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Max Saunders, Ford Madox Ford: a Dual Life

Volumes 1: The World before the War, 632 p. and 2: The After-War World
Isabelle Brasme
Référence(s) :

Max Saunders, Ford Madox Ford: a Dual Life. (1996) Oxford, Oxford UP, 2012. Volumes 1: The World before the War, 632 p. and 2: The After-War World, 696 p. ISBN 978-0-19-966834-2 and ISBN 978-0-19-966835-9

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1Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life is a welcome paperback reprint of Max Saunders’s authoritative monograph, which was initially published in 1996.

2The history of criticism and reception for Ford Madox Ford’s writing has been far from straightforward from the early twentieth to the early twenty-first century. Ford Hermann Hueffer, then Ford Madox Hueffer, then Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939), was at the centre of intellectual circles in the first three decades of the twentieth century. A prevalent figure in literary salons in London, he founded and edited the English Review, to which ‘les vieux’—Henry James, Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells and Thomas Hardy—contributed along with ‘les jeunes’: D. H. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound. Moving to Paris after the war, he played yet again a significant role among the expatriate English and American writers, launching the transatlantic review. Ford, Saunders reminds us in his introduction, was acknowledged by major writers of the twentieth century as bearing a significant influence upon their own writing. His most influential works include The Fifth Queen trilogy (1906-1908), The Good Soldier (1915) and the Parade’s End tetralogy (1924-1928), although Ford’s contribution to the literary landscape of his time also comprised critical writing, poetry, and non-fictional works on Englishness or the war. By the end of his life, however, Ford had fallen into growing disrepute, and as Saunders points out, his work remained largely unpublished until the late 1960s.

3The two main biographies of Ford that stood out before A Dual Life was published were Mizener’s The Saddest Story (1971), which until Saunders’s monograph was the major scholarly biography of Ford; and Alan Judd’s novelistic biography (1990). A Dual Life was conceived not in competition with these, but rather as complementing them; one might consider it today as the essential, pivotal biographical work around which all other accounts of Ford revolve.

4Saunders’s goal in this two-volume work is to establish a ‘critical biography’ of Ford, combining an exhaustively documented account of his life with a scholarly reading of his work. This allows him to bridge the apparent gap between Ford’s life and Ford’s ‘lies’. Ford believed in the aesthetic principle of impressionism, claiming he had ‘for facts a most profound contempt’. Ford’s tenet of impressionism, indeed, applied not only to his technique as artist and critic, but also to the way in which he conceived life should be lived and told to others. Unlike a typical critical biography, however, Saunders aims not to explain life through fiction, subordinating the latter to the former, but to approach Ford above all as a writer; to ‘attempt something like a composite portrait of Ford as revealed in his books’. The deliberate tentativeness of the phrase also constitutes a hallmark for the whole work; it is a means to render Ford’s own complexities—his ‘duality’—whilst resisting the temptation of smoothing out any rough edges, any discrepancy between Ford’s own stories of himself and what emerges of his personality from his critical and literary work, and any inconsistency within these, too. This, according to Saunders, is the way in which Ford’s spirit can be ‘rendered’, as Ford would phrase, instead of being fossilized into a definitive account.

5Saunders’s elegant prose makes this massive two-volume monograph an enjoyable read, leavened rather than marred by the scrupulous referencing and abundant quoting. The narration of Ford’s life is interrupted with pauses for critical readings of his work, offering insight into his best-known novels, but also into some of his minor writing that has only recently started to be published and explored.

6The new edition has an updated foreword, which salutes the renewed interest and scholarship that Ford’s work has enjoyed over the past fifteen years. Ford Madox Ford is no longer considered as a minor figure of modernism, but is now treated on a par with time-honoured writers. There is no doubt that the publication of Saunders’s own monograph in 1996 has had a significant and lasting impact on the resurgence and the current vivacity of studies on Ford.

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Isabelle Brasme, « Max Saunders, Ford Madox Ford: a Dual Life »Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 78 Automne | 2013, mis en ligne le 17 avril 2014, consulté le 13 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Isabelle Brasme

Université de Nîmes

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