Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

Ford Madox Ford and the Composition of Nostromo

Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

Ford Madox Ford and the Composition of Nostromo

Article excerpt

IAN WATT SUMMARIZED the relationship between Ford and Conrad as follows: "Little in Conrad's life has provoked more confusion as to the facts, and more divergences about their interpretation, than the association with Ford" (1979: 255). Although scholarship has shed light on various aspects of the Ford-Conrad relationship since Watt's statement,1 the dispute surrounding Ford's role in the composition of Part II of Nostromo still rages. The controversy centres on the authorship of sixteen holograph leaves in Ford's hand, now at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University,2 which Ford later claimed represented a small portion of the 30,000 or so words he contributed to Conrad's longest novel. Ford's defenders support his claim; most Conrad scholars believe that Ford merely took down the master's dictation.

Conrad began Nostromo at the very beginning of 1903, finishing it in September 1904. During this time the relationship between Ford and Conrad was arguably at its closest. They had recently finished their second collaboration, Romance, and on the last day of 1902 Conrad wrote to Ford's mother telling her how much the "bond of genuine friendship" with her son meant to him (quoted in Knowles 1990: 48). Ford was involved in Nostromo's production from the beginning, taking over work on The Rescue in January 1903, so that Conrad could focus on his new Latin American story (CL3 4).

The peak of Ford's involvement with Nostromo came during the composition of Part II, when for nearly two months - mid-January to early March 1904 - the Conrads and the Fords were living practically next door to each other in London. Ford later claimed to have written almost a fifth of the novel during this time, including the leaves at Yale, prompting one of Ford's biographers, Arthur Mizener, to state that "Ford did more to help Conrad during these months in London than at any other time during their long intimacy - and more that has aroused controversy" (1971: 89).

Ford was invaluable to Conrad during the composition of Nostromo, but his later claims to authorship of a section of it are almost certainly false. The extant sixteen extant leaves in Ford's hand were dictated by Conrad and produced not during the stay in London in early 1904 but at The Pent in late 1903. The arguments for these conclusions are laid out in four sections: the extant documents relevant to this question are described; Ford's claims to authorship are summarized and assessed; a revised chronology for the disputed composition is constructed; a concluding section argues that the authorship of the disputed leaves is, on balance, Conrad's.

The Documents

The leaves in Ford's holograph represent approximately a third of Part II, Chapter V, of Nostromo and almost three-quarters of the serial instalment of 8 April 1904.3 This part of the novel covers the conversation between Decoud and Antonia on the balcony of the Casa Gould, when the reader first learns of plans for an independent Sulaco.4

The closest surviving preprint material to the beginning of the Ford batch is a fragmentary typescript from Part I at Yale. However, the Nostromo manuscript for Part II, held at the Rosenbach Library, Philadelphia, does logically lead into the leaves in Ford's hand at Yale. The Rosenbach manuscript for Part II breaks off at leaf 586, and, based on the published text, the equivalent of roughly one manuscript leaf is missing between Rosenbach leaf 586 and the first leaf in Ford's hand at Yale, numbered 588. Both the leaves at Yale and the Rosenbach manuscript for Part II are on the same paper, confirming that they were probably once part of the same document. Furthermore, the last paragraph of Rosenbach leaf 586 is in Ford's hand.5

Since the final leaf in Ford's hand is 604, and the Rosenbach manuscript resumes, in Conrad's hand, at page 610, there are five missing leaves, and one missing from the sequence. If we assume that these lost leaves were also in Ford's hand - and there is no reason not to do so - the total run would have consisted of twenty-three leaves. …

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