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.

 

Circumspect and right

Mauve, Anton, 1838-1888; Shepherdess
Anton Mauve, The Shepherdess (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff)

Early in Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not. . ., the first volume of the Parade’s End tetralogy, Christopher Tietjens and Vincent Macmaster are talking together in a railway carriage (their topics of conversation ranging over many of the novel’s themes).

“I’m thinking,” Tietjens said, “thinking how not to be too rude.”
“You want to be rude,” Macmaster said bitterly, “to people who lead the contemplative. . . the circumspect life.”
“It’s precisely that,” Tietjens said. He quoted:

‘She walks the lady of my delight,
A shepherdess of sheep;
She is so circumspect and right:
She has her thoughts to keep.’”[1]

As the note says, these lines are from ‘The Shepherdess’, one of the best-known lyrics by Alice Meynell. She was born on this day, 22 September, in 1847 and died on 27 November 1922 (within a month or so from the probable start date of Ford’s writing of Some Do Not . . .). ‘The Shepherdess’ had first appeared in Meynell’s 1901 Later Poems, was reissued in a 1914 volume of that title, and was collected several times thereafter, usually in editions  issued by Burns and Oates, the Catholic publishing house of which her husband Wilfrid was manager.

Alice_Meynell

Curiously, the 1939 revision of The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, includes this poem under the title ‘The Lady of the Lambs’—which somehow makes it worse—and, in the version Tietjens quotes, the third and fourth lines of Meynell’s stanza have been promoted to the first and second lines. Then, too, while Tietjens has ‘thoughts to keep’, Meynell, characteristically, has ‘soul’.

Born Alice Thompson, she spent much of her early life in Italy, where she was educated mainly by her father. After the family returned to England in 1864, Alice converted to Catholicism at the age of twenty-five and, in 1877, married Wilfred Meynell, with whom she co-edited several magazines and had eight children between 1879 and 1891. They were friends with the leading Victorian poets (Tennyson, Meredith, Coventry Patmore) and famously took in the destitute, opium-addicted and—at that stage—suicidal poet Francis Thompson, who lived with them for the best part of twenty years, though he also spent time in a Franciscan monastery in North Wales.

Meynell was highly popular and also critically applauded but her public persona of piety and ‘femininity’ have complicated later reactions to her, not least because of her involvement with the struggle for women’s suffrage: critical of the Women’s Social and Political Union’s methods, she joined the Women Writers Suffrage League, formed in 1908 by the playwright and novelist Cicely Hamilton.

The enduring response to that image of the pure and impeccably virtuous Angel in the House, which prompted Ford’s use of Meynell’s poem at this juncture, also underlies D. H. Lawrence’s letter to his agent, James Pinker, about the decision of Chatto and Windus to omit the poem ‘Song of a Man who is loved’ (and one other poem, plus several lines in others) from the collection Look! We have Come Through! Lawrence remarked of the poem that ‘I’m sure Alice Meynell might print it without reproach.’[2]

Probably not. The poem ends:

So I hope I shall spend eternity
With my face buried between her breasts;
And my still heart full of security,
And my still hands full of her breasts.[3]

Perhaps, then, his publisher’s nervousness was not a complete mystery in wartime England, just two years after the prosecution of The Rainbow.

hyde2
William Hyde, from London Impressions

The Lawrence connection with the Meynell family is probably the one of greatest interest, though their story breaks off in several directions which reward pursuit. Another Ford connection which suggests itself  is through Edward Hyde, an artist and illustrator whom Ford greatly admired and knew well. Hyde provided the illustrations (‘Photogravure plates’) for Ford’s 1900 volume, The Cinque Ports. Ford published an appreciation of the artist in January 1898 and, in December of that year, there was a private view of Hyde’s ‘London Impressions’, to accompany the publication of his book of that title: Hyde’s illustrations accompaned a series of essays by Alice Meynell. The volume was priced at eight guineas—‘equal to a house servant’s wages for a year’—and, at the private view, Arthur Balfour (who would become Prime Minister in the summer of 1902) bought two of Hyde’s pictures on the spot.[4]

One more connection is that to David Garnett, through Francis Meynell, the youngest of the children, who founded the famous Nonesuch Press, which produced its first title in 1923. Garnett was a partner in the Press, together with Francis and his wife Vera. He was also, of course, a friend of Lawrence and the Nonesuch titles would include an edition of Lawrence’s Love Among the Haystacks, in the year of his death—with a memoir by David Garnett.

Nonesuch-DHL

Just two days ago, it was the anniversary of the launching of Georgian Poetry, 20 September 1912, in Edward Marsh’s rooms in Gray’s Inn. Present were Rupert Brooke, Marsh, Wilfred Gibson, John Drinkwater, Harold Monro and Arundel del Ré. Brooke and Marsh were the prime movers at the earliest stage but both Francis and Alice Meynell have been credited with awakening that interest in contemporary verse in Marsh which led to the production of the anthology and its successors.[5]

But the best-known connection is that with D. H. Lawrence, whose closest contact with the Meynell family occurred from late January to the end of July in 1915. He and Frieda had been invited to stay on the Meynell estate at Greatham, just a few miles from Pulborough in West Sussex (where Ford Madox Ford first lived with Stella Bowen between June 1919 and August 1920). The cottage was lent to the Lawrences by Viola Meynell; and their stay there produced one story, ‘England, My England’, which has provoked a good deal of criticism of Lawrence for his apparent ‘ruthlessness’ in using figures and events ‘from life’.[6]

The cottage was also the venue for a much-disputed visit by Ford and Violet Hunt. They saw—and quarrelled with—Frieda Lawrence; unless Frieda quarrelled with Catherine Wells, wife of H. G. And Lawrence himself was not present. Almost certainly. . .[7]

D_H_Lawrence_1915

(D. H. Lawrence, 1915)

David Garnett visited, in the company of his friend Francis Birrell, and the pair were invited to breakfast with the Meynells. Garnett remembered that ‘Wilfred Meynell, the Patriarch, was rustling the pages of the Observer, the room was full of dark, madonna-like girls and women, the Poetess [Alice] lay stretched upon a couch’.[8]

Viola Meynell, herself the author of more than twenty books, was an early supporter of Lawrence. The typescript of The Rainbow dates from February 1915 to 31 May 1915, and Viola was one of its three, possibly four, typists.[9] It was also to Viola that Lawrence announced that he was ‘going to begin a book about Life.’[10]

‘It is the Meynells’ place’, Lawrence wrote to his friend William Hopkins before he and Frieda set off. ‘You know Alice Meynell, Catholic poetess rescuer of Francis Thompson.’[11] Thompson had died only eight years earlier, his Selected Poems appearing posthumously, though his critical standing was already high, his best-known poem probably ‘The Hound of Heaven’. As late as 1952, Viola would publish Francis Thompson and Wilfrid Meynell: A Memoir.

Alice Meynell’s poems have not lasted well. To modern eyes—certainly to mine—they’re redolent of a kind of Victorian self-parody: very conventional, often sentimental, worthy, rather thin and clunky. Perhaps some of the essays, introductions and reviews have survived in ruder health. There was a centenary volume of her prose and poetry, published in 1947 by Jonathan Cape, with an introduction by Vita Sackville-West. It’s noticeable that, in that 400-page book, the selection of her poems doesn’t begin until page 357. That selection includes a poem entitled ‘The Lady Poverty—‘The Lady Poverty was fair / But she has lost her looks of late’—which, in 1932, George Orwell mentioned when trying to settle on a title for his first book. He thought of calling it ‘The Lady Poverty’ or ‘Lady Poverty’—but settled instead on Down and Out in Paris and London, which finally appeared on 9 January 1933.[12]

On the other hand, Alice Meynell: Prose and Poetry­—circumspectly, perhaps—does not include ‘The Shepherdess.’

References

[1] Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 26.

[2] To Pinker, 3 August 1917: Letters of D. H. Lawrence III, October 1916–June 1921, edited by James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 145-146 and notes.

[3] D. H. Lawrence, The Complete Poems, edited by Vivian de Sola Pinto and F. Warren Roberts (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), 250.

[4] Ford, ‘William Hyde: An Illustrator of London’, The Artist, XXI (January 1898), 1-6; Jerrold Northrop Moore, The Green Fuse: Pastoral Vision in English Art, 1820-2000 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2007), 90.

[5] Robert H. Ross, The Georgian Revolt: Rise and Fall of a Poetic Ideal, 1910-1922 (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), 120, 103-104.

[6] Mark Kinkead-Weekes, D. H, Lawrence: Triumph to Exile, 1912-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 252-255.

[7] Max Saunders reviews the evidence—and some related assertions—in Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), I, 476-478.

[8] David Garnett, Great Friends (London: Macmillan, 1979), 86.

[9] The Rainbow, edited Mark Kinkead-Weekes, introduction and notes Anne Fernihough (Cambridge, 1989; Penguin edition with new editorial matter, 1995), 1 (‘A Note on the Text’). One of the other typists was Eleanor Farjeon.

[10] Letter of 2 March 1915: Letters of D. H. Lawrence II, June 1913-October 1916, edited by George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 299. This was ‘The Crown’.

[11] Letters of D. H. Lawrence II, 259. Eric Gill was only brought into contact with this prominent Catholic family when he was commissioned by Everard Meynell to carve the tomb for Thompson in St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green: Fiona MacCarthy, Eric Gill (London: Faber & Faber, 1990), 112.

[12] George Orwell, A Kind of Compulsion: 1903-1936, edited by Peter Davison, revised and updated edition (London: Secker and Warburg, 2000), 253.

 

 

 

Seeing again, making it new

Inheritors

Re-reading an early Ford Madox Ford work recently, I noticed that, while my scrappy and often baffling notes from the previous reading ran to little more than a page, I now have something over ten pages of extracts, cross-references and occasionally more general comments. Should I be impressed or anxious? Was it admirably thorough or mildly deranged? Clearly, this reader had changed substantially in the intervening period and, to that extent, the book itself was changed. Curious, since it had seemed stable enough in its hard covers, more than a century old.

Yet – how stable, exactly, even at the most basic level? It was written by Ford Madox Hueffer, who would subsequently become (in 1919) Ford Madox Ford, in collaboration with Joseph Conrad, who had become a British subject in 1886 and was previously known as Konrad Korzeniowski. It was written when work on their initial collaborative venture, Romance, was already well-advanced but was completed and published first; an unsteady hybrid of science fiction, political satire and roman à clef, it concerned itself with nefarious dealings in a country—‘Greenland’—which was clearly in Africa and, pretty obviously, the Congo Free State of the rapacious King Leopold II of Belgium. As Ford recalled it more than twenty years later: ‘The novel was to be a political work, rather allegorically backing Mr Balfour in the then Government; the villain was to be Joseph Chamberlain who had made the [Boer] war.’[1]

Conrad_1904

(Joseph Conrad, 1904)

Stability. A key word for those that have followed, with bafflement or appalled disbelief, the mad pantomime of British politics over the past few months. In The Inheritors, we find: ‘I became conscious that I wanted to return to England, wanted it very much, wanted to be out of this; to get somewhere where there was stability and things that one could understand.’[2] Cue a pained smile. ‘Permanence? Stability? I can’t believe it’s gone’, a later Ford narrator lamented.[3] Of course, it was—it is—always already gone. . .

In any case, I find it an intriguing and curious business, this revisiting—of a place, a person, a painting, a book, a film, a piece of music—and finding it so changed. It’s commonplace and banal, yet enduringly mysterious and fascinating. There are, to be sure, many thousands of pages of philosophy, psychology, biology, neurology, physics, optics and more, devoted to just this phenomenon. We’re increasingly comfortable with the idea that the observer alters what is observed, that the slightest shift in position or perspective alters the thing seen. Some of us saw the intriguing 1974 Alan Pakula political thriller, The Parallax View, with Warren Beatty and Paula Prentiss, and looked up the meaning of the title. (‘Parallax, you see. Observed from different angles, Gestalts alter.’)[4] Fifty years before that, in 1923, Wallace Stevens published ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’.

Parallax_View_movie_poster

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying. [5]

A goodly proportion of those thousands of pages, though, can probably be reduced to just two words of the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, panta rei, everything flows, flux and change as the essential characteristics of the world.[6] 

T. S. Eliot used two quotations from Heraclitus to preface Four Quartets, the second of them translated as ‘The way up and the way down are one and the same’. Eliot wrote of being ‘much influenced’ by Heraclitus when younger and thought the influence a permanent one. The quotations were, he said, ‘a tribute to my debt to this great philosopher.’[7]

In Little Gidding, the last of the Quartets, Eliot wrote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.[8]

See it again but know it for the first time.

Stanley Spencer wrote of his celebrated painting, The Resurrection in Cookham Churchyard: ‘The resurrection is meant to indicate the passing of the state of non-realization of the possibilities of heaven in this life to the sudden awakening to the fact. This is what is inspiring the people as they resurrect, namely the new meaning they find in what they had seen before.’[9]

The Resurrection, Cookham 1924-7 by Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

(Stanley Spencer, The Resurrection in Cookham Churchyard, 1924-1927, © Tate Gallery)

That ‘awakening’ is, again, indissolubly linked to the familiar or, at least, to that which has been seen before. Much of Spencer’s art is ‘religious’ but very idiosyncratically so, ‘visionary’ rather, an art constantly linking back to his feelings about the village of Cookham and its people, his childhood and familial memories and sensations revisited, recaptured and reworked.

Time slips and eddies. We return, retrace, revisit and see again, in thought, in dreams, in conversation. Memories lose their edges, become indistinct, bleed into others. We can’t always predict what has taken root in the mind or the nerves, what doesn’t need to be consciously recovered, what can be held and turned in a glancing light and mysteriously made new.

I could not draw a map of it, this road,
Nor say with certainty how many times
It doubles on itself before it climbs
Clear of the ascent. And yet I know
Each bend and vista and could not mistake
The recognition, the recurrences
As they occur, nor where. So my forgetting
Brings back the track of what was always there
As new as a discovery.[10]

 

References

[1] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (London: Duckworth, 1924), 133.

[2] Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad, The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story (1901; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 106.

[3] Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (1915; edited by Max Saunders, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 13.

[4] Hugh Kenner, ‘Joyce on the Continent’, in Mazes (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995), 114.

[5] Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems (New York: Vintage Books, 1982), 92, 94.

[6] ‘All things are a flowing,/ Sage Heracleitus says’, Ezra Pound wrote, adding: ‘But a tawdry cheapness/ Shall outlast our days.’ See Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, in Personae: The Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound, edited by Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz (New York: New Directions, 1990), 186.

[7] The Poems of T. S. Eliot. Volume I: Collected and Uncollected Poems, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue (London: Faber & Faber, 2015), 907. John Fowles offers: ‘The road up and the road down are the same road’, in The Aristos (London: Pan Books, 1968), the ‘original impulse’ for the book and ‘many of the ideas’ in it having come from Heraclitus (214).

[8] The Poems of T. S. Eliot. Volume I, 208. Another faint connection for John Fowles readers: this is the first marked passage in the poetry anthology which Nicholas Urfe finds on the beach, in The Magus (London: Pan Books, 1968), 60.

[9] Kenneth Pople, Stanley Spencer: A Biography (London: Harper Collins, 1991), 226, citing the Spencer collection in the Tate Archives, reference TA 733.3.1.

[10] Charles Tomlinson, ‘The Return’, New Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2009), 413.

 

Ford Madox Ford’s Fourth of August

Ford Madox Ford, 1915

The Good Soldier: Ford in 1915 by E. O. Hoppé: National Portrait Gallery via New York Review of Books

4 August commemorates not only a flurry of artistic birthdays—Shelley, Pater, W. H. Hudson, Knut Hamsun, Louis Armstrong—and a clutch of significant dates for relatives of artists—the wedding of D. H. Lawrence’s sister Ada, the birthday of Stanley Spencer’s sister Florence, the birthday of Violet Hunt’s sister Venice, named after The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin, her godfather—but, probably above all else, Britain’s 1914 declaration of war, Sir Edward Grey’s ultimatum to Germany having expired.

‘All that was left was to wait for midnight (eleven o’clock, British time). At nine o’clock the government learned, through an intercepted but uncoded telegram sent out from Berlin, that Germany had considered itself at war with Britain from the moment when the British ambassador had asked for his passports.’[1]

On the day that war was declared, the Bradford Daily Argus ‘suggested that “it will be in the kitchens that the pinch will be chiefly felt but that difficulty may be overcome by deleting the more dainty dishes”.’[2] An admirable prediction but, as things turned out, a little wide of the mark.

For readers of Ford Madox Ford, there are supplementary significances. In The Good Soldier alone, he mentions 4th August sixteen times; in other writings he refers to it more than a dozen times, frequently in conjunction with the name of the village of Gemmenich, the point at which German troops crossed the Belgian border that morning

blast1

The recurrence of the date in The Good Soldier is a well-established mystery. The novel was published in London and New York by John Lane, in March 1915. The first section of the novel, then still entitled ‘The Saddest Story’, had appeared in the June 1914 issue of Blast: Review of the Great English Vortex. Tantalisingly, although the published section includes one mention of ‘August’, the excerpt ends a chapter and a half before the novel’s first specific reference to 4th August, which comes at the very beginning of Part II of the published text.

We can’t be sure, and are unlikely to become so, exactly when the novel was finished. It seems likely that a coincidental mention of 4th August was, in the course of revision, and after the war had started, made central to the novel, as noted by two of The Good Soldier’s most recent editors.[3] As Martin Stannard remarks elsewhere, ‘Trying to reconstruct the textual history of a Ford novel is like trying to establish the details of a dream.’[4]

There are dreams enough in The Good Soldier. Early on in the novel, the narrator, in a wonderful passage, proposes to ‘imagine myself for a fortnight or so at one side of the fireplace of a country cottage, with a sympathetic soul opposite me. 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.’[5] (As usual, I’m tempted to analyse and comment upon almost every word here with the possible exceptions of ‘at’ and ‘a’, though I’m not sure that even those can safely be left unexamined.) Spoken rather than written, an illusion maintained until very near the end (‘I am writing this, now, I should say, a full eighteen months after the words that end my last chapter’).[6] Intriguing, then, to find this:

‘But the fellow talked like a cheap novelist.—Or like a very good novelist for the matter of that, if it’s the business of a novelist to make you see things clearly. And I tell you I see that thing as clearly as if it were a dream that never left me.’[7]

Carcassonne

Carcassonne, late 19th century: Fonds Eugène Trutat, via Wikipedia

And this, the wonderful conjunction of the specific (‘Carcassonne’) and the indefinite (‘some people’):

‘I don’t mean to say that I sighed about her or groaned; I just wanted to marry her as some people want to go to Carcassonne.

Do you understand the feeling—the sort of feeling that you must get certain matters out of the way, smooth out certain fairly negligible complications before you can go to a place that has, during all your life, been a sort of dream city?’[8]

Yes, suffice to say that there are plenty of mysteries and diversions in this short novel other than the date of its completion or its repeated reference to 4th August.

 

References

[1] Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August and The Proud Tower, edited by Margaret MacMillan (New York: Library of America, 2012), 155.

[2] Denis Winter, Death’s Men: Soldiers of the Great War (London: Penguin Books, 1979), 23.

[3] Ford, The Good Soldier, edited by Max Saunders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), xxxviii-xl; edited by Martin Stannard, second edition (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2012), 192-193 and ‘Textual Appendices’, 216, 220.

[4] Stannard, ‘The Good Soldier: Editorial Problems’, in Robert Hampson and Max Saunders (eds), Ford Madox Ford’s Modernity, International Ford Madox Ford Studies 2 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003), 147.

[5] The Good Soldier, edited by Max Saunders, 18.

[6] The Good Soldier, 178.

[7] The Good Soldier, 89. The phrase ‘to make you see things clearly’ is a reference to Joseph Conrad’s ‘Preface’ to The Nigger of the “Narcissus”’, in Typhoon and Other Tales (New York: Signet Classics, 1962), 21.

[8] The Good Soldier, 97. See my ‘“Speak Up, Fordie!”: How Some People Want to Go to Carcassonne’, in Sara Haslam, editor, Ford Madox Ford and the City, International Ford Madox Ford Studies 4 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005), 197-210.

 

‘Here shall he see no enemy but winter and rough weather’

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(Our house in Queen’s Avenue, Singapore)

‘It was a day in that season when the sun bolsters a fallen wing with a show of soaring, a day of heat and light. Light so massive stout brick walls could scarcely breast it when it leaned upon them; light that seemed to shiver windows with a single beam; that crashed against the careless eye like rivets.’[1]

No, never hot like that here; in any case, our weather is reverting to a more typical summer temperature: around 23C today (73.4F), after several instances lately of the level tipping over 30C. I noticed a few days ago that Arizona had registered 48C (118.4F) and wondered briefly how life forms other than cacti, rocks and sand could function in such heat, before recalling that people manage such temperatures well enough in large parts of the world: if anything, we’re the odd ones out, given our ‘temperate maritime’ climate. Then, too, I remembered landing at Tehran airport in nineteen sixty-something, when the temperature was in the region of 120 degrees Fahrenheit and the tarmac was sticking to our shoes.

Years ago, when I started researching the literature and history of, roughly, the 1890-1939 period, I would peer into the indispensable Annual Register. This told me that, in 1911, the thermometer at Greenwich reached 97F on July 22. I remember it mentioned the USA, ‘the intense heat of the summer, repeatedly passing 100F in New England and the Middle West’. On 9 August, the temperature over much of England reached 95F. at South Kensington it was 97F and at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, 100F – ‘the highest shade temperature ever registered in England’. That English summer was generally the hottest since 1868 and the sunniest on record, though those particular records only dated back thirty years.[2] Nowadays, we can point to Faversham, in Kent, in 2003: a champion 38.5C (101.3F).

Kenner

(Hugh Kenner)

Why 1911 in particular? Well, Ford Madox Ford published four books that year—though he did exceed that total on more than one occasion.[3] Also, I was intrigued by the unadorned assertion by Hugh Kenner that the summer of 1911 ‘was the hottest since 1453.’[4] Unadorned but not unreferenced: ‘Ford’s hyperbole’, Kenner’s note reads, ‘but Marianne Moore, in Paris with her mother, remembered that heat for 50 years. “One of the hottest summers the world has ever known.”’[5]

Ford’s hyperbole, no doubt, though the claim actually occurs in a book credited to the novelist Violet Hunt, Ford’s then lover. He does, however, contribute an introduction and two chapters, together with numerous footnotes in which he ‘corrects’ her statements. ‘So you have here a book of impressions,’ Ford writes in his introduction, carefully registering his admiration for ‘the kindly, careless, inaccurate, and brilliantly precise mind of the author’.[6]

VH_FMF_Selsey

(Ford and Violet Hunt at her cottage in Selsey)

Why 1453? Any personal significance as far as Ford is concerned escapes me for the moment. But it’s certainly a significant date in world history: the French victory at the Battle of Castillon effectively brought to an end the Hundred Years War, while the Byzantine Empire also came to a close when Constantinople fell to the forces of the Ottoman Empire.

As to the hot weather—though one person’s sweltering day is another’s mild one—while I get a bit twitchy in anything much more than twenty degree heat these days, as a child in Singapore, in a tropical climate, with a consistently high temperature (somewhere between high twenties and low-to-mid thirties Celsius, I’d say), together with very high humidity—and three times the average UK rainfall—I was fine. Fine? I was just dandy. In the afternoons, while the British civil servants worked in airy offices with huge ceiling fans and memsahibs lay on their beds under mosquito nets until it was time for tea, children my age rode their bicycles for miles or played cricket on concrete pitches. The weather was what it was and people acclimatised and adapted to it.

So it’s partly a matter of age; and partly that, while people will still remark on unusually hot or cold weather, for the most part, it’s accepted as something that can’t be changed and must be put up with. And in literature, it often becomes a metaphor for what is simply there. So Private Williams, in Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye, ‘accepted the Captain as fatalistically as though he were the weather or some natural phenomenon.’[7] Arnold Bennett’s Sophia ‘had accepted Gerald as one accepts a climate.’[8] And in D. H. Lawrence’s story about a fateful relationship between a Prussian captain and his orderly, ‘the officer and his commands he took for granted, as he took the sun and the rain.’[9]

Given the ending of that story, it was a little too much taken for granted, a little too much accepted. If in doubt—resist.

 

References

[1] Henry Roth, Call It Sleep (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1989), 259.

[2] Annual Register, 1911, Part II, 29, 31, 32, 62.

[3] 1907, 1913 and 1915.

[4] Kenner, The Pound Era (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), 80.

[5] The Pound Era, 567. Kenner cites Moore’s interview in Paris Review, 26 (Summer-Fall, 1961), 46.

[6] Violet Hunt, The Desirable Alien, with two chapters by Ford Madox Ford (London: Chatto & Windus, 1913), 294, x.

[7] Carson McCullers, The Complete Novels (New York: Library of America, 2001), 390.

[8] Arnold Bennett, The Old Wives’ Tale (1908; Harmondsworth, 1983), 361.

[9] ‘The Prussian Office’, in D. H. Lawrence, The Collected Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence (London: William Heinemann, 1974), 91. With unfortunate timing, The Prussian Officer and Other Stories had been published on 26 November 1914, less than three months after the outbreak of war.

 

Vale, Ford Madox Ford

FMF-via_Arts_Desk

‘I am the Knight of London, your Majesty.’

‘London, London; where’s that?—I’ve never heard of it.’

‘London is the capital city of England.’

‘But where is England?’ she asked.

‘I had thought that every one had heard of England,’ he said. ‘However, as no report of England has ever reached your ears, I will tell your Majesty. The British Islands, of which England is one, are a set of small islands off the west coast of Europe. They are composed of England, Scot—’

But here the Princess interrupted him.—The Brown Owl (1891)

 

The only satisfactory age in England! … Yet what chance had it to-day? Or, still more, to-morrow? In the sense that the age of, say, Shakespeare had a chance. Or Pericles! or Augustus!

Heaven knew, we did not want a preposterous drum-beating such as the Elizabethans produced—and received. Like lions at a fair…. But what chance had quiet fields, Anglican sainthood, accuracy of thought, heavy-leaved, timbered hedgerows, slowly creeping plough-lands moving up the slopes? … Still, the land remains….

The land remains…. It remains! … At that same moment the dawn was wetly revealing; over there in George Herbert’s parish…. What was it called? … What the devil was its name? Oh, Hell! … Between Salisbury and Wilton…. The tiny church…. But he refused to consider the plough-lands, the heavy groves, the slow highroad above the church that the dawn was at that moment wetly revealing—until he could remember that name…. He refused to consider that, probably even to-day, that land ran to … produced the stock of … Anglican sainthood. The quiet thing!

But until he could remember the name he would consider nothing….

He said:

“Are those damned Mills bombs coming?”—A Man Could Stand Up— (1926)

 
Ford Madox Ford, novelist, poet, critic, editor, Englishman, Londoner and European (born in Merton, Surrey, 17 December 1873; died in Deauville, 26 June 1939).