Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

Ford, Biala and New York: A Novelist's View

Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

Ford, Biala and New York: A Novelist's View

Article excerpt

The subject of this volume is 'Ford and America', but as he lets us know in the title of his delightful essay: 'New York is not America'. And yet I feel free to concentrate on Ford's relationship to New York. In honoring Ford Madox Ford, it is perhaps almost incumbent, rather than to approach the subject directly, to circle around it, or to use one of Ford's favorite words, to create a series of coils. So I am speaking not directly of Ford in New York, but of a relationship between Ford and a woman who could only have been a New Yorker. Shochenka Tworkovska, Janice Bernstein, Janice Tworkov, Janice Biala. Mrs. Ford.

The last great love of Ford's life was a New Yorker. Born in 1 902, in Bialystok, Poland, she emigrated ten years later to America, becoming one of the millions of tenement dwellers on New York's lower East Side. She enacts a particular kind of New York story, the one that says that the girl from the tenements has a right to the life of an artist, and that life must, to be lived properly, have access to Europe. Particularly Paris. But it begins in New York, in the Art Students League. Biala could only have been made in New York. You can say that Paris in the 20s was full of Americans from all over. Hemingway, after all was from Illinois and Fitzgerald from Minnesota. But they were men, and Christian. What, you might say, of the Jewish Californian Gertrude Stein? But she came to Paris in possession of a fortune and by way of Berkeley and Harvard. And besides, she was Gertrude Stein, serving as a type for nothing and no one but herself.

Biala' s meeting with Ford sounds like a scene from the kind of movie that might be dear to the heart of an immigrant girl. It happened in Paris, in May. May of 1930: two American friends of Mr. and Mrs. Willard Trask were invited for the evening. The moment is described by Mrs. Willard Trask:

Ford was at his best, appreciative in listening and joining in enthusiastically. In the living room after supper he sat between the girls on the sofa [....] Then it was that I had one of the strangest experiences of my life: I saw, literally saw, the transformation of Ford, as though he were a monarch moth shedding his cocoon. We had always thought of him as an old man [....] But here he was, become a young man [....] He was ardent, he was charming, he was a man in love! Later that evening Ford took Eileen and Janice out to see some boîtes and to do some dancing, and the girls told us later that he danced with them all night long. I heard him come in after dawn; nevertheless, he met Willard and me for our noon dinner. Our conversation that day was entirely about the night before and the two girls from New York. Eileen was really the showpiece of the pair. She was a poet, tall, blonde, and fascinating, born and raised in Antigua, which fact always seemed to increase her interest for everyone, and we thought that naturally she would be the one that Ford would be taken with. So we started talking about her - wasn't Eileen charming, wasn't she attractive [. . .]? Ford listened and agreed with all we said, and then paused and said very quietly, 'And the little dark haired one is nice. ' And, just from the way he said it, I knew instantly that he was in love with Janice, that it was for her that he had been transfigured the night before.1

In an interview with Sondra S tang, Biala quoted Olive Garnett, a defender of Ford's wife Elsie, as saying of him, 'His conversation was like caviar'. And she told Arthur Mizener that The years I spent with him were a long passionate dialogue' (Saunders, vol. 2 371). It is impossible not to make the connection between her statement and Tietjens's musings at the end of A Man Could Stand Up -:

That was what a young woman was for. You seduced a young woman in order to be able to finish your talks with her. You could not do that without living with her. You could not live with her without seducing her; but that was the byproduct. The point is that you can't otherwise talk. …

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