Pages

Thursday, 2 April 2015

FORD MADOX FORD A Call: The Tale of Two Passions (1910)



Carcanet Press Limited UK, 1984



She came near, and stood over him, looking down.  'Robert,' she said gravely, 'who is of our day and our class?  Are you?  Or am I?  Why are your hands shaking like that, or why did I just now call you "my dear"?  We've got to face the fact that I called you "my dear".  Then, don't you see, you can't be of our day and our class.  And as for me, wasn't it really because Dudley wasn't faithful to me that I've let myself slide near you?  I haven't made a scandal or any outcry about Dudley Leicester.  That's our day and that's our class.  But look at all the difference it's made in our personal relations!  Look at the misery of it all!  That's it.  We can make a day and a class and rules for them, but we can't keep any of the rules except just the gross ones like not making scandals.'



The Novel:  In his 1972 biography of English novelist, poet, essayist and editor Ford Madox Ford, US critic Arthur Mizener opens his discussion of this 1910 novel – the author's eleventh, published nearly a decade before he legally changed his surname from 'Hueffer' to 'Ford' –– with the following statement:  'A Call is at once a tribute to Henry James and a declaration of independence from him, the first of Ford's novels that is explicitly "An Affair" with Ford's typical progression d'effet, the slowly accelerated revelation of motive and meaning in a series of carefully dramatic scenes.'  The key words in this statement, as they are in almost every discussion of Ford's work, are 'motive' and 'meaning.'  As is the case with what are now generally considered to be Ford's two enduring masterpieces –– The Good Soldier (1915) and the four novel sequence collectively known as Parade's End (1924-1928) – neither motive nor meaning are clear to the protagonists as the story opens and only become so as it progresses and their beliefs about themselves and the society whose rules they strive but ultimately fail to live by are revealed to be the hypocritical and self-destructive illusions they are.

A Call is ostensibly the story of Robert Grimshaw, a man who, with the notable exception of 'his engagement to Katya Lascarides and its rupture,' appears to be the model of the refined, honourable and unflappable English gentleman.  Of mixed Greek and English heritage, he lives a privileged if lonely and rather spartan life in London where he fills his days attending to his various business interests and doting on his pet dachshund and his evenings dining out at the homes of his friends –– a group that includes his cousin Ellida Langham, sister of Katya, and a newly-married couple, Dudley and Pauline Leicester, whom he was instrumental in bringing together. 

Grimshaw's relationship with Katya, his Greek-born cousin by marriage, has been in emotional deadlock since she inexplicably chose to break off their engagement –– a break that occurred not because they ceased to love each other but because the strong-willed Katya preferred to follow the example of her adored and recently deceased mother who, for what are (rightly!) described as 'obscure' reasons, chose to live in sin with her father rather than become his wife.  Katya will 'belong' to Grimshaw, and do so gladly, but not if 'belonging' to him means she's also forced to marry him.  Nor does she need to become his wife for financial reasons.  Following a nervous breakdown triggered by her mother's death – a traumatic event closely followed by the death of her father, the man also responsible for raising Grimshaw following the deaths of both his parents when he was a boy Katya has become a practicing psychotherapist whose reputation has recently seen her invited to the United States to assist in the treatment of patients confined to a Philadelphia sanitarium.  Faced with the choice of conforming for appearances' sake or obeying the dictates of his own lonely heart, Grimshaw has chosen the former course of action, as determined to bring Katya round to his conventional way of thinking as she is to defy him.

Their unresolved relationship also explains Grimshaw's interest in Pauline Lucas, the young woman who's recently become the wife of his former Oxford classmate and somewhat feckless protégé Dudley Leicester.  The daughter of a sailor turned unsuccessful businessman, Pauline was working as a governess when Grimshaw originally met her, barely earning enough to keep herself and her sick mother from being packed off to the poorhouse.  Grimshaw immediately appointed himself the girl's protector, untangling her father's complicated financial affairs and, in time, introducing her to Leicester – a wealthy landowner who, while likeable, has no idea how to manage his estate or, indeed, how to run his own life.  Their marriage has served three purposes.  It has provided Pauline with a husband whose personality she can 'shape' and 'improve,' Leicester with the stability and companionship required to transform him into the man his wealth and social position demand he should become and Grimshaw, who had found himself increasingly attracted to the girl despite being informally engaged to his cousin, with a reason to remain 'free' to marry Katya if and when she ever returns to London.

But Grimshaw failed to take into account what the sudden reappearance of a woman named Etta Hudson in Leicester's life would have upon his friend.  Etta, now Lady Hudson, had been Leicester's 'first and very ardent passion,' a wilful and acquisitive girl whom everyone in their circle had expected him to marry until her flirtatious nature led him to abruptly terminate their relationship.  Meeting her again by a chance at a dinner party –– a social engagement not attended by Pauline, who is away caring for her soon-to-be dead mother –– Leicester finds himself escorting her home through London's empty moonlit streets, happy to be arguing with her again about certain letters they exchanged and the pet name he used to call her by.  Conscious of the fact that her power over him remains undiminished –– and allegedly enjoying an 'open' marriage with her own absent husband –– Etta easily lures the weak-willed Leicester into her house by offering to show him one of the letters he sent her back when they were sweethearts.  

But as soon as they set foot inside the house they find themselves confronted by the incessant ringing of that newfangled gadget (as it still very much was in the England of 1910) the telephone.  Afraid her servants will hear the ringing and discover she's allowed a man to bring her home, Etta orders Leicester to answer it by pretending to be her footman.  'A peremptory "Are you 4259 Mayfair?" made him suddenly afraid, as if a schoolmaster had detected him in some crime.  Hitherto he had no feeling of crime.  It was as if he had merely existed in the tide of his senses.  An equally peremptory "Don't go away" was succeeded by the words: "Get down', and then: "Is that Sir William Hudson's?'  When Leicester admits that it is – not forgetting to omit the word 'sir' to make himself sound more like a servant –– the crackly and indistinct voice at the other end of the line enquires if 'that isn't Dudley Leicester speaking?'.  Guilty and panic-stricken, Leicester confirms that it is and quickly hangs up, unaware of the profound impact his words will eventually have on the lives of himself, Pauline, Grimshaw and, in time, Katya Lascarides.

Leicester becomes obsessed with the idea of finding out exactly who rang '4259 Mayfair' that night.  He begins to suspect everyone – his butler, even men he meets casually at parties –– of having placed the call, a call he becomes increasingly certain was made for the sole purpose of catching him in the act of being unfaithful (a 'sin,' technically speaking, he did not actually commit).  He becomes an isolated and pathetic figure, his obsession soon driving him into a state of paranoia-fuelled madness, the seriousness of which makes it necessary to call in a famous specialist whose blustering manner and outdated treatment methods prove unequal to the task of curing him.  In the meantime, Grimshaw is called away to Athens on business, meaning he's not in London when Katya returns from Philadelphia as the travelling companion of one of her wealthy and exceedingly grateful American patients. 

Katya, of course, contacts Grimshaw following his own return to London, only to inform him that her attitude to the idea of becoming his wife remains unaltered.  The idea of trust, she explains when they are at last reunited, is far more important than any vow they might make to each other in the presence of a priest or registrar.  'To trust, to trust!' she tells him.  'Isn't that the perfect relationship?'  She also succeeds in curing Kitty, her six year old niece, of her self-imposed vow of silence, born of the same proud stubbornness which continues to prevent her from accepting Grimshaw's proposal despite the fact she loves him and has done so since they were children growing up together in her father's house.  Grimshaw has no choice but to accept Katya's decision, admitting that her unwavering refusal to marry him has only reinforced his desire to have her on his own terms or not at all. 

In the meantime, Leicester's condition has gone from bad to worse, forcing a distressed Pauline to beg Grimshaw to help her find a doctor who might possess the skill required to cure him.  Having heard that Katya is back from Philadelphia, she begs Grimshaw to bring Katya to see her husband, hoping this will induce the famous psychotherapist to accept him as a patient.  Shortly after this has been arranged Grimshaw runs into Etta Hudson, who wastes no time enlightening him as to her true relationship with Leicester and what really happened – or, more significantly, what did not happen –– when he escorted her home to Mayfair that night.  'You're upset,' she accuses him at one point, 'because you suspected Dudley of being a mean hound.  I know you, Robert Grimshaw.  You were jealous of him; you were madly jealous of him.  You married him to that little pink paroquet and then you got jealous of him.  You wanted to believe that he was mean and deceitful... You wanted to believe it so that you could take your Pauline off his hands again... You knew in your heart that he was honest and simple and pure, but your jealousy turned you mad.'  As a consequence of this revelation, Grimshaw is forced to admit that it was not Etta –– who, in the end, did not seduce Dudley and never seriously planned to but 'the meddling fool at the other end of the telephone' who is truly responsible for driving his friend mad.  What Grimshaw cannot bring himself to admit to his accuser, or to Pauline for the moment, is that he was the one who telephoned '4259 Mayfair' that night, his suspicions aroused after nearly being knocked down by Etta and Leicester as they emerged from their cab, obliging him to swiftly turn away and take a different route home to avoid being seen and identified by them.

Etta's accusation forces Grimshaw to question, closely and for what proves to be the first time, his previously sacrosanct personal values and beliefs.  Unable to deny that it's Pauline, not Katya, whom he loves, he finds it equally impossible to deny that 'the traditions – traditions that are so infectious –– of his English public school training, of his all-smooth and suppressed contacts in English social life, all the easy amenities and all the facile sense of honour that is adapted only to the life of no strain, of no passions' have betrayed him and, by extension, everyone he cares about.  In repressing his true feelings about Pauline he's done no more than play the role expected of him by a society obsessed with maintaining appearances rather than allowing individuals to act as their hearts and minds would truly have them act –– a role, it appears, in which he's been no more successful at deceiving Pauline than he has been at deceiving the clear-eyed, sharp-tongued Etta Hudson.

Only after Katya, who after much persuasion has agreed to accept Leicester as a patient, has left the room to examine him does Pauline admit to her benefactor that she has been aware of his long-denied passion for her all along.  'We haven't learned wisdom: we've only learned how to behave,' she tells him.  'We cannot avoid tragedies You do not love Katya Lascarides: you are as cold to her as a stone.  You love me, and you have ruined all our lives.'  They decide their only option is to continue playing the roles society expects of them and perpetuating the charades their lives have become in order to avoid the scandal that would not only ruin them but also shatter the lives of Leicester and the apparently unsuspecting Katya.  Pauline is married to Leicester and she tells Grimshaw that he too must do the decent thing and honour his promise to Katya if he can find a way to overcome her objections to the idea of becoming his wife.  This conversation, the most painful and soul-destroying of Grimshaw's life, concludes with him admitting to Pauline that it was he who made the telephone call that has ruined her husband's health and robbed him of his peace of mind. 

A minute later Katya reenters the room, having decided, following her preliminary examination of Leicester, that he can only be cured by learning the identity of the man who made the fateful telephone call to Etta Hudson's home that night.  Having learned from a chastened Grimshaw that it was he who made the call, Katya leads him next door to where his friend is waiting to ask what, since that night, has become his incessantly repeated question: 'Did you call 4259 Mayfair?'.  Grimshaw is so shaken, and so grateful to Katya for everything she's done to help Leicester and Pauline, that he finds himself agreeing to her long-resisted demand that they should live together without becoming man and wife.  But Katya's reply is not, this time, the anticipated one.  'Oh well, my dear,' she confides to him, 'it's obvious to me that you're more than touched by this little Pauline of ours.  I don't say that I resent it.  I don't suggest that it makes you care for me any less than you should or did, but I'm surethat she cares extremely for you I think, my dear, as a precaution, I think you cannot have me on those terms:  I think you had better marry me.'

Forgotten Books [Print on Demand], 2012
A Call is by no means Ford's greatest or most artfully conceived novel.  Its plot is unnecessarily complicated and several of its incidents –– Katya's capricious decision to reject Grimshaw on what are alleged to be 'religious grounds,' the fact that he's nearly knocked down by Etta and Leicester as they emerge from their cab without being recognized by either of them strike the modern reader as being wildly implausible if not ludicrous to say the least.  Ford's fellow novelist Arnold Bennett, reviewing the book in 1910, called it 'profoundly and hopelessly untrue to life,' before adding the important caveat that if it was regarded less as a novel than as 'an original kind of fairy taleit is about perfect.'  This is a significant distinction.  Ford was never as concerned with creating 'believable' plots and offering his readers objective depictions of reality as he was in offering them his entirely subjective, frequently shifting impressions of what might best be described as the 'inner reality' experienced by his characters, often without their conscious knowledge.  (Ford, in partnership with his friend and collaborator Joseph Conrad, virtually invented the concept of 'Impressionism' as it applies to English literature.)  What happens to people is less important, in the Fordian scheme of things, than their individual perceptions of what happens to and around them and their actively and continuously evolving responses to these events and the various hypocrisies they in turn give rise to or sometimes merely emphasize.  It was a technique he had all but mastered by the time he came to write The Good Soldier (1915) and had fully perfected by the time Some Do Not(1924), the first volume of his Parade's End tetralogy, appeared nearly a decade later.  It is also what makes him one of the most profoundly gifted and influential novelists of the first half of the twentieth century.

A Call can be seen as a kind of 'dry run' for Ford's later masterpieces, his first conscious attempt to expose the hypocrisy of a society where emotions like love, passion and happiness were held to be of minimal importance in relation to maintaining illusions that, instead of supporting and sustaining it, only undermined, weakened and, in time, destroyed it.  This dichotomy is reflected in Grimshaw's frequently repeated personal motto: 'Do what you want and take what you get for it.'  The irony of this statement, given what occurs between himself, Katya, the Leicesters and Etta Hudson, is that by doing what he wants –– subconsciously confessing his love for Pauline by attempting to catch her husband in the act of adultery –– he loses her forever, submitting himself to the greater if harsher power that is Katya as a form of penance for having dared to question the appearance of things and ruined all their lives.  It is, as Arthur Mizener suggests, as though Ford has taken what some might regard as a typically 'Jamesian' situation and pulled it into the twentieth century –– a world symbolized, not only by the cars that prowl London's streets beside its soon to be redundant horse-drawn hansom cabs, but by that thoroughly 'modern' contraption the telephone.  What is a telephone, after all, but a machine that allows people who are otherwise unable to do so to communicate privately and intimately with each other over long or, as it is in Grimshaw's case, short distances?  Either strive to communicate freely and honestly, Ford seems to be warning us in A Call, or accept the consequences of what it means to live a repressed unhappy life in which you'll forced to sacrifice and abandon forever what it is you really want.  

While it would take the cataclysm of World War One to begin to alter society's attitudes to issues like divorce and women's rights, it was writers like Ford who helped pave the way for these sweeping social and psychological changes by revealing and openly questioning the lies most people chose to endorse in the name of 'keeping a stiff upper lip' and 'doing one's duty as a lady or a gentleman' – ideas that, like so many the Edwardians inherited from their tightlipped Victorian forebears, would die a slow painful death alongside millions of soldiers in the trenches of Ypres, Verdun and the Somme.    



FORD MADOX FORD (aka FORD HERMANN HUEFFER), 1910
The Writer (1873-1919):  'Ford's emotional volatility at the end of 1908 and the beginning of 1909 was both a cause and effect of a furious burst of creative as well as editorial activity,' Max Saunders notes in A Dual Life, his 1996 two volume biography of Ford.  'In the midst of establishing the review [The English Review], editing it, writing articles for it, and entertaining its contributors, he wrote his best novel yet, A Call.  It was produced under intense emotional pressure, and at great speed even by his own astounding standards of fluency and rapidity.'  

The 'emotional pressure' referred to by Saunders found its origins in the collapse of Ford's marriage to Elsie, his wife of sixteen years, the affair he's believed to have had with her elder sister Mary in 1903 and the new romantic relationship he began in 1909 with his fellow writer Violet Hunt –– a woman eleven years his senior whom he had known slightly as a boy.  These women, and the tempestuous emotional conflicts they inspired, all found their literary parallels in the pages of A Call.  While Saunders goes on to suggest that the events depicted in the book bear 'little relation to his actual experience,' it does not seem foolish to infer that the act of writing it was a cathartic exercise for Ford, an attempt to confront and perhaps understand what was happening in his own complicated and frequently deeply unhappy personal life.

Ford, as he did with many of his male characters, shared many of the key personality traits of Robert Grimshaw as well as Dudley Leicester.  Like Grimshaw, he was somebody who believed himself to be the quintessential English gentleman despite the fact that he was half-German and therefore, in the eyes of many people, little more than an 'upstart foreigner.'  Like Leicester, he was (in Saunders' words) 'tall, blond, phlegmatic' and suffered from paralyzing episodes of depression (or 'neurasthenia' as it was described in the Edwardian era).  He had a self-defeating habit of falling in love with women who were either unattainable, temperamentally unsuited to him or, very often, both.  His actions caused pain to others which he sincerely and lastingly regretted, yet he did what he wanted and never complained about paying what was generally a very high price for it in psychological, financial and career terms.

FORD MADOX BROWN, c. 1890
Ford was born 'Ford Hermann Hueffer' on 17 December 1873, the eldest child of German-born music critic Francis Hueffer and his English wife Catherine Madox Brown, daughter of the eminent Victorian painter Ford Madox Brown.  (Ford's grandfather is frequently referred to as a 'Pre-Raphaelite' but he never formally joined the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood despite enjoying close friendships with many of that artistic movement's leading practitioners including Gabriel Dante Rossetti.)  It was Ford's grandfather, rather than his father (who wrote the music column for The Times and often referred to Ford, the eldest of his three children, as 'a patient but very stupid donkey'), who would be the defining influence on his character and, in many ways, on his conduct as an adult.  Madox Brown was a well-known and well-respected member of London's thriving artistic community, enabling him to count among his friends not just his fellow painters but many notable literary and intellectual figures of the day.  

One of Ford's earliest memories was of giving up his seat to the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev, who paid an impromptu visit to his grandfather's house one afternoon in the company of his English translator.  Ford's autobiographical writings are filled with such reminiscences – some no doubt apocryphal, given his lifelong habit of exaggerating and 're-imagining' the truth –– but the fact remains that great things were expected of him by the grandfather whose home he, his mother and his brother Oliver shared following his father's death in January 1889.  (His sister Juliet was sent to stay with their Rossetti cousins, who lived a few doors down the street.)  It was also Madox Brown who imparted to him what would become the single most important piece of advice he would arguably ever receive from anybody:  'Beggar yourself rather than refuse assistance to any one whose genius you think shows promise of being greater than your own.' 

FORD HERMANN HUEFFER, c. 1881
Ford, a voracious reader from an early age, also displayed a gift for musical composition that eventually saw him apply for a place at the Royal College of Music –– an institution he was denied entry to thanks to Francis Hueffer's alleged 'domineering over it' in the pages of The Times.  His formal schooling was meagre but, by all accounts, more than adequate for his needs, ending permanently at the age of seventeen when he decided to leave the University College School in London.  After being forbidden by his grandfather to enter the army, the Civil Service or to take up any kind of wage-earning profession – 'I will turn you straight out of my house if you go in for any kind of commercial life!' was what Madox Brown allegedly told him –– he found himself attracted to the idea of earning his living as a writer.  In 1891 he wrote a fairy tale titled The Brown Owl a work originally conceived for the amusement of his sister, for whom he had already created several other fairy tales –– that his grandfather thought showed enough creative promise for him to offer to provide two illustrations for it, thereby persuading the English firm of T Fisher Unwin to go ahead and publish it.  Ford's first book sold well – 'many thousands more copies than any other book I ever wrote,' he later remembered –– and was soon followed by two more fairy tales, The Feather (1891) and The Queen Who Flew (1894) and then by a novel, The Shifting of the Fire (1892), which featured a distinctively Fordian protagonist who was the first of what would become an impressive gallery of thinly-disguised self-portraits 

In 1891 Ford began courting Elizabeth 'Elsie' Martindale, a girl three years his junior whom he had met while both had been pupils of the 'advanced' Praetorius School in London.  The following year he sent Elsie a ring for her sixteenth birthday –– a gift that displeased her parents, both of whom were opposed to the match.  Although the Martindales personally liked Ford, they felt as threatened by his newly-adopted Catholicism (he had converted during a recent trip to Paris) as they did by his progressivist ideas (especially about sex) and began to fear that he might be pursuing Elsie solely for her money.  (Elsie's father Dr William Martindale was the Mayor of Winchelsea and a successful analytical chemist who had done quite well for himself in the booming pharmaceutical trade.)  Her parents' disapproval only increased Ford's ardour and his determination that, sanctioned by her family or not, he and Elsie would marry some day.  Unfortunately, the situation was not aided by the death, in October 1893, of his beloved grandfather and the breaking up of the Madox Brown home and the loss of most of the artist's estate. 

Despite a passionate exchange of letters on all sides –– which saw Ford push himself to the brink of physical and emotional collapse, offering to 'renounce' Elsie for good on several occasions and even taking the melodramatic step of suggesting they form a suicide pact should their love find itself permanently thwarted –– nothing was resolved, with Dr Martindale remaining adamant in his refusal to allow his under-aged daughter to tie herself to a penniless young writer who displayed no sign of being able to support her.  Her father's continuing opposition to the match resulted in the hatching of a plan which saw Elsie slip away from her elder sister Mary during a train journey from London to Winchelsea on 16 March 1894 and return alone to London, from where she travelled, again unaccompanied, to an 'unknown destination.'  Ford hoped that by separating Elsie from her family he would then be free to discuss matters calmly and sensibly with the Martindales, never guessing that his actions would only serve to confirm their worst suspicions of him.  Elsie remained in hiding, living 'respectably' with the retired maid of one of Ford's cousins, while he and William Martindale fought a two month legal battle which ended with the latter having his daughter declared a Ward of Court, granting him and her mother unrestricted legal custody of her as soon as the necessary order could be issued by a judge.  Rather than wait for such an order to be issued, Ford and Elsie married on 17 May in a registry office in Gloucester, lying about their ages in an effort to forestall the asking of any awkward questions.  

ELSIE HUEFFER, c. 1898
Martindale was furious when he heard that Ford had married his daughter without his consent and immediately applied for a restraining order that, had it been served, would have seen the twenty year old bridegroom forcibly separated from his wife and denied the chance to see or even speak with her until she legally came of age on her twenty-first birthday.  The presiding magistrate proved lenient, however, and decided the case in Ford's favour after delivering a stern lecture on morals and correct legal procedure to all parties concerned.  The case also made the papers, helping to publicize Ford's newly published book prior to the couple's move to a rented cottage in Bonnington, a small town located in the Romney Marsh region of Kent.

It was in rural Kent, during 1895, that Ford wrote a second unpublished novel and a biography of his grandfather, a labour of love that, while mostly well-received when it appeared in 1896, hardly qualified as the great success required to convince the Martindales who had thus far resisted all Elsie's attempts to reconcile with them – that his impetuous marriage to their daughter had not been a terrible mistake.  Fortunately, Kent was well supplied with literary talent at this time, including Henry James (the writer Ford admiringly referred to as 'the Old Master') whom he met prior to the birth of his first daughter Christina and his inheriting, in 1897, of £3000 from a recently deceased German relative.  While the money proved a godsend it was not, in what would become typically Fordian fashion, spent on installing 'luxuries' like modern plumbing in his ramshackle country cottage.  All his life, Ford would remain someone for whom an enchanting view and a cellar filled with wine would be infinitely more desirable than owning a house filled with comfortable furniture (or sometimes any furniture at all) or having the cash on hand to pay his many creditors.  His inheritance failed to make him financially independent but it did allow him to take up golf – a game he remained fond of until his dying day and occasionally featured in his novels –– and befriend local Liberal politician and future Cabinet Minister CFG Masterman, the figure who would eventually serve as the model for both Edward Ashburnham in The Good Soldier and Christopher Tietjens in the Parade's End tetralogy.   

In 1898, still living in Kent, he met Joseph Conrad, a fellow 'scribbler' then occupying a nearby property with his wife Jessie and eight month old son Borys.  Conrad, who had been born in Poland in 1857 and had spent the first third of his life at sea as a member of the British merchant service, was the author of three published novels by the time he and Ford were introduced that autumn by the elder writer's friend and editor (and Ford's cousin) Edward Garnett.  Conrad was introduced to Ford in the hope the two might get on well enough to collaborate, enabling the notoriously slow working Conrad to 'produce copy' at a rate sufficient to support his wife and child.  English was Conrad's third language (after Polish and French) and he hoped to gain some of the younger man's facility and speed by collaborating with him.  Conrad, in his turn, became a major literary influence on Ford, helping to shape and define what, from 1900 onward, became an increasingly sophisticated writing style which saw him focus more on the composition of fiction rather than on the memoirs, histories and poetry which had been his literary bread and butter prior to the 1903 publication of Romance, their first co-authored novel.  

VIOLET HUNT, 1912
Ford's 1909 affair with Violet Hunt succeeded his alleged 1903 affair with his sister-in-law Mary Martindale, which took place approximately two years after he and Elsie had moved to Winchelsea to be closer to the parents she had, by then, made peace with.  (It's still regarded as an 'alleged' affair because no evidence exists to confirm that it actually took place beside the unreliable testimony of Ford's long-dead younger daughter Katherine, who was born in 1900.)  The Hueffer marriage had been under strain for several years by then, with Elsie supposedly feeling envious if not actively resentful of her husband's physically separate 'other life' as a kind of literary jack-of-all-trades who now numbered among his friends –– in addition to Conrad and Henry James – the novelists HG Wells, Stephen Crane and John Galsworthy.  Ford, for his part, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1904 which may, or may not, have been at least partially triggered by the 1902 suicide of his father-in-law and whatever feelings of guilt or remorse he may have experienced as the result of having pursued a clandestine sexual relationship with his sister-in-law.  

He returned to Germany to seek treatment for his condition, accompanied this time only by his mother.  It was also his mother whom he continued to live with following their return to London in early 1905 –– an arrangement that persisted for the next four years as he divided his time between the capital, Winchelsea and other locations, visiting his wife and daughters mostly on weekends.  It was during this period that Ford consolidated his reputation as something of a literary dynamo, writing and publishing twenty-six books –– including nine novels – and befriending members of the literary avant-garde including the young DH Lawrence and the flamboyant London-based American poet Ezra Pound.  While the hectic pace of London's literary scene suited him, it did not and had never suited Elsie, who fretted about her health and worried that his numerous social engagements might be interfering with his work which, as she was no doubt painfully aware, remained their one steady source of income.  By 1909 it had become obvious to both of them that the passion which had prompted them to run away together in 1894 was completely gone, paving the way for Violet Hunt –– beautiful, experienced, ambitious, notoriously indiscreet –– to enter the picture and become Ford's lover.

Ford and Hunt began their affair in June 1909 although they had known each other since Ford, according to him, had been 'in my perambulator.'  Hunt had enjoyed numerous liaisons with a wide variety of men, including brief affairs with Ford's fellow writers HG Wells and W Somerset Maugham, but had recently lost the man she described in her diaries as the love of her life, seeing in Ford, could he somehow be 'gotten away' from Elsie, what might be her final chance to marry.  (She did not tell Ford she was infected with syphilis and had been receiving treatment for the disease until they had been living together for several years.)  Their relationship –– which often saw them entertain as a couple at his flat at 84 Holland Park Road or at 'South Lodge,' the Kensington house that Hunt shared with her mother –– soon became an open secret in literary London, aided by the fact that Hunt was a well-known journalist in addition to being a popular novelist and short story writer whose work appeared in many of the city's leading periodicals and newspapers.  Ford was by this time engrossed in a new project of his own –– the compilation and editing of what would become the first groundbreaking issue of The English Review.  

FORD and VIOLET HUNT, c. 1910
After initially rejecting the idea of granting her husband a divorce, Elsie suddenly agreed to it, only to reject the idea again at the last minute on the advice of her brother and Ford's German relatives, who reminded her of the harm a divorce might do to Christina and Katherine, both of whom were being raised as Catholics at their father's request.  Elsie petitioned the court for the restitution of her conjugal rights and this petition was subsequently granted, causing Ford – who had, by now, reached the end of his emotional tether – to flee to France with Hunt, where they remained for what proved to be a gloomy fortnight of soul-searching and mutual commiseration.  Unfortunately, they were intercepted – 'ambushed' might be the better word for it –– by Elsie at Charing Cross Station when they returned to London in October, making what had previously been an open secret a very public one as far as their friends, colleagues and the gossip-loving English press were concerned.  

The ensuing scandal cost Ford his editorship of The English Review and placed even greater strain on his already strained friendships with Conrad, James and Galsworthy.  But worse was to come.  Ordered by the court to pay Elsie maintenance of £3 per week –– ten shillings less than what he was already paying her –– he refused to comply and was given a ten day sentence in Brixton Gaol for his stubbornness.  Following his release from prison he moved into South Lodge with Hunt and her mother –– a move, accomplished with the unlikely assistance of Elsie's sister Mary Martindale, that he hoped would finally persuade his wife to divorce him.  He also conceived a vague and ultimately unsuccessful scheme to attain German citizenship, which he and Hunt convinced themselves would magically 'nullify' his marriage to Elsie and allow them to become man and wife under German law.  They left for Germany in August 1910 where, after spending some time at the spa town Bad-Nauheim, they travelled on to Geissen where Ford was to remain –– alone for a large part of the time, although he continued to make frequent return trips to England – until the middle of 1911, fighting what proved to be a futile legal and bureaucratic battle to have himself declared a German citizen.

The Ford-Hunt-Elsie situation was in the news again in September 1911 when the Daily Mirror printed an interview with Ford in which he stated that he and Hunt had married while holidaying in Germany.  Elsie successfully sued the paper for £350 and forced it to print a retraction, yet still refused to set her husband free.  Less than a year later she sued another London newspaper, The Throne, for referring to Hunt in print as 'Mrs Ford Madox Hueffer' in a review of a novel her rival had recently published.  Elsie won the case, this time receiving £300 plus court costs, and refused to allow Ford to spend Christmas with his daughters, claiming it would 'unsettle' the girls to stay with him.  Ford and Hunt, their morale lower than ever, once again fled to the Continent to escape the ensuing scandal, not returning to England until May 1913 when Hunt unwisely began re-identifying herself to their friends as 'Mrs Hueffer.' 

2ND LT FORD MADOX HUEFFER, 1915
Elsie did not pursue further legal action, but nor did she ever agree to divorce her husband who, in December of that year, began writing a novel he originally planned to call The Saddest Story –– a wrenching tale of infidelity, selfishness, confusion and hypocrisy –– that would be published in March 1915 under what was felt to be the more war appropriate title of The Good Soldier.  Ford himself entered the army that same July, becoming a Second Lieutenant in the Third Battalion of the Welch Regiment –– a regiment that was sent to France in 1916 to replace troops lost during heavy fighting along the Western Front.  During the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, while serving behind the Allied lines as his regiment's Transport Officer, Ford was knocked unconscious by a shell blast that plunged him into a state of amnesia for more than a day.  Although he recovered, and requested to be allowed to lead his men into battle several times, these requests were repeatedly denied by his Commanding Officer, who no longer viewed him as being an emotionally or militarily reliable subordinate.  Eventually, the combination of gas and shell-shock saw him assigned to the less taxing role of guarding German prisoners, whose culture he understood and whose language, along with French, he spoke fluently.  He continued to serve in France until March 1917, when he was repatriated to England and assigned to the Twenty-Third King's Liverpool Regiment, with whom he remained until hostilities ended in November 1918. 

STELLA BOWEN, c. 1920
Ford's difficult and increasingly stormy relationship with Violet Hunt did not survive the war, ending for good in 1918 –– after several infidelities on both sides –– when he met and fell passionately in love with Stella Bowen, a young Australian war artist.  In June 1919, as if determined to forever separate his 'old' pre-war self from his 'new' post-war self, he legally changed his surname from 'Hueffer' to 'Ford.'  Two months later he moved to a small cottage in rural Sussex with Bowen who gave birth to his third child, another daughter named Julia (known as Julie), the following year.  Hunt continued to refer to herself as 'Mrs Hueffer' for the rest of her life, as did Elsie until her death in 1924.  The two daughters Ford had with Elsie, Christina and Katherine, never saw their father again after the 'farewell' lunch he treated them to in London prior to his 1916 departure for France, although he regularly corresponded with Katherine until the time of her mother's death, when her letters to him, according to her, stopped being answered – a claim disputed by at least one of his biographers and by Janice Biala, the woman he lived with from 1931 until his death, at Deauville in northern France, on 26 June 1939.  



Click HERE to download a legal eBook copy of A Call and many other works by FORD MADOX FORD –– including The Good Soldier (1915) and all four volumes of the Parade's End tetralogy (1924-1928) – from the free eBook archive founded and maintained by THE UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE.

Six major biographies of FORD MADOX FORD have been published since his death:

The Last Pre-Raphaelite: A Record of the Life and Writings of Ford Madox Ford by DOUGLAS GOLDRING (London: McDonald, 1948) 

The Life and Work of Ford Madox Ford by FRANK MacSHANE (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965) 

The Saddest Story: A Biography of Ford Madox Ford by ARTHUR MIZENER (London: The Bodley Head, 1972) 

The Life in the Fiction of Ford Madox Ford by THOMAS C MOSER (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980) 

Ford Madox Ford by ALAN JUDD (London: Collins, 1990)

Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life –– Volume I, The World Before The War by MAX SAUNDERS (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1996) 

Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life –– Volume II, The After-War World  by MAX SAUNDERS (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1996)

The shortest and most readable of these books is the 1990 ALAN JUDD biography, while the two volume 1996 MAX SAUNDERS biography remains the most detailed and enlightening in terms of unravelling FORD's many contradictions as a man and as a writer and how these influenced and were subsequently 're-imagined' by him in his work.

THE FORD MADOX FORD SOCIETY is an international organization founded in 1997 'to promote knowledge of and interest in the life and works of Ford Madox Ford' which can be visited by clicking HEREYou can also click HERE to view clips from the soon-to-be released documentary It Was The Nightingale: The Unreliable Story of Ford Madox Ford, directed by PAUL LEWIS for Subterracon Films. 

You might also enjoy:
POET OF THE MONTH #4: Ford Madox Ford
WRITERS ON WRITING #60: Ford Madox Ford
JOSEPH CONRAD The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (1907)

No comments:

Post a Comment