Ford Madox Ford: A Study of His Novels
Ford Madox Ford’s Novels: A Critical Study
Novelist Of Three Worlds: Ford Madox Ford
From 1927 to the year before his death in 1939 I knew Ford very well, as well as a man so much younger could have known him. I knew him first in New York, where he had for a few months rooms in a brownstone house in Perry Street in which I had a free apartment in exchange for being the janitor. In the winter of 1929, while he was in the United States again, he lent us his flat in Paris at 32 rue de Vaugirard. In the thirties he visited me several times in Tennessee, first at Memphis, and then at my farm near Clarksville where in the summer of 1937 he wrote much of The March of Literature. In that summer he brought with him his wife Janice Biala, the painter, and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Jack Tworkov, his secretary; Robert Lowell lived in a tent on the lawn, where he intoned the Miltonic blank verse that he wrote every morning. My wife Caroline Gordon, with one idiotic servant, ran the precariously balanced menage. Ford could eat French food only, but Ida, with the occasional assistance of her mother Electra, the washerwoman, could not even cook Tennessee, much less French. Ford was unhappy in the 95° F. but every morning he paced the columned gallery—which had nothing but the earth to support it—and dictated to Mrs. Tworkov several pages of The March of Literature. There was a persistent tide that seldom ebbed, of visitors from Nashville, from Louisville, from New York, from Europe. It was a situation perversely planned by fate to expose human weakness. There were no scenes. Were we not, like the Ashburnhams and the Dowells, “quite good people”? Yet much became known to us about one another that we could have written, as “trapped spectators,” of what might have happened but didn’t.
After Ford’s death I began to feel that I had perhaps written a novel that I had put away and all but forgotten: had written it as the trapped spectator John Dowell in The Good Soldier, who “knew Edward very well” but then at last knew nothing at all about him. To this day I know nothing of Ford, except his great kindness to me as a young man. Ford’s biographers at their peril will set up as omniscient narrators: they will have to assume the role of Dowell, the hesitant prober of motive with the intimate but obfuscated view, and through progressions d’effet come out in the end with the image but not the essence of the man. For he was a character in one of his own later novels. Will not his “method” be the best one possible for his biographers? His conversation either illustrated or was the source of his theory of fictional dialogue. Dialogue must never convey information; it may be about nothing at all so long as it is in character. (“Just might do it,” says Ashburnham on a polo field. “Shuttlecocks …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.