By Gene M. Moore, Universiteit von Amsterdam
Max Saunders, Ford
Madox Ford: A Dual Life, Volume I: The
World Before the War and Volume II: The
After-War World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Vol.
I: xx + 632 pp. Vol. II: xiv + 696 pp.
This monumental labour of love raises
Ford studies to an entirely new level of scholarship, and will undoubtedly
serve as the biography of first reference for many years to come.
In its breadth of cultural reference, its close attention to textual
evidence of all kinds, and, most importantly, in its refreshing
(and uniquely Fordian) generosity of spirit, it is without precedent
and without equal in Ford studies.
Saunders neither patronizes Ford nor
apologizes for him; instead, he seeks to appreciate Ford on his
own terms as nearly as possible, giving him the maximum benefit
of every doubt and then examining the evidence in an unhurried,
intelligent, and judicious manner, resuming and revising the work
of previous biographers so thoroughly that the reader will often
be left wondering what more can possibly be said.
Saunders not only explores Ford's life
and works more deeply and conscientiously than ever before; he has,
in effect, reinvented Ford as a great writer who deserves the serious
attention and respect of scholars. Conrad scholars will find Saunders's
detailed account of the relations between the two writers particularly
What Saunders calls the '"memorable
doubleness" of Ford's adopted name becomes a structural principle
for the biographer, who sees Ford's descent into the trenches of
the Great War as a form of death and rebirth, and thus a convenient
dividing line between the two volumes of his work. This notion of
"duality" is truly an artful dodge, for it enables Saunders
to explore the anxieties and conflicting loyalties that defined
Ford's affairs while at the same time relieving him of the obligation
to reconcile them.
Previous critics and biographers, frustrated
in their efforts to explain Ford, have often blamed their own failures
on Ford's "unreliability." Saunders shows us that the
variant versions of many of Ford's stories are to be understood
not as symptoms of moral weakness or intellectual confusion, but
as the positive and necessary expression of an impressionistic credo
that is closely linked with the origins of literary modernism.
Saunders has consulted an immense amount
of material, including many unpublished letters and manuscripts.
(Items not listed in David Dow Harvey's splendid bibliography of
1962 are helpfully marked with asterisks.) To deal with this profusion
of sources, Saunders adopts the convention of gathering references
for each paragraph into a single omnibus endnote, leaving the reader
to match particular quotes with specific sources.
As he explains, "To avoid cluttering
the text with index numbers, I have normally gathered together the
references to form one or two footnotes per paragraph" (I,
500). But each paragraph can in fact contain a dozen or more references,
and in this profusion of evidence, collective notes can easily obscure
the precise links between statements and their sources. One typical
example: Ford apparently claimed in a letter that Conrad was "worrying"
him to complete The Rescue
(I, 230); the endnote for this paragraph leaves the reader uncertain
whether the word "worrying" is cited from a letter held
at Princeton or at The Huntington Library (I, 546 n23).
It is regrettable that only the first
four volumes of Conrad's Collected
Letters were available to Saunders
by the time his book went to press, and equally regrettable that
Frederick R. Karl and Laurence Davies have not enjoyed the benefit
of Saunders's expertise in dealing with Ford letters. Saunders sometimes
uses his own transcriptions, with texts or dates that differ from
those presented by Karl and Davies. For example, in the case of
an undated letter from Conrad to Ford written four days after Conrad
learned from Elsie Martindale of Fords quarrel with Marwood (CL4,
220-23), Saunders provides a different text and makes a detailed
and convincing case for dating the letter a full month earlier than
Karl and Davies (I: 269, and 557 n32).
Saunders has an impressive grasp of
the implications of his material, combined with a masterful ability
to cross-check various literary accounts of the same events. His
discussion reflects and expands the current state of our knowledge
of Ford's life and works. Saunders also pays tribute to his scholarly
predecessors in exemplary fashion, citing them for their insights
or faulting them for their lapses in a candid manner always relevant
to the point at issue. In more than a thousand pages of dense print
and closely reasoned argument, I have found only two significant
omissions in Saunders's account of Ford's dual life.
The first concerns the sale of film
rights. Saunders mentions Ford's sale of his half of the film rights
in 1919, but he is apparently unaware of an earlier contract in
which Fiction Pictures Inc. paid Conrad and Ford $500 for the movie
rights to Romance
(as recorded in letters from Paul R. Reynolds to Conrad's agent
J. B. Pinker of 12 January, 16 March and 19 March 1915, now in The
Berg Collection, New York Public Library).
The option expired without the film being
made, and in 1919 Pinker re-sold the rights to Romance
and four other films to Famous Players-Lasky (later Paramount).
Paramount did not release The
Road to Romance until 1927, and
no copies are known to survive; it now exists only in the form of
still photographs and reviews. As Saunders notes, Ford saw some
of these photographs on display outside Loew's theatre in New York,
and then went into the nearest speakeasy for a strong drink (It
Was the Nightingale [Philadelphia:
Lippincott, 1933], 145).
The other omission concerns Roger Casement,
whose acquaintance with Ford is mentioned only once in passing (II,
250), although the impression Casement left on Ford is recorded
unforgettably in a footnote to Solon Beinfeld and Sondra J. Stang's
edition of Ford's A History
of Our Own Times (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1988), in which Ford said: "I have
myself seen in the hands of Sir Roger Casement who had smuggled
them out of the country, the hands and feet of Congolese children
which had been struck off by Free State officials, the parents having
failed to bring in their quota of rubber or ivory" (126n).
This eyewitness account is interesting
not least because it is totally at odds with Conrad's own letter
to Casement of 17 December 1903, in which Conrad claimed that "During
my sojourn in the interior, keeping my eyes and ears well open too,
I've never heard of the alleged custom of cutting off hands amongst
the natives; and I am convinced that no such custom ever existed
along the whole course of the main river to which my experience
is limited" (CL3
95). Nine days later, Conrad recommended Casement to Cunninghame
Graham as someone who "could tell you things! Things I've tried
to forget; things I never did know" (CL3
102). It is curious to think that in this one macabre instance,
Ford's experience of Congolese atrocities may have equalled Conrad's.
Was Ford present at one of Casement's fund-raising lectures on behalf
of the Congo Reform Association in 1904?
But such minor gaps as these cannot
detract from the great and comprehensive work that Saunders has
accomplished. Indeed, future scholars should feel grateful to Saunders
for having left at least a few stones unturned. In 1962, David Dow
Harvey published a research tool that was much more than a Ford
bibliography. Saunders follows in this tradition, and gives us a
work that is much more than a critical biography. At last, thanks
to Max Saunders, Ford has received the attention and consideration
he has long deserved. One can only hope that Ford
Madox Ford: A Dual Life will serve
to launch a new appreciation of Ford's work, and lead to a new open-mindedness
among Conrad scholars about the importance of Ford's friendship
and the artistic value of his influence.
© 1998, 2006 Gene M. Moore