Ford Madox Ford

Ford Madox Ford


Ford Madox Ford


Ford Madox Ford, an English editor and author, was born Ford Hermann Hueffer on December 17, 1873 in Surrey, England. His father was an esteemed music critic from a wealthy German family living in London. His mother, Catherine Madox Brown, was the younger daughter of painter Ford Madox Brown. His family had other artistic ties to William Michael Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford’s uncles by marriage, who were writers and artists who founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an avant-garde art movement. One biographer notes that as a result of his talented family members, Ford often felt overshadowed during his childhood by his very bright younger brother Oliver and by the many distinguished artists and writers who were frequent guests of his household (Stang 10). Criticism from his father led Ford to feel an immense pressure to live up to his expectations. He became involved in literary pursuits from a young age, producing an anarchist newspaper and writing and performing plays with his cousins. An event that shaped his young life was his father’s death in 1889, when Ford was only sixteen. Ford’s father left the family few assets, and as a result his mother moved the family to his grandfather’s home. Ford revered his grandfather, and later in his life wrote his biography and changed his name to reflect his grandfather’s (Stang 15-16).
Ford’s adult life was characterized by his string of romantic affairs, and his friendships and collaborations with writers such as Joseph Conrad and Ezra Pound. Ford eloped with Elsie Martindale in 1894. His daughter Christina was born three years later in 1887. He had another daughter with Elsie, Katherine, in 1900. However in 1904 he suffered from a nervous breakdown, straining his marriage. He met Violet Hunt in 1908, and left his wife to move to Germany with Hunt and collaborate on various projects.
One of the most important professional relationships of Ford’s life was with novelist Joseph Conrad. Ford had his first meeting with Conrad in 1898, which began an almost ten year collaboration during which they produced three novels, The Inheritors (1901), Romance (1903), and The Nature of a Crime (1924). It was during this collaboration that Ford’s talent as a novelist emerged, and he developed modernist writing techniques (Hoffman 2). While working with Conrad, Ford began to embrace techniques of impressionism: “time-shift, fidelity to point of view of the narrating consciousness, careful selection of details to render the exact impression of perceived experiences and use of pictorial images and symbols” (Hoffman 3). Both Ford and Conrad continued to publish their own works during the period of collaboration, and the novels they produced together, as well as Ford’s own work continued to expand upon these techniques.
Ford’s 1913 article “On Impressionism” outlined his approach to writing the modern novel with the use of Impressionism as a literary method. Ford distinguished Impressionist writing from non-Impressionist writing, which he believed was “an attempt to gather together the opinions of as many reputable persons as may be and to render them truthfully and without exaggeration” (36). For Ford, Impressionist writing was about showing the reader rather than telling. Ford stated, “For Impressionism is a thing all together momentary […] a piece of Impressionism should give a sense of two, of three, of as many as you will, places, persons, emotions, all going on simultaneously in the emotions of the writer” (40). Ford cautioned against descriptions that provide details that could not be readily experienced by a character in real life. The reader should have a sense of being in each individual moment or instance while reading the novel. Impressionism’s primary concern was to render in the novel a sense of what Ford called “the queer effects of real life”, where a person is present in a specific moment in time but whose mind may wander (41). In rendering this type of impression, a writer is able to, as Ford puts it, “attain the sort of odd vibration that scenes in real life really have; you would give your reader the impression that he was witnessing something real, that he was passing through an experience” (42). This method of writing laid out by Ford was departure from the traditional techniques employed by novelists, presenting the non-linear, modern approach. In many ways Ford’s approach mirrored other modern novelists of his time, notably Virginia Woolf. Both Ford and Woolf sought to represent life in what they believed to be a more truthful way. Similarly, both novelists also shared a concern for representing not only the external reality of the environment, but the internal realities of their characters by reflecting the disjointed thoughts of the wandering mind. Ford utilized many of the techniques he discussed in “On Impressionism” in his novel Some Do Not… where he gives the sense that the dialogue has been recorded faithfully, as it would have been spoken, and intersperses the narration with characters’ thoughts, emotions and memories.
Ford’s tumultuous personal life continued to cause problems, threatening his economic stability. After two years of living with Hunt, Ford tried to divorce Martindale. She refused to grant the divorce and in turn sued him for libel for referring to Hunt as his wife in multiple newspaper interviews (Stang 28). Around the same time, Ford is forced to declare bankruptcy and attempted to sell all of his belongings in order to afford the expensive cost of divorce and the debt of the paper English Review of which he is the editor. However, this period of his life was not without success, as Ford published what would become one of his most well known novels, The Good Soldier in 1915. Soon after, he enlisted in the British Army and was in active service at the front in July, 1916. In 1918 after returning from the war Ford met Stella Bowen, a friend of Ezra Pound and the woman who became his next mistress. His daughter with Bowen, Julie, is born in 1920. The couple moved to France, but their affair only lasted five years and in 1927 they separated. Ford met painter Janice Biala in 1930, the woman with whom he stayed until his death. In the early 1930’s Ford published his last novels and traveled around the U.S. He was given an appointment at Olivet College in Michigan, but eventually returned to Europe. Ford died in Deauville, France on June 26, 1939.


  • The Half Moon (1909)
  • A Call (1910)
  • The Portrait (1910)
  • The Critical Attitude, as Ford Madox Hueffer (1911)
  • Ladies Whose Bright Eyes (1911)
  • The Simple Life Limited (1911)
  • The New Humpty Dumpty (1912)
  • The Panel (1912)
  • Henry James (1913)
  • Mr Fleight (1913)
  • The Young Lovell (1913)
  • Between St Dennis and St George (1915)
  • The Good Soldier (1915)
  • Zeppelin Nights, with Violet Hunt (1915)
  • The Marsden Case (1923)
  • Mr Bosphorous (1923)
  • Women and Men (1923)
  • The Nature of a Crime, with Joseph Conrad (1924)
  • Some Do Not… (1924)
  • No More Parades (1925)
  • A Man Could Stand Up (1926)
  • New Poems (1927)
  • New York Essays (1927)
  • New York is Not America (1927)
  • Last Post (1928)
  • A Little Less Than Gods (1928)
  • No Enemy (1929)
  • The English Novel (1930)
  • When the Wicked Man (1932)
  • It Was the Nightingale (1933)
  • The Rash Act (1933)
  • Henry for Hugh (1934)
  • Ladies Whose Bright Eyes (revised) (1935)
  • Provence (1935)
  • Great Trade Route (1937)
  • Vive Le Roy (1937)
  • The March of Literature (1938)
  • Selected Poems (1971)
  • Your Mirror to My Times (1971)

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Works Cited:

Hoffman, Charles G. Ford Madox Ford. Updated ed. 1967. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Ford, Ford Madox. On Impressionism.” Critical Writings of Ford Madox Ford. Ed. Frank MacShane. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964. 33-55. Print.
Stang, Sandra J. Ford Madox Ford. New York: Frederick Unger Publishing, Co., 1977.
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