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Ford Madox Ford: Biography & Novels

Instructor: Jacob Erickson

Jacob has his master's in English and has taught multiple levels of literature and composition, including junior high, college, and graduate students.

This lesson will explore the life and work of Ford Madox Ford. We'll consider the context and critical reception of his works, and see the influence that Ford had on others in his own time as well as the writers who followed him.

Introduction

Many literary figures either produce fiction or help others produce fiction; Ford Madox Ford, who was born Ford Hermann Hueffer, did both, and did both well. In fact, not only did Ford write some of the best novels of the 20th century, he is considered to have played a crucial role helping other authors develop their own innovative work.

Ford is considered both a great author and a figure who helped other great authors.
Ford Madox Ford

Ford was born in 1873 in England. He started writing at a young age, and his first book, The Brown Owl, was published in 1891 when he was only 17. Throughout his career, Ford maintained close friendships with many of the most talented living writers and soon became a respected figure in the English literary world. He continued writing and produced a variety of work that achieved varying levels of success. However, Ford also became known as one of the 20th century's best editors and literary critics.

In 1915, Ford entered into WWI as an officer, during which time he experienced multiple injuries. Following the war, Ford returned to writing, producing fiction, memoirs, and criticism as well as establishing the influential literary journal called The Transatlantic Review. Additionally, Ford continued to help publish the works of other authors and help them develop their own writing styles and theories of fiction. Ford died in 1939, leaving behind nearly 28 books and having had an immeasurable impact on the literature and writers of the first half of the 20th century.

Context

Towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, philosophical thought and scientific studies began challenging traditional notions of reality and the human ability to fully understand the world around them. These developments, combined with WWI and radically changing lifestyles, resulted in many artists believing that it was necessary to produce a different type of art that reflected a new, more innovative understanding of the complexity of reality. This movement came to be known as modernism, and the art of this period is marked by texts that question the assumptions people bring to the world in which we live. The modernist movement included not only writers, but musicians and painters who abandoned many of the traditional conventions of Western art.

Ford was an important figure in early modernist literature. He called himself an impressionist writer, meaning that Ford attempted to emphasize the process of perception. One way Ford did this was to use an unreliable narrator; this means that the person telling the story is not necessarily trustworthy or accurate, a quality that allows Ford to explore the ways in which human perception and perspective is not as objective as one might assume. Ford helped pioneer this device, which would continue to be used by many other modernist writers, such as Virginia Woolf, and is still found in much fiction that is written today.

Works

Among Ford's many works of fiction, The Good Soldier, published in 1915, remains one of his most respected and admired works. It tells the story of Edward Ashburnham, a tragic character whose life falls apart. The story is narrated by John Dowell, who tells the story through flashbacks that are not necessarily in chronological order; this style of narration allows Frost to play with the reader's expectations and to illustrate the ways that people's memory and perception of events are not always consistent.

Another of Ford's popular works is a trilogy of novels collectively called The Fifth Queen. The trilogy consists of The Fifth Queen; And How She Came to Court (1906), Privy Seal (1907) and The Fifth Queen Crowned (1908). The trilogy follows the life of Catharine Howard, who makes her way up in the court of Henry VIII and eventually marries the king. Although the story is based on real historical events, it's clearly fictionalized; this aspect of the story further reflects the modernist qualities of the work, namely the doubt that one can ever be entirely objective about events that occur.

WWI played an important part in modernist art, and many of the novels Ford wrote reference the event.
WWI

Many critics also cite Ford's Parade's End collection as a crucial piece of early 20th-century literature. The collection is made up of four novels titled Some Do Not ... (1924), No More Parades (1925), A Man Could Stand Up -- (1926), and Last Post (1928). The collection takes place during WWI and centers on the life of an intelligent politician named Christopher Tietjens. Although the events of the war are important in the novels, the personal experiences of Tietjens tend to take center stage. The collection has been praised as not only one of the best war novels ever written, but one of the most influential books of the 20th century in general.

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