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Ford Madox Ford
Merton, Surrey, Eng., 17 Dec. 1873 - Deauville, France, 26 June 1939 English novelist and publisher

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Ford Madox Ford was maligned by other writers during his lifetime, often though not always unjustly, and unaccountably has been mostly ignored since his death. Although his tetralogy "Parade's End" is one of the masterpieces of the 20th century and although he has many enthusiastic readers, he is something of a connoisseur's secret. He is better known, if at all, for his complicated private life and his editorship of The English Review.

He was born Ford Hermann Hueffer in Merton, England, in 1873, to a German father and an English mother. His grandfather was the the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown.

Ford's life can be broken into acts, according to his emotional and literary relationships. In the first act, he eloped with Elsie Martindale and developed perhaps the most important literary relationship of his life, with Joseph Conrad. Although he was the younger man, Ford was in some ways a mentor to Conrad, and their collaborative working relationship was highly useful to both. Characteristically for Ford, Conrad later turned his back on him.

In the second act, Ford lived with the literary hostess and novelist Violet Hunt. As editor of The English Review, he published unknowns like Lawrence and Pound as well as established writers like James and Hardy. These were difficult times; though Ford was published, he had little success, and he spent much time trying to divorce Elsie, then trying to extricate himself from his relationship with Hunt. In 1915 he published the first of his truly great books, "The Good Soldier."

That act ended in 1915, when Ford, at the age of 41, enlisted and later was sent to the Somme with the Welch Regiment. When in 1916 Ford was viciously attacked by New Witness magazine, H.G. Wells wrote to the brother of the editor, G.K. Chesterton: "Hueffer has many faults no doubt, but first he's poor, secondly he's notoriously unhappy and in a most miserable position, thirdly he's a better writer than any of your little crowd and fourthly, instead of pleading his age and his fat and taking refuge from service in a great obesity as your brother has done, he is serving his country."

After the war, Ford moved to France, where he lived with the painter Stella Bowen, edited The Transatlantic Review publishing a stellar roster of Modernist writers and wrote his masterpiece.

The last act of Ford's life was spent with the American painter Janice Biala. He traveled and taught in the United
States, attracting and repulsing various aspiring writers. He never stopped writing but his greatest works were behind him, and he died in 1939.

The war changed Ford forever, and of course provided the material for "Parade's End," which was published volume by volume during the 1920s.

The story of Christopher Tietjens, who sees himself as the last civilized man, or at least the last Tory gentleman, "Parade's End" is also a portrait of English decline in the face of barbarism within and without (not least of which, perhaps, in the shape of rich American ladies intent on buying up the dusty goods of English country houses).

Ford was a big man with a walrus moustache, large, downturned eyes, and a voice that became increasingly hushed. He was mentally fragile, and the Somme left him with shell shock.

His womanizing had both a childish and a seriously self-destructive quality. It would cause him many problems, material and social, and it led him also to be portrayed unflatteringly in fiction, notably by Jean Rhys.

Ford was also a compulsive storyteller, a mythomaniac. Saunders argues successfully that you can't separate Ford the great novelist from Ford the raconteur.

The stories were usually worth it. Saunders quotes one man's recollection of a Ford story, about Kipling helping him with Sunday School work (he could have met Kipling, but there is no proof): "'If you are good, Fordie,' began Rudyard, 'you will go to a place on the clouds; and there will be harps. You will sit on a cloud and sing praises unto the Lord, and that is what you will do for ever and ever. You will wear a kind of white dress. And there will be creatures like mama but with great wings . . .' And Ford's face grew longer and longer. 'But,' continued young Kipling the realist, 'if you are bad . . . you will go to a much worse place."'

Why has Ford been so neglected, in contrast to less talented contemporaries? He was extremely helpful to many young writers, and he was an enormously influential literary theorist. He could also be pretentious and portentous and overwhelming in person.

Nevertheless, his greatest sin vis-a-vis the big egos who turned away from him is that this fine editor should have turned out not merely to be an instrument in their greater glory but, impudently, to be a far greater artist than most of them.

- Katherine Knorr, International Herald Tribune, 1997

The Good Soldier
1915 (as Ford Madox Hueffer)
The meeting of John and Florence Dowell and Edward and Leonora Ashbumham in a German health spa is the centre of a train of lies, deceptions, adulterous love triangles and deaths.
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The Ledge
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