Category Archives: ford madox ford

Writing Like A Cubist Paints

I think essay collections are the perfect things for our new super-sped-up, Internet-fragmented lives.I like them becuase I can sneak an essay into a small bit of time–like the morning's subway ride. And if it's a good collection, I like the slowed-down feeling of coming back to it again and again over the course of a month or so.

Right now I'm reading William H. Gass's Finding a Form, recently published by the Dalkey Archive.

Gass writes wonderfully on Ford Madox Ford, and in this book he has an essay called "Ford's Impressionism." The title's a little misleading–half the essay is given over to a consideration of just what impressionism means (with shots at Monet et al.)–although you could just as well consider this proper preparation for Gass's remarks on Ford, which are excellent.

Late in the piece, Gass delivers a spot-on evocation of what it is like to read what is quite likely my favorite first-person novel ever, Ford's The Good Soldier:

By this method any occasion is dissolved into its elements (act, agent, object, qualities, and temporal successions–first this, then that); its various modes of apprehension are marked off (detailed close-ups, distant overviews, vague general effects); and all of these are stirred about, apparently higgledy-piggledy, until not only order but many actual bits are utterly lost. This mess is mixed with all sorts of memories and associations, some longer and more detailed as it were, by means of sidelongs and fractures, obscure details and elaborate digressions, surprising omissions and untoward simplifications.

I highlight those words because this to me has always been the most amazing thing about The Good Soldier. It is so true to life and so cohesive because of the fact that it contains so many gaps, so many "facts" that by textual analysis can be proven false. These are just the things that make it live.

Gass continues:

The fit is loose, but this method more nearly resembles the working habits of the cubists than those of the impressionists.

Of course, the real chances are that the writer began with the bits and let the words feel their way toward some absent whole the way a sketch suggests a face or a landcape, rather than commencing with a complete and disciplined design and then scrubbing things out and messing them up.

The impression we are after here, and which we with to give to the reader is that of a consciousness, not of a thing . . .

It's a fine essay. I look forward to dipping in and out of Finding a Form for several weeks to come.

Reading About Ford Madox Ford

Published in 1963, in the very second issue of The New York Review:

If the essays published so far by Richard W. Lid and Richard M. Ludwig
are parts of books yet to appear, as I hear they are, there will
shortly be five books about Ford since 1961. There is still in
manuscript a biography by Frank McShane; and another biography, which I
understand will have the full support of Miss Janice Biala, who owns
the letters and other private papers, will appear in the next few years
from the hand of Mr. Arthur Mizener. If this book comes out, say, by
1966, and Mr. McShane’s not much later than that, there will have been
by 1966 seven full-length biographies and critical studies of Ford
within five years. The staggering disproportion between the number of
books about Ford and the number of his own books that may then be in
print will be an anomaly of Anglo-American literary history. It will be
easier to read about Ford than to read him. . . .

The future of his reputation is further complicated by the critical
distinction of the three books so far published. This may trap us in
the illusion that there is a Ford revival. There may be one soon, if
Mr. Greene’s plan to republish Ford, a few books a year, meets with any
success at all. But for the moment only a few scholars and critics will
be introduced to Ford, and his old admirers edified, by the three books
here under review. It is not likely that the general reader (if he
exists) will get further than hearing about them.

To my knowledge, the Ford revival never occurred. (Can anyone point out otherwise?) Even if there was a revival at some point in the last 45 years, its effects seem to have been mostly erased by now.

Unfortunately (for the "general readers" that Ford has been so well hidden from), I’m finding more and more that this is a novelist very much worth reading. I have previously expressed my great admiration for The Good Soldier. My (currently ongoing) reading of Parade’s End has so far done nothing to detract from the reputation Ford has established with me. (Quite the opposite, actually . . . )

A quick search of Amazon indicates that I am not too strictly limited in my alternatives for reading deeper into Ford’s oeuvre, once I’ve gotten Parade’s considerable bulk behind me. So at least Ford’s in print now. I suppose that’s progress.

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