Ford Madox Ford's role in the romanticizing of the British novel

Date

2018-06-29

Authors

Scott, James Beresford

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Abstract

Although it is now widely accepted that the modern British novel is grounded in Romantic literary practice and ontological principles, Ford Madox Ford is often not regarded as a significant practitioner of (and proselytizer for) the new prose aesthetic that came into being near the start of the twentieth century. This dissertation argues that Ford very consciously strove to break away from the precepts that had informed the traditional novel, aiming instead for a non-didactic, autotelic art form that in many ways is akin to the anti-neoclassical art of the British High Romantic poets. Ford felt that the purpose of literature is to bring a reader into a keener apprehension of all that lies latent in the individual self--a capacity that he felt had atrophied in a rational, rule-abiding, industrialized culture. Impressed by the way that the French realists and naturalists disclosed the human condition, and fully aware of the descriptions of consciousness put forward by Pater, George Moore, Bergson, Wagner, Nietzsche, and William James, Ford worked to specify the strategies by which a novelist could realize his/her goal of making a reader apprehend that which can never be conveyed by direct statement. Ford felt that by heightening the individual's self-awareness, the "new novel" could effect an apocalyptic transvaluation of British society. Like his Romantic forebears, Ford felt that this increased breadth and intensity of individual consciousness can be realized only by means of a literary practice which is grounded in convention-breaking principles: exploration of the tension between social order and human compulsion; extended consideration of non-rational, especially unconscious, states of mind (such as dreams, telepathic experiences, sudden venting of repressed desire); description of "common" experiences; use of colloquial diction and disjunctive temporality; avoidance of narrative closure; use of a descriptive method (impressionism) that promotes non-optical "vision"; advocacy of subjective, even solipsistic, definitions of truth; and criticism of positivist values. While the extent of Ford's influence on later writers is difficult to measure, he clearly was one of the pioneers of a distinctly new commitment to fiction as an art form whose purpose and guiding principles are romantic.

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Romanticism, England.

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