Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

From Boston to Denver

Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

From Boston to Denver

Article excerpt

An Essay from the Unfinished Work 'Portraits of Cities': Edited by Max Saunders

Editor's Introduction

In 1936 Ford began work on a book he thought of as the third volume of a trilogy, joining Provence (1935) and Great Trade Route (1937). Like them, it was to be a book of 'mental travel',1 drawing on his physical travelling with his companion Janice Biala, and (like the earlier two books) illustrated with her drawings. Its conception altered as their travel plans changed. It was originally to have been a continuation of Great Trade Route, taking in locales Ford knew well, such as the South coast of England, Northern France, and Marseilles, together with places he and Biala wanted to visit, such as Tangier and Jaffa. But by 1937 it had settled into the form of a projected collection of 'Portraits of Cities', mainly American. The new title was perhaps meant to invoke that of Ford's second book appearing that year, and equally well-received: Portraits from Life; and to suggest that the new volume would combine the merits of both: intimate portraiture plus magisterial geographical and cultural sweep.

Ford only completed four chapters of it, all written in 1937. In the spring of 1938 he said he had 'not got either the material or the frame of mind to write them [. . .]'; probably because of the pressure he was under to finish his enormous critical survey of The March of Literature. Soon after that had been sent to the publisher, though, Ford was suggesting to his agent a new variation of the cities project, now called 'Forty (?) Years of Travel in America'; but he wasn't able to write any more of it before his death the following June.4

The three essays on individual cities, Nashville, Boston, and Denver, were all published in the fourth volume of this series, Ford Madox Ford and the City, where the whole project is described in greater detail.5 The present essay was excluded there as not specifically about cities. But its concern with American life, mentality, and culture during the Depression - what he calls the 'state of mind' of the country - makes it especially relevant to this volume. It was written after Ford and Biala travelled to Colorado in August 1937. He had been invited to Boulder to attend the last two weeks of the Writers' Conference of the Rocky Mountains. She had two exhibitions booked, one at Boulder, the other at the Denver Museum. They were in Denver in the third week of August.6 The comment that they had 'zigzagged for exactly twelve months on this day of writing from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains' points to a composition date of November 1937 or later, since they had left France for New York on 1 1 November 1936.7

Ford had made extensive lecture tours of the East Coast and the Midwest a decade earlier, from 1926-28, spurred by the success of the individual novels of Parade's End; and he wrote up some of his experiences in an earlier 'mental travel' book, New York is Not America (1927). In the late 1930s he was again a frequent traveler in the USA. He had been appointed as a writer and critic in residence at the small liberal arts college at Olivet, Michigan, starting from the Writers' Conference there in mid July 1937, and staying on for the rest of the year. But this time he was travelling with Biala, his partner throughout the 1930s. She had already produced dust-jacket designs for his novels The Rash Act and Henry for Hugh, and his post-war reminiscences (It Was the Nightingale). But her illustrations were integral to the conception of these later books on travel and culture, with thirty-three in Provence, and twenty- four in Great Trade Route. She was to have provided drawings of each city for 'Portraits of Cities' as she did for Nashville, Boston and Denver. (The drawings of Boston and Denver were reproduced in IFMFS volume 8, Ford Madox Ford and Visual Culture. One of the drawings of Nashville is illustrated here in plate 4, following p. 144.)

This essay records Ford's impressions of an America eight years into the Depression which followed the Wall Street Crash of October 1929. …

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