August 23, 2008, Staunton, Virginia
“I’m trying to track down the Ralph Ruedy who did a dissertation at Duke University years ago on the English Review and Ford Madox Ford? Have I reached the right number?”
That phone call last spring caught me in the middle of morning coffee here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where my wife and I retired a few years ago. I was, of course, startled but quickly on my guard. Was this some new scam, spawned by Google and internet age, from someone who had tracked down my phone number to offer an opportunity to “self-publish” my long-forgotten work for a “nominal fee?”
But it wasn’t, and so began the process that would lead, over thirty years after I wrote it, to the inclusion of my long-forgotten dissertation in the Modernist Journals Project.
The work is, of course, reproduced exactly as I defended it at Duke on a bright November evening in 1976. I’d discovered Ford in a graduate survey course, and decided that for my dissertation I wanted “to do something on Ford.” Arthur Mizener’s excellent—but ultimately unsatisfying, at least to me–biography had just appeared, and Mizener’s groundbreaking research suggested many leads. I quickly settled on Ford’s editorship of the English Review in 1908-1909, and found myself working on a remarkably neglected subject that seemed at the center of Edwardian literature, but also on the cusp of what became known as Modernism. Ford, Conrad, James, Hardy, Rosetti, Wells, Meredith, Pound, Galsworthy, Yeats, Lawrence—it doesn’t get any better than that!
Since I completed my degree, other biographies of Ford have appeared, along with a good deal of excellent literary scholarship. I have read some of it, but my own career took me in another direction. Not long after defending my dissertation, my wife, newborn daughter and I arrived behind the Berlin Wall in East Berlin, where we spent three years on my first overseas assignment as a foreign service officer. I pursued a thirty year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, working mostly in cultural and academic fields in Washington and U.S. embassies abroad in Tehran, Moscow, Bonn, and elsewhere. Particularly satisfying was work on Fulbright, IREX, and other programs of scholarly and cultural exchange, much of it guided by the wonderfully idealistic mandate of the 1961 Fulbright legislation to promote mutual understanding on behalf of world peace.
I like to think Ford would have approved of my career choice. He himself envisioned an international community of letters that transcended parochial views and national boundaries. Russian, German, French and American writers were welcome at the English Review. Another of Ford’s convictions, expressed in the editorial choices he made, was that modern literature has a broad and serious social purpose. It cleanses the public mind of cant, makes us see ourselves as we really are, and forces society to make honest choices in policy and politics.
So thoughts of Ford and my dissertation were certainly not left behind as I pursued a career in government service. In particular, I liked to recall a comment from a review I discovered somewhere during my research. The reviewer denounced the “smoothness and vacuity” of a particular work, claiming it might have been written by “a minor official retired from the Foreign Office” because in the entire text “there is not a split infinitive nor an idea.” Ouch! Ford set high standards.
In looking over my work of thirty years ago, I acknowledge some embarrassment. Beyond doubt, it would have benefited from much more careful editing. 350 pages seem a bit much! But I admit to some pride as well. Under the careful and rigorous direction of my supervisor, Professor Grover Smith, I examined a great deal of material and produced what I hoped would be a comprehensive and at least somewhat insightful study on an important subject. Whatever the merits of my analyses, the importance of the topic is unassailable. The English Review remains a monument of good literature for any age.
For that reason, I am delighted to see that it has been given attention in Modernist Journals Project of Brown University and the University of Tulsa. In making the English Review available on-line, as well as a number of other important periodicals, the project performs a huge service to scholarship
I like to recall that exactly one hundred years ago this summer, Ford, Conrad, Wells, and others were spending time together in the lovely English countryside of Kent and Sussex, busily hatching plans for the journal that would appear in London that November. A century later, what they produced seems startlingly modern and—in the overused phrase of our own age—completely “relevant.” We do well to keep firmly in view their work and the ideals and standards which guided them. I’m pleased and proud that, over thirty years after I produced it, Professor Scholes and his colleagues consider my study to be a useful part of their important undertaking.
Ralph H. Ruedy
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