FORD, FORD MADOX (1873-1939, English novelist, author of 'The Good Soldier')
FORD ABOUT HIS WORK AND REPUTATION. A remarkable letter on one of Ford's central concerns -- his reputation. Rebecca West said of him that 'he is the author who is recognised only as he disappears round the corner.' Although he wrote eighty-one books and over four hundred articles, and was a figure of enormous literary influence, he has been called 'the most neglected great English author of this century'. Indeed most readers know him only through The Good Soldier and perhaps Parade's End. His attitude to England and the repute of his books there was the subject of the brief correspondence and one meeting between Ford and Graham Greene, of whose It's a Battlefield Ford said that it was 'a shaft of sunlight through the gloom that seems to hang over our distant land! I w[oul]d not have believed that such writing could come out of England.' He used to boast that every member of his family left the world a poorer man than he had come into it -- he himself owned virtually nothing when he died and during his lifetime his books never sold well.
'...Anything that calls attention to writing in a world that avoids with disgust all the products of the Muse is to be enthusiastically supported...But when it comes to writing about my own work, blushes, confusion and muffled curses are more the order of the day. I have not the least idea what to say. I have for years been writing...an immense series of work attempting to render our own times. America and to a less extent France have, thank Goodness, consumed them in sufficient quantities to keep me going on a Mediterranean terrace where I continue to work and to watch the fall of the dollar...
...I gather...that the London public does not like my work. Nothing is there for tears. Why should a London public like my works? My constations of life have dubious international backgrounds; they contain nothing about British birds' nests, wild-flowers or rock-gardens; they are "machined" with a Franco-American modernity that must be disagreeable indeed to the inhabitants of, say, Cheltenham...they must be incomprehensible and inexpressibly boring. Between the Middle West and the Eastern sea-board of the United States as well as round the Pantheon where those devices saw the light they are already regarded as vieux jeu, accepted as classics which you must know of but need not ever read, and used for Manuals in University English Classes.
So I go on writing in the hope that, a hundred and fifty years from today, what I turn out may be used as an alternative study in, say, Durham University. And at any rate I have the comfortable feeling that none of our entrants for the Davis Cup will have been kept off the Playing Fields of Eton by a reprehensible engrossment in my novels...I am like Marcus Aurelius' really virtuous man who, when he had put forth his good works, thought no more of them than does the vine when its grapes are gathered...'
This is one of the finest letters by Ford to have come on the market in recent years.