Friday, March 25, 2011

The Lit Whisperer

From a review by Edmund White of a new edition of Ford Madox Ford's "Parade's End."

Early on in [Ezra] Pound’s career, before World War I, Ford had played a decisive part. Ford was living in a village in Germany and Pound came to visit with his first real book of poems, Canzoni. Pound was twenty-five and arrived in Giessen wearing a green shirt with glass buttons. Ford was thirty-eight. The older man couldn’t bear the artificiality and pretentiousness of Pound’s poetic diction. As Hugh Kenner puts it in The Pound Era:
The summer was the hottest since 1453. And into these quarters marched jocund Ezra Pound, tendering his new book that chaunted of “sprays [to rhyme with ‘praise’ and ‘rays’] of eglantine above clear waters,” and employed such diction as “hight the microcline.” Ford saw that it would not do. The Incense, the Angels, elicited an ultimate kinesthetic demonstration. By way of emphasizing their hopelessness he threw headlong his considerable frame and rolled on the floor. “That roll,” Pound would one day assert, “saved me three years.”
Ford fervently believed—and persuaded Pound—that a writer should write “nothing, nothing, that you couldn’t in some circumstance, in the stress of some emotion, actually say.” Indeed Ford’s prose, more than that of any other writer of his period, sounds spoken. As he said in 1938 about his much earlier collaboration with Conrad, he tried to evolve for himself “a vernacular of an extreme quietness that would suggest someone of some refinement talking in a low voice near the ear of someone else he liked a good deal.” This could just as easily be a Jamesian precept and in our own day Colm Tóibín (especially in The Master and Brooklyn) seems to be subscribing to this hypnotic practice.
The Master turns out to be a novel about the last days of Henry James.

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