Fording Kipling

Sadler, John, 1843-1908; The Anchorite's Cell, Chester

(John Sadler, The Anchorite’s Cell, Chester: Grosvenor Museum)

In 1877, Rudyard Kipling’s mother took her children from Lorne Lodge in Southsea—‘the House of Desolation’—to Golding’s Hill, on the edge of Epping Forest. In Kipling and the Children, Roger Lancelyn Green mentions that a part of the young Kipling’s reading there was Meinhold’s Sidonia the Sorceress, ‘a shibboleth of the Pre-Raphaelite circle (Morris later reprinted it at the Kelmscott Press)’. Later in the book, Green cites Edward A. Freeman’s reference to the legends of how Harold survived the Battle of Hastings: ‘Harold is supposed to have become a hermit, visiting many shrines but finally settling in the cell still shown as his near St. John’s Church, Chester.’[1]

The two details together reminded me of The Young Lovell, the last novel that Ford Madox Ford published before The Good Soldier, and which he described in a letter to his agent, dated 17 March 1913.[2]

‘The date is towards the end of the XVth Century, running up to the beginnings of the Reformation, though it isn’t in that sense concerned with religion. The action takes place in Northumberland and the story contains any number of things concerning “The Percy out of Northumberland”, the Bishops Palatine of Durham, the besieging of castles, border raids, and so on with what is called “a strong element of the supernatural” and a vigorous love interest.’[3]


(Edward Burne-Jones, Sidonia von Bork: Tate)

Sidonia the Sorceress, by Wilhelm Meinhold, was indeed ‘a shibboleth of the Pre-Raphaelite circle’, read and recommended by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones (who painted watercolours depicting two of the book’s characters), Oscar Wilde (whose mother had translated it), Ford’s grandfather, Ford Madox Brown, and his brother Oliver (who wrote a book on witches). This is part of the ‘strong element of the supernatural’ contained in Ford’s novel.[4]


(Ford Madox Ford: via The Arts Desk)

The legend about Harold ending as a hermit in an anchorite’s cell is mirrored in the closing pages of The Young Lovell, where, in the aftermath of a great battle, Lovell’s body is walled up in a hermit’s cell while his spirit disports in paradise with the goddess Venus. Ford’s story is set in 1486, the year after the death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Historically, then, it follows not merely a battle but a war, since Bosworth Field was the last decisive battle in the Wars of the Roses, as Richard was the last king of the House of York and the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Francis Lovell was a noted supporter of Richard: he disappeared in 1487, presumed dead. Mysteriously, though, when building work was carried out on his ancestral home, Minster Lovell, in 1708, a man’s skeleton was apparently discovered ‘in a vault’, seated at a table, surrounded by papers and with a dog’s skeleton at his feet – all crumbled to dust as soon as air was admitted to the room.[5] Max Saunders also connects Ford’s novel with a Victorian ballad called ‘The Mistletoe Bough’, in which a young bride disappears: her skeleton is eventually found in a trunk, in which she had been accidentally locked while playing hide-and-seek. The husband in the ballad is twice referred to as ‘Young Lovell’.[6]

Rudyard_Kipling .

(Rudyard Kipling)

The Ford–Kipling relationship or, rather, the lack of it, remains an enduring object of interest to me. They were not quite exact contemporaries (Kipling was eight years older) but had very similar Pre-Raphaelite backgrounds; and significant figures in Kipling’s case, the painter Edward Burne-Jones (Kipling’s uncle) and Crom Price (headmaster of United Services College at Westward Ho, scene of the Stalky & Co stories), were aligned not only in their artistic tastes and convictions but also in their anti-imperialist politics. So when Kipling veered off the path that he might have appeared to be cruising along, it was not only Pre-Raphaelitism that he diverged from – he moved camp politically too. Of course, while Ford wrote a lot about the Pre-Raphaelites, he also struggled at times to free himself from the inevitable weight of his familial and cultural connections. As for his politics: they tend to resist any attempt at tidy analysis, since he claims at various points to be strongly Tory, while simultaneously arguing the case for black South Africans at the time of the Boer War, or for Irish Home Rule; and ending as an equally unclassifiable pacifist, anarchist eco-warrior in the 1930s.

Ford’s complex dealings with England and Englishness would also seem to connect with Kipling’s own – his ‘foreignness’ that long sojourn in India, to set against Ford’s German family.  But, while Ford wrote several times about Kipling, as poet and short-story writer, Kipling displayed no evidence of knowing that Ford was even in the world. Yet, despite his many references to Kipling, Ford always seems to locate his best work in the Indian tales, barely mentioning anything thereafter. For me, apart from Kim and a scattering of the early stories, the work of greatest interest starts in Traffics and Discoveries (1904), running all the way through to Limits and Renewals (1932). And those more complex, oblique, often puzzling later stories are sufficiently ‘modern’ to make Ford’s apparent dismissal of them frankly odd.

Still, as literary lives, theirs were very different from one another. Ford’s literary connections were enormous and ranged over three generations, while Kipling’s friends, especially in later life, tended not to be writers. He became quite hostile to London literary society, in fact, and wrote satirical stories about it or  referring to it – they tend not to be among his best.

No, I certainly haven’t explained it satisfactorily to myself. Perhaps a minor mystery, but still one that I’m unlikely to lose interest in any time soon.



[1] Roger Lancelyn Green, Kipling and the Children (London: Elek, 1965), 49, 204.
And see:

[2] He did publish Ring For Nancy in the United States around the same time but this was a slightly revised version of The Panel, a novel published in the UK a year earlier.

[3] Ford Madox Ford to James B. Pinker, Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 56.

[4] I review Ford’s sources for the novel in ‘“Pretty Big and Serious”: Ford Madox Ford and The Young Lovell’, in Laura Colombino and Max Saunders, editors, The Edwardian Ford Madox Ford, International Ford Madox Ford Studies 12 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2013), 237-255.

[5] See, for instance, James Gairdner, ‘Francis, Viscount Lovel: Minster Lovel’, Notes & Queries, 5th series, X (1878), 28-29.

[6] Max Saunders, ‘The Case of The Good Soldier’, in Max Saunders and Sara Haslam, editors, Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier: Centenary Essays (Amsterdam: Brill/Rodopi, 2015), 147, n.17.

Ardent and enraged: Ford among the Suffragettes


(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.


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.


(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.


[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.

Prince of morticians


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)


Jack Pudding
(The Traditional Tune Archive: )

‘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:

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:


[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.


‘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)

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: 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?



[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: )

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 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.’


(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]


(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]


(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]



[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:

[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.


That public-school frame of mind – perhaps


‘So the great need of our time being the saving of time, any soul that can give us very quick, irrefutable and consummate pictures confers a great boon on humanity’, Ford Madox Ford wrote. ‘Joseph Conrad gave you Malaysia, South American republics, the Secret Service, the pre-Soviet efforts of Russian revolutionaries, the Congo, the Sea — and above all the English public school frame of mind.’[1]

Ah yes, that frame of mind. Conrad was a little less than six months dead when this essay appeared but a decade earlier, in the first year of the Great War, Ford had written of how he was ‘in a sense an unfortunate man—unfortunate in the sense that all men of forty and less, the world over, are unfortunate. For I came into, and took very seriously, English public-school life at a time when the English public-school spirit—in many ways the finest product of a civilisation—was already on the wane. I took its public traditions with extraordinary seriousness—the traditions of responsibilities, duties, privileges, and no rights.’[2] This was in a work of propaganda, written for his friend, the Liberal politician Charles Masterman, then in charge of the War Propaganda Bureau at Wellington House, its team of writers primarily concerned to oppose German propaganda in the United States. Ford had in fact attended a boarding-school in Folkestone, then, as a day-boy, University College School in Gower Street—but that tradition, that frame of mind, yes, he was probably familiar enough with it, one way or another.


(Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens in the BBC/HBO series of Parade’s End)

Christopher Tietjens, in his rather unhinged exchange with General Campion, states that ‘it is not a good thing to belong to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries in the twentieth. Or really, because it is not good to have taken one’s public-school’s ethical system seriously. I am really, sir, the English public schoolboy. That’s an eighteenth-century product.’[3]

‘Have you read The Dawn Watch?’ my wife’s sister asked as we circled the piles of books in Waterstones. I said I hadn’t, though I’d looked at it several times, most recently in the past few minutes, and seen a couple of reviews. ‘I just don’t know if I’d read it’, I said, ‘I think it’s a bit peripheral to what really interests me at the moment.’ She regarded me steadily. ‘You’ve already bought it, haven’t you?’ I said, hearing the laboured grinding of my brain’s gears and wondering why I’d been so slow. And, when she nodded, ‘Well, that’s different’, I said hurriedly, ‘if it’s a present.’ She said helpfully: ‘It absolves you of the responsibility—’ ‘Exactly’, I said, ‘exactly.’


(Conrad, aged sixteen, 1874)

My slight reluctance might seem odd, given my intense interest in the period of history in which Conrad flourished, the writers with whom he associated, the themes that his work is concerned with, the fact that some of my Fordian friends are also card-carrying Conradians. Because of those things, in turn, I’ve read, over many years, all of Conrad’s fiction and some of his other writings too; plus a handful of biographical and critical works. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that I actually taught a Conrad text once—inevitably Heart of Darkness, which is, I have to say, an ideal seminar text: how can you not have an opinion about it? Still, the fact remains that he’s one of those writers that I’ve never liked quite as much as I think I should—given all the reasons for reading him in the first place. Entirely my fault, no doubt, no doubt. And there’s another thing. . .

After a certain age—it must vary wildly, depending on character—one begins to think in finite terms. Not calculating at every point, I mean, but in certain contexts, trips, holidays, meetings with friends or relatives who live inconveniently far off. . . books. Some book people, mainly but not exclusively male, I suppose, have lists. Books to read, books to reread, books to buy or borrow. They estimate, approximate, do sums. This many a year and say, this many years, that means. . . To those not similarly afflicted—or those that have not yet reached that certain age—such appraisal and conjecture can seem a little morbid. So it’s best not to say, when a title is suggested,  well I have a list of one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three titles and that’s not on it. There are books that will be published over the next ten or fifteen or twenty years and you need a margin. But it’s a fine balance. Like those people who are inundated with invitations at Christmas or New Year, hold out for even better offers, miscalculate and spend the evening at home with a bottle of indifferent wine, you must take care not to overplay your hand. . .


And so I’ve just begun to read Maya Jasanoff’s The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World. And, needless to say, I am already hooked. Jasanoff is an award-winning historian—‘History is like therapy for the present: it makes it talk about its parents’—and you can see why: so I feel I’m in safe hands. And, early on, she remarks that ‘Conrad’s novels are ethical injunctions. They meditate on how to behave in a globalizing world, where old rulebooks are becoming obsolete, but nobody’s yet written new ones.’[4] And that ‘ethical injunctions’ is pretty close to some of Ford’s pronouncements about his old friend and collaborator. So, now embarked with Jasanoff, I still feel within hailing distance of Fordian shores. But there’s a goodish distance to go and I may yet find myself in quite uncharted waters. . .


[1] Ford Madox Ford, ‘From a Paris Quay (II)’, New York Evening Post Literary Review, 3 January 1925, 1-2, reprinted in Critical Essays, edited by Max Saunders and Richard Stang (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2002), 269-271 (269).

[2] Ford Madox Ford, When Blood is Their Argument: An Analysis of Prussian Culture (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), 301.

[3] Ford Madox Ford, No More Parades (1925; edited by Joseph Wiesenfarth, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2011), 236.

[4] Maya Jasanoff, The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World (London: William Collins, 2017), 6, 9.

Happy Birthday, Mr Ford


(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, Saints’ days—and birthdays, not excluding his own. 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 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]


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.


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.


(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]



[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.