Ford Madox Ford and Englishness

Ford Madox Ford and Englishness

Ford Madox Ford and Englishness

Ford Madox Ford and Englishness

Excerpt

The theme of Englishness permeates Ford Madox Ford's work overall, and it is most directly articulated in his trilogy England and the English (1905–7). As many comments and references in the contributions to this book indicate, the early years of the twentieth century – the moment of transition between late Victorian and Edwardian culture – are characterised by a literary preoccupation with the contemporary state of the nation. And it was one of Ford's friends, C. F. G. Masterman, who memorably encapsulated this phenomenon in the title and subject-matter of his book The Condition of England (1909). Long after its publication, the phrase 'condition of England' became a critical genre-term to categorise such disparate novels as H. G. Wells's Tono-Bungay (1909), E. M. Forster's Howards End (1910) or D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love (1920), with Ford's own Parade's End (1924–8) having a strong claim for inclusion in the genre. At the same time Ford's editorship, from 1908, of The English Review, indicated his commitment to a contemporary Englishness, even though, as Jason Harding's chapter indicates, the title also enabled him to smuggle in much excellent international writing, while devoting his editorials to largely national issues. Ford's early writing on the English theme, in fact, was situated within a large context of various and developing discourses about national identity – a turn of the century collective negotiation of ideas about nation conducted largely through narration.

Ford's The Spirit of the People (1907) endeavours to create a kind of synthesis between the shock-thesis of The Soul of London (1905) and the traditionalist antithesis of The Heart of the Country (1906). From the perspective of the new millennium, it appears now as idealistic myth rather than even an 'impressionistic' version of contemporary social reality. It also constructs a vision which seems essentially middle-class, male-oriented and largely evocative of South East life and culture – and, for all its disclaimers, participates in the very English 'optimism' and 'self-deception' (257) which Ford notes. England, he says, is 'generally humane beyond belief' (237): it is a . . .

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