Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thomas Hardy and Ford Madox Ford, as Thomas Hardy Week concludes . . . maybe?

As I explained earlier this week, thinking about Thomas Hardy has sent me back to the inexhaustible treasure trove that is Thomas Hardy Remembered (2007), a collection of contemporary accounts of encounters with Hardy by a wide range of figures. Oh, would that we had such a book for all our favorite authors--it's a sheer joy to read these overlapping, kaleidoscopic descriptions of Hardy's conversation, appearance, demeanor, and preoccupations through the years.

Today, I'll share some observations from another I've Been Reading Lately favorite, Ford Madox Ford, which give insight into Hardy while also offering a taste of Ford's wonderful prose style. (And oh, if you've not read his Parade's End, quick, cancel your weekend plans and settle in! You won't regret it.)

Ford first met Hardy at age eighteen, when he'd just published his first book, a fairy tale called The Brown Owl, and continued to see him regularly thereafter; though editor Martin Ray notes that "Ford's reminiscences are notoriously unreliable," the following scene that Ford recounted in an article for H. L. Mencken's American Mercury in 1936 has the ring of truth:
But indeed the whole of his poetic work forms such another immense panorama . . . of the great landscape of the human heart. It is a matter of observation of minuteness rendered with an immense breadth and breath. You would imagine there is nothing human, hodden, and down to the ground that he had not noticed with his quick glances. They penetrated right in behind nearly all surfaces as if he had been an infallible sleuth of all human instance. I still remember my extreme amazement--as if of a Doctor Watson--when looking at a fisher boy who was patching an old boat, he told me that that boy whom he had never seen before was probably the stepson of a woman lately widowed--who got on well with him. . . . He had deduced it--and it was quite correct--from the boy's red canvas trousers which had been cut down and patched with blue cloth.
I like the image of Thomas Hardy as a rural Sherlock Holmes: they share a hatred of injustice, an appreciation for the implacable workings of fate, and, as discussed in the case of Hardy in the previous post, a near total lack of humor.

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