‘With just the touch of a sigh’: Ford Madox Ford 145 years on

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(Ezra Pound, John Quinn, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Paris 1923)

‘Pray pardon my minute examination of such matters. That is my preoccupation in this world.’—Ford Madox Ford, ‘Literary Portraits – VII. Mr. Percival Gibbon and “The Second-Class Passenger”’, Outlook, XXXII (25 October 1913), 572.

Born on 17 December 1873, Ford Madox Ford grew very fond of decades, as markers and aids to memory. The Good Soldier had hatched within him for a decade before he wrote it, he said. In Provence, he remembered a snowstorm in Carcassonne, noting that snowstorms happened there ‘once every forty years or so. That was in 1913, when I was refreshing my memory as to the Albigeois martyrs of that city…’ Every forty years or so. Exactly the span of Ford’s life at that date. In the ‘Dedicatory Letter’ to The Good Soldier, he wrote: ‘I had always entertained the idea that…I at least should not be able to write a novel by which I should care to stand before reaching the age of forty…’ And again: ‘on the day I was forty I sat down to show what I could do—and The Good Soldier resulted’. In 1913, too, he published his fortieth book.

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Let me try some ten-year intervals. 1883 is the date that Ford’s biographer gives as the date of his ‘earliest surviving letter’, sent to his grandfather, the painter Ford Madox Brown: ‘We went on to the rocks yesterday & they were dotted over with sea anemones. We saw a lizard & I caught it & let it go after & then Harri & I lifted a stone up & we saw a snake which seemed to wake up in a strang[e] manner & then went lazily into some grass.’

In 1893, Ford—under the name of ‘Fenil Haig’—published his first book of poems, The Questions at the Well, dedicated to Elsie Martindale, with whom he would soon elope. In October, his beloved grandfather died. Ford would publish his biography of Ford Madox Brown three years later.

‘But now, at the ebb, the river’s flight
Seaward ceases, and in its might
The sea rushes on in smooth delight.
Spray-bright and sparkling from stem to prow
With dripping oars and heaving bow,
The boat holds on’.

1903 saw the publication of the most substantial of the three collaborative works Ford wrote with Joseph Conrad, Romance (Smith, Elder & Co., 6s.).

‘Before then I had not lived. I had only waited—for her and for what she stood for. It was in my blood, in my race, in my tradition, in my training. We, all of us for generations, had made for efficiency, for drill, for restraint. Our Romance was just this very Spanish contrast, this obliquity of vision, this slight tilt of the convex mirror that shaped the same world so differently to onlookers at different points of its circle.’

In 1913, following the trial of The Throne, edited by his friend René Byles, which had referred to Violet Hunt as ‘Mrs Ford Madox Hueffer’, prompting Ford’s wife Elsie (they were never divorced) to sue, Ford and Hunt roamed around the South of France: Montpellier, Carcassonne, Beaucaire, Las Tours, Tarascon, St. Rémy-de-Provence. They went to Corsica for a week. By the close of the year, Ford had begun writing a novel called ‘The Saddest Story’. It became The Good Soldier.

Elsie-Martindale

(Elsie Martindale c. 1895 by Catherine Hueffer – Ford’s mother)

‘So I shall just 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. From time to time we shall get up and go to the door and look out at the great moon and say: “Why, it is nearly as bright as in Provence!” And then we shall come back to the fireside, with just the touch of a sigh because we are not in that Provence where even the saddest stories are gay.’

In 1923, he was in France with Stella Bowen, first at the Villa des Oliviers, St. Jean Cap Ferrat, at Ardèche, Saint-Agrève, Tarascon, and Paris. The American printer William Bird, to whom Ford would dedicate No More Parades in 1925, produced Ford’s Women & Men at the Three Mountains Press. By the end of that year, Ford had published The Marsden Case,  Mr Bosphorus and the Muses, was already well-advanced upon his great tetralogy, Parade’s End, and was launching the transatlantic review.

Bosphorus

In the South the sombrero’d poet,
His harlot having gathered the scattered coins,
Rose slothfully and stretching out a hand
White but not overwashed beneath the benevolent moon,
Shouts out his indolent verse, accustomed rhymes
POUR for AMOUR and PURE to match AZURE
And a scratch on the guitar, a diamond flash
In the birchen shadow. Gesture with the hat
And so to bed beside his harlot. . . . Ah!
In the scented azure night.

FMF-EP-Rapallo-1932

(Ford and Pound in Rapallo, c. 1932)

In 1933, now with Janice Biala, he published The Rash Act and one of his finest books, It Was the Nightingale.

‘A social system had crumbled. Recklessness had taken the place of insouciance. In the old days we had seemed to have ourselves and our destinies well in hand. Now we were drifting towards a weir . . . ’

By 1943, Ford was four years dead, one of four major modernists to die within the three years 1939-1941, together with Yeats, Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Sixty-five when he died, he’d published eighty books, several of them among the best the twentieth century has to show. He is buried in Deauville.

 

 

Fizz – or beer?

Moet

There’s a bottle of fizz in the fridge and discussions are ongoing about whether there’s any justification for opening it this evening. There are, after all, three bottles of beer sharing those chilled quarters. Pros and – what cons? Item: two successful trips to the Household Waste Recycling Centre yesterday to clear the pavement outside our house – and avoid possible reputational damage among the neighbours – of the stuff left after the recent installation of a new gas stove. Item: the Librarian finished painting the new shelves on Thursday and last night they were dry enough for me to spend two or three carefree hours filling them up. Are we there yet? Taken together, this seems a solid basis but maybe something more is needed to clinch it.

‘Hang ideas! They are tramps, vagabonds, knocking at the back-door of your mind’, Conrad wrote in Lord Jim. But wait – this encouraging noise was at the front door. The postman hands me a package. I scrabble at sticky tape and cardboard. Yes! Should I declare an interest? I’m tremendously interested.

Routledge-Companion small

The Routledge Research Companion to Ford Madox Ford is, as they say, ‘an invaluable resource for students and scholars in Ford Studies, in modernism, and in the literary world that Ford helped shape in the early years of the twentieth century.’ Is it expensive? Lord, yes. Still, more than two dozen contributors cover the entire range of Ford’s work, both fictional and non-fictional, and the relevant contextual and critical areas, including reception history, life-writing, literary histories, gender and comedy. And it has, after all, been coming for quite some time.

Fizz, then.

 

The teeth of the evidence – or the evidence of teeth

Fear-and-Loathing . Toorenvliet, Jacob, c.1635-1719; The Dentist

(Hunter Thompson; Jacob Toorenvliet, The Dentist: Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries)

‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. …” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about 100 miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”’

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, of course. And against this, what? ‘We were somewhere around Bridport when the toothache took hold.’ No. But the pain was real, one hundred per cent genuine pain; I gather that Thompson’s account was, say, seventy-five per cent actual, the rest invention. Still, that particular seventy-five is scary enough.

‘Why don’t you’, the Librarian inquires mildly, ‘just go to the dentist?’ Ah yes. There are subtle undercurrents here. On the phone to the Librarian’s mum, I ask: ‘How’s your tooth?’ ‘Quiet at the moment. How’s yours?’ ‘The same. Are you going to the dentist?’ ‘Do I want to disturb it? Won’t that just stir it up? Are you going?’ ‘Not sure yet.’ Yes. Why don’t you just . . . ?

I fleetingly recall an entry in Francis Kilvert’s diary about a dentist called Gaine and his discovery that a combination of concentrated carbolic acid and arsenious acid ‘will destroy the nerve almost entirely without pain.’[1] So much acid and no pain – almost? It sounds agonisingly unlikely. My recent dental visits have, in fact, been pretty uneventful. But teeth – a serious business. Probably the worst pain I remember is tooth-related: a mere bagatelle, most women would think, familiar as they are with chronic period pains, let alone the pains of childbirth, but I’m not too keen to go through it again.

Teeth bulked large in Ford Madox Ford’s life. In August 1911, he had ‘an awful week of dentistry’ in Paris and came to meet Violet Hunt at the Gare du Nord, ‘toothless and feckless’. He had had ‘four teeth cut one morning without gas. The dentist said he must have a week or ten days rest before beginning the lower jaw.’[2] Five years later, in March 1917, here is Ford’s friend Ezra Pound, writing to Alice Corbin Henderson: ‘Ford has been in hospital. All we know for certain is that his false teeth fell out.?? Ague or shell shock.???’[3]

Pound, teeth and Englishmen. ‘NO englishman is ever sufficiently evolved to stand civility’, he wrote to Wyndham Lewis in March 1939, when some encounter had clearly put him in a major snit. ‘KICK the bastards in the jaw FIRST.’ Commenting on this in the piece he wrote for a 1950 collection of essays assembled by Peter Russell, Lewis recalled it as: ‘There’s only one thing to do with an Englishman—kick him in the teeth’. Lewis explained that it concerned ‘a young English bibliophile’ he had sent to Rapallo’, adding that Pound’s patience ‘must have been sorely tried.’[4]

Lewis, Wyndham, 1882-1957; Mr Wyndham Lewis as 'Tyro'

(‘Mr Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro’, Ferens Art Gallery © Estate of Mrs G. A. Wyndham Lewis; The Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust)

Also tooth-related was ‘one of the great tragedies’ of Ford’s life, which occurred just before the First World War, when Ford was in Germany with the Liberal politician Charles Masterman and his wife. The landlord of the Hotel zur Post in Trêves, as a reward for having brought him ‘a British Excellency’, presented Ford with a bottle of 1813 brandy. ‘In the Mosel there is a stone that is only uncovered in years of great drought – which are years of glorious vintages. On such years they chain a barrel of brandy to that stone. When it is again uncovered they remove the old barrel and chain on a new one. That stone had not been uncovered since 1813. The bottle that the host gave me had been filled from the 1813 barrel.’ During the night, Masterman had toothache. ‘He poured by degrees the whole of that 1813 brandy into his mouth and spat it out again. By ringing the bell he could have procured a bottle of 1913 brandy for one franc fifty.’[5]

But then, as early as the turn of the century, teeth were an issue. When Joseph Conrad and Ford were collaborating on the novel that became The Inheritors and Conrad reluctantly attended to a female character—a part of what he usually termed ‘Ford’s women’—to the extent of granting her ‘good hair, good eyes and some charm’, it was ‘only with difficulty’, Ford recalled, ‘that he was restrained from adding good teeth to the catalogue. “Why not good teeth? Good teeth in a woman are part of her charm. Think of when she laughs. You would not have her not have good teeth. They are a sign of health. Your damn woman has to be healthy, doesn’t she?”’[6] By way of compensation, perhaps, the book does contain a dramatic critic who ‘furtively took a set of false teeth out of his waistcoat pocket; wiped them with a bandanna handkerchief, and inserted them in his mouth.’[7]

‘Do you know what Maupassant said about England?’, Colette wrote to Léopold Marchand in 1921, ‘“Too many toothbrushes and not enough bidets!”’[8] About bidets he was surely right but how many toothbrushes is ‘too many’?

Good night. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.

 

References

[1] Francis Kilvert, Kilvert’s Diary, edited by William Plomer, three volumes (London: Jonathan Cape, 1938, reissued 1969): II, 100.

[2] See Max Saunders, Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), I, 346. And see Alan Judd, Ford Madox Ford (London: Collins, 1990), 388: ‘Never for long could he forget those teeth that Violet had paid for.’

[3] The Letters of Ezra Pound to Alice Corbin Henderson, edited by Ira B. Nadel (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993), 201.

[4] Pound/Lewis: The Letters of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, edited by Timothy Materer (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), 208 and n.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday: Reminiscences 1894-1914 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1931), 425.

[6] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (London: Duckworth, 1924), 144.

[7] Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad, The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story (1901; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 31.

[8] Colette, Letters from Colette, selected and translated by Robert Phelps (London: Virago Press, 1982), 63.

Last Post: one more parade

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We’ve just  launched Last Post: A Literary Journal from the Ford Madox Ford Society. So soon after the centenary of the Armistice, a paper signed in a railway carriage in Compiègne forest, we’ve been thinking about Ford in that context (among others).

“At the beginning of the war,” Tietjens said, “I had to look in on the War Office, and in a room I found a fellow What do you think he was doing what the hell do you think he was doing? He was devising the ceremonial for the disbanding of a Kitchener battalion. You can’t say we were not prepared in one matter at least. . . . Well, the end of the show was to be: the adjutant would stand the battalion at ease: the band would play Land of Hope and Glory, and then the adjutant would say: There will be no more parades. . . . Don’t you see how symbolical it was: the band playing Land of Hope and Glory, and then the adjutant saying There will be no more parades? For there won’t. There won’t, there damn well won’t. . . . No more Hope, no more Glory, no more parades for you and me any more. Nor for the country Nor for the world, I dare say None Gone Na poo, finny! No . . . more . . . parades!”[1]

In the midst of war, Christopher Tietjens looks back to a moment at the beginning of the war which looked forward to the end of the war. But that dizzying simultaneous backward and forward shift had occurred before the war in, fittingly, a book about moving through time. In Ford’s Ladies Whose Bright Eyes, published in 1911, the publisher William Sorrell is involved in a railway accident, from which he wakes, or seems to wake, in medieval England. ‘Supposing that his railway accident had really made him see something queer? Supposing that all these people were really just ghosts? He did not believe in ghosts. But, on the other hand, he was modern enough to know that in these days anything might happen, and suddenly he found himself saying to himself, that though he could not for the life of him say what he believed, he would not equally for the life of him say that he disbelieved any single thing.’ A little later, ‘he felt vaguely that if the ghosts from the past could come into the present, why in the world should not ghosts of the future be able to go back into the past?’[2] Is he himself a sort of ghost, he wonders?

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Parade’s End is, unsurprisingly, a haunted book, as was much of the literature that emerged from the conflict. ‘Ghosts were numerous in France at that time’, Robert Graves remembered, looking back to 1915. ‘Fall in, ghosts’, Edmund Blunden titled his essay on ‘a Battalion Reunion’.[3] Ford’s novel is haunted, in part, by the Armistice itself, peace after war, the first and third parts of A Man Could Stand Up— explicitly so, the reunion between Valentine Wannop and Christopher Tietjens taking place on Armistice Day, while all the main characters in Last Post recur obsessively to memories of Armistice Day or, for the most part, Armistice Night.

‘Do you not find’, Ford wrote to Isabel Paterson, in Last Post’s dedicatory letter, ‘that, however it may be with the mass of humanity, in the case of certain dead people you cannot feel that they are indeed gone from this world? You can only know it, you can only believe it. That is, at any rate, the case with me—and in my case the world daily becomes more and more peopled with such revenants and less and less with those who still walk this earth.’[4]

In Return to Yesterday, published three years later, Ford wrote that the three people in whose deaths he had never been able to believe were Conrad, Arthur Marwood and Jane Wells, wife of H. G. In an essay published in 1927, he stated that he had just ‘suddenly realised’ that Conrad, Henry James and Stephen Crane were all dead. He began writing Last Post a month after the death of another friend, the painter Juan Gris, and around the time his mother died.[5] Less than six months later, his old friend Charles Masterman, the Liberal politician and author, died at the age of fifty-four. All these deaths, following that of W. H. Hudson in 1922 and Joseph Conrad in 1924, individual as they are, also form part of a vast, cumulative wave of human loss, in and around that vast waste of life strewn across four years, thousands of miles and millions of casualties. Ford the writer and Ford the soldier had known his fair share of them: ‘I remember when I went to have lunch with the officers of our 2nd Battalion—all dead, the officers I had lunch with!—in Albert’.[6]

The first issue of Last Post ranges pretty widely, dwelling, as it happens, on neither war nor death: the stories contained in Ford’s own library (now in the Berg Collection, New York), Ford as reader, as literary ghost, as commentator on Anglo-German relations, as writer of detective stories, as subject of research, as point of reference in today’s America, plus a few reviews. Members of the Ford Madox Ford Society will receive two issues a year.

http://www.fordmadoxfordsociety.org/

 
References

[1] Ford Madox Ford, No More Parades (1925; edited by Joseph Wiesenfarth, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2011), 27; see also the reconstruction of the previous volume’s original ending, the autograph fragment in Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 412.

[2] Ford Madox Ford, Ladies Whose Bright Eyes: A Romance (London: Constable, 1911), 82-83, 100.

[3] Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1929 edition; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2014), 157; Edmund Blunden, Fall In, Ghosts: Selected War Prose, edited with an introduction by Robyn Marsack (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2014), 77-93.

[4] Ford Madox Ford, Last Post (1928; edited by Paul Skinner, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2011), 5.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday: Reminiscences 1894-1914 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1931), 371; Ford Madox Ford, New York Essays (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1927), 24-25. Max Saunders remarks on the indication that ‘this most elegiac of his books was an oblique elegy for his mother’: Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), II, 316.

[6] Ford Madox Ford, No Enemy (1929; edited by Paul Skinner Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2002), 134.

 

Frenchies and Russkis

(Ivan Turgenev and Pauline Viardot)

Ivan Turgenev was born two hundred years ago, on 9 November 1818, in Oryol, 220 miles southwest of Moscow; he died near Paris in 1883. Exiled in 1852 to his estate in Spasskoye when an obituary that he wrote on Gogol provoked disapproval, he spent most of his later life in Baden-Baden and Paris, always close to the singer and composer Pauline Viardot. He was long associated with the French realists, Flaubert, Zola, the brothers Goncourt.

I’ve read half a dozen of Turgenev’s novels in translation, mostly the work of Richard Freeborn, otherwise that of Constance Garnett. Probably because of the unfamiliar alphabet, the ‘original’ text seems even more distant than is the case with other languages and I’m more conscious that I’m reading the words of a translator. I’ve tended, in any case, to read those words through the eyes of Ford Madox Ford, for whom Turgenev, perhaps above all other writers, remained ‘a talismanic figure throughout his career’.[1] Unsurprisingly, I see that almost all the notes I’ve made or phrases I’ve marked in Turgenev’s books link back to Ford, some quite directly, some by more circuitous paths.

In 1878, Henry James published French Novels and Novelists, the eighth chapter of which concerned one ‘Ivan Turgénieff’. This is our man, his name spelt in a dashing Gallic manner. Richard Garnett remarks that Turgenev had ‘authorised and supervised, if not actually written, French translations of his works himself. Without ceasing to be a Russian he had become an honorary Frenchman.’[2] A good many English readers knew Turgenev’s work in French, even though English translations were becoming available. By the turn of the century, Constance Garnett had translated most of Turgenev’s fiction. Ezra Pound refers to ‘Turgeneff’ in a 1912 letter to his mother, possibly influenced by James in this instance,[3] but he certainly advises his mother to ‘take the things in french, if you can.’[4]

Turgenev visited this country a dozen times, often in the company of his friend—and translator of one of his books— W. R. S. Ralston. Ford, as a child of seven, had met them both in the studio of his grandfather, Ford Madox Brown. Forty years after that meeting, Ford wrote a novel called The Marsden Case. Sending a copy to his friend Edgar Jepson, he wrote: ‘I believe that, as “treatment,” it’s the best thing I’ve done—but the subject is not a very good one, though it’s one that has haunted me certainly ever since I was eighteen on and off. It’s the story of Ralston, the first translator of Turgenev—a man I liked very much. At any rate, that suggested it to me.’[5]

On another 9 November—1894—Olive Garnett confided to her diary that Ford’s brother Oliver, having been to Blomfield, where Ford (still Ford Madox Hueffer at that date) and his new wife Elsie were living, had passed on his ‘graphic account of the ménage’. Both Ford and Elsie were, apparently, smoking shag in a cutty pipe constantly on their walks. They were known, Olive noted, as the Frenchies, and their society ‘was that of the Vicar & his pretty daughter’.[6]

Constance Garnett and her son David, known as Bunny, mid-1890s

(Constance and David Garnett, 1890s)

Twenty years on, Ford was writing about Constance Garnett’s translation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Ford viewed Dostoevsky as Romantic, as against his admired ‘French Realist School – in which I should include Turgenev’.[7] The following year, writing about two other Russian writers, Ford again mentioned Turgenev, suggesting that he was ‘something more than merely Russian’.[8]

All these citizens of – somewhere, of several somewheres, managing to transcend the narrow bounds of nationality, reaching beyond borders, whether actual or imposed. Not that aggressive nationalism was ever entirely absent from the story. In the 1930s, Ford recalled seeing John Galsworthy give a presidential address to PEN. To French writers then, Ford remarked, Maupassant was ‘the Nihilist enemy’ and Turgenev ‘an alien ugly duckling who once disgusted the paving stones of Paris with his foreign footsteps.’ Ford described how, when the applause subsided, ‘poor Jack went on: Yes, he repeated, all the art he had had he had had of the French. If he stood where he was, if he was honoured as he was, it was because all his life long he had studied the works, he had been guided by the examples of . . . Guy de Maupassant and of him who though a foreigner by birth was yet more French in heart than any Frenchman—Ivan Turgenev!’[9]

Ford was himself a man of multiple roles, selves and aspects; born to a German father, possessed of Italian uncles and an aunt through his Aunt Lucy’s marriage; never divorced from his English wife; his third daughter born to an Australian painter while his partner by the thirties was a painter of Jewish family born in Eastern Poland; his closest literary relationships were with a Pole and an American; he fought in the British Army still bearing a German surname; and wrote in half a dozen different genres. He once observed—surely with a strong sense of recognition—that Turgenev ‘was by turns and all at once, Slavophil and Westerner, Tsarist and Nihilist, Germanophile and Francophobe, Francophile and Hun-hater’.[10] Homo duplex, homo x-plex. In 1925, he wrote to a friend that Some Do Not. . ., the first of the Tietjens novels, had done well in America but that, ‘Otherwise I am rapidly becoming a French writer.’[11]

Metzinger-Apollinaire-Christies

(Jean Metzinger, Portrait of Guillaume Apollinaire, via Christie’s)

Curiously, exactly one hundred years after Turgenev’s birth, 9 November 1918, Guillaume Apollinaire died in the flu pandemic. Poet, prose writer and influential art critic, this ‘Frenchman by everything except birth’[12] had been born in Rome and then named Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki.

Here you are beside me again
Memories of my companions killed in the war
The olive-branch of time
Memories that make only a single memory
As a hundred skins make only a single coat
As these thousands of wounds make only a single newspaper article
Impalpable and dark presence who have assumed
The changing shape of my shadow

(from ‘Shadow’, translated by Christopher Middleton)

At the time of his death, Apollinaire was just thirty-eight years old.

 
References

[1] Max Saunders’ phrase. His ‘Ford and Turgenev’ is the most thorough reading of this literary relationship: see Ford Madox Ford’s Literary Contacts, edited by Paul Skinner (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007), 63-78.

[2] Richard Garnett, Constance Garnett: A Heroic Life (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991), 95.

[3] Richard Sieburth suggested this in Instigations: Ezra Pound and Remy de Gourmont (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1978), 96. Ford was referring to ‘Tourgénieff’ around this time: The Critical Attitude (London: Duckworth, 1911), 59.

[4] Ezra Pound, Ezra Pound to His Parents: Letters 1895–1929, edited by Mary de Rachewiltz, David Moody and Joanna Moody (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 283.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 149. Ralston died in 1889.

[6] Barry C. Johnson, editor, Olive and Stepniak: The Bloomsbury Diary of Olive Garnett, 1893-1895 (Birmingham: Bartletts Press, 1993), 128.

[7] Ford Madox Ford, ‘Fydor Dostoevsky and The Idiot’ (14 February 1914), reprinted in Critical Essays, edited by Max Saunders and Richard Stang (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2002), 129.

[8] Ford Madox Ford, ‘Sologub and Artzibashef’ (26 June 1915), reprinted in Critical Essays, 176.

[9] Ford Madox Ford, Portraits from Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1937), 141-142.

[10] Ford, Portraits from Life, 158.

[11] Ford, Letters, 166.

[12] Francis Steegmuller, Apollinaire: Poet Among the Painters (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1963), 322.

That terrible word ‘genius’

Gimme-Shelter

(Image from the website called, yes, www.genius.com )

Listening again to the opening riff of the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, I think: ‘This is genius’. Coming up to fifty years ago—it was the opening track on Let It Bleed (1969)—Keith Richards playing an open tuning on a Maton EG240 Supreme, which he was ‘looking after’ for a friend. It sounded great, Richards said, although, on the very last note of Gimme Shelter, ‘the whole neck fell off. You can hear it on the original take.’ (www.guitarworld.com) If your guitar needs looking after, leave it with Keith.

‘This is genius’. If that statement doesn’t conjure up the phrase, ‘Excellency, a few goats’, you probably don’t spend a disproportionate amount of your time on such curious characters as Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad. Ford is writing here of himself in the third person: ‘But no sooner had he got the words on the paper than Conrad burst into one of his roars of ecstasy. “This,” he shouted when he was in a condition to speak, “is genius!” And out of breath, exhausted and rolling on the sofa, he continued to gasp, “Genius I … This is genius…. That’s what it is. Pure genius…. Genius, I tell you!” The writer agreed that it was genius—for the sake of peace!’[1]

Romance

The occasion for this outburst was Ford’s reading to his collaborator a sentence written ‘in a quite commonplace frame of mind’, to ‘provide an obscure Lugareño [local, villager] with a plausible occupation’ – the man is being interrogated by the judge as to how he makes his living – hence the reply: ‘“Excellency—a few goats. . . . ”’[2] In Ford’s telling, Conrad recurred to this example of writerly precision and concision with great frequency for years afterwards.

goats
http://www.bristol.ac.uk/policybristol/policy-briefings/sheep-and-goat/

‘Genius’ – or, as Ford termed it elsewhere, ‘that terrible word “genius”’. He had, after all, come out of ‘the hot-house atmosphere of Pre-Raphaelism where I was being trained for a genius.’[3] Fondly recalling his grandfather once more, forty years after Ford Madox Brown’s death, he wrote: ‘He was, I imagine, the best, the most honorable, the most generous, and the most optimistic of men. For him all geese were swans and all his children and grandchildren geniuses. That was what he asked of life—and to be allowed to go on working.’[4]

Terrible the word may have been but it recurs with striking frequency in Ford’s work (and the work of a great many others too, it’s only fair to add). It certainly did the rounds of the circle of fellow-writers with whom Ford was more usually associated. In 1913, he would note Henry James’s application of the phrase ‘the beautiful genius’ to Ivan Turgenev; in 1927, he would apply the same phrase to Stephen Crane and also referred to Conrad in just that way.[5]

Brett, Dorothy Eugenie, 1883-1977; D. H. Lawrence

(D. H. Lawrence by Dorothy Brett © National Portrait Gallery, London. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London)

D. H. Lawrence too found himself in the firing-line. In ‘Autobiographical Sketch’, he recalled showing the manuscript of his first novel, The White Peacock, to Ford, who read it immediately. ‘And in his queer voice, when we were in an omnibus in London, he shouted in my ear: “It’s got every fault that the English novel can have.”’ Lawrence remarks that, ‘Just then the English novel was supposed to have so many faults, in comparison with the French, that it was hardly allowed to exist at all. “But,” shouted Hueffer in the ’bus, “you’ve got GENIUS.”’ Lawrence goes on to say that, ‘This made me want to laugh, it sounded so comical. In the early days they were always telling me I had got genius, as if to console me for not having their own incomparable advantages.
‘But Hueffer didn’t mean that. I always thought he had a bit of genius himself.’[6]

So did Ford’s friend Olive Garnett, who unleashed the offending word in a diary entry of March 1892. Commenting on a man named Henry Cecil Sturt, who worked at the British Museum, she wrote: “I couldn’t help contrasting him & Ford & the two arguments. He representing solid worth, clear & elaborate construction; Ford, unreliability, inaccuracy &—genius . . . ’[7]

Ezra Pound seemed not to have any problem with the word, writing home in 1908: ‘You have my hearty sympathy for having possibility of genius in the family but I suppose it cant be helped.’[8] And he would supply a lucid enough explanation for that quality in the Roman poet Propertius:

Yet you ask on what account I write so many love lyrics
And whence this soft book comes into my mouth.
Neither Calliope nor Apollo sung these things into my ear,
My genius is no more than a girl.

The poet goes on to enlarge upon this:

Cynthia

If she with ivory fingers drive a tune through the lyre,
We look at the process.
How easy the moving fingers; if hair is mussed on her forehead,
If she goes in a gleam of Cos, in a slither of dyed stuff,
There is a volume in the matter; if her eyelids sink into sleep,
There are new jobs for the author;
And if she plays with me with her shirt off,
We shall construct many Iliads.
And whatever she does or says
We shall spin long yarns out of nothing.[9]

Towards the end of his life, Ford specified one danger of using the word in connection with writers: ‘Really to account for how Jane Austen and Richardson achieved their masterpieces one has to resort to the very dangerous expedient of saying that they must have been natural geniuses. That is dangerous because once you make the concession the whole cry of hounds of the professorio-academic pack will be on your back, shouting: “You see, when it comes to real works of art this fellow has to admit that they can only be produced autochthonously—by writers and others who follow no traditions and know no aesthetic law.” With the corollary that artists who do follow traditions and aesthetic rules are dull fellows whom nobody loves.’[10]

Danger, genius at work! Yes, explanations are not always forthcoming or particularly helpful when they do arrive. Hugh Kenner remarks that ‘the biographer’s is the tested American strategy for doing something about unassimilable phenomena like Howard Hughes and literary genius.’[11] The dictionary can help with that one – ‘assimilable’: able to be taken fully into the mind; or made similar; or received and accepted fully into a group.

With this word in mind, I circle back to Lawrence, who had his faults but also, we remember, genius. Here he is, writing in 1921: ‘The moment has come when America, that extremist in world-assimilation and world-oneness, is reacting into violent egocentricity, a truly Amerindian egocentricity. As sure as fate we are on the brink of American empire.’[12]

Ah, on the brink. Yes, we’ve all been there, I think.

 

References

[1] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (London: Duckworth, 1924), 147.

[2] Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad, Romance: A Novel (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1903), 395.

[3] Ford Madox Ford, Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections (London: Chapman and Hall, 1911), 101, 195. The terrible word appears on at least thirty pages of the book.

[4] Ford Madox Ford, ‘Pre-Raphaelite Epitaph’, The Saturday Review of Literature, X, 27 (20 January 1934), 418.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Henry James: A Critical Study (London: Martin Secker, 1914), 10; New York Essays (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1927), 21; Joseph Conrad, 32.

[6] D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished and Other Prose Works by D. H. Lawrence, Collected and Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Warren Roberts and Harry T. Moore (London: William Heinemann, 1968), 593, 594.

[7] Olive Garnett, Tea and Anarchy! The Bloomsbury Diary of Olive Garnett, 1890-1893, edited by Barry C. Johnson (London: Bartletts Press, 1989), 71.

[8] Ezra Pound to His Parents: Letters 1895–1929, edited by Mary de Rachewiltz, David Moody and Joanna Moody (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 125.

[9] ‘Homage to Sextus Propertius’ (V, ii), Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, edited by Richard Sieburth (New York: Library of America, 2003), 534.

[10] Ford Madox Ford, The March of Literature: From Confucius to Modern Times (London: Allen & Unwin, 1939), 595-596.

[11] Hugh Kenner, ‘Literary Biographies’, in Historical Fictions (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995), 47.

[12] D. H. Lawrence and Italy (London: Penguin Books, 1997): Sea and Sardinia, 91.

 

Taking some lines for a walk: Ford, Conrad, Novalis

(Ford by Hoppé; Conrad via New York Public Library)

On this day in 1913, Ford Madox Ford published an essay in The New Freewoman, the middle incarnation of three journals edited wholly or in part by the suffragist and radical activist Dora Marsden. She started The Freewoman: A Weekly Feminist Review (1911-1912) with her friend Mary Gawthorpe; in the latter half of 1913, she edited what had become The New Freewoman – Rebecca West (who had got her start in The Freewoman) was literary editor; finally, it became The Egoist, with Harriet Weaver as editor (and primary financial backer) and Marsden as contributing editor, running from January 1914 to December 1919 and famously publishing some key modernist texts (by Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Pound and Eliot).[1]

Dora-Marsden

Dora Marsden apparently necessitating the attention of several big strong men:
http://spartacus-educational.com/WmarsdenD.htm

Ford’s essay, ‘The Poet’s Eye’, unsurprisingly bore a strong resemblance to the ‘Preface’ to his Collected Poems, published towards the end of that year. Much of it discussed his view of the differences between poetry and prose, the first being for him quite uncontrollable, ‘words in verse form’ coming into his head from time to time and being written down ‘quite powerlessly and without much interest, under the stress of certain emotions.’ With prose, ‘that conscious and workable medium’, it was ‘a perfectly different matter.’

Ford is actually arguing that the ‘literary jargon’ to which English poetry is wedded, together with the narrow assumptions of what constitutes the suitable material of poetry, renders it incapable of dealing with modern life, ‘so extraordinary, so hazy, so tenuous with, still, such definite and concrete spots in it’. Poetry in English was, of course, on the cusp of extraordinary change: Pound’s Ripostes the previous year had included ‘The Return’ and T. E. Hulme’s poems; Des Imagistes would follow in 1914, as would W. B. Yeats’s Responsibilities; Cathay and Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in 1915. But, at the time of his writing, there was still a strong and widespread adherence to what Ford termed ‘the sure cards of the poetic pack’.

‘I may really say’, Ford asserted, ‘that for a quarter of a century I have kept before me one unflinching aim—to register my own times in terms of my own time, and still more to urge those who are better poets and better prose writers than myself to have the same aim. I suppose I have been pretty well ignored; I find no signs of my being taken seriously. It is certain that my conviction would gain immensely as soon as another soul could be found to share it. But for a man mad about writing this is a solitary world, and writing—you cannot write about writing without using foreign words—is a métier de chien.’[2]

Ford was precocious—but perhaps not to quite that degree: a literal ‘quarter of a century’ would have made him fourteen. His first book was published shortly before his eighteenth birthday. But there are some splendidly recurrent phrases here, I mean ones that resonate in minds that have grazed in Fordian fields. I remember Donald Davie writing about a phalanx of details in Pound’s Canto 80, pausing to remark that ‘Anyone is free to decide that life is too short for such unriddlings; others (I speak from experience) may develop a taste for them.’[3] This is not such an unriddling but certainly a related pleasure—or vice.

Novalis

(Friedrich von Hardenberg: Novalis)

‘It is certain that my conviction would gain immensely as soon as another soul could be found to share it.’ Yes, ‘recurrent’ is an apt word here. In 1900, William Blackwood published Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, its epigraph reading: ‘“It is certain my conviction gains infinitely, the moment another soul will believe in it.”—Novalis.’ Cedric Watts’ note points out that in the German original, the word means ‘opinion’ rather than ‘conviction’, that Conrad was probably using the translation by Thomas Carlyle in On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, and that an alternative version appears in another Carlyle book, Sartor Resartus, which Conrad has his character Marlow read in his novella Youth. Watts also notes that Conrad quotes Novalis’ aphorism again in A Personal Record.[4]

Lord Jim was published during the intense period of collaboration between Ford and Conrad which eventually produced The Inheritors (1901), Romance (1903) and The Nature of a Crime (1909; 1924). It was in the September of 1898 that the two men met and , in the following month, Conrad and his family moved into Pent Farm, Postling, Kent, sublet to them by Ford. A quarter of a century later, Ford recalled of that time: ‘Conrad’s conviction restored life to the fainting Pent: it breathed once more: the cat jumped off the window sill; the clock struck four’: this immediately preceding the arrival of W. H. Hudson—their first meeting—who would be of immense importance to Ford, though in less immediately evident ways than Conrad.[5]

Use what’s at hand: ‘pent’, wonderful. Ford’s fictional ambitions were both fired and freed in the course of the collaboration, while ‘the bulk of [Conrad’s] greatest fiction—the completed Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and The Secret Agent—was written while collaborating with Ford.’[6]

In 1915, in the second of Ford’s propaganda books, he notes in the ‘Preface’, ‘It is certain that my conviction gains immensely as soon as another soul can be found to share it.’[7] The following year, writing to Conrad from a Red Cross hospital in Rouen, he commented, ‘Since I have been out here this time I have not had one letter from one living soul. So one’s conviction does not get much from wh[ich]. to gain anything!’ By 1921, when Ford was writing to Harriet Monroe to acknowledge the Poetry prize awarded to him for A House (1921), the quote from Novalis (not named here) had become ‘the immortal dictum: “It is certain that my conviction gains immensely as soon as another soul can be found to share it”’[8] and the precise wording recurs in a 1927 essay about Ford’s memories of New York.[9]

One clear implication of these instances is that, while Ford—at least trilingual—could have read, and translated for himself, the lines from Novalis, he didn’t: though perhaps, even if he’d done so, he might have persisted with the version he associated with Conrad. But it’s also very striking, and surely poignant, that Ford, editor as well as writer, closely connected with so many groups of writers and artists, from the late 1890s through the English Review crowd, Imagism, Vorticism, Paris in the 1920s, New York and Tennessee in the 1930s, had that constant need for another soul to share his conviction. ‘He needed more reassurance than anyone I have ever met’, Stella Bowen remembered.[10] ‘Until the arrival of such “uncomfortables” as Wyndham Lewis, the distressful D. H. Lawrence, D. Goldring, G. Cannan, etc., I think Ford had no one to play with’, Ezra Pound wrote—an oddly selected cast but with a grain of truth, nevertheless.[11]

Hokusai

Those phrases, ‘a man mad about writing’ and ‘a métier de chien’ in Ford’s essay also have their histories. Describing himself as ‘an old man mad about writing’, Ford pointed to the artist Hokusai who called himself ‘an old man mad about painting’: he used the phrase or variations on it several times.[12] That ‘métier de chien’ is, again, associated particularly with Conrad: ‘For Conrad hated writing more than he hated the sea. . . . Le vrai métier de chien. . . . ’ but employed and alluded to in various contexts.[13] Then later references to the Shepherd’s Bush Exhibition and that phrase, ‘We are the heirs of all the ages’. . . But no, the comments on the essay would threaten to rival, in length at least, the essay itself. Perhaps another time, another walk, another conviction. ‘Taking a line for a walk’ – that was Paul Klee, I think. Another kind of line but the phrase would probably serve: taking a few Fordian lines for a walk. Yes, why not?

 
References

[1] Detailed on the indispensable Modernist Journals Project website: http://modjourn.org/index.html

[2] Ford Madox Ford, ‘The Poet’s Eye’, New Freewoman, I, 6 (1 September 1913), 107-110.

[3] Donald Davie, ‘Ezra Pound Abandons the English’ (1975), reprinted in Studies in Ezra Pound (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1991), 236.

[4] Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, edited by Robert Hampson with an introduction and notes by Cedric Watts (London: Penguin Books, 1989), 41, 353; see also Ian Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 40 and n.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (London: Duckworth, 1924), 155.

[6] Max Saunders, Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), I, 117. Alan Judd observes that, ‘Most of Conrad’s best work was written during periods of their intimacy’: Ford Madox Ford (London: Collins, 1990), 63.

[7] Ford Madox Ford, Between St. Dennis and St. George: A Sketch of Three Civilisations (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), vi.

[8] Ford Madox Ford, Letters of Ford Madox Ford, edited by Richard M. Ludwig (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965), 80, 136. E. M. Forster was at it too, quoting the same aphorism of an unnamed ‘mystic’: Howards End (1910; edited by Oliver Stallybrass, London: Penguin Books, 1989).

[9] Ford Madox Ford, New York Is Not America (London: Duckworth, 1927), 91.

[10] Stella Bowen, Drawn From Life (London: Collins, 1941), 80.

[11] Ezra Pound, ‘Ford Madox (Hueffer) Ford; Obit’, in Selected Prose 1909-1965, edited by William Cookson (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 433.

[12] Ford Madox Ford, The March of Literature: From Confucius to Modern Times (London: Allen & Unwin, 1939), vi: Conrad is named on the last page (850) of the text. Nicholas Delbanco’s essay on this book is titled ‘An Old Man Mad about Writing’: Joseph Wiesenfarth, History and Representation in Ford Madox Ford’s Writings (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004), 219-231. In A Mirror to France (London: Duckworth, 1926), for instance, Ford is ‘an old man mad about Provence’ (208).

[13] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, 113, 255; Thus to Revisit (London: Chapman & Hall, 1921), 57; Return to Yesterday: Reminiscences 1894-1914 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1931), 292; The Simple Life Limited by ‘Daniel Chaucer’ (John Lane, 1911), 73.