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FORD MADOX FORD AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES: THE TECHM IO.UES OF THE NOVEL Sy Frank MacShane (University of California, Berkeley) Ford Madox Ford was known as a champion of technique in the novel. Devoting almost as many words to discussions of literature and the methods of writing as he gave to imaginative literature itself, Ford in his later years frequently described himself as "en old man mad about writing," Essentially what he believed was that the novelist, like any other artist, had to master the tools of his art before he could be considered seriously. He was therefore firmly opposed to the inspired amateur who, though he might write like a god on one page, could almost assuredly be expected to write like the weariest of literary hacks on the three succeeding pages. Yet despite his insistence upon technical competence, Ford realised that all writing involved a certain amount of compromise, 3y itself technique was no more a guarantee of excellence than insight or inspiration was, l.'hat was needed was a combination of the iwo, and t ■" ι i s combination often required a compromise in method. The act of compromise did not of necessity mean that standards were of no consequence: it only meant that writing a successful novel was like walking a tightrope. The excesses of technical virtuosity had to be avoided as much as the excesses of passion and emotional conviction. On the whole, hc./sver, Ford cerne ¿own strongly in favour of technique, The attitude he adopted was largely an act of protest against the sort of literature produced during the reign of ^ueen Victoria, Brought up amongst the "great figures" of Victorian literature, Ford soon reacted against their amiable generalisations , for he realised that much of what they asserted had proved to be false, Ruskin he therefore characterised in later years as "that most preposterous of all portentous humbugs," and ho ascribed to the Victorians and the Romantics before them many of the difficulties with which his own generation had to cope. Thus Ford was dismayed that as late as 1914 Dostoievsky was enjoying a renewed popularity. By artistic temperament opposed to all that Dostoievsky represented, Ford considered that his revival meant that the Romantic Movement was also being revived. "The Romantic Movement coming backi" he exclaims. "For whatever Dostoievsky may be, he certainly isn't a Realists His characters are extraordinarily vivid; but they are too vivid for the Realist School. They are too much always in one note; they develop little; they are static. His strong scenes are strong to the point of frenzy, but they are too full-dress: everybody has to be in them at once.,.."2 What, in short, Ford principally objected to in the Romantics was their exaggeration, their falsification of actuality by the portrayal of characters larger than life and by their presentations of scenes that could never take place in the world of ordinary events, Romantic literature therefore a Πtoo easily became the literature of escape»' In contrast, Ford believed that the duty of the novelist was to record his own times with 55 much accurrcy and precision as possible. For this reason, Ford himself sided with the novelists that descended from Richardson rather than with those descending from Fielding. He believed that the novel had never been a serious art form in the work of men like Dickens and Thackeray, and that it liad remained for Stendhal, Turgenev, Fiaubert and Maupassant to develop the novel as a vehicle for intelligent discussions of life. Diderot, for example, Ford credited with :tl.e discovery that words put into the mouths of a character need not be considered as having the personal backing of the author.v¿ Stendhal, in turn made it evident, with LE ROUGE ET LE NOIR, that a novel could be the medium for a serious assessment of actual experience, for he did "not take sides with the virtuous whose virtues cause them to prosper or with the vicious whose very virtues drive them nearer and nearer to the gallows or the pauper's grave." ; Finally, Ford considered Flaubert's EDUCATION SENTIMENTALE one of the greatest of novels because it was "written from a standpoint of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 2-11
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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