Ford & James

Ford Madox Ford died on this day in 1939. As founder and editor of both the English Review and the transatlantic review, and as "everybody's blessed Uncle and Headmaster" (D. H. Lawrence), Ford was a central figure in early-twentieth-century British literature. Among his seventy-seven books are eight volumes of memoirs containing many "impressions" of the famous writers of the day. Here is how he recalls Henry James, a friend and neighbor who, though a generation older, liked to cast Ford in the uncle-headmaster role: 

How they come back to me after a quarter of a century…the savoured, half-humorous, half-deprecatory words, the ironically exaggerated gestures, the workings of the closely shaved lips, the halting to emphasize a point, the sudden scurryings forward, for all the world like the White Rabbit hurrying to the Queen's tea-party….

One prolonged consultation between the two men had to do with a crisis in James's "fantastic domestic arrangements." An irreconcilable quarrel among his seven servants and housekeepers had left James's downstairs in a shambles; desperate to find reliable replacements for his lost help, James determined to visit Ford unannounced, where he was greeted by Ford's housemaid. Disturbed by the muffled conversation -- more a monologue -- taking place on his doorstep, Ford got up from his writing desk in time to hear James rounding to his point:

Would you then advise me…for I know that such an ornament decorates your master's establishment and you will therefore from your particular level be able to illuminate me as to the…ah…smooth functioning of such, if I may use the expression, a wheel in the domestic time-piece -- always supposing that you will permit me the image, meaning that, as I am sure in this household is the case, the daily revolution of a really harmonious chez soi is as smooth as the passing of shadows over a dial…would you then advise me to have…in short to introduce into my household and employ…a…that is to say…a Lady Help?

Ford gave what advice he could, James went off to conduct his inquiries and interviews, and in due course returned with his good news: "As the German Emperor is said to say about his mostachio, 'it is accomplished.'…Rejoice -- as I am confident you will -- with me, my young friend. All from now onwards shall, I am assured, be with me gas and gingerbread…. Halcyon, halcyon days. In short…."


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."