Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Hemingway and Ford Madox Ford

When you read A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway you realise that while he was a good writer, as a human being he lacked that subtlety of wit which allows one to know when one's leg is being pulled. Perhaps it was the German in him with his "distressing grasp of the obvious". A case in point is the encounter he had with Ford Madox Ford while he was sitting in the Closerie Des Lilas and writing with his inevitable pencil in what we are led to believe were Moleskine notebooks.

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.

Addendum: 7/April/2013:


ktismatics said...

Having read and reread the Hemingway passage you've posted, the obviousness eludes me. I'd say more but surely you know what I mean.

The Good Soldier I've read, but my admiration for and enjoyment of it are all I remember now. This seems to be the fate of most things I've read. It's a good thing the books still exist out there in the world, having escaped the oblivion to which my memory otherwise would consign them.

ktismatics said...

...I find that the obviousness eludes me. I made the same mistake on something I wrote yesterday.

ombhurbhuva said...

That piece, as in A Moveable Feast, was an imaginative recreation and expansion of a section that he left out of The Sun also rises. Obviously the idea of Ford not recognising Belloc is silly but it was true that he was a fabulist. Hem mocking Ford is characteristic of his treatment of those who did him a good turn. Without exception (possibly Pound) they were punished for it. Ford was his mentor, publishing everything he wrote and writing a glowing introduction to A Farewell to Arms. I suppose it injured Hem's sense of being a stoic loner, a stance that he cultivated.

ombhurbhuva said...
Found this just now from a review:

But the extraordinary thing is that Hemingway is able to give Ford’s conversation about Gentlemanliness to the life, the very accent of the author of The Good Soldier, and offer it to his readers as a specimen of genuine snobbery. Ford had favored Hemingway with no less than the kernel of his best comic writing and Hemingway had taken it, or pretended to take, all in dead seriousness. In any case, it should be noted that this was one of the most expansive, productive, generous and generally affable periods of Ford’s life. Pound’s kindness would have been far less effective without Ford’s intelligence. "

ktismatics said...

"Hemingway had taken it, or pretended to take, all in dead seriousness."

Those are two possibilities. I also wondered if Hemingway may indeed have recognized Ford's sarcasm while also acknowledging the literal truth of the remark: Ford knows that I really am a cad. "Only touching distance away" was a queer phrasing: which of the two of them did Hemingway think would do the reaching out? Did he fear, or wish, that the touch would be a cut, or an embrace?

You're interpretation may well be right, and it's certainly the most direct reading: Hemingway lacked the subtlety of wit. It's known that autistic people typically fail to detect sarcasm. When I was doing graduate work in psychology we shared a tacit assumption, sometimes explicitly acknowledged, that we had taken up this line of study because we didn't understand people. I wonder whether novelists suffer from this same handicap. Maybe they create worlds populated by fictional characters because real people are such a mystery to them.

Finally A Moveable Feast was returned to the library shelves, so I checked it out and brought it home with me this afternoon.

ombhurbhuva said...

That's extremely interesting what you say about autistic people though I wouldn't quite place Hem in that category. Maybe Cattell would have a slot for him, high autopremsia and threctia, his desurgency masked as surgency. Clan Hem suffered from serious black depression, father, himself, sister and brother all suicides. The beautiful Margaux, a grand daughter also. And now:
The statute of limitations prevents you from killing yourself twice.

I've just finished reading Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. It looks as though since Corrections he has suffered HTR (head top removal). My opinion: His prose needs a 12 step program or surrender to a higher power known as an editor. I resent that he has kept me away from the tetralogy by Ford called Parade's End. It seems that the last work has little connection with the other three so he may have lied about that. Excellent so far.

Queer phrasing! Careful with that, the eyes in the poster will follow you round the room and your simple declarative sentences will sprout parentheses.

ktismatics said...

That long diary section in Franzen's book was the most ill-conceived part of the book. The tree-hugging features seemed awfully preachish. I can't quite put my finger on what Franzen is good at -- something to do with documentation of ordinary bourgeois Americana. We formerly lived in St. Paul, the setting of the story and F. Scott F's home town. Parade's End I've read too -- again, I remember thinking it was good, but that's about all. I actually have a copy of that book, which over the past week my wife has been threatening to read.

ombhurbhuva said...

The cosy resolution of all problems at the end was just sentimental and the relationship parallels were schematic e.g. Jonathan : Joey :: Walter: Richard. Unrealistic. The Journal plot device was a poor effort. How does one write interestingly about unsympathetic people? If it is all in their own words then there has to be the humour of paradox and autistic blankness. I was up in Dublin for the day and in the bookshop of the Municipal Art Gallery I came across a nice edition of Joyce's Dubliners beautifully got up with gold edged bible paper, like a missal. Ivy Day in the Commitee Room I glanced at. You probably know it well. The old man is complaining of his son who is gone rakish.

"Only I'm an old man now I'd change his tune for him. I'd take the stick to his back and beat him while I could stand over him - as I done many a time before. The mother you know, she cocks him up with this and that...'

'That's what ruins children,' said Mr. O'Connor.

'To be sure it is,' said the old man. 'And little thanks you get for it, only impudence. He takes the upper hand of me whenever he sees I have a sup taken. What's the world coming to when sons speaks that way to their father?' "

Great lift in that. Galleries can be so draining.

ombhurbhuva said...

Extract from Some Do Not being the First Part of the tetralogy Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford published 1924.

"According to Sir John one of the most remarkable feats of the furniture trade had been Tietjens’ purchase of the Hemingway bureau for Lady Moira. Tietjens, in his dislikeful way, had bought this at a cottage sale for Ł3 10s., and had told Lady Moira it was the best piece she would ever possess: Lady Moira had gone to the sale with him. Other dealers present had hardly looked at it: Tietjens certainly hadn’t opened it. But at Lady Moira’s, poking his spectacles into the upper part of the glazed piece, Sir John had put his nose straight on the little bit of inserted yellow wood by a hinge, bearing signature, name and date: Jno. Hemingway, Bath 1784.’ Sylvia remembered them because Sir John told her so often. It was a lost ‘piece’ that the furnishing world had been after for many years."

There is of course no 'Hemingway' furniture maker of Bath but if you search in the local John Lewis ( there you will find Hemingway furniture. How prescient of Ford! More mischief. To insinuate that Hem had a nose for antiques with an instinctive sense of quality especially in the matter of bureaus is vile, simply vile and insupportable. Nor did he ever dress his poodle in tartan.

ktismatics said...

I'm presently reading the "Hunger is a Good Discipline" chapter in A Moveable Feast. But then there's this:

"Ernest promoted the image of starting off as a starving artist who sometimes had to snatch pigeons from Parisian parks like the Jardin du Luxembourg to feed his family. But Ernest was never poor. He was born on July 21, 1899 to comfortable middle class surroundings. His father was a successful Chicago-area physician and when Ernest implied to a bunch of high school kids that he couldn't afford college after he "went to war" ("There was no GI Bill then", he explained) that, too, was a "practical joke fantasy" (ergo, complete bullshit). After high school Ernest got a newspaper job at the Kansas City Star (a job, by the way, arranged by an influential uncle) and when he got back from Europe in 1918, he had enough money so he didn't have to work for a year. Not attending college was his choice and against the wishes of his family...

"Far from being the starving artist mixing among the West Bank expatriates, Ernest's financial situation was more like that of Robert Cohn, the - quote - "villain" - unquote - of The Sun Also Rises. So Robert could have the leisure to write books, we are told, his mother settled him an allowance of $300 a month (very good money in the 1920's). For Hem, it was his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and her trust fund of $250 a month that allowed Ernest to quit the job at the Star and knuckle down to writing fiction. And his second wife, Pauline, came from such a wealthy family that not only did her uncle Gus pay for the safari which led to Hemingway's book Green Hills of Africa, but Gus even paid for Ernest and Pauline's home in Key West which is now a Hemingway museum. A good job, indeed, if you can get it."

ktismatics said...

I just read in context the exchange between Hemingway and Ford that you cite in your post, and I see that I misunderstood. Ford was supposedly cutting not Hemingway but Belloc. Hemingway says that Belloc, distracted, hadn't even seen him or Ford as he glanced at their table. The way Hemingway interprets the incident is this: Ford believed that Belloc had recognized but intentionally ignored him, so in order to preserve his pride Ford acted as though he himself had ignored Belloc. But you're saying that Ford knew what had really happened and was just inventing a comedy of manners to suit the occasion which the obtuse Hemingway didn't grasp. As evidence to support your case you then cite Ford recognizing in some other gentleman the ridiculous pomposity that Hemingway believes that Ford didn't recognize in himself. Okay, I get it now.

Did Ford and Belloc get along with each other? I don't know, but here's something from the memoirs of Belloc's sister, Marie Belloc Lowndes, about Ford, whose birth name was Hueffer:

"To me there was something repugnant in Ford Madox Hueffer's personality. He was fat and stuffy-looking, but he must have had a considerable attraction for women."

Lowndes then observes that Ford was apparently married to three women at the same time. She continues:

"Ford Madox Hueffer was brilliantly clever, and had he possessed character he might have become very famous. There must have been a strong prejudice against Ford Madox Hueffer in the London literary world, for it is a singular fact that I never met him except at Violet Hunt's house. Even at a time when many believed that she was his wife, many of her old friends gave up seeing her for the reason that they intensely disliked him."

Lowndes recounts an event hosted by a Mr. Clodd to which Ford got himself invited even though everyone else there disliked him. Evidently Ford subsequently turned this event into a literary extravaganza:

"Almost every well known British writer was mentioned as being there, and I especially remember that my brother was supposedly included among Mr. Clodd's supposed guests. To the best of my belief the two men had never met, and did not meet later on."

Whether Lowndes' gossip was truth or fabrication, it does suggest that Belloc might well have cut Ford had he recognized him at the cafe table.

ktismatics said...

...and then it turns out to have been Aleiester Crowley who passed by -- LOL. A cad AND a bounder.

ombhurbhuva said...

Coopertoons is in league with Crowley obviously, channeling him. Hem made it all up as he did with the discipline of hunger and other fables. That doesn't take away from the excellence of his short stories. I haven't looked at the novels for a while and I have a feeling that time might not be so kind to them. Scott Fitzgerald is different, his writing is fresh as the day it was written. I'm looking for the first time at Tender is the Night the revised version at the moment.

The mystery of Ford's attraction for women, like Wells's may have galled more manly chaps.

ktismatics said...

"What is, if not easy, almost always possible to do is for members of the private detective school of literary criticism to prove that the writer of fiction written in the first person could not possibly have done everything that the narrator did or, perhaps, not even any of it. What importance this has or what it proves except that the writer is not devoid of imagination or the power of invention I have never understood."
- from "On Writing in the First Person" in A Moveable Feast

Evidently Hemingway didn't trouble himself about drawing sharp lines between the fiction and the non.

ombhurbhuva said...

True and if he had written that he would not have used the word 'devoid'. 'Power of invention', Hem never used abstractions. That's a load of Bellocs.

ktismatics said...

A load of Bellocs? That's hilaireious.

Anonymous said...

Alan Judd loved The Good Soldier & was prompted to study Ford Madox Ford's life. He was appalled at the amount of gossip & misunderstanding passing for "biography." The hero of Ford's great Parade's End almost has his life destroyed by gossip--although Tietjens was blameless & Ford definitely had his flaws.

So Judd wrote an excellent biography of Ford--who mightily helped young (& older) writers & was not thanked for it. From that book:
Ford was not a hero in the Hemingway mould: he was vulnerable, untidy, sentimental, funny in a way that Hemingway could probably sense but not see, and genuinely heroic; he was superior in age, status, experience, knowledge of his craft, sensitivity and ability; he was unaggressive, fat and wheezing, had fought in the trenches and was unaccountably popular with women. There was much that Hemingway might have found hard to forgive.

--not Bridget

ombhurbhuva said...

Hi Anon.
Thanks for that mention of Alan Judd's biography. It seems to have been well received.. I may get it. Now that the centenary of the WW1 is coming up and the BBC have in the can or making a mini series out of Parade's End with Benedict Cumberbatch we might expect some more readers to go to the source. Having just finished reading the tetralogy I find it uncanny that it is so overlooked.