Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

America's Ford: Glenway Wescott, Katherine Anne Porter and Knopf's Parade's End

Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

America's Ford: Glenway Wescott, Katherine Anne Porter and Knopf's Parade's End

Article excerpt

Glenway Wescott and the Young Americans

In 1921 the young American expatriate writer Glenway Wescott was dining with Edith and Osbert Sitwell and their coterie of literary friends in London. Wescott mentioned that he was en route to visit Ford Madox Ford at his cottage in Sussex. To Wescott' s surprise, the room got quiet, broken only by Osbert' s remark that 'We call him Freud Madox Fraud'. This awkward interchange highlights the differing views of Ford in the English and American literary community. For the Sitwells, any literary merit Ford may have once possessed had been eclipsed by his scandalous relationships with Violet Hunt and Stella Bowen. Wescott later wrote of this incident: 'This gave me my first impression of the pure dislike and disrespect which élite Londoners were to visit upon that important fiction writer, from that time on, and indeed posthumously, in the way of a more or less intentional neglect and devaluation of his work.'1 The Sitwells characterized Wescott's planned visit to Ford as 'an Americanism', and Ford writes in It Was the Nightingale of 'paler Americans, most of them asking for no more than autographs' that made the pilgrimage through the summer of 1921. Why Americans made the trek to see Ford, while he was suffering mostly neglect from the English, needs to be explored, and is my subject in this chapter.

Wescott's brief exchange with the Sitwells illuminates the transitional period in Ford's career when he began to lose his English audience but acquire a new American one. Ford had not published a novel since The Good Soldier in 1915; though critically well-received, it was ultimately overshadowed by the Great War. Throughout the conflict he worked on government propaganda and some of his best poetry, but these did little to enhance his reputation in the United States. It may have been his memoir Thus to Revisit (1921) - a collection of his articles on fellow writers that had originally appeared in the English Review - that established Ford, in America's eyes, as the grand old man of English letters, even as that same work isolated him from his English peers. The fact that Americans like Henry James, Stephen Crane and Ezra Pound feature so prominently in Thus to Revisit also surely ingratiated Ford to his New World readership.

In any case, Wescott reports that his trip to see Ford and Bowen in Sussex was a success:

For an hour or two in the afternoon, while we were there, Ford sat close to the cavernous fireplace, fortifying himself occasionally with a bite of local cheese and a drink of homemade mead, and read aloud a considerable portion of The Marsden Case [..JI listened to it fascinatedly, but my friend could not understand a single sentence, as it was all in that singsong which a good many authors practice - it helps them to get their syntax right - interspersed also with susurrations of the famous asthma, war-induced or not. Prose 186)

Although Ford's Sussex cottage was not as sought out as Gertrude Stein's Picasso-lined drawing room in Paris, visiting Ford was considered an important - and useful - stop on the way to expatriate literary success. Wescott continued his literary pursuits, becoming one of the most successful American expatriate writers of the twenties with his novel The Grandmothers (1926) and the short story collection Good-bye, Wisconsin (1928). (Today he is best known for his masterpiece The Pilgrim Hawk (1940), and is an important figure in the genealogy of openly-gay writers. ) Throughout his life, and especially after Ford's death, Wescott continually championed Ford's writings: 'It has seemed to me unbelievable that he should not have a more important reading public than was found for him in his lifetime' Prose 189). He heads the list of American writers who helped maintain Ford's posthumous legacy: William Carlos Williams, Katherine Anne Porter, Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon, and Edward Dahlberg. It helped that Ford knew these writers personally, and had aided and lauded their work repeatedly, although, as the case of Ernest Hemingway suggests, there was no guarantee of reciprocal championing. …

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