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The March of Literature: March of Literature: From Confucius' Day to Our Own (British Literature) Paperback – July 1, 1994
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From Library Journal
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"[The March of Literature] is stippled with sharp, knowing observations and phrases, worth remembering. . . . One of its particular strengths lies in the emphasis on earlier writing . . . and it should help inspire modern readers to go exploring in the literature of the past." -- The Washington Post Book World 8-7-94
"[The March of Literature] reveals as much about Ford himself as the writers he portrays. Though it's a scholarly work that often soars with eloquence, the style is earnest and conversational. Ford had strong, quirky opinions and biases. . . . A tour of the mind that students would line up for." -- Chicago Tribune Books 4-17-94
Top Customer Reviews
Ford was a champion of new, experimental work in his time. That would be the poets and novelists of Modernity as we see them now. Beyond the writers of his day, he also felt that there was importance in both the popular and obscure works of earlier generations. This book lays out his opinions and insights on many centuries of (despite the subtitle) mostly western literature.
This is probably not the preferred "general survey of world literature" today, but for literature folks this is a wonderful glimpse of our culture's, and Ford's personal, take on literature before the second world war. You'll certainly disagree at times, and some of his stances have not aged well, but what is here is well reasoned and interesting.
His relationship with Conrad, which included collaborating on some very forgettable novels as well as--depending on whose account you believe--contributing to major portions of Conrad's greatest works, began well and ended badly and the majority of Conrad's biographers attribute this to Ford's irascibility, not to say pathology.
One admirable characteristic that even his detractors acknowledge is that Ford was "mad for literature". Only a few of many novels are remembered now (PARADE'S END, THE GOOD SOLDIER), almost all his other books are long forgotten, but his overwhelming interest in fictional art remains and nowhere does it appears more strikingly than in the volume under review.
What Ford proposes to do in THE MARCH OF LITERATURE is, of course, impossible--to trace literary art from Confucius to "the present" (1938, when the book was written). If you skip even a few pages, you miss a major part of the picture he's attempting to draw, but at the same time, MARCH shouldn't--and probably can't--be read from p. 1 to p. 800. It's a book to read piecemeal, odd judgments jostling with illuminations, but unlikely to lead many readers to some of Ford's more obscure personal favorites, even though reading his enthusiastic admiration of them is a pleasure.
Of the above-mentioned THE GOOD SOLDIER, I find it hard to believe that the novel has the major status many attribute to it. A serious and moving yarn, true, but compared with almost any other masterpiece of the 20th century, it seems a very minor "classic". (Interesting that Ruth Rendell, the crime novelist, admires it and says she's read it many times.) PARADE'S END, though praised by Auden, Graham Greene, Anthony Burgess, and others, is shot through with elements that possibly appeal more to Brits of a certain age but too quickly become boring to modern readers, which makes it a "masterpiece" most people won't enjoy reading except in part. And unfortunately the two novels written with Conrad are pastiches of R.L. Stevenson, definitely a writer for another time, in spite of his admirable prose.
So perhaps THE MARCH OF LITERATURE is really the best book by Ford, because it illustrates his obsessive love for fictional art, the legacy from him for the present, an admirable example of unqualified love for the verbal imagination.
Nevertheless, he's quite strong on later written prose (after all, he wrote a terrific novel in The Good Soldier). . This is a book to be sampled in small bites, not one to be read cover to cover. It's loaded with semi-precious gems and I'm happy to have it in my library.