Saunders, Max 1957-
SAUNDERS, Max 1957-
PERSONAL: Born June 24, 1957, in London, England; son of Alfred (an artist) and Diana (an art dealer; maiden name, Snow) Cohen; companion of Alfred Saunders. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Queen's College, Cambridge, B.A. (with honors), 1979. Politics: "Left/Green."
CAREER: Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, research fellow at Selwyn College, 1983-88, lecturer, 1988-89; University of London, King's College, London, England, lecturer, 1989-97, reader in English, 1997-2000, professor of English, 2000—.
MEMBER: Ford Madox Ford Society (chair, 1997—).
AWARDS, HONORS: Le Bas Prize, Cambridge University, 1985.
(Editor and author of introduction) Selected Poems: Ford Madox Ford, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 1997.
(Editor) War Prose: Ford Madox Ford, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1999.
(Editor, with Richard Stang) Critical Essays of Ford Madox Ford, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: "Literature," wrote the twentieth-century novelist, critic, and essayist Ford Madox Ford, "exists for the Reader and by the Reader." As a specialist on Ford's life and letters, Max Saunders paints his subject as a complex man who was something of a liar. Born Ford Hermann Hueffer in 1873, Ford was the son of a music critic and an artist; the boy was subsequently "raised in the hothouse of late-nineteeth-century intellectualism and radicalism," as critic Martin Stannard noted in the New York Times Book Review. Changing his name to Ford Madox Ford (after his maternal grandfather, painter Ford Madox Brown), the young man was frequently, as Saunders put it, "dishonest in matters of large change." He claimed to be descended from German aristocracy, to have attended Eton, to have met Lord Byron. "None of it was true," stated Stannard. "He made up his life as he went along." What was true about Ford's life is his influence on contemporary letters: He founded the English Review, published James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and e.e. cummings, and counted among his friends Henry James and H. G. Wells.
In Volume 1 of Saunders's two-part Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, the author examines his subject's life prior to World War I. "Rather than worry about whether Ford was a liar," Stannard remarked, "Mr. Saunders turns the difficulty into a literary question. Ford's characteristic style is based on 'reminiscential anecdote,' on desiring 'remembrance now': 'In all Ford's writing, make-believe is inseparable from reminiscence.'"
Saunders contributed thorough research into Ford's private life, which included extramarital affairs, and examined how such behavior affected his and others' literary work. "One single example," said Giovanni Cianci of Prolepsis, "may suffice as an instance of the exhaustiveness of [the author's] biographical method: His reconstruction (aided, it should be noted, by the prior research carried out by Carole Angier) of the affair between Ford, Stella Bowen and Jean Rhys. He traces their triangular relationship not only in Bowen's accounts, but also in the fictionalised elaboration of the other two partners (Postures by Rhys, and Ford's When the Wicked Man), not forgetting the novel by Jean Lenglet (Rhys' Dutch husband), Sous le verrous."
By 1915, Ford's affair with novelist Viola Hunt was on the wane; his marriage had ended, his father had died, and his signature book The Good Soldier "had met with enough critical hostility to insure low sales," as Stannard noted. To the despondent writer, World War I "beckoned as a form of legitimate suicide." But his war experiences led to the novel Parade's End, which Saunders sees as "not only an exemplary, essential text of 1920s modernism, but also the most important and complex English novel on the First World War," according to Cianci. "As a critic with the simultaneous task of unraveling the complex web of his subject's life," Cianci continued, "Saunders must have been sorely tempted to highlight biographical coincidence and motivation, limiting his interpretation of the texts to subservient transcriptions…. On the contrary, however, once he has exorcised the 'biographical sourcery' which he rightly shuns, Saunders makes intelligently elastic use of biographical data."
As editors of Ford's Critical Essays, Saunders and Richard Stang turn their focus toward the writer's interpretation of the works of such peers as Joseph Conrad and James Joyce. Ford's "aesthetic doctrine came down, in essence to a single tenet," wrote Times Literary Supplement critic P. N. Furbank. "The writer must eschew verbiage and abstraction, must aim at the exact rendering of the concrete." To Furbank, "It was a doctrine that the age was in need of, and he preached it with such persistence and good humour … that it bore fruit." Critical Essays "brings together essays which, for the most part, have never been republished in book form. Since Ford made a practice of republishing his longer pieces, it means that it is something of a ragbag, but for a reader coming fresh to Ford it might be just the right introduction."
Saunders once told CA: "I am a literary critic first. My biography of Ford grew out of an interest in his writing. His novels and memoirs are some of the most engaging pieces of English prose I know. He has attracted many champions, often novelists or poets themselves, but the strengths of his writing had never been persuasively demonstrated. Ford said he was perfectly conscious of how he got his effects. His imagination was permeated by a stringent critical sensibility, which is manifest not just in his appreciations of other writers, but in his fiction, too—in the ways he attends to the experiences of writing and reading. I suppose what predisposed me toward such interests was being brought up in a home where art—particularly visual art—was always being discussed. My stepfather, the American painter Alfred Cohen, has a gift for making one see a painter's technique, and the strengths and weaknesses of a composition."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Guardian (London, England), March 23, 2002, Nicholas Lezard, review of Critical Essays of Ford Madox Ford, p. 11.
Hudson Review, summer, 1998, review of Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, p. 425.
New York Times Book Review, June 30, 1996, Martin Stannard, "The Art of Lying," review of Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life.
Times Literary Supplement, May 10, 2002, P. N. Furbank, review of Critical Essays of Ford Madox Ford, p. 36.
Prolepsis Web site,http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/uni/nes/ (October 30, 2001), Giovanni Cianci, review of Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life. *