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305 REVIEW-ARTICLE Two on Ford R. W. Lid, FORD MADOX FORO: THE ESSENCE OF HIS ART. Berkley: University of California p, 1964. $4.50. Ambrose Gordon, Jr., THE INVISIBLE TENT: THE WAR NOVELS OF FORD MADOX FORD. Austin: University of Texas P, 1964. $6.00. Here are two more full length studies of the craft of fiction as practiced by Ford Madox Ford, the fifth and sixth such books by American scholar-critics in the last four years. As do all the others, both concentrate upon THE GOOD SOLDIER and the Christopher Tietjens trilogy (or tetralogy, depending upon how you feel about THE LAST POST), using Ford's voluminous early work largely as a mine in which to search for themes and techniques that are to be more deeply developed in the more widely known nove1 s. Sufficient if not good reasons for this recent plethora are not difficult to set down. The subject is, if not a "neglected" novelist, certainly a serious craftsman whose reputation went into decline for a number of years after his death. He ought to be a creator of fiction virtually designed for that critic who learned the art of close reading from the texts of Henry James and James Joyce: a novelist who absorbs James so deeoly that he borrows representations from James and presents them in his own fiction as "Americans," and one who, with Joseph Conrad, is the self-conscious adapter of Stendhal and Flaubert's impressionistic technique into Engl i sh fiction. But students of fiction so far hope in vain for much serious treatment of the questions that Ford raises as a novelist. Both these new books proceed to explain Ford, with a good deal of plot summary, but neither considers the nature or the value of the fictional reality as made by Ford. Both assume that a novelist who presents interesting technical problems is therefore a significant novelist worthy of lengthy analysis. This by-product of a generation of the new criticism is a most unfortunate development. We have all been raised under the banner of "technique as discovery," but many writers, perhaps Ford preeminently, make us aware that technique can be a means of non-discovery -- can even be an evasion of serious consideration of reality. In Ford's THE GOOD SOLDIER, the most highly praised of his writings, we are told a lurid story of a quartet of disaffected rent i ers through the elaborate, impressionistic recreation of John Dowel 1, one of the four. Lid, in his scrutiny of Ford's techniques, straightens this story out for us, developing its allusions, analyzing the effect of the time shifts in the narrator's informal chronicle, tracing the themes of social hypocrisy and wastage. But nowwhere does Lid confront the problems presented by the baffling narrator, Dowell. Lid in fact even dismisses this crucial problem in a foot note, saying that Ford would have "built the problem into his structure, had he wanted it to be one." The fact is, Ford has. In a characteristic aside in WATT, Beckett warns his readers that in his work there are "no symbols where none intended." More amusing than enigmatic, Beckett knows that fiction moves independently of the author's intention, and that no writer can ever be aware of all the possible meanings of his fiction. It is obviously untrue, then, to say that a problem is unimportant to the critic because it seems unknown to an author. How can we, as readers, have faith in the significance of the observations of John Dowell, who is more stupid then naive? How can we rely upon the total perspective created by 306 anyone who reveáis the cl i che -ridden speech of his time and class, but speaks no other language? Though Lid has discussed the development of Ford's technique, we find everywhere larger, more basic questions being begged by unspoken assumptions. At one point in his sordid chronicle Dowell describes his unfortunate wife, Florence, spying from ambush on the amazing Captain Edward Ashburnham, who is holding hands with one of his long train of insipid girl friends, "it is all melodrama," says Dowell, and it is. Lid...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 305-307
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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