Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ford Madox Ford was an extremely prolific author, working in virtually every literary form. His children’s stories and fairy tales include The Brown Owl (1891), The Feather (1892), The Queen Who Flew (1894), Christina’s Fairy Book (1906), and the pantomime Mister Bosphorus and the Muses (1923). His volumes of poetry include The Questions at the Well (1893, as Fenil Haig), Poems for Pictures (1900), The Face of the Night (1904), From Inland, and Other Poems (1907), High Germany (1911), On Heaven, and Poems Written on Active Service (1918), A House (1921), New Poems (1927), and Collected Poems (1936). Acknowledged with Joseph Conrad as coauthor of the novels The Inheritors and Romance, Ford may also have had some hand in the composition of a number of Conrad’s other works during the decade from 1898 to 1908. Ford’s biographical, autobiographical, and critical works include Ford Madox Brown (1896), Rossetti (1902), Hans Holbein, the Younger (1905), The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1907), Ancient Lights (1911), The Critical Attitude (1911), Henry James (1913), Thus to Revisit (1921), Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (1924), The English Novel (1929), Return to Yesterday (1931), It Was the Nightingale (1933), and Portraits from Life (1937; also known as Mightier than the Sword, 1938).

During the last years of his life, Ford served as professor of comparative literature at Olivet College in Michigan and prepared his final book, a massive critical history of world literature, The March of Literature (1938). His history and travel books include The Cinque Ports (1900), Zeppelin Nights (1916), Provence (1935), and Great Trade Route (1937). Collections of Ford’s essays include The Soul of London (1905), The Heart of the Country (1906), The Spirit of the People (1907), Women and Men (1923), A Mirror to France (1926), New York Is Not America (1927), and New York Essays (1927). Several volumes Ford classified simply as propaganda, including When Blood Is Their Argument (1915) and Between St. Dennis and St. George (1915). Ford also edited The English Review and later The Transatlantic Review and wrote much ephemeral journalism.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

It is generally agreed that Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier is one of the masterpieces of modernism, a major experimental novel of enormous historical and artistic interest. His tetralogy Parade’s End, composed of Some Do Not . . . , No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up, and The Last Post, is also a key work in the modernist revolution, more massive than The Good Soldier, more sweeping in its treatment of historical change, but less daring in its formal innovations. After these five novels, there is a considerable drop in the quality of Ford’s remaining fiction. The historical trilogy concerning Henry VIII (The Fifth Queen, Privy Seal, and The Fifth Queen Crowned) is cited by some critics as meriting serious reading. Scattered among his many volumes, works such as A Call reward the reader with surprisingly high quality, but most of the lesser books are all too obviously potboilers.

Ford was equally at home in the English, French, and German languages, and he contributed to the cosmopolitan and polyglot texture of European modernism. As an editor of influential literary magazines, he recognized and encouraged many writers who have since become famous. His collaboration with Joseph Conrad in the 1890’s corresponded with Conrad’s most productive artistic period, but whether Conrad’s achievements were stimulated by Ford’s collaboration or accomplished in spite of Ford’s intrusion is still under debate. Ford also exercised a considerable influence on Ezra Pound during Pound’s early London years. Later, after World War I, Ford was associated with all the prominent writers of the Parisian Left Bank: James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Rhys, and others.

Ford’s achievement then, was as a man of letters whose diverse contributions to modern literature—particularly as an editor and as a champion of modernist writers—far transcended his not inconsiderable legacy as a novelist.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Relatively few writers have owed as much to a grandfather as did Ford Madox Ford. What can make a grandfather a better guardian than a father for a young writer?

What was the most significant aspect of Ford’s relationship with Joseph Conrad?

Why must the onion be kept in mind when reading Ford’s The Good Soldier?

Ford showed an early interest in fairy tales. Did this interest appear in any of his mature writing?

What is the basis for Ford’s use of the word “parade” in his tetralogy, Parade’s End?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bender, 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.