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Ford Madox Ford, the novel and the Great War

This book is about Ford Madox Ford, a hero of the modernist literary revolution. Ford is a fascinating and fundamental figure of the time; not only because, as a friend and critic of Ezra Pound and Joseph Conrad, editor of the English Review and author of The Good Soldier, he shaped the development of literary modernism. But, as the grandson of Ford Madox Brown and son of a German music critic, he also manifested formative links with mainland European culture and the visual arts. In Ford there is the chance to explore continuity in artistic life at the turn of the last century, as well as the more commonly identified pattern of crisis in the time. The argument throughout the book is that modernism possesses more than one face. Setting Ford in his cultural and historical context, the opening chapter debates the concept of fragmentation in modernism; later chapters discuss the notion of the personal narrative, and war writing. Ford's literary technique is studied comparatively and plot summaries of his major books (The Good Soldier and Parade's End) are provided, as is a brief biography.

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Isaiah Berlin writes in Four Essays on Liberty that ‘historians of ideas cannot avoid perceiving their material in terms of some kind of pattern’. Where modernism is credited with a pattern, and it usually is, it is more than likely that the concept of fragmentation is prominent in it. This book puts novelist, poet, editor and critic Ford Madox Ford in context, placing him in the context of literary modernism, in which, as editor of the English Review, author of The Good Soldier and transformer of Ezra Pound's verse, he performed a vital part. Indeed, in his magisterial biography of Ford, Max Saunders writes that ‘the period of literary modernism is “the Ford era” as much as it is Pound's, or T. S. Eliot's, or James Joyce's’; Ford was ‘at the centre of the three most innovative groups of writers this century’. In addition, the language of decline, collapse and fragmentation is commonly applied by historical analysts to events and developments of the early twentieth century.

in Fragmenting modernism
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This chapter analyses fragmentation in Ford Madox Ford's Edwardian novel, A Call: The Tale of Two Passions (1910), in what is essentially an exploration of the changing nature of sexual behaviour and sex roles. Sexual radicalism pre-dated the war. The new twentieth century had been named the ‘vaginal century’ before war began. The relationship between the sexes is cited by Samuel Hynes, Peter Gay and George Dangerfield, amongst others, as one of the extreme indicators of cultural upheaval in the Edwardian era. A Call investigates the repression of instincts, mental breakdown and the new threat of the ‘New Woman’. The codes of behaviour and the personal perspectives (of sex and society) which Ford takes as his subject matter in this novel were further and more conclusively fragmented by the sustained bombardment that was World War I.

in Fragmenting modernism
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This chapter introduces the concept of Ford Madox Ford's ‘positive fictions’, and offers a way of reading Ford's dedication to his grandfather as well as to his grandfather's circle (especially the Pre-Raphaelites) that feeds into the content and the visual style of these texts. It also reintroduces the ‘woman question’, focusing on four novels that reconstruct worlds of alternative systems which emanate from the fragmented consciousness of men such as Grimshaw. These novels are The ‘Half Moon’ (1909), Ladies Whose Bright Eyes (1911), The New Humpty Dumpty (1912) and The Young Lovell (1913). In some texts, Ford investigates the contemporary rage/fear in male reactions to women, together with the healing qualities of what Carl Jung termed the female archetypes. Jung's theories, and Robert Graves's writings, are used as part of an illuminatory test of Jung's assertion that ‘our world seems to be dis-infected of witches’, when the world is Ford's positive fictions. These fictions possess roots that mean the multiple perspectives central to modernism often regenerate as well as destroy.

in Fragmenting modernism

Developing the discussion of religion, this chapter compares Ford Madox Ford's fantasy novel, The Young Lovell (1913), with the poem ‘On Heaven’, written at the same period. It seeks the religious equivalent of the symbolic healing of women and investigates the peculiarly Fordian notion of peace. ‘Fantasies are scenarios of desire’, according to Peter Gay; they are ‘in touch with the deepest motions of the mind, principally its unmet needs’. In ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, Sigmund Freud examines the often ordinarily sublimated extension of the childhood need for fantasy and play as expressed in creative writing. In The Young Lovell and ‘On Heaven’, Ford's desire, his fantasy, is to do with being seen. Not for these characters Dowell's ‘mortifying’ experience of having Leonora's ‘lighthouse glare’ turned upon him (The Good Soldier); here characters are seen and known in their entirety, in their complexity, and in this there is peace.

in Fragmenting modernism

The enriching and rewarding aspects of modernism (such as myth and self-discovery), as presented in Ford Madox Ford's positive fictions, were the subject of the previous two chapters. This chapter examines which aspects of modernism are manifested in Ford's faith in the act of writing itself – the regenerative or the terrible – and considers Ford's creative dynamic, his techniques and his literary rules for the writing of prose. Using a range of Ford's writing, it addresses the question of which aspects of modernism ultimately hold sway in Ford's oeuvre. The chapter also analyses Ford's theoretical, modernist stances and considers impressionism as well as Ford's position in the modernist subjectivity versus objectivity debate. Concluding with an analysis of memory and its role in the modernist quest, it also returns the book to its beginnings, and a writer who believed in pictures of the past, and the present, and sought to write them, however difficult.

in Fragmenting modernism
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This chapter explores the relationship between fragmentation, repression and writing, focusing on some of the less-obvious contributing factors for Ford Madox Ford's first volume of autobiography, Ancient Lights. It describes Sigmund Freud as ‘at least emblematic’ of modernism, and pursues the idea of a relationship between psychoanalysis and modernist literary subject matter and techniques. The attempt to recognise gaps between parts of the self is powerfully resonant in the early modernist era: ‘For both Henry James and Fyodor Dostoevsky, reality lay in human consciousness and the fathomless workings of the mind’. We know from James's ‘Chamber of Consciousness’, in which suspends the spider-web of experience ‘catching every air-borne particle’, that consciousness alone manifests multiple and distinct strands. Psychoanalysis emerged as simply ‘a psychology that emphasised the unconscious mind’, rather than its conscious counterpart. Freud writes on the experience of the closeness of death in war as a unification of the civilised man with the primitive urge to kill – now he can, and with impunity.

in Fragmenting modernism
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Ford Madox Ford admired Ivan Turgenev, so it is not surprising that one comes across ideas borrowed, perhaps, from him in the later writer's work. In this case, though, there is a development at work; a development precipitated by World War I. Turgenev's self-confessed nihilist Bazarov expresses amazement at the tenacity of human belief in words – words that, in his example, can diminish and deaden a feeling of catastrophe. Were he to find himself instead in the volumes of Parade's End (or one of a number of other war novels), Bazarov's amazement would be tempered. Ford, post-war, has lost belief in words. He is often unsatisfied with the capacity of language to express the totality of thought or experience; speech constantly ‘gives out’, to be replaced by his most characteristic grammatical tool: ellipsis. Two quotations provide a framework for an exploration into how and why sight functions in the fragmentation of war. The first is from John Keegan's book, The Face of Battle; the second from Frederic Manning's novel, The Middle Parts of Fortune.

in Fragmenting modernism
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D. H. Lawrence's essay ‘Why the Novel Matters’ focuses on issues of communication and plurality as displayed by the effective novel. The relationship between Lawrence and Ford Madox Ford was sometimes close, and at times was difficult. It began when Ford first published Lawrence in the English Review and ‘introduced him to literary London’. What is communicated in Ford's novels, and how? This chapter examines the resultant dramatic thrust of the contemporary Fifth Queen trilogy, the eye for colour, for detail, for patterns. The psycho-political geography of Ford's writing is thus confirmed in its period of relative certainty, especially when compared with the suicides of Edward and Florence in The Good Soldier and the suicide of Christopher Tietjens's father in Parade's End. These later novels are distinguishable from the Fifth Queen trilogy primarily due to their more complex interweaving of levels. As another manifestation of modernist fragmentation, one fomented by psychoanalysis and sexology, the four main characters are read partly as four parts of the same psyche, individually and oppositionally gaining (at times violent) expression.

in Fragmenting modernism