Lit’s Nice Guy: Ford Madox Ford

Ford Madox Ford (17 December 1873 – 26 June 1939) – Writer and Friend


In his literary publications English Review and Transatlantic Review, Ford Madox Ford debuted or published the work of James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, William Butler Yeats, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Rhys, Ezra Pound, Thomas Hardy, Gertrude Stein, H.G. Wells, and Henry James among many others. He was Joseph Conrad’s mentor and collaborator on his first works.

It is difficult to imagine modernism (or, for that matter, 20th century literature) without Ford Madox Ford’s tireless promotion and generous support. Most of the writers he assisted paid him back by becoming more famous than Ford, a couple of them slept with his wife, and Hemingway (whom he helped the most and who apprently never met a patron he didn’t betray) made fun of Ford in print and trashed him in person.

Ford Madox Ford might be literature’s illustration of “Nice Guys Finish Last,” but here’s the thing. He was a very great writer, who deserved to stand with those he helped. At age 40, he sat down to see what he could do himself and the result was a masterpiece, The Good Soldier (1915). Then, at 41, he enlisted in the British Army as an officer and saw a lot of action in World War I. He put those experiences into a series of five novels with the umbrella title Parade’s End (1924 – 1928) that is also a masterpiece and possibly the finest work of prose literature produced by the Great War.

Happy Birthday, Ford Madox Ford … a great writer and the better man.

P.S. That’s Ford in the photo on the end next to James Joyce, who is looking very Joycean and who is flanked by Ezra Pound, who is looking insane and vaguely fascist. The other man in the picture is John Quinn, the Irish-American art collector and lawyer who (among his many other accomplishments) defended Joyce’s Ulysses against charges of obscenity.

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