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Ford, Ford Madox

Entry updated 1 May 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1873-1939) UK editor, poet and author, born Joseph Leonard Ford Hermann Madox Hueffer into a literary family of German descent, and who signed his books Ford Madox Hueffer for the first thirty years of his career; he was in active service through almost the full extent of World War One, his early service shaping the Club Stories assembled in Zeppelin Nights: A London Entertainment (coll of linked stories 1915) with Violet Hunt (see London), and his later experiences in the trenches directly inspiring On Heaven; And Poems Written on Active Service (coll 1918). In protest at German behaviour during the conflict he changed his name by deed poll to Ford Madox Ford, though with typical self-damaging insouciance he did so after hostilities had ended, in 1919, and only from 1923 did he begin to sign either reprints or original publications with his new name. A versatile man of letters, founder/editor of the English Review and the Transatlantic Review, he remains best known for The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (1915), a central text in the creation of twentieth-century modernism, and the four Tietjens novels eventually assembled as Parade's End (omni 1950), now thought to be one of the central fictional accounts of the Great War and its aftermath.

Ford came close to the Scientific Romance in only one work, The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story (1901) with Joseph Conrad, the circumstances of whose composition he discusses at some length in Joseph Conrad: A Reminiscence (1924). It is a Satire in which cold, practical, manipulative humans from the future – Mysterious Strangers whose scheme to colonize Greenland echoes contemporary plans to develop the Belgian Congo, where Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" was set – arrive from the fourth Dimension and translate a spiritually swollen Britain into a Dystopia (see also Evolution). At the same time, several of his more than thirty novels do make use of the tools of Fantastika increasingly useful for authors, like E M Forster, of his cusp generation.

Ford's first book, The Brown Owl (dated 1892 but 1891), was a children's fantasy, the first of three similar tales. Several of his adult fantasies, all of them romances suffused with an erotic glow (see Sex), tend to literalize the narrative time-shifts that mark his nonfantastic fiction as well, his best novels being well-known for their slidings in and out of back-story, giving ostensibly straightforward tales a Janus-Face instability that readers a century after their composition may find engaging. The first of the nonmimetic tales is perhaps the most exorbitant, and the most extreme in its soundings of the topoi of Fantastika: Mr Apollo: A Just Possible Story (1908) perplexedly introduces an embodiment of the eponymous god as a Mysterious Stranger who disrupts (and transforms) those he meets, and clears some slums (despite his awareness that "improved" humans can only have one end: to "fill graveyards") while curing one of the tale's protagonists of atheism (by giving him a sight of raw godhood). Written around the same time, "The Future in London", in W W Hutchings's London Town Past and Present: With a Chapter on the Future of London by Ford Madox Hueffer (1909 2vols), mockingly proposes a Baroquely geometric Near Future Utopian London encircled by a ring road 60 miles in diameter: not only ridding society of slums (and life) but also reducing Pollution due to improved Transportation (in circles). An abiding ambivalence about the costs of progress also permeates two further novels written around this time. Set in the seventeenth century, The "Half Moon": A Romance of the Old World and the New (1909) is a complex tale whose apparent climax – the discovery of the Hudson River in 1609 by Henry Hudson (circa 1565-1611) – is subverted by the supernatural cursing of the ship Half Moon which, full of colonists from Britain after a bad crossing, can only make landfall after the massacre of a large gathering of Native Americans, who cannot grasp the brave new world they have become victims of (nor what it meant to "discover" a river that already had a name). There is also a manifest regret at the loss of intimate communities between the lines of The Simple Life Limited (1911) as by Daniel Chaucer, an essentially nonfantastic Satire directed at a rural Utopia constructed by devotees and cranks on lines laid down by William Morris.

The protagonist of the eloquently elegiac Ladies Whose Bright Eyes (1911; rev 1935), who has some of the cantankerous energy of the protagonist of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) (see Time Travel), is cast back to the fourteenth century through a train crash, and is soon planning to insert Inventions like airplanes into this benighted century. But he begins to love the world he has stumbled into, and becomes involved with a woman named (significantly) Dionissia, an affair so intense that something of her afflatus accompanies him back to the twentieth century, where he is nursed by a woman named Dionissia; they get together. The 1935 version loses the pathos of the story by savagely sharpening it.

The murkily Ruritanian The New Humpty-Dumpty (1912) as by Daniel Chaucer contains a rather savage caricature of H G Wells, who appears as Herbert Pett, a "cockney" Great Thinker and philanderer, with a high-pitched voice, who dangerously intermixes Sex and revolution; Wells eventually took his revenge, portraying Ford as the inflated Theodore Bulpington in his nonfantastic novel The Bulpington of Blup: Adventures, Poses, Stresses, Conflicts and Disaster in a Contemporary Brain (1932). The protagonist of The Young Lovell (1913) is ensorcelled into something like Time in Faerie [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], climaxing in a posthumous encounter with Venus which may last forever (see again Sex). In Ford's last novel, the Near Future Vive le Roy (1936), a young man visits France during a civil war between Royalists and Communists, where he finds himself, because of his Doppelganger-like similarity to the dithery Prince who had died suddenly at the verge of becoming King, impersonating him en route to the throne. The dance of Identity as performed by masquers in this tale lies close to the heart of Ruritania as Anthony Hope, the inventor of the form, understood it.

Though he is rightly not thought of as an sf writer, Ford does amply demonstrate a generic fluidity typical of adventurous authors of the early twentieth century, whose explorations in Fantastika sometimes convey a sense that tales may need to go to extremes in order to understand the world, as well as an eheu fugaces aura perhaps only possible for an author whose work hovers glitteringly between nostalgia and modernism. [JC]

Ford Madox Ford

born Merton, Surrey: 17 December 1873

died Deauville, France: 26 June 1939

works (highly selected)

Unless otherwise noted, works prior to 1923 are signed Ford Madox Hueffer and from 1923 on are signed Ford Madox Ford.

collections and stories


about the author


previous versions of this entry

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