Ford Madox Ford was born Ford Hermann Hueffer in Merton, Surrey, a suburb of London, England, on December 17, 1873, the eldest son of Francis Hueffer, a musicologist and critic, and Catherine Brown Hueffer, daughter of the renowned painter Ford Madox Brown. He was given the upbringing appropriate to the scion of an artistic family; lessons in languages, in music, and in painting preceded entry into an experimental school, Praetorius. There he remained until his father died in 1889, leaving the family penniless; they had to be taken in by Ford’s grandfather.
Fordie, as he was known to his friends, roamed the streets of London for the next few years, associating with aesthetes and decadents, anarchists and artists. Aided by his grandfather, he published three books of fairy tales by the time he turned twenty-one and began working on a serious novel; these accomplishments emboldened him to elope with Elsie Martindale, whom he had met years before at Praetorius, in 1894.
After two very uncomfortable years, Elsie’s parents forgave their daughter and agreed to help support the young couple; by that time, Ford’s own career was progressing with the publication of Ford Madox Brown (1896) the official biography of his late grandfather, and his introduction to Joseph Conrad, the Polish-born novelist, with whom Ford would be connected for the next decade. Although the value of this relationship has been much debated, it is undeniable that Ford (who was by now calling himself Ford Madox Hueffer) provided Conrad with vital information about English idioms and customs, in addition to psychological support during the latter’s frequent bouts of despondency. Nevertheless, the products of this collaboration—The Inheritors (1901), Romance (1903), and The Nature of a Crime (1909, serial; 1924, book)—are markedly inferior to the works each wrote on his own during this period, such as Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900) and Ford’s Fifth Queen trilogy (1906-1908).
During the first decade of the twentieth century, Ford was best known as a writer of nonfiction. His study of the English Channel towns, The Cinque Ports, appeared in 1900; The Soul of London appeared in 1905, and two further books on English country life followed in 1906 and 1907. Interspersed with these were collections of fairy tales, biographies of artists such as Hans Holbein, and a weekly newspaper column. Though these works made little money for Ford, they kept his name before the public; meanwhile, he was preparing his brilliant re-creation of the life of Katherine Howard, fifth queen of King Henry VIII, published as The Fifth Queen (1906), Privy Seal (1907), and The Fifth Queen Crowned (1908). In this trilogy, Ford for the first time successfully fused...
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