Ford Madox Ford

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Ford Madox Ford
Born December 17 1873(1873-12-17)
Merton, Surrey
Died June 26 1939 (aged 65)
Deauville, France
Pen name Ford Hermann Hueffer, Ford Madox Hueffer
Occupation novelist, publisher
Nationality United Kingdom
Writing period 1892 - 1971

Ford Madox Ford (December 17, 1873 – June 26, 1939) was an English novelist, poet, critic, and editor whose journals, The English Review and The Transatlantic Review, were instrumental in the development of early twentieth century English literature. He is now best remembered for The Good Soldier (1915) and the Parade's End tetralogy.

Born Ford Hermann Hueffer, the son of Francis Hueffer, he was Ford Madox Hueffer before he finally settled on the name Ford Madox Ford in honor of his grandfather, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown, whose biography he had written.

Ford was an important figure in the literary movement of Modernism. He helped to pioneer the use of literary techniques associated with Modernism, including the unreliable narrator and the use of non-linear narrative. His two journals published and promoted many of the major Modernist writers, introducing D. H. Lawrence among others. Modernism coincided with the rise of urban, industrial culture which differed from the traditional society and norms of the nineteenth century. The Modernist artists created new literary forms that gave voice to the uncertainties of modern society, such as James Joyce's playing with language, and the use of stream of consciousness by Virginia Woolf, as well as those developed by Ford. Such literary forms were used by Modernist writers to express the changing reality of modern society and the concomitant loss of a fixed sense of meaning.


Ford Madox Hueffer was born in Merton, Surrey. Ford went through several name changes. He was baptized Ford Hermann Hueffer, but later adopted his mother's name of Madox. Later he claimed he was Baron Hueffer von Aschendorf, but, after World War I, wanting to disavow his German background, he finally settled on Ford Madox Ford.[1]

Ford's father was himself an author and the music editor of The Times. He was nephew to William Michel Rossetti and the grandson of Ford Madox Brown, from who re took his name. Ford was raised in the literary-artistic milieu of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which included Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Morris.

Due to his familial connections in Germany and France, Ford was able to travel to the Continent several times in his youth. He was educated at the Praetorius School at Folkstone. When his father died, the family moved to London. Ford continued his education at University College School, but he never went to college. Nonetheless, he was very well schooled in languages, fluent in both French and German, and had some facility in a number of other European languages. At the age of nineteen he converted to Catholicism.[2]

After his long writing career, Ford spent the last years of his life teaching at Olivet College in Michigan, and died in Deauville, France, at the age of 65.

Ford's literary career

Ford was a prolific author, averaging more than one work per year published between 1900 and and 1938, with the exception of a break during the war period. One of his most famous works is The Good Soldier (1915), a short novel set just before World War I which chronicles the tragic lives of two "perfect couples" using intricate flashbacks. In a "Dedicatory Letter to Stella Ford” that prefaces the novel, Ford reports that a friend pronounced The Good Soldier “the finest French novel in the English language!”

Ford was involved in the British war propaganda after the outbreak of World War I. He worked for the War Propaganda Bureau managed by C. F. G. Masterman with other writers and scholars who were popular in those years, such as Arnold Bennett, G. K. Chesterton, John Galsworthy, Hilaire Belloc, and Gilbert Murray. Ford wrote two propaganda books for Masterman, namely When Blood is Their Argument: An Analysis of Prussian Culture (1915), with the help of Richard Aldington, and Between St. Dennis and St. George: A Sketch of Three Civilizations (1915).

After writing the two propaganda books, Ford enlisted in the Welsh Regiment on July 30, 1915, and was sent to France, thus ending his cooperation with the War Propaganda Bureau. His combat experiences and his previous propaganda activities inspired his tetralogy Parade's End (1924-1928), set in England and on the Western Front before, during and after World War I.

Ford also wrote dozens of novels as well as essays, poetry, memoir and literary criticism, and collaborated with Joseph Conrad on two novels, The Inheritors (1901) and Romance (1903). The former looks at society's mental evolution and what is gained and lost in the process. Written before the first World War, its themes of corruption and the effect of the twentieth century on British aristocracy appeared to predict history. The novel uses the metaphor of the "fourth dimension" to explain a societal shift from a generation of people who have traditional values of interdependence who are overtaken by a modern generation who believe in expediency, callously using political power to bring down the old order. Its narrator is an aspiring writer who also makes a similar transition at a personal level only to feel he has lost everything.

His novel Ladies Whose Bright Eyes (1911, extensively revised in 1935)[3] is, in a sense, the reverse of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

The Good Soldier

The Good Soldier is Ford's 1915 novel set just before World War I, which chronicles the tragedies in the lives of two seemingly perfect couples. The novel is told using a series of flashbacks in non-chronological order, a literary technique pioneered by Ford. It also makes use of the device of the unreliable narrator, as the main character gradually reveals a version of events that is quite different from what the introduction leads you to believe. The novel was loosely based on two incidents of adultery and on Ford's messy personal life.

The novel’s original title was The Saddest Story, but after the onset of World War I, the publishers asked Ford for a new title. Ford suggested (perhaps sarcastically) The Good Soldier, and the name stuck.[4]

The Good Soldier is narrated by the character John Dowell, half of one of the couples whose dissolving relationships form the subject of the novel. Dowell tells the stories of those dissolutions as well as the deaths of three characters and the madness of a fourth, in a rambling, non-chronological fashion that leaves gaps for the reader to fill.

The novel opens with the famous line, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.”

Major themes

The novel’s overarching theme is that of John Dowell trying to understand the nature of truth. Many of his beliefs, and what he thought to be "facts" based on his understanding of reality during his marriage with Florence, turned out to be blatantly false. Dowell seems to allow himself to be duped. Throughout the first part of the novel, he remains blissfully ignorant of the affairs of his wife and "best friend" (including the affair that his wife Florence and his friend Edward had with each other).

A major aspect of this book is Dowell's fundamental reluctance to understand himself and the people and events that surround him. Although Dowell as narrator does not state so explicitly, he seems to be a virgin. There is no indication, at least, that he ever had sex with his wife. He seemed happy to acquiesce to her flimsy lies about her heart condition as the reason she must remain behind locked doors and avoid all excitement. More importantly, his admiration for Edward had elements of infatuation and obsession. Of course, Dowell does not state his attraction for Edward explicitly, certainly not in a modern sense of a gay attraction. But what are we to think of a man who never has sex with his beautiful, flirtatious wife, speaks admiringly of his best friend and when finally free of both, takes on the care-taking responsibility of an invalid girl, rather than finally finding a real relationship?

Dowell feels bad for the philandering Edward, and claims that he could be just like Edward if he had Edward’s physicality. But it is clear that the differences between the two go beyond mere physical differences; Edward is emotional and passionate, whereas Dowell is methodical and passionless. Edward neglects his faithful wife but feels tremendous guilt over it; Dowell dotes on his faithless wife but shows little emotion upon her suicide.

Heart defects are a major recurring theme in the novel with obvious symbolic value. Florence and Edward both claim to have heart defects, but their heart defects are emotional rather than physical. The word “shuttlecocks,” uttered by Nancy, also serves as a symbol for the way she, Dowell and Leonora felt at the treatment of the other two.

The date August 4 is significant in the novel, as it is the date of Florence’s birth, marriage, suicide, and other important events in her life. Although the novel was written before the war’s start, August 4th was also the date on which Germany invaded Belgium, bringing Great Britain into World War I.


Ford was an important novelist and representative of Modernism. Modernist literary techniques included the use of non-linear narrative and the unreliable narrator, techniques that Ford helped to pioneer. In addition to his prolific output, he was the publisher of two prominent literary journals in the early twentieth century.

The English Review and The Transatlantic Review

In 1908, he founded The English Review, in which he published Thomas Hardy, H. G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, John Galsworthy, and William Butler Yeats, and gave debuts to Wyndham Lewis, D. H. Lawrence, and Norman Douglas. In the 1920s, he founded The Transatlantic Review, a journal with great influence on modern literature. Staying with the artistic community in the Latin Quarter of Paris, France, he made friends with James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Jean Rhys, all of whom he would publish (Ford is the model for the character Braddocks in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises). In a later sojourn in the United States, he was involved with Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, Katherine Anne Porter, and Robert Lowell (who was then a student). Despite his deep Victorian roots, Ford was always a champion of new literature and literary experimentation. He had an affair with Jean Rhys, which ended bitterly.[5]

Selected works

  • The Shifting of the Fire, as H Ford Hueffer, Unwin, 1892.
  • The Brown Owl, as H Ford Hueffer, Unwin, 1892.
  • The Cinque Ports, Blackwood, 1900.
  • The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story, Joseph Conrad and Ford M. Hueffer, Heinemann, 1901.
  • Rossetti, Duckworth, [1902].
  • Romance, Joseph Conrad and Ford M. Hueffer, Smith Elder, 1903.
  • The Benefactor, Langham, 1905.
  • The Soul of London, Alston, 1905.
  • The Heart of the Country, Duckworth, 1906.
  • The Fifth Queen, Alston, 1906.
  • Privy Seal, Alston, 1907.
  • An English Girl, Methuen, 1907.
  • The Fifth Queen Crowned, Nash, 1908.
  • Mr Apollo, Methuen, 1908.
  • The Half Moon, Nash, 1909.
  • A Call, Chatto, 1910.
  • The Portrait, Methuen, 1910.
  • The Critical Attitude, as Ford Madox Hueffer, Duckworth 1911 (extensively revised in 1935).
  • The Simple Life Limited, as Daniel Chaucer, Lane, 1911.
  • Ladies Whose Bright Eyes, Constable, 1911 (extensively revised in 1935).
  • The Panel, Constable, 1912.
  • The New Humpty Dumpty, as Daniel Chaucer, Lane, 1912.
  • Henry James, Secker, 1913.
  • Mr Fleight, Latimer, 1913.
  • The Young Lovell, Chatto, 1913.
  • Between St Dennis and St George, Hodder, 1915.
  • The Good Soldier, Lane, 1915.
  • Zeppelin Nights, with Violet Hunt, Lane, 1915.
  • The Marsden Case, Duckworth, 1923.
  • Women and Men, Paris, 1923.
  • Mr Bosphorous, Duckworth, 1923.
  • The Nature of a Crime, with Joseph Conrad, Duckworth, 1924.
  • Some Do Not..., Duckworth, 1924.
  • No More Parades, Duckworth, 1925.
  • A Man Could Stand Up, Duckworth, 1926.
  • New York is Not America, Duckworth, 1927.
  • New York Essays, Rudge, 1927.
  • New Poems, Rudge, 1927.
  • Last Post, Duckworth, 1928.
  • A Little Less Than Gods, Duckworth, [1928].
  • No Enemy, Macaulay, 1929.
  • The English Novel, Constable, 1930.
  • When the Wicked Man, Cape, 1932.
  • The Rash Act, Cape, 1933.
  • It Was the Nightingale, Lippincott, 1933.
  • Henry for Hugh, Lippincott, 1934.
  • Provence, Unwin, 1935.
  • Ladies Whose Bright Eyes(revised version), 1935
  • Great Trade Route, OUP, 1937.
  • Vive Le Roy, Unwin, 1937.
  • The March of Literature, Dial, 1938.
  • Selected Poems, Randall, 1971.
  • Your Mirror to My Times, Holt, 1971.


  1. Leon Edel, Henry James: A Life (1985), 523.
  2. Kirjasto, Ford Madox Ford. Retrieved October 19, 2008.
  3. Richard A. Cassell, "The Two Sorrells of Ford Madox Ford," Modern Philology 59(2): 114-121.
  4. Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (New York: Broadview Press, 2004, ISBN 1-55111-381-3).
  5. Kirjasto, Jean Rhys. Retrieved October 19, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cassell, Richard A., "The Two Sorrells of Ford Madox Ford," in Modern Philology, 59 (2): ISSN 0026-8232.
  • Ford, Madox Ford. 'The Good Soldier. New York: Broadview Press, 2003. ISBN 1551113813.
  • Hoffmann, Charles G. Ford Madox Ford. Twayne Publishers, 1967. OCLC 456692.

External links

All links retrieved April 1, 2024.


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