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Journal of Modern Literature 26.3/4 (2003) 28-46



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Double Trouble:

The Hueffer Brothers and the Artistic Temperament1

Hillyer College-University of Hartford

Oliver Madox Hueffer has achieved only footnote fame in literary history as the younger brother of Ford Madox Ford. Yet such near oblivion was the last fate that family friend Olive Garnett would have expected from the larger-than-life character she described in her diary. "No one understands him, no one knows whether he will be hanged, or become a great person," she commented on March 23, 1893, as if certain that Hueffer's devil-may-care attitude would earn him long-term notoriety of one stripe or another.2 The now largely forgotten Hueffer once cast himself in many ways as Ford's double, pursuing an erratic career and becoming involved in financial and sexual exploits resembling Ford's — to the point where certain plot details in Hueffer's novels could be loosely based on the life of either brother. Yet Hueffer also chose a different literary niche than Ford. Best known as a novelist and war correspondent, he wrote many newspaper and journal articles; had several plays produced; and published four books of non-fiction, one volume of short stories, and twelve novels, five of them under the pseudonym Jane Wardle. Preoccupied with adventure rather than the quest for literary immortality that drove his brother, Hueffer never quite became a "great person" in his own right. His obituary in the New York Times of June 23, 1931, for instance, identifies him as a writer, but thereafter as "Brother of Ford Madox Ford and Grandson of F.M. Brown, Artist." [End Page 28] 3

In his lifetime, however, Ford felt a pronounced childhood rivalry with Hueffer and also envied his brother's more successful reception early in their careers before literary history had bestowed Ford with an enduring reputation. I return to the scene of this rivalry, in part, to shed light on a largely overlooked aspect of Ford's career: how the competition between the brothers played itself out in their writings. In addition, this sibling rivalry is important for what it reveals about the larger cultural tug-of-war between early twentieth-century authors who appealed to different sectors of the literary market yet had to gain the same publishers' attention.

To clarify this second point, the last ten years have brought deserved attention to the relationship between modernism and popular culture, but there has been much less exploration of how an emerging modernism — here represented by Ford — contended with its most direct rivals — here represented by Hueffer. In our glances back at early twentieth-century literature, we often equate high culture with the stylistically difficult modernism central to our study; yet at the time, high culture encompassed a wider range of quite accessible texts, some earnest and some humorous, that addressed questions about aesthetic and social taste similar to those with which early modernists were concerned. If we understand distinctions such as "serious" and "popular" partly as survival techniques that authors used to set themselves apart from their rivals, early twentieth-century writers seeking to make their names, such as Ford, had less to fear from the impressive hold of popular-cultural forms such as the music hall, dime-novels, and tabloids than from other writers jockeying for position in high-cultural games of distinction. For this reason, it is important to consider what I call the anxiety of resemblance, a twist on Harold Bloom's "anxiety of influence."4 This anxiety of being usurped by or confused with their closest contemporaries plagued many writers like Ford who sought high-cultural status.

This broader cultural fear of resemblances is replayed in the brotherly competition between Ford and Hueffer early in their careers. At the most obvious level, Hueffer made a habit of physically impersonating Ford, taking advantage of their family likeness. Yet Ford also believed that Hueffer imitated his literary subject matter and achieved greater success with it, which was perhaps more threatening to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1464
Print ISSN
0022-281X
Pages
pp. 28-46
Launched on MUSE
2004-07-02
Open Access
No
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