Printer Friendly


The real secret of Mr. Conrad--and it is open to the whole world--is not that he is a Polish mariner, but that he is an Elizabethan poet.

"Literary Portraits--XLI"

JOSEPH Conrad wrote three novels in collaboration with Ford Madox Ford: The Inheritors (1901); Romance, A Novel (1903); and The Nature of a Crime (1909, 1924). Each of them has a metafictional thrust in it, varying from plotting a suicide to collaborating on the writing of a biography of Oliver Cromwell. These metafictional moments seem inevitable in works that were the product of two writers who incessantly discussed with each other every aspect of the writing of fiction. What happened in their life together, appropriately enough, made its way into their fiction. And their metafictional quality makes these novels more interesting to modern readers than they would otherwise be. This metafictional matrix also adds a dimension to Ford's Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (1924). Its major action is the quest for the New Form of the novel. This is a heroic quest that grew out of Ford's and Conrad's conviction that "the only occupation fitting for a proper man in these centuries is the writing of novels" (Remembrance 186) because
 great works of art ... put their fingers upon the disease spots of nations
 or describe the diseases of civilisations. A great work of art is a precise
 diagnosis of human estates, and this is why great works of art are so
 frequently disliked. They are passionless; they state without comment; and,
 just as we dread the surgeon who declares that we are doomed by a mortal
 disease, so we dread the writer who tells us dispassionately what is the
 matter with us.(1)

This dangerous quest for the truth and a form in which to render it is as heroic as any task one can undertake and confers immortality on the writer who succeeds. Why? Because "a great talent occupies itself with the deep places of the mind and frames its projections of those secrets in projections of kingdoms that are the kingdoms not merely of to-day" (Thus 95). So although the writer must die, the work need not. The Elizabethan poets and dramatists, more than anyone else in the English tradition, have made this, indisputably, a fact of literary life.

The quality of permanence in Conrad's work, consequently, led Ford to present him as an Elizabethan poet. Ford also shows that Conrad felt that plays like The Duchess of Malfi and Hamlet read like novels and that playwrights like Webster and Shakespeare-"the greatest novelist as a delineator of character" (62)--wrote like novelists. So Conrad's business, like theirs, was to hypnotize his audience into "seeing moonlight, laurel hedges, palaces, cracks in walls or forest glades" when on the bare page and on the bare stage none of these things were to be found (March 468). And, as with the Elizabethans, "the human heart as recorded in Mr. Conrad's pages is the human heart of an immense number of men in all ages and in all climes" (94). Ford's memoir is inescapably of a piece with his earlier and later essays about his collaborator because they too show Conrad to be an Elizabethan poet writing modern fiction.

The Inheritors and The Nature of a Crime lead inevitably to Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance where Conrad steps forth as an "Elizabethan Gentleman Adventurer." Like that memoir each of these novels is metafictional in its rendering of a writer's adventures. The Inheritors (1901), for instance, has a struggling writer as its central character. Arthur Echingham Granger is an impoverished aristocrat who wants to be a novelist in the Jamesian tradition. But he gets involved in puffing the powerful and promoting their interests in a literary atmosphere of writers and their sponsors, collaborators and editors, critics and publishers(2)--publishers who found journals like the Hour to serve the financial interests of men like the Duc de Mersch. Granger, aligned with this group, betrays them for the love of an unloving Fourth Dimensionist ("Fate" is the name she gives herself) who wipes out their world by using him to implement the plot she constructs to destroy them. It involves Granger's betraying his honor for her love and destroying himself as a writer in the process. He loses the world of the past and has no place in the world of the future. He fails to achieve the artistic integrity of Jenkins, a painter who never makes his fortune but whose work is unimpeachably his own. And he fails to achieve the artistic acumen of Lea, a critic whose sense of merit is unswayed by fad or funds. The whole of the novel indicts the "System for the Regeneration of the Arctic Regions" as a replay of the Congo Free State;(3) and de Mersch is the scoundrel behind the one as King Leopold was the "vampire" behind the other (Portraits 65). This is a subject that obviously interested the author of Heart of Darkness; and although Conrad wrote very little of The Inheritors--perhaps two thousand of its seventy-five thousand words at most--Ford is explicit in A Personal Remembrance about Conrad's making it a much better book: he gave "to each scene a final tap; these, in a great many cases, brought the whole meaning of the scene to the reader's mind" (144).(4) And Conrad's engagement with The Inheritors had the further happy result of turning his attention to "political and revolutionary subjects," which he explored with great success in the writing of The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes as well as in Nostromo.(5)

When we think about The Inheritors today in the context of the Ford/Conrad collaboration, the novel's metafictional aspects outweigh its interest as a political roman a clef in its own day.(6) Granger's betrayal of his honor is acute because he and Churchill, a fundamentally decent politician, agree to collaborate on the writing of The Life of Cromwell. Churchill is already well along with the project when he invites Granger to be part of it. Granger's betrayal of Churchill for the love of Fate, who presents herself as his "sister"--his betrayal, then, of friendship for incest--also takes place as a collaboration. Her plot knocks out the past and brings in the future. Both of these collaborations--the honorable as well as the dishonorable one--bear some of the marks of the Ford/Conrad collaboration. For Conrad was better at the structure and plotting of novels (at what Ford called "architectonics"(7)) and Ford was better at realizing a plot in colloquial English (at making "prose seem like the sound of someone talking"(8)). Echingham Granger helps execute the schemes laid down by Churchill in his Cromwell and by Fate in her plot to bring down Churchill's government. And we note, furthermore, how the plot of The Inheritors, with its "worm at the very heart of the rose" (319), is like Conrad's plots in which the center cannot hold. The Greenland scheme reminds us of something insubstantial on which everyone and everything depends, like the San Tome mine in Nostromo or the attack on the Greenwich Observatory in The Secret Agent. And Granger, though inherently more capable than they, reminds us of such pawns as Donkin's hapless James Wait in The Nigger of the "Narcissus" and Verloc's feeble-minded Stevie in The Secret Agent. Almayer's folly is rewritten in de Mersch's folly as the heart of darkness moves from the tropics to the Arctic.

The Inheritors, then, not only can be read as metafiction; it is best read as metafiction. It reminds us that Ford's collaboration with Conrad so intensely preoccupied his imagination that he more or less consciously made it the subtext of this novel. The same thing happened in The Nature of a Crime. Conrad said it was "fantastic" that he and Ford could "have believed, for a moment, that a piece of work in the nature of an analytical confession ... could have been developed and achieved in collaboration !" (Nature 6). Yet, although Conrad wrote even less of it than he did of The Inheritors, he agreed to its publication under both his and Hueffer's names.

The unnamed narrator of The Nature of a Crime is an embezzler--a master of plots--whose masterplot can continue only if the unnamed woman to whom he writes will continue to talk and write to him. This is analogous to the Ford/Conrad collaboration. Conrad can continue as a novelist if Ford is there for him. More than anything else, Ford was important to Conrad as someone to speak to, as someone to listen to him.(9) The collaboration led, as Bernard Meyer remarked, to a "broader emotional attachment" between them. The result of this for Conrad was inspiring: it animated his career in the most dramatic way.
 The result of this "broader emotional attachment" was Ford's
 "quasi-catalytic effect upon Conrad's creative energy." During what Meyer
 calls the "Hueffer decade" Conrad wrote "Heart of Darkness," Lord Jim,
 Nostromo, The Secret Agent, A Personal Record, "The Secret Sharer," Under
 Western Eyes, "Falk," "Amy Foster," "The End of the Tether"--virtually all
 of his finest work. Meyer thinks it is questionable whether Conrad alone,
 without Ford's moral support, "would have possessed the daring to explore
 man's `forgotten and bestial instincts' with the audacity manifested by him
 during the `Hueffer decade.'" (Brebach, Making 29)

That judgment gains weight when we remember that Ford helped Conrad with the ending of "Heart of Darkness";(10) wrote half of a chapter of Nostromo (Part II, Chapter V, "The Isabels")(11) when Conrad was too depressed to do so for T. P's Weekly; provided Conrad with the plot of The Secret Agent and details on anarchists for Under Western Eyes;(12) gave Conrad the idea for A Personal Record, took dictation for it and published it as "Some Reminiscences" in the English Review;(13) took down parts of The Mirror of the Sea in shorthand;(14) carded out "book surgery" on The Rescue;(15) encouraged Conrad's work on Chance, which profited from their previous work on The Nature of a Crime;(16) provided Conrad with the germ for "Amy Foster,"(17) and helped him rewrite "The End of the Tether" when parts of the original perished in a fire.(18) Ford also helped Conrad dramatize his story "Tomorrow," which was performed as One Day More at the Royal Theatre in June 1905.(19)

What the embezzler/plotter in The Nature of a Crime does in his letters to his beloved/collaborator is discuss in detail the making of plots and the drawing of character. He does so by revealing how he has embezzled money from the estate of his ward, Edward Burden, and how, when chance saves him from suicide, he will return that money. In a word, he tells her how he cooked the books and how, now, he is going to uncook them. His plot is Conradian in its use of a center that cannot hold. The plot's center is the embezzler--his accounts are about to be audited and the scheme by which he enriched himself is about to be exposed--who will kill himself by biting into a poison ring. This does not happen, however, because Edward Burden decides that it would be ungenerous to submit his gentlemanlike guardian to such an ungentlemanly act. So Burden lifts the burden of the unnamed narrator's having to kill himself.

Now Burden himself has led a double-life. About to come of age and marry on his twenty-fifth birthday, he comes clean too, admitting that he has had a lover prior to his fiance, Annie Avrey. This intensifies the plotting of the novel by giving us, so to speak, the nature of another hidden crime. And it leads Burden's guardian to see himself and his beloved as playing Tristan and Isolde to Edward and Annie's ordinary Darby and Jane. He and she are dramatically superior human beings. So just as Granger and Churchill collaborate to realize the Life of Cromwell in The Inheritors, the plotter/embezzler/lover and his confidante collaborate to realize the perfect love-story of Tristan and Isolde (without the inconvenient deaths) by being perfect--if, unavoidably, Platonic--lovers.

The situation of the writing of this novel duplicates, in part, the situation of its plot. Ford tells us that he wrote it to read to Conrad: "We wrote and read aloud one to the other" (Nature 11). This itself duplicates the way the collaboration began with Ford reading "Seraphina" to Conrad (Remembrance 16). And Conrad tells us that he got tired of The Nature of a Crime--though it eventually helped him in the writing of Chance(20)--and told Ford to bring it to an end.
 I seem to remember a moment when I burst into earnest entreaties that all
 of those people should be thrown overboard without much ado. This, I
 believe, is the real nature of the crime. Overboard. The neatness and
 dispatch with which it is done in Chapter VIII were wholly the act of my
 collaborator's good nature in the face of my panic. (Nature 7)

The letter-writer who writes for his beloved so that she can read about him after he dies likewise quickly ends the correspondence when his burden is lifted in his last letter.(21) Casting his analysis of this novel in a deconstructive mode, Eric Meyer centers it on the poison ring which recalls to him Derrida on "Plato's Pharmacy" where the pharmakon is both beneficent and maleficent--the drug can both heal and kill. The threat of killing himself becomes the letter-writer's source of new life in The Nature of a Crime. "Like the pharmakon, writing becomes a cure for itself that sickens to heal, that kills to make well," says Meyer (504). And he goes on to point out that this combination is more memorably realized when John Dowell takes life from Florence's death and tells the saddest story at his own expense in The Good Soldier (1915), which is the story of Edward Ashburnham's suicide. And, as Dowell goes on to claim of Edward Ashburnham, "he was just myself" (291). So if we follow this thread from The Nature of a Crime to The Good Soldier, we can see that just as Conrad's collaboration with Ford led to his greatest fiction, Ford's collaboration with Conrad did the same for him. Their more intense life as novelists is encapsulated in the intense plotting of the letter-writer to make his way back to life once he escapes the sentence of death.

If we see that The Inheritors and The Nature of a Crime are not only novels in which collaborations are underway (to finish a life of Cromwell and to live the Tristan and Isolde story) but novels that also center on Conrad's trademark of a decentered plot and that discuss writing in detail--if we see these things clearly we immediately recognize the intensity of Ford's metafictional preoccupation in writing them. And we see, perhaps more importantly, when Ford came to write his memoir of Conrad and center it on the affair of their writing Romance, that that memoir had to be metafictional too.

THESE novels, then, lead inevitably to Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (1924), which is metafiction in the form of memoir. One reviewer noted that it is, "in part, a textbook for novelists" ("Biography" 866). And another that "there can be no better textbook" for "the writer or student of writing" (Farrar 83). Indeed, A Personal Remembrance is a novel about writing a novel. "Le centre," Louis Cazamian pointed out, "est la composition de Romance" (553). To take the implication of these remarks to their logical conclusion is to read the memoir as metafiction: the romance of writing Romance. Its major action is a quest for the New Form of the novel, which grew out of Ford's and Conrad's conviction that "the writing of novels was the one thing of importance that remained to the world and that what the novel needed was the New Form" (Remembrance 30). A Personal Remembrance presents the search for this one important thing as a heroic quest that confers immortality.

Ford presents his hero as an "Elizabethan Gentleman Adventurer" (19)(22) in order to give him a distinct identity. He does this to counteract the public perception of Conrad as "Slav," "Oriental," and "Romantic," which Ford sees as totally inappropriate. His Conrad "was practical ... the last thing he was was Slav" (53). He deals effectively with his grocer, his publisher, and his insurance agent. He gets what he wants without fomenting revolutions. And his style is not, as H. G. Wells thought, "Oriental" (48). He seeks words like "serene" and "azure" to express his meaning precisely in the cadences of the English language (173). And Conrad has not a romantic attachment to the past. Rather he presents himself as a traditional English Gentleman only to promote the goal of his quest, for "all revolutions are an interruption of the processes of thought and of the discovery of a New Form ... for the novel:" (58). That form insists on "rendering" and "constatation": "Never state, present" (Ford, "Joseph Conrad" 77). Thus Conrad shows himself in his novel-writing to be like the Elizabethan playwrights who wrote like novelists. And with even greater subtlety than they-"they could not," for instance, "prize honour quite so highl[y]" as he did (72)--Conrad emerges as "the finest of the Elizabethans" (70). Thus, "Lord Jim is all of all of us" ("Joseph Conrad" 323). Ford's memoir insists on such metafictional motifs as these to reincarnate Conrad as an Elizabethan poet who creates a New Form for fiction.

The romance of writing Romance is also a love-story, as we would expect a romance to be. Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford agree to work together as collaborators to rewrite Ford's novel-in-manuscript, "Seraphina," and turn it into Romance. They bring to this union their strengths and weaknesses as human beings; thus they take each other for better or worse, not really knowing (as the title of Part I indicates) "qui dort dans l'ombre."(23) Each as they meet is a character in shadow to the other because they do not, at the beginning, know each other at all well. The course of their collaboration reveals Conrad as one of a "new class of mental adventurers," like the Elizabethans, plundering Mediterranean civilizations (March 460). At the same time, Conrad cherishes a love of England and an ideal of fidelity that he admired in Marryat's fiction and that reminds Ford of Sir Francis Drake as well as of Christopher Marlowe. "For, if this country have any civilisedness at all, any tradition, or any craving for self-respect, it is because its real inner standard, its poetic view of life, comes still from the poets who made feasts at the Mermaid" ("Literary Portraits--XLI": 848).

Collaboration further reveals to Ford Conrad's highly developed talent as a navigator in the world of fiction. Ford finds in his mariner a master of the architectonics of fiction as well as of exotic lands and troubled seas. Ford's Conrad is, consequently, ideally suited to tell the story of John Kemp, a young English sea adventurer, the hero of Romance, who is "kidnapped by pirates and misjudged by the judicial bench of our country" and who is, additionally, "a political refugee, suspect of High Treason and victim of West Indian merchants" (Remembrance 42). Macmillan's reader summarized the plot this way:
 It turns on the adventures of a young Englishman, of good family, in the
 West Indies early in the nineteenth century. Being forced to fly his
 country for some trouble with smugglers (though entirely guiltless) he
 falls in with some Spanish kinfolk, through whom he gets involved (though
 again guiltless) with a gang of pirates. The story is too complicated to
 follow in detail, but there is the necessary amount of love-interest,
 and.... an almost unnecessary amount of adventure. The hero gets very
 nearly hanged for his pains on his return to England, through a series of
 unfortunate, and not very possible, mistakes, but escapes at the last
 moment by the skin of his teeth. (Higdon 275)

Ford shows himself ideally suited to be Conrad's collaborator because he is "the finest stylist in the English language of to-day" (Remembrance 32). And although Ford acknowledges the precariousness of this estimate of his style, W. E. Henley, to whom the estimate is attributed, did warn Conrad against collaboration lest he ruin Ford's style (Conrad, Collected Letters 2:107). Conrad nonetheless pushed the collaboration. And Ford complemented Conrad's sense of "constructive beauty" (Remembrance 30) with his own sensitivity to words, his pensive approach to achieving the New Form of the novel, his tenaciousness in sticking to a task undertaken, and his determination to complete that task in the manner agreed upon (178-85). Ford shows moreover that like their Elizabethan predecessors who looked "over each other's shoulders" (March 471) he and Conrad could work together effectively. He shows this by dramatizing his taking down The Mirror of the Sea in shorthand as Conrad dictated it (Part 1); by his writing The Inheritors, which Conrad called "a damn good book" (Part 11);(24) by his reordering the opening of The Rescue when Conrad could not manage it (Part 111); by his giving Conrad the subject of The Secret Agent as well as incidental details on anarchists (Part IV); and by his working with Conrad on the ending of "The End of the Tether" (Part V)(25)

These five parts in which these five works are discussed are nonetheless focused with impressionistic intensity on the writing of Romance. That project, which began Ford's and Conrad's working together, resulted in something more than this novel and The Inheritors and The Nature of a Crime. It made possible the other works that Ford and Conrad wrote independently of each other. And the writing of Romance also produced, Ford claims, "a third artist" who combines the best of both of them: "The third had neither [Conrad's] courage nor his gorgeousness; he himself had none of [Ford's] literary circumspection or verbal puritanism. So the combination was at least ... different" (Remembrance 46). Different enough to write a novel that neither could write alone. Different enough to remind us that Romance, A Novel is a romance indeed. If it does not end with a marriage, it does end with an offspring as well as a successful quest.

Part 1, "C'est toi qui dort dans l'ombre" of Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance introduces the subject of the book as the affair of writing Romance. It also introduces Conrad and Ford as the characters who work out that affair. Part II, "Exellency, A Few Goats," by way of their collaboration on The Inheritors, shows how the proper ending of a novel should be written, giving The Inheritors as a bad example and Heart of Darkness and "Youth" as good examples. Part III, "It Is Above All to Make You See," shows how a proper beginning should be written for a novel by way of Ford's rearranging the beginning of The Rescue for Conrad. This part also goes on to treat of the structure, color, and texture that make up the middle of a novel by a discussion of general effect, impressionism, selection, speeches, conversations, surprise, style, cadence, structure, philosophy, progression d'effet, and language. Just how these techniques are translated into fiction is rendered impressionistically in the story of Mr. Slack, "your neighbour," who builds and paints his greenhouse and who has a dipsomaniacal wife whose incapacitation nudges him into the arms of Millicent, "your daughter," whom he gets with child, having won her affections with the present of a bangle bracelet. In short, Mr. Slack's story is a novel within a novel that illustrates how the New Form of the novel can be achieved.

Part IV, "That, Too, Is Romance...," returns to the story of writing Romance with Ford and Conrad going to Bruges and Knocke to complete it. This part also applies the techniques of the New Form to completing Romance, emphasizing again, first, Conrad's doing what Ford could not do in writing the fourth part of the novel; second, Conrad's writing the inspired beginning of that part which supersedes Ford's uninspired attempt at the same; and, third, their working at the Pent to achieve a progression d'effet in the ending of Romance. Part V, "The End," shows their success in achieving this by beginning with the passage that ends Romance. In "The End" the ending of Romance is achieved and so too is the end of Joseph Conrad's life. Both are encapsulated in the rewriting of the ending of "The End of the Tether," which involves disaster (a fire that destroys a manuscript installment), tenacity (working together to rewrite the ending), and a journey (by train to London, followed by another by motor to Canterbury). "The End," then, is a journey's end for life and writing.

"The End" is also given over to the "reverses" that made up Conrad's life as a writer--with the accidental burning of the installment of "The End of the Tether" acting as an exemplum of these reverses. And as one reversal follows another the reader begins to wonder what Ford is up to in ending his metafictional memoir in this way. Then suddenly Ford makes himself clear by telescoping a trip he took with Conrad to Canterbury with a trip that Conrad took there with an interviewer shortly before he died.
 And he stopped the car in Postling Gap that looks over the lands of the
 Pent, right away over the Stour Valley that is like the end of a bowl, over
 the Channel, to France on a clear day. He said, "This is the view I love
 best in the world!" That was his last Wednesday but one and the writer
 hopes that he will never speak with anyone who saw Conrad later. (267)

Like Chaucer before him, Conrad ends his quest at the Falstaff Inn in Canterbury. Shortly after his happy vision comes a happy death. For though Conrad suffered many reverses--and some of them are vividly described in A Personal Remembrance--during his life's pilgrimage, none of them kept him from his goal:
 He surely could look back on life, so much of it passing in that country
 that he loved, and could say with his dying breath that all his reverses
 had been temporary but that his achievements truly had all such permanence
 as is vouchsafed to us men.... That is to be granted what we Papists call
 the cross of the happy death. (267)

Like Chaucer, Conrad reaches Canterbury again; his quest, though painful, has been successful; thus he has a happy death. This folding of Conrad into Chaucer's narrative seems an apt ending for a novel that revels in metafictional moments and celebrates progressions of effect; an apt ending, indeed, for a novel that has as its subject--and is itself--a romance. "This too is Romance," says Ford repeatedly in "The End." And we "conclude with a Bravo! for Mr. Ford," exclaims Thomas Moult, The Bookman's reviewer. `This passion of his for romance is irresistible" (176). So too is Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance when it is read for what it is--memoir as metafiction.

Ford is manifestly not on an ego-trip for which Conrad paid the fare in his memoir. Romance "was written--where it is splendid--by Joseph Conrad," Ford told the City Editor of The World; "the rest of it was by, sir, Yr. Obedient servant Ford Madox Ford" (Naumburg 180). That is the message of Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance. The memoir is not the work of "a fat patronizing slug upon the Conradian lettuce," as "The Londoner" suggested (49). Like Jessie Conrad, who thought that Ford's book "revile[d]" Conrad (Circle 65), this reviewer simply did not read Ford's memoir well enough to understand it. Like her he was "singularly lacking in imagination" (McFee 500). They did not see that it was plain to see that Ford relentlessly presents Conrad as the older and better writer in his biography. Thus "the sensitive perfection" of the fictional memoir is everywhere in evidence (English Review 865).

Ford was not able to say the same of Richard Curie's Joseph Conrad: A Study (1914). He found that that book showed no understanding of Conrad's personality and poetic achievement.(26) He would later find G. Jean-Aubry's two-volume compendium on Conrad's life similarly limited (see Harvey 247-48). Curie and Jean-Aubry write books that embalm "Conrad in a grand tomb. Ford shows us the living man" (McFee 500). Indeed, Ford could not write about a poet without writing about his "brainwave" ("Literary Portraits--XXXV": 653). And Ford's Conrad is "a very great poet of today." Conrad had agreed with Ford "that a poem was not that which was written in verse but that, either prose or verse, had constructive beauty" (30). Curie's book only manages for Ford to be a "patient, laborious, and honourable study" that will make the critic himself "a distinguished ornament of that British school of letters which ... must always remain outside the great comity of European civilization" ("Literary Portraits--XLI": 849).(27)

Ford's Curie is incapable of being a secret sharer with Conrad as Ford himself was. Indeed, that story in which the young captain first saves Leggatt by taking him aboard his ship and Leggatt then saves the captain and his ship by letting his hat float on the surface of the sea as a mark to steer by--that story could be read as an allegory of the Ford/Conrad collaboration, which ended only shortly before "The Secret Sharer" was composed in August and September 1910. Ford and Conrad, like Leggatt and the young captain, parted company after having each given the other skills to navigate the lonesome waters of their respective literary enterprises.(28) Neither the young captain nor Legatt, however, like Conrad and Ford themselves, were without limitations.

Yet Ford admired Conrad precisely because he rose above his own human failings to become a great artist--specifically, a great novelist in the tradition of the Elizabethan dramatists. Ford further demonstrated the unique value of placing Conrad in an English tradition when he wrote, in 1927, The English Novel from the Earliest Days to the Death of Joseph Conrad. There Ford says once again that "the plays of Shakespeare were novels written for recitation" (43); and there, literally, he pays Conrad the ultimate compliment: "the conception of novel-writing as an art began for Anglo-Saxondom with Joseph Conrad" (33). What Ford does here he anticipates in Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance. The "radiance which Ford's admiration and love pour upon" Conrad, consequently, can hardly be missed (Dial 338). His awe of Conrad's talents "infuses every page" (Saunders 2:181). Typhoon, Ford told Richard Hughes--whose In Hazard he praised as the masterpiece of an "inhuman" writer-- "Typhoon was written by a great writer who was a man.(29) "Typhoon is at one and the same time a tremendous poem of pure humanity and a tremendous tour de force of pure writing" ("Mr. Conrad's Writing" 744).

The perfection of Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance requires Ford's telling the one telling truth about Conrad: "he was a great man, but ... only a mortal man" (McFee 500). Thus he gives us a Conrad who "lives, works and suffers" (Howland 666). That Conrad, that modern man, is the Elizabethan poet. The "radiance which Ford's admiration and love" (Dial 338) pour upon Conrad can hardly be missed in his characterization of Conrad as "a very great poet of to-day writing about things which are very engrossing to a nation brought up upon the English Bible and Shakespeare" ("Literary Portraits--XLI": 848).
 What England needs more than anything to-day [and Conrad can give it] is a
 return to Elizabethan standards--is a return to a frame of mind that had
 only just left behind Papistry, the large sense of honour, the large sense
 of cosmopolitanism, the large senses of those attributes that are called
 loyalty, self-sacrifice, and chivalry. These are the fine things of life,
 and, although Mr. Conrad does not preach them, nevertheless in the work
 that he has created we recapture a whole dimension in which these things
 have their values again as they had them in [1588].(30) ("Literary
 Portraits--XLI": 549)

This sense of Conrad's estimable place in the English tradition makes Ford's fictional memoir of him for John Farrar "a record of a personality which has seldom been equaled as interpretative biography" (83). The reader "soon finds he is getting a clearer conception of Conrad the man than any other book or essay has given him" (New Statesman xvi). "Fidus Ford," Joseph Collins writes, "has made us his debtors for showing Conrad as he appeared to him" (176). "The inner and spiritual truth" of Conrad's personality "shines out" (Current Opinion 178). And Conrad's "personality ultimately makes his art endure" ("An Impression" 727). Ford agreed: "What the artist wishes to do--as far as you are concerned--is to take you out of yourself. As far as he is concerned, he wishes to express himself" ("Literary Portraits--VIII": 2). Because of his unshakable belief in the presence of personality in the artistic process, Ford gave us Conrad as he knew him--as "the greatest English poet of today."(31) And his book is, in Christopher Morley's words, "one of the most thrillingly intelligent tributes ever paid to a great writer" (519).


(1) Ford shows how Conrad's novel The Nigger of the "Narcissus," though published in 1897, is an allegory whose truth England needs in 1915 if it is to succeed in winning the First World War, which prompted this essay by Ford. See "The Nigger," The Outlook (24 July 1915): 110-11.

(2) Granger, Callan, and Radet are writers; Callan like Churchill also sponsors writers; Granger and Churchill collaborate; Fox and Lea are editor and critic; Polehampton is a publisher.

(3) Ford writes of The Inheritors that
 as soon as the writer had let Conrad know that this was a novel, not a
 short story, he knew that he was in for another collaboration. Every word
 spoken added to that conviction.... The novel was to be a political work,
 rather allegorically backing Mr. Balfour in the then Government; the
 villain was to be Joseph Chamberlain who had made war. The sub-villain was
 to be Leopold II, King of the Belgians, the foul--and incidentally
 lecherous--beast who had created the Congo Free State in order to grease
 the wheels of his harems with the blood of murdered negroes and to decorate
 them with fretted ivory cut from stolen tusks in the deep
 forests."(Remembrance 141)

(4) Ford demonstrates Conrad's genius in the matter of the "final tap" in specific scenes that he discusses in A Personal Remembrance 142-58.

(5) See Meixner's summation of this in "Ford and Conrad," p. 163.

(6) Ford gives the key to his roman a clef as follows: "Churchill stood for Balfour, Gurnard for Joseph Chamberlain who made the Boer War, Fox for Lord Northcliffe, and Duc de Mersch for Leopold II, King of the Belgians (`the foul beast who had created the Congo Free State in order to grease the wheels of his harems with the blood of murdered negroes'[Meixner, Ford 102]). Meixner presents an enlightened discussion of The Inheritors because, unlike many critics, he takes the novel seriously.

(7) Max Saunders, on the one hand, called into question Conrad's superiority to Ford in the matter of "architectonics" in Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life 1:151. Raymond Brebach, on the other, gives a small example of architectonics in Ford's adopting Conrad's suggestions for changes in "the dedicatory poem in Romance": "none of the changes are dramatic, but Conrad sought to tie the poem more closely to the novel--the adventure romance--it precedes by making it emphasize the idea that only in retrospect, through the filter of memory, do we see the adventure of our lives" ("Conrad, Ford, and the Romance Poem" 170, 172).

 And what we worked at was not so much specific books as at the formulation
 of a literary theory, Conrad seeking most of all a new form for the novel
 and I a limpidity of expression that should make prose seem like the sound
 of some one talking in rather a low voice into the ear of a person that he
 liked. (Ford, "On Conrad's Vocabulary" 405).

(9) On what John A. Meixner calls "the artistic, moral, and spiritual support (choose one or all) that Ford provided" to Conrad, see his "Ford and Conrad," which reaffirms the conclusions on the collaboration in his book and which summarizes the conclusions of dissertations on the collaboration by Richard J. Herndon and John Hope Morey; see also Ian Watt 254-59; Roger Tennant 125-51; Cedric Watts 90-95; Raymond Brebach 27-34; Alan Judd 56-65.

(10) Ford mentions arguing with Conrad about the last three sentences of Heart of Darkness "for three whole days" (Portraits 61). Saunders speculates that Ford worked with Conrad on the proofs in March 1899 (Dual 1: 115-16).

(11) The manuscript in Ford's hand is at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. And John Hope Morey's exhaustive analysis of it should have long ago laid to rest the canard that Conrad dictated this section of Nostromo to Ford; see Morey pp. 117-49.

(12) Conrad acknowledges Ford's help with the plot of The Secret Agent in his preface when he mentions that the "subject," the "tale--came to me in the shape of a few words uttered by a friend in a casual conversation about anarchists or rather anarchist activities" (Canterbury Edition XIII: ix). Moser gives details of Ford's educating Conrad about "anarchist activities" in his article "Ford Madox Hueffer and Under Western Eyes."

(13) See Najder, Joseph Conrad: A Chronicle, for the story of "Some Reminiscences" (341-51), an account that consistently interprets facts at Ford's expense. Najder minimizes both Ford's idea for Conrad's memoirs as well as his helping Conrad get them down on paper. He also attributes Conrad's abrupt decision to end his contributing his reminiscences to The English Review to Ford's arrogance and irresponsibility.

(14) "Ford assisted Conrad in writing or rather dictating, the first six sketches ... which were begun in the first days of 1904 and ready by the beginning of March" (Najder, "Introduction" xiii).

(15) This is Knowles' phrase in his Conrad Chronology 48.

(16) Knowles draws parallels between the two novels (Conrad Chronology 51, 63); so too does Meixner ("Ford and Conrad" 163).

(17) Ford tells the story in The Cinque Ports 162-64.

(18) Borys Conrad remembers the incident this way:
 He had been working on the concluding chapters of a story, the first part
 of which had already gone to the printers for serial publication, when the
 glass bowl of the lamp burst; the ensuing conflagration completely
 destroying the manuscript which was overdue for despatch. (My Father 21).

Najder, commenting on Ford's helping Conrad recover from the disaster and complete "The End of the Tether," admits that "the fact itself is indisputable" (A Chronicle 285). He nonetheless attributes such problems in the tale as its being "long-drawnout and verbose, overburdened with authorial comments, and flattened by a liberal dose of melodrama" to Ford: "I suspect that these faults may be ascribed to Ford" (284).

(19) Saunders notes the play was performed from 25-27 June 1905 (Dual 1:198).

(20) Summarizing Richard J. Hemdon's research on The Nature of a Crime and Chance, Meixner writes:
 Even The Nature of a Crime can be seen to be a precursor for
 Conrad--particularly of Chance: "Both works contain as principal characters
 dishonest financiers, who plan to commit suicide by means of concealed
 poison if their loves become unbearable for them; and both depict love
 relationships left unconsummated because of the lover's chivalrous
 scruples." Herndon notes as well a number of interesting parallels of
 language and of strategies of sententiousness between the two works, "which
 suggest that Conrad either wrote more of The Nature of a Crime than critics
 have supposed or that he remembered phrases and subtle juxtapositions of
 circumstances and included them in Chance." ("Ford and Conrad" 163)

(21) Saunders likens the narrative situation in The Nature of a Crime to a letter the young Ford wrote to Elsie Martindale that she might read it after he had killed himself (Dual 1: 65).

(22) Ford writes of Conrad, "He was a gentleman-adventurer who sailed with Drake. Elizabethan: it was that that he was" (Remembrance 11). Jessie Conrad objected to this characterization of her husband, confessing "utter ignorance" of its meaning but nonetheless seeing it at as an attack on Conrad as a "greedy and unscrupulous foreigner" (Joseph Conrad and His Circle 65). Yet Ford's characterization of Conrad as an Elizabethan gentleman-adventurer is, unequivocally, one of the most extraordinary tributes ever paid to him.

(23) Part I of Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance takes its title from Victor Hugo's "Tristesse d'Olympto", a poem that valorizes the tenacity of memory in the face of the instability of nature and that, appropriately, appeared as the epigraph of "Romance," Ford's poem that itself introduces his and Conrad's novel Romance and suggests how memory establishes value: "what's venturous in these hours." The last line of Hugo's poem is "C'est toi qui dort dans l'ombre, o sacre souvenir!" (It's you who sleep in the shade, oh precious memory!) In his biographical memoir Ford establishes Conrad's value through memory, holding him fast there as "this beautiful genius" a designation that he previously reserved for Turgenev (Remembrance 10, 85).

(24) Conrad included The Inheritors in his Collected Edition: "This was when he also asserted that `The Inheritors' was a damn good book. And if we add that he did let his name as sole author remain on the cover of the book we must imagine that he regarded it with some satisfaction" (Remembrance 151).

(25) The legitimacy of the claims that Ford makes in Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance is discussed item by item in notes 9 to 18 above.

(26) Najder writes that Curle's "shrewdest psychological observation was that he never penetrated the mystery of Conrad's personality" (Chronicle 381-82), a conclusion that Ford had reached seventy years before Najder reported Curie's remark.

(27) Curle's monograph on Conrad may have been for Ford a prototype of Vincent Macmaster's monograph on Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Some Do Not (1924). It brings advantage to the critic, not to the critic's subject.

(28) Meixner argues that the break "was not a disaster" for Ford and that he wrote his best fiction, poetry, and memoirs after it. Ford was also able to make "a whole variety of remarkable new friends and connections." For Conrad, however, "the break was calamitous." He let go in Ford an "indispensable life-pump for his spirit" ("Ford and Conrad" 166-70). Save for Under Western Eyes, which was already underway as early as December 1907, Conrad's best fiction was behind him. Following his quarrel with Ford, Conrad quarreled with his long-time friend and agent, J. B. Pinker, whom he treated frostily for two years. Conrad's dependence on Ford and Pinker and his break with them, along with the strain of finishing his novel, helps explain his "complete mental and physical breakdown" on 30 January 1911 (Knowles 69-70).

(29) Typed letter signed of 16 November 1938 in the William Aspenwall Bradley archive, which contains significant Ford papers, at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Institute, Austin, Texas.

(30) Ford writes "1558." I correct it to 1588 because his next sentence shows him referring to the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

(31) The complete sentence is: "And Mr. Conrad is the greatest English poet of to-day because, more than any other writer, he has perceived--he has gradually evolved the knowledge--that poetry consists in the exact rendering of the concrete and material happenings in the lives of men" ("Mr. Conrad's Writing" 746).

Works Cited

"Biography." The English Review 39 (1924): 866. Brebach, Raymond. "Conrad, Ford, and the Romance Poem." Modern Philology 81.2 (1983): 169-72.

--. "Ford's Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance: A Reappraisal." The Conradian 12 (1987): 166-74.

--. Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and the Making of Romance. Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1985.

Cazamian, Louis. Revue Anglo-Americaine (August 1925): 553.

Collins, Joseph. "A Doctor Looks at Biography." The Bookman (April 1925): 173-76.

Conrad, Borys. My Father: Joseph Conrad. London: Calder & Boyars, 1970.

Conrad, Jessie. Joseph Conrad and His Circle. London: Jarrolds, 1935.

Conrad, Joseph. The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Ed. Frederick R. Karl and Laurence Davies. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983.

--. and Ford M. Hueffer. The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story. London: Heinemann, 1901.

--. The Mirror of the Sea & A Personal Record. Ed. Zdzislaw Najder. World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988.

--. and F. M. Hueffer. The Nature of a Crime. London: Duckworth, 1924.

--. and Ford Madox Hueffer. Romance: A Novel. London: Smith, Elder, 1903.

--. The Secret Agent. Canterbury Edition. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1924.

--. A Set of Six. Vol. XVIII. Canterbury Edition. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1924. "Conrad in a Romantic Biography: How a Man of Genius Looked to His Collaborator." Current Opinion 78 (February 1925): 177-78.

Curle, Richard. Joseph Conrad: A Study. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1914.

Dial (April 1925): 338.

The English Review 39 (December 1924): 865-66.

Farrar, John. "Conrad, Conrad and Hueffer, Hueffer." Bookman 61 (March 1925): 83.

Ford, Ford Madox [as Hueffer]. The Cinque Ports: A Historical and Descriptive Record. Illus. William Hyde. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1900.

--. The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion. Ed. Thomas C. Moser. The World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991.

--. The English Novel from the Earliest Days to the Death of Joseph Conrad. The One Hour Series. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1929.

--. [as Hueffer]. "Joseph Conrad." English Review 10 (December 1911): 68-83.

--. "Joseph Conrad." John O' London's Weekly (10 December 1921): 323.

--. Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924.

--. [as Hueffer]. "Literary Portraits--XXXVI." Outlook (16 May 1914): 681-82.

--. [as Hueffer]. "Literary Portraits--XXXV. Les Jeunes et `Des Imagistes.'" Outlook (9 May 1914): 636.

--. [as Hueffer]. "Literary Portraits. VIII--Mr. Joseph Conrad." The Tribune (14 September 1907): 2.

--. [as Hueffer]. "Literary Portraits--XLI. Mr. Richard Curle and `Joseph Conrad.'" Outlook (20 June 1914): 848-49.

--. The March of Literature from Confucius's Day to Our Own. New York: Dial, 1983.

--. "Mr. Conrad's Writing." Spectator Literary Supplement 123 (17 November 1923): 744, 746.

--. [as Hueffer]. "The Nigger." The Outlook (24 July 1915): 110-11.

--. "On Conrad's Vocabulary." The Bookman 67 (June 1928): 405-08.

--. "The Other House. Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters." New York Herald Tribune Books (2 October 1927): 2.

--. Parade's End. Ed. Robie Macauley. New York: Vintage, 1979.

--. Portraits from Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1937.

--. Return to Yesterday. New York: Liveright, 1932.

--. Thus to Revisit: Some Reminiscences. London: Chapman and Hall, 1921. Garnett, Edward. "Romantic Biography." The Nation and The Athenaeum (6 December 1924): 366, 368.

Harvey, David Dow. Ford Madox Ford 1873-1939. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1962.

Herndon, Richard J. "The Collaboration of Joseph Conrad with Ford Madox Ford." Diss. Stanford, 1957.

Hervouet, Yves. The French Face of Joseph Conrad. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990.

Higdon, David Leon. "The Macmillan Reader's Report on Romance." Modern Fiction Studies 30 (1984): 274-77.

Hugo, Victor. "Tristesse d'Olympio" (1837) in Les Rayons et les Ombres (1840). In L'Oeuvre de Victor Hugo: Podsie. Prose. Theatre. Edition Classique. Ed. Maurice Levaillant. Paris: Librairie Delagrave, 1963.

Howland, L. D. Commonweal (22 April 1925): 666.

"An Impression of Conrad." Times Literary Supplement (13 November 1924): 727.

Jean-Aubry, G. Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters. 2 vols. Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1927.

Jefferson, George. Edward Garnett: A Life in Literature. London: Jonathan Cape, 1982.

Judd, Alan. Ford Madox Ford. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991.

Knowles, Owen. A Conrad Chronology. London: Macmillan, 1989.

"The Londoner." "Comment on Joseph Conrad." The Bookman 41 (March 1925): 48-50.

Ludwig, Richard, ed. The Letters of Ford Madox Ford. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1965.

McFee, William. Bookman 61 (April 1925): 500.

Meixner, John A. "Ford and Conrad." Conradiana 6 (1974): 157-69.

Meixner, John A. Ford Madox Ford's Novels: A Critical Study. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1962.

Meyer, Eric. "`The Nature of a Text': Ford and Conrad in Plato's Pharmacy." Modern Fiction Studies 36 (1990): 499-512.

Morley, Christopher. "A Note on Conrad." Saturday Review of Literature 4 (14 January 1928): 519.

Morey, John Hope. "Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford: A Study in Collaboration." Diss. Cornell, 1960.

Moser, Thomas C. "Ford Madox Hueffer and Under Western Eyes." Conradiana 15 (1983): 163-80.

--. The Life in the Fiction of Ford Madox Ford. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980.

Moult, Thomas. "A Romanticist's Portrait of Conrad." Bookman 61 (December 1924): 174-76.

Najder, Zdzislaw. "Introduction." Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea & A Personal Record. World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988.

--. Joseph Conrad: A Chronicle. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers UP, 1984.

Naumburg, Jr., Edward. "A Collector Looks at Ford Again." The Presence of Ford Madox Ford. Ed. Sondra J. Stang. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1981. 161-85.

New Statesman (6 December 1924): xvi.

Saunders, Max. Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life. New York, Oxford UP, 1996.

Sherry, Norman, ed. Conrad: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973.

Tennant, Roger. Joseph Conrad. New York: Athenaeum, 1981.

Watt, Ian. Conrad in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: U of California P, 1979.

Watts, Cedric. Joseph Conrad: A Literary Life. London: Macmillan, 1989.

Joseph Wiesenfarth is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has held a tenured position since 1970. He has published six books on English and American novelists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as more than seventy-five articles and reviews. He is a founding member of the Ford Madox Ford Society and has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and the Institute for Research in the Humanities.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Marquette University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Wiesenfarth, Joseph
Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
Article Type:Critical Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2000

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters