New York: New Directions, 1971), 296.

[11] Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, edited by Richard Sieburth (New York: Library of America, 2003), 555.

[12] Lindberg-Seyersted, Pound/Ford, 27.

[13] A. David Moody, Ezra Pound: Poet: A Portrait of the Man and His Work: Volume I: The Young Genius 1885–1920 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 404.

[14] Bowen, Drawn From Life, 50, 52, 64.

[15] Pound, Pavannes and Divagations, 59, 60.

[16] Lewis, ‘Long Live the Vortex!’, Blast: Review of the Great English Vortex, I (20 June 1914), 7; Pound, ‘Stark Realism: This Little Pig Went to Market’, Pavannes and Divagations, 105.

First Post, Next Post

FP-Front

A parcel arrives with copies of the Newsletter from the Ford Madox Ford Society, which will be sent out over the next few days to the homes and offices of the faithful—even to a few of the lapsed, if that lapsing is of recent enough date.

To post First Post I need a lot of C5 envelopes, so set off on the two-mile walk to the stationer that we used pretty regularly for fifteen years, ten minutes away from the old offices. But I find it gone. Stationery, no longer stationary, has fled. Should I have checked before leaving home? Probably, given the recent examples of things assumed to be stable and enduring proving to be nothing of the kind.

Still, maybe tomorrow, if I manage to score a lunch date with the woman of my dreams. For many years, there’s been a stationer on the main road below her workplace. If it can just hang on twenty-four hours, those copies could soon be on their way.

Ford Madox Ford Society: http://www.fordmadoxfordsociety.org/

 

 

Difficult demands, corresponding charms

Macdonald-books

I drift back—early enough to cook the dinner—from a couple of days in California in the company of Ross Macdonald, not for the first time. The thirteenth occasion, I think. I must have seen, in a previous life, one of the films featuring Macdonald’s private eye Lew Archer, either Harper (1966, based on The Moving Target) or The Drowning Pool (1975), both starring Paul Newman. There was a later film, Blue City (1986), based on an early Macdonald novel, not a Lew Archer book. But I only started reading Macdonald a few years ago, decades after going through the whole of Chandler and of Hammett (one of whose books made a strong impression on the sixteen-year-old Macdonald).

Ross Macdonald was born Kenneth Millar in Los Gatos, California, though his parents were Canadian. After a difficult childhood, he studied at the University of Western Ontario and eventually received a PhD from the University of Michigan in 1952: his dissertation was on Coleridge.

While I wait for The Archer Files to make its way through the postal system, I review my collection of Macdonalds: seven mass market paperbacks jostle the three handsome Library of America volumes which, between them, contain eleven full-length novels. The last of these, Four Later Novels, published this year, is a recent arrival on my shelves and awaits the week’s holiday towards the end of the year—probably, if I can last that long.

tspa_0099971f

(Kenneth Millar/ Ross Macdonald via Library of America)

Inclusion in the Library of America series probably hints at the status that Macdonald has achieved in the view of some influential readers, since The Goodbye Look (1969) prompted the New York Times Book Review notice by William Goldman (‘the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American’).

Thirty-three years before the first Library of America volume of Macdonald’s work appeared—the series was launched in 1982, with eight volumes published that year—Hugh Kenner published an essay, ‘Classics by the Pound’, which began by detailing some comparisons between the products of that list and ‘the esteemed French series Bibliothèque de la Pléiade’, not least the fact that early volumes suggest a tendency to play it safe, perhaps influenced too much by potential copyright problems with more recent writers. Kenner went on to remark that ‘one difference’ between Harriet Beecher Stowe and Ross Macdonald was that Macdonald, ‘in devising his fables of modern identity, wrote them as things called “detective stories,” handled at Harvard with tongs’, while Stowe’s ‘famous eleven-Kleenex tract, sanctified by a testimonial of Lincoln’s, soars aloft into the Disneyfied sunsets of Literature.’ But, he added, a hundred years hence, should the Library of America series still be around, ‘it either will have atrophied into total irrelevance or else will have managed to embalm three novels by Ross Macdonald. Just watch. And you read it here first.’[1]

Kenner

(Hugh Kenner)

Ah, literary history. The friendship between Kenner and Macdonald dated back to 1950, when Kenner was teaching at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Kenner acknowledged his gratitude to Macdonald—Kenneth Millar—‘for his patience in expunging the flaws from the manuscript’ of Wyndham Lewis (1954); Macdonald reviewed Kenner’s Gnomon and his The Invisible Poet (on T. S. Eliot), while Kenner would contribute a piece to a collection of essays, memoirs, poems and photographs, Inward Journey: Ross Macdonald, edited by Ralph B. Sipper, published in 1984.[2] But the friendship ran into trouble long before the Sipper volume.

Sleeping Beauty (1973), my most recent outing in the Los Angeles/Santa Barbara area, is one of his most intricately plotted, with the trademark Macdonald complexities of generations of family history, unsuspected interrelations, threatening secrets and vulnerabilities, this one set against the backdrop of a disastrous oil spill. (Macdonald was politically engaged and environmentally concerned: when an underwater oil well blew out off Santa Barbara in early 1969, both Macdonald and his wife, novelist Margaret Millar, took part in the ensuing protests.)

Sleeping Beauty is dedicated to Eudora Welty. Two years earlier, the New York Times Book Review had run, on its front page, Eudora Welty’s hugely positive review of The Underground Man. The two writers’ correspondence had begun the previous spring and would develop into a close personal relationship. In January 1973, following Welty’s appearance on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line television programme, Macdonald mentioned that Buckley had recently been in Santa Barbara, ‘house guest of an old friend of mine, Hugh Kenner—a friendship that began to lose its virtue about the time that Hugh became literary godfather of the National Review, and has now eroded—but a friendship that I regret. In the late forties and early fifties Hugh and I taught each other a good deal, he more than I. Who is our most brilliant literary scholar? Alas, it is Hugh Kenner.—This summer he leaves Santa Barbara for Johns Hopkins.’[3]

Yes, that was the issue. Kenner had become friends with Buckley in the late 1950s and published his first contribution to Buckley’s conservative National Review in November 1957, his last more than forty years later. (My own knowledge of Buckley is pretty limited but I thought Best of Enemies, the 2015 documentary about the televised debates between Buckley and Gore Vidal in 1968 was tremendous: funny too.)

eudora-welty.paris.review

(Eudora Welty via The Paris Review)

Is there a Ford Madox Ford connection somewhere here—apart from Kenner? Indeed there is. In the spring of 1971, Welty mentioned to Macdonald that she was writing a review of Arthur Mizener’s biography of Ford (‘I’m not sure if I can stand Arthur Mizener on Ford, anyway [ . . . ] I’ve been reading all the Ford I can, to get a little balance.’ In his reply, Macdonald mentioned having seen a part of the biography and being struck by ‘what seemed to me its rather dull antipathy towards its subject.’ And it’s true that, while Arthur Mizener made some valuable contributions to the body of biographical work on Ford, what queers the pitch is that he really disliked Ford and ends up not believing a word he says, hardly the best frame of mind to foster insight and understanding. Ford had to wait another couple of decades before Alan Judd and Max Saunders corrected the Mizener view.

Another of Macdonald’s friends was Richard W. Lid, whose book, Ford Madox Ford: The Essence of His Art had appeared in 1964, dedicated ‘To Kenneth Millar’. Macdonald’s letter went on to mention this: ‘Dick wrote his own book on Ford—an analysis of the major novels which I think is the best thing done on him so far. Could be I’m prejudiced: I worked on it with Dick—this in confidence—and in fact he dedicated it to me. So when you told me you were involved with Ford, it closed another circle, dear Miss Welty, with a tinkle. But it’s no coincidence, is it? All writers admire Parade’s End and love The Good Soldier, and hate to see them fall into fumbling hands, unimaginative hands.’[4]

Thanking him for his letter—and Macdonald’s own copy of Lid’s book which he’d sent her—Eudora Welty said it was just what she needed ‘at this very point, when Mizener in his jovial disparagement was about to get me down.’ She claimed to see the traces of Macdonald’s work on the chapter devoted to The Good Soldier, ‘in the awareness of what Ford is doing in that marvelous book’, adding: ‘I don’t need to tell you I undertook the review not for love of Mizener but for love of Ford.’[5]

Eudora Welty’s review of Mizener’s biography is included in The Eye of the Story, a selection of essays and reviews. In that book, the review is immediately followed by her appreciation of Macdonald’s The Underground Man: ‘In our day it is for such a novel as The Underground Man that the detective form exists. I think it also matters that it is the detective form, with all its difficult demands and its corresponding charms, that makes such a novel possible.’[6]

We know that Ford greatly appreciated Welty’s writing.[7] I like to think that he would have admired Macdonald’s work too—‘fables of modern identity’ indeed.

References

[1] Hugh Kenner, Mazes (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995), 118, 123, 124.

[2] Hugh Kenner, Wyndham Lewis (1954; New York: New Directions, 1964), viii; other details are from Hugh Kenner: A Bibliography, edited by Willard Goodwin (Albany, New York: Whitston Publishing Company, 2001).

[3] Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan, editors, Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2015), 109-110.

[4] Meanwhile There Are Letters, 11, 12.

[5] Meanwhile There Are Letters, 13.

[6] Eudora Welty, The Eye of the Story: Selected Essays and Reviews (London: Virago Press, 1987), 258: review of Mizener, The Saddest Story: A Biography of Ford Madox Ford, 241-250; review of The Underground Man, 251-260. The book is dedicated ‘To Kenneth Millar’.

[7] Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 310; Sondra Stang, editor, The Ford Madox Ford Reader (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1986), 510-512.