i tried hard to think of these things but the heavy, wheezing, ignoble presence of ford himself, only touching-distance away, made it difficult. but i tried. 'tell me why one cuts people,' I asked. until then i had thought it was something only done in novels by
ouida. i had never been able to read a novel by ouida, not even at some skiing place in switzerland where reading matter had run out when the wet south wind had come and there were only the left-behind tauchnitz editions of before the war. but i was sure, by some sixth sense, that people cut one another in her novels. 'a gentleman,' ford explained,'will always cut a cad.'
Fine, for many years I took this at its face value but when recently I read what is regarded as Ford Madox Ford's finest novel The Good Soldier a certain doubt arose. John Dowell the American narrator of the very sad tale has a perfectly clear image of the fatuity of those upper class British character assesments and the sere breeze of his irony is relentless. In my opinion Ernest is being wound up like a long case clock with all the aplomb that the British can bring to such jokes.
If you haven't read The Good Soldier you should. It's a bizarre love quadrangle and has elements that I will not speculate about for fear of spoiling the story.
Here's a picture of the perfect English gentleman of that class who would not personally know a bounder.
that was the sort of thing he thought about. Martingales, Chiffney bits, boots; where you got the best soap, the best brandy, the name of the chap who rode a plater down the Khyber cliffs; the spreading power of number three shot before a charge of number four powder... by heavens,
Ford had a very refined sense of the grotesque:
She had not cared to look round Maisie's rooms at first. Now, as soon as she came in, she perceived, sticking out beyond the bed, a small pair of feet in high-heeled shoes. Maisie had died in the effort to strap up a great portmanteau. She had died so grotesquely
that her little body had fallen forward into the trunk, and it had closed upon her, like the jaws of a gigantic alligator.
Should Hem have been wearing an anklet of bells like an Indian dancer the tintinnabulation would have rung merrily o'er the boulevard.