Authors: Ford Madox Ford

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist, poet, and biographer


Ford Madox Ford’s father was a music critic of German origin, Franz Xaver Hueffer; his mother was Catherine Ernely Madox Brown, the daughter of the pre-Raphaelite artist Ford Madox Brown. He was a privileged child who grew up in a home where he was exposed early to artistic and literary influences; he received his formal schooling at Praetoria House and University College School, London. At the age of eighteen he traveled on the Continent and became a Roman Catholic to please his rich German relatives.{$I[AN]9810001481}{$I[A]Ford, Ford Madox}{$S[A]Hueffer, Ford Madox;Ford, Ford Madox}{$S[A]Haig, Fenil;Ford, Ford Madox}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Ford, Ford Madox}{$I[tim]1873;Ford, Ford Madox}

The Brown Owl, a fairy story, marked Ford’s debut in print in 1891. After his early marriage Ford settled in Kent, where he devoted himself to writing. Here he met Joseph Conrad and discovered that they shared a fundamental agreement upon the role of technique in the novel. Over a period of five years the two fledgling authors collaborated in a partnership and produced two novels, The Inheritors and Romance.

Between 1892 and 1902 Ford published nine volumes of biography, fiction, poetry, and travel. Just before his thirtieth birthday the strain of such productivity resulted in a nervous breakdown. Despite his illness he worked on a fictional treatment of the ill-starred Catherine Howard; this eventually became the clever trilogy The Fifth Queen, Privy Seal, and The Fifth Queen Crowned. In 1905 the reception of his The Soul of London gave his recovery a physical and financial boost. This success was followed by the high point of his public career in England, the editorship of The English Review during 1908-1909.

The financial failure of this brilliant journal and a crisis in his personal life brought his short glory to an end. His unsuccessful attempt to arrange a divorce from his wife further alienated his former friends. Two novels of this period, however, fared well. Ladies Whose Bright Eyes exhibited Ford’s satirical analysis of medieval England. The Good Soldier, a story of psychological, religious, and moral violence between the sexes, reflected his own painful marital situation.

World War I provided an escape from his personal difficulties. By the time he emerged from it in 1919, a victim of shell shock and gassing, the Imagist movement had felt the impact of his poetry collection On Heaven, and Poems Written on Active Service. For a few years he lived in modest agrarian style in Sussex with an artist, Stella Bowen. At this time he changed his name to Ford, ostensibly to avoid the anti-Prussian reaction that pervaded England.

His semi-absence from the literary scene ended in 1922 when he went to Paris and became editor of the Trans-Atlantic Review, a short-lived periodical whose contributors included Ezra Pound and James Joyce. In France, where his reputation was solid as a result of his perceptive book on the French nation, Between St. Dennis and St. George, Ford was a patriarch to the bohemian, expatriate circle. In England, however, antagonism toward him increased after 1924 when his Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance appeared, a book he wrote after Conrad’s death.

Issued in the same year was Some Do Not . . . , the first of four novels dealing with Christopher Tietjens, an extraordinary character of twentieth century fiction who personifies the Tory, Christian gentlemen of immense intellect and humanity living in a hostile, crumbling world. In the three succeeding books, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up, and The Last Post, Ford achieved his finest technique, making intricate use of the timeshift and incorporating some farsighted ideas about the individual, society, war, politics, and religion. In the course of sixty-five years Ford established what was to become a legendary personality, which he further exaggerated by his own sensational autobiographies, Return to Yesterday and It Was the Nightingale.

BibliographyBender, Todd K. Literary Impressionism in Jean Rhys, Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, and Charlotte Brontë. New York: Garland, 1997. Examines style and technique in the four authors. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Cassell, Richard A., ed. Critical Essays on Ford Madox Ford. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. In his introduction, Cassell reviews Ford criticism, which he believes became more laudatory and perceptive after 1939. Though there are essays dealing with Ford’s romances, poetry, and social criticism, the bulk of the book focuses on The Good Soldier and Parade’s End.Cassell, Richard A., ed. Ford Madox Ford: A Study of His Novels. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1961. The first three chapters (biography, aesthetics, literary theory) are followed by close readings not only of the major works (The Good Soldier, Parade’s End) but also of neglected minor fictional works, particularly Ladies Whose Bright Eyes, The Rash Act, and Henry for Hugh.Green, Robert. Ford Madox Ford: Prose and Politics. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Unlike earlier studies which applied New Criticism to Ford’s work, places Ford within his historical context and identifies his political beliefs. Chronological bibliography of his work as well as an extensive yet selected bibliography of Ford criticism.Huntley, H. Robert. The Alien Protagonist of Ford Madox Ford. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970. Focuses on the Ford protagonist, typically a man whose alien temperament and ethics produce a conflict with his society.Judd, Alan. Ford Madox Ford. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991. A very readable, shrewd biography. Includes no source notes and only a brief bibliographical note.MacShane, Frank, ed. Ford Madox Ford: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972. An invaluable collection of reviews and responses, gleaned from literary journals, to Ford’s fiction and poetry. Includes an 1892 unsigned review of The Shifting of the Fire, as well as essays by such literary greats as Theodore Dreiser, Arnold Bennett, Ezra Pound, Conrad Aiken, Christina Rossetti, H. L. Mencken, Graham Greene, and Robert Lowell. There are reviews of individual novels, essays on controversies in which Ford was embroiled, and general studies of Ford’s art.
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