THE PRESENCE OF FORD MADOX FORD: A Memorial Volume of Essays, Poems, and Memoirs by Sondra J.--Ed. Stang

THE PRESENCE OF FORD MADOX FORD: A Memorial Volume of Essays, Poems, and Memoirs

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Onto the base of the steadily-growing assessment of Ford as the century's most underrated English writer, editor Stang has built this volume of tribute to, in Edward Crankshaw's phrase, ""a hero of letters."" Included are poems by Howard Nemerov and Richard Howard; an analysis by Alison Lurie of Ford's early books for children; a clutch of letters from the Naumburg collection of Fordiana; Frank McShane's graceful notation of the artistic generosity that Ford so much exemplified. All these are deserving, meritorious entries. But the critical essays that make up the book's core are more problematical: approving but either tentative or blustery, none quite finding the quick. They are dealing, granted, with a writer heretofore almost universally catalogued as (in David Dow Harvey's succinct summary) ""a literary 'sport,' who told some wonderful lies, who was the subject of some juicy literary and domestic scandals, and who accidentally threw off a small masterpiece in something called The Good Soldier."" Roger Sale, in his essay here, is determined to debunk that last especially, strongly favoring instead the Tietjens tetrology, Parade's End; Sale sees Ford's view of women as a form of scapegoating, drawn from the life. William Gass, avoiding the messy life altogether, trains his attention on Ford's 1906 historical novel, The Fifth Queen; with fustian and formalistic elaboration, he deduces: ""In an arrogant display of literary genius, Ford Madox Ford brought the nineteenth-century novel, in each of its principal areas of excellence, to its final and most complete expression. For this he has not been forgiven."" Allen Tate isolates another, perhaps subtler difficulty: ""It is Ford's great theme that tragic action must be incomplete in a world that does not allow the hero to take full Oedipean responsibility for the evil that he did not intend but that he has nevertheless done."" The question of Ford's lying and exaggerations (the critics' bugbear) is best treated, though, by Denis Donoghue--who points to Ford's sedulous ""impressionism,"" the distinction made between truth and truthfulness, and the ""immunity"" that surrounds Ford's greatest characters, as clues to Ford himself. The final word ought perhaps to go to Ford's last wife of nine years, Janice Biala: ""A man who never missed a day's work in his life can't be said to have a disordered life."" This volume, then, can be taken as a start--a wary, still circling one, perhaps--toward reassessing a writer on whom the mantle of ""classic"" has rarely sat less comfortablynor more deservedly.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press