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The Dialectic of ‘Soul’ in Ford Madox Ford’s The Soul of London

Omar Sabbagh

The keynote of Sebastian’s life was solitude and the kindlier fate tried to make him feel at home by counterfeiting admirably the thing he thought he wanted, the more he was aware of his inability to fit into the picture — into any kind of picture.[1]
Vladimir Nabokov, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

At the last, soul itself is the longing of the soulless for redemption.[2]
Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia

The soul is no separate immaterial entity. Wherever there is Nature, the soul is its universal immaterialism, its simple “ideal” life.[3]
G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind

Over the course of this paper, I intend to offer, in however minimal a manner, a Hegelian reading of Ford Madox Ford’s The Soul of London. The main movement I intend to show as occurring over the course of the narrative is, epistemologically speaking, one from knowing or knowledge to truth, as Hegel distinguishes the two in his introduction to The Phenomenology of Spirit.[4] Knowing for Hegel is a relation of consciousness to an object; truth is a further movement, at a higher order, of the consciousness of that very consciousness. That is to say the negation of the negation yields up a point of view where subject and object come to be seen, not in dualist fashion, as opposed, but rather as aspects or moments of the same subjectivity. In making this rather audacious analogy, however roughly sketched, between Hegel’s dialectic and Ford’s narrative read closely, I am only doing precisely that, making an analogy. The truth that art and impressionist art wants to elicit from representation, for Ford, is of course not strictly speaking equivalent to the cognitive and notional truth Hegel intends. But I feel that the analogy highlights a very pertinent feature of the text, namely, the way Ford sees London as a subjectivity in and for itself; which will, by the end, have also taken account of his own (and of course our own) subjectivity.

Briefly put, the thesis of this paper is that Ford begins his approach to London, as he titles one of his chapters, ‘From a Distance’.[5] However, right from the outset, he seems to see London as an object which is soulless in the sense of being unsympathetic, or just oblivious, to the enquiring and perceiving eye. And yet, by the end of this narrative, and enacted primarily in the last chapter, London’s soullessness, as in the epigraph from Adorno cited above, comes to be inverted or negated into one moment or aspect of its ‘Soul’.

Ford opens the first of three works of sociological impressionism, The Soul of London (1905), with an ‘Introductory’ full of the tensions that will slowly unravel in the ensuing narrative. It seems right then, in deciding how to go about reading this richly textured work, to begin at the beginning. How to proceed from there –- in a strictly chronological treatment or by tracing the contours, the dips and rises of thematic patterns stretching across the whole surface of the book –- is problematic given the density of the narrative. Patterning of themes, of imagery, repetition, circularity … all these suggest the prudence of, to quote Plato’s Socrates, going ‘wherever the wind of the argument takes us.’

One of the pivotal themes discussed below is epistemological in nature: the relations between subject(ivity) and object(ivity). As will be seen presently, Ford, qua subject and author, faces his object: ‘London’. How he decides to treat this object is of interest primarily because the emergent implication is that one cannot write ‘London’; rather, it seems, ‘London’ writes us, or, at least, faced with Ford’s ‘London’, we (as parts of it, or as viewers/critics of it) become mere vehicles or media for its own elemental expression.

Ford uses the ‘Introductory’ as a whole to modestly justify his title, The ‘Soul’ of London. He starts by making an analogy between a place and a personality. ‘Most of us love places very much as we love what, for us, are the distinguishing men of our social lives.’[6] He continues the social or inter-personal analogy with a modest self-appraisal of the book that is to follow. He implicitly compares his own discourse on London with the sort of banter or gossip common between acquaintances or friends. And, again pointing to the limitations of his endeavour, he compares his discourse to the paying of social calls or visits between friends. What follows, then, is merely him paying his visit. Already, it has been implied that to attempt to write London is problematic. On the following page he says that the proper ‘business’ of his visit is ‘to give a picture of the place as its author sees it.’[7] Reinforced again is the prospective subjectivity of what is to follow. And linked to this subjectivity, this Impressionism, is the visual: the aim is to give a ‘picture’ as he ‘sees’ it. But then on the following page, the problematic epistemology of this endeavour begins to emerge. The author’s business, it is reaffirmed slightly differently, is not to sentimentalize over favourite aspects of London, which we assume would be too subjective or unprofessional, un-‘business’like, but to ‘render the actual’.[8] The ‘actual’ of course is the existent, concrete reality. Ford’s avowed purpose of ‘rendering’ aims determinedly and directly at the mundane.[9] To render or present the mundane is actually for Ford an attempt at objectivity, as it involves, to paraphrase Levenson, a subjectivity where the subject has disappeared.[10] That is, the subject does not directly impose his own view, but rather relates all the various impressions or perceptions that filter through him, as a medium or vehicle for reality, which, in line with the Humean empiricist doctrine on personal identity, exist or occur logically before the fictional integration of the ego or self. It seems, then, that Ford has resolved a possible contradiction. If we assume Levenson’s meticulous reading of Ford’s doctrine of ‘strict Impressionism’ cited above, Ford is able to be ‘business’-like and objective, rendering the actual, as well as offering the impressions gained from his own personal ‘visit’ to London. As Levenson says, Ford’s aim is to collapse the objective with the subjective.

Ford says shortly afterwards that the only person who could possibly get a ‘picture’ of London in its completeness must ‘be prepared to draw all the morals … . This author –- this ideal author –- then, must be passionately alive to all aspects of life.’[11] The epistemologically problematic nature elucidated above seems just as apparent to Ford himself, because in talking hypothetically, in a slightly detached or ironic manner, of an ‘ideal author’, without directly claiming for himself such authority and status, he seems to show a certain uncertainty or insecurity about the challenge ahead. Indeed, in the first chapter, which develops many of the themes of the Introductory, Ford writes again of this ‘ideal author’, and again the uncertainty is evident.

[T]o see London steadily and see it whole, a man must have certain qualities of temperament so exhaustive as to preclude, on the face of it, the faculties which go to the making- or the maiming- of great fortunes … above all things he must have an impressionability and impersonality, a single-mindedness to see, and a power of arranging his illustrations cold-bloodedly, an unemotional mind and a great sympathy, a life-long engrossment in his ‘subject’, and an immense knowledge, for purposes of comparison, of other cities. He must have an avidity and sobriety of intellect, an untirable physique and a delicately tempered mind. These things are antitheses.[12]

If Ford were actually writing about himself, this would be unconscionably arrogant of him. The truth is however, that he seems almost to be pre-empting criticism of his own failure to match up to these august accomplishments, the hastiness of pre-emption being a sign of his own insecurity about the endeavour.[13]

Vital to seeing ‘London’, in its entirety, is a foreignness which makes for impressionability. (This is presumably why he titles his first chapter, ‘From a Distance’). But more than this, it would seem that the only person, if there were such a person, who could see everything, draw ‘all’ the morals, see ‘all’ aspects of life, possess all the antithetical qualities mentioned above, would have to be God-like, or to put it another way, would have to have a view from nowhere. In other words, (S)He would have to be as ‘impersonal’, as un-situated or abstract as ‘London’ itself. In fact, that is precisely the collapsing of subjective and objective, the mirroring of subject and object. But as we have seen, Ford doesn’t seem to think that he’s the man to do or be this.

‘From a distance’, then, ‘London offers to the mind’s eye singularly little of a picture.’[14] However, discussing the necessity for the prospective Londoner to pass through a process of disenachantment before he can even ‘look about him’, Ford says that even after this disillusionment, this stripping away of the infantile (we assume) projection onto London of a part of himself, ‘the last thing … he will get is any picture, any impression of London as a whole … .’[15]

London, in fact, is so essentially a background, a matter so much more of masses than of individuals, so much more, as it were, a very immense symphony orchestra than a quartette party with any leader not negligible, that its essential harmony is not to be caught by any human ear.[16]

Whether the completeness of London is to be apperceived visually or aurally, it seems that no human being can do it. No human can see that far; that is, to the end. Thus to the human eye, or ear, London remains an ‘abstraction’. No matter how accustomed the Londoner is, ‘sooner or later, the sense of the impersonality, of the abstraction that London is, will become one of the most intimate factors of his life.’[17] London, in fact, in its in/a-humanity, escapes enclosure in the picture by always eliding capture. If anything, Ford has gone to great effort here to show, more than the ‘soul’ of London, its soullessness.

Indeed, a ‘soul’ is the property of an individuated being, mortal or immortal. But as was implicit in a passage above that spoke of London as a thing of ‘masses’ rather than ‘individuals’, London is both (literally) nebulous and abstract. London ‘is one gigantic pantheon of the dead level of democracy; and, in its essentials it is neither a home for the living nor for the dead.’[18] The living, presumably, have souls. The dead, presumably, are souls. But the neither living nor dead, it seems to follow, would be soulless. Indeed, in a later chapter, ‘Rest in London’, Ford discusses the passing of the ‘great’ figures or ‘great’ individuals in modernity. And, significantly, he gives his reflections a theological air, which only goes to confirm what we have described as the ‘soullessness’ of London.

This, however, is not an indictment of London. It is rather the mere statement of losses on a balance sheet. We have lost great figures, old buildings, all touch with history, much of Christian kindness, much of our fear of public opinion, much of our capacity for interest in our fellow men, much of our powers of abstract reasoning, much of our old faiths.[19]

It is not an indictment of London simply because, according to the logic we’ve followed so far, London is soulless. London, in fact, comes across, through Ford’s imagery, as, not the absolute –- which while not individuated, would still be a world-soul or collective soul and so on –- but perhaps as an elemental or natural force, or indeed, Nature itself.

A human aggregation, it leaves discernible so very little of the human that it is almost as essentially a natural product as any great stretch of alluvial soil … . Raindrops, born a long way up in the hills, united to run through fissures in the earth, through soil-drains, through runnels in the moss of woods, through channels in the clay of sodden fields, each drop bearing infinitesimal grains of what, towards the sea at the end, becomes alluvial soil – each drop quarried, each drop carried, each drop endured for its moment, and then went hence and was no more seen.[20]

An infinity of droplets going towards the infinite sea, never to be ‘seen’ again. Apart from the water imagery, which in itself suggests both Nature and indefinite force or power, the fact that what is happening irrepressibly elides the visual is significant, because, given Ford’s firm belief in the visual as the key to Impressionist art –- which aims to render the actual –- the elision of it means, quite literally, insignificance. Or to put it in other terms, art, human meaning or value, soul, spirit, or just Culture (thesis) is elided, probably ignored, by Nature (physis). Indeed, anthropomorphizing London, as (soulless?) pagans did Nature, Ford writes, ‘[i]t forgets very soon, because it knows so well that, in the scale of things, any human achievement bulks very small … . Its message for humanity is that it is the business of men to keep all on going, not to climb on to pinnacles.’[21]

Or we might look at the chapter on ‘Roads into London’. There, the modern spirit of London, the geographic expansion, the geometrical increase in speeds of locomotion, has resulted, again, in the sapping of the humane or soulful. For instance, Ford seems to lament, resignedly, at the end of the chapter that even though ‘one would like to know what kind of poor wretch set the fifth stone in the third tier of the Pyramid of Cleops,’ one hasn’t the time in the modern world.[22] Of course, the example given is not in London, but it is only an example or analogy speaking to the loss of imaginative sympathy or what we might call ‘wonder’. Nature, after all, is never surprised, because Nature is unthinking, unfeeling. Being soulless, Nature has no imagination, let alone imaginative sympathy.

Skipping now to the end of the fourth chapter, ‘Leisure in London’, here again Ford uses a metaphor from Nature to convey London’s soullessness. Describing the vagrants in Hyde Park on one side of Piccadilly and the lounging clubmen on the other, Ford writes:

In those two opposed sights you have your London, your great tree, in its leisure, making for itself new sap and new fibre, holding aloft its vigorous leaves, shedding its decayed wood, strewing on the ground its rotten twigs and stuff for graveyards.[23]

Again, Nature, unthinkingly, mercilessly, ‘keeps all on going’ in its natural processes. Two pages later the image is alluded to in the next chapter. Ford calls it the ‘heaviest indictment’ of a city that it uses its talents and individualities ‘merely to form layers, of fallen leaves,’ and so on.[24] But interestingly, the tide has turned, ever so subtly. London is now being ‘indicted’, where before it was not held responsible. Indeed there is a noticeable change in tone in this chapter, leading towards a more open-ended, hopeful ending of the book than we have come to expect from the dominant pessimism that has gone before. To elucidate the significance of this we can look at the last paragraph of the book, another chapter ending, which, as above, alludes to an earlier image – that of the droplets of rain cited above. Despite all he has said of London in the earlier chapters, Ford suggests that people are still individuals, staunchly holding their potential within themselves, who, like ‘Meary Walker’ in The Heart of the Country, know how to ‘keep all on going’.[25] In other words, that people can match London at its own game; human beings, for all their ideals and culture –- their need to ‘climb on to pinnacles’ –- are in fact also part of Nature. Ford, echoing the end of the first chapter, concludes the book:

And in the hearts of its children it will still be something like a cloud- a cloud of little experiences, of little personal impressions, of small, futile things that, seen in moments of stress and anguish, have significances so tremendous and meanings so poignant. A cloud- as it were of the dust of men’s lives.[26]

Perhaps, then, contrary to what we saw earlier, Ford, through the progress of writing the book, has decided that he can collapse subject and object. ‘[I]ndeed it is impossible, without an effort, to dissociate in our minds the idea of London from the idea of a vast cloud beneath a cloud as vast.’[27] What was abstract, (literally) nebulous London, is now humanized, made concrete, made up, in fact, of the ‘dust’ or the ‘droplets’ of men’s lives. Soulless London, at the last, seems to gain redemption in Ford’s eyes.

Part of the epistemological problem for the Londoner, and for the hypothetical dramatis personae Ford uses from the first chapter to engage with the reader, is that while ‘London has no beginning’ it also, from any individual mortal perspective has no ‘end’. ‘London is illimitable’. The trouble, as we saw, was not in getting an impression of London, but rather in getting the impression, seeing London in its completeness or completedness. In fact, what we experience in modern London according to Ford, to adapt a term of Frank Kermode’s, is a neverending ‘middest’-ness.[28] For instance, in the second chapter, ‘Roads into London’, Ford shows the recent geographical expansion of London compared with previous ages, as well as the geometrical increase in the speeds of locomotion: the railway, followed by the omnibus, followed by the motorcar. Interested, as ever, in impressions and more generally in the phenomenological changes that result, Ford writes of the pathos that is the modern ‘note’ of London, the pathos resulting from the frustration of the desire to see a story to its end. Man whirled at such speeds can no longer take account in their completeness of all the happenings he passes in his day. And I would suggest that this quality of literal indefiniteness, shown in a different light above, also sheds its glow onto other aspects of the work.

Like the dead, and dying, Sebastian Knight of the epigraph to this paper, London’s failing to fit into any ‘picture’, its failing to be defined or framed, is also a result of its death-like quality. And like the posthumous search for the ‘real’ Sebastian, the search for the ‘real’ or ‘actual’ London results in a concatenation of many different perspectives. The reason, of course, is an implicit biographical fact. London as a personality is death-like in the sense that it is beyond mortal understanding or sight. Death in Nabokov’s fiction is actually a figure for the inviolability of the self. In so far as Sebastian is dead, he is mysterious –- no one has access to the absolute truth or reality of him. So that what inevitably results, with Ford’s London this time, is the only seeming option left: a vertiginous array of different perspectives, essays and attempts, none of which quite capture the full truth. However, in fact, there is a way of sharing the secrets of the dead or the beyond and that is to mime death itself and so hoodwink the reaper into giving forth his secrets. Ford effects this type of foreclosure with various rhetorical and narrative strategies.

After a passage comparing the leisure of the working man with the more paltry variety of the man of leisure, Ford speculates about a potential ‘third state’, beyond both work and leisure, a state where one lives ‘in the breaks, in the marking time’ between conscious action or awareness.[29] In these unthinking moments, Ford suggests, we are really living and making life meaningful –- this is perhaps the ‘real Leisure’.[30] Max Saunders reads this passage as providing a key for the whole book and indeed for Ford’s Impressionist prose in general. In its exaltation of ‘contemplation’ in the Buddhist sense, or what Ford suggests the French might call ‘assoupissement’, Saunders says that Ford is actually commenting on the function of art. Art for Ford was not meant to ‘instruct’, but to ‘sensitize’, in the sense that it makes us more aware.

[T]here is a deeply paradoxical aspect to Ford’s framing of this ‘third state’. It is life appearing to stop which makes it worth going on with. This temporal paradox is central to Impressionist art, which freezes time in order to suggest its processes; and it can be traced back to, say Pater’s celebration of the “exquisite pauses in time” composed by the School of Giorgione; pauses in which “arrested thus, we seem to be spectators of all the fullness of existence, and which are like consummate extract or quintessence of life.” What Ford adds to this mode of response is the idea that any sense of the completeness of existence implies its completedness; that the timeless stasis of art connotes also the quintessence of death.[31]

Saunders goes on to discuss how this is also a way of looking at Ford’s (and Conrad’s) favourite technical device in fiction, the time-shift –- the foreshortenings of which allow them to give form to the course of a life. Saunders suggests that particular moments and pauses, where, to quote Ford in his passage, ‘a life becomes visible and sensible’, draw ‘on the idea of death being the point that stamps value on a life.’ And he mentions in this respect an example from the sequel to The Soul of London, The Heart of the Country. There, recollecting a peasant woman named Meary Walker, Ford begins by stating the fact of her death, and then shifts backwards, so that through the ensuing narrative the endpoint, her death, is always shadowing the reader.[32] Perhaps there is something of this insecure envying of the dead in the pre-empting passages quoted at the beginning of this paper.

To start with, there is a sense in which Ford envies the dead in this work. In another example from The Soul of London Ford shows envy and admiration in a recollection of a woman worker he used to know. After describing with admiration the speed at which she was forced to work, he writes,

In face of it any idea of ‘problems’, of solutions, of raising the submerged, or of the glorious destiny of humanity, vanished. The mode of life became, as it were, august and settled. You could not pity her because she was so obviously and wonderfully equipped for her particular struggle: you could not wish to ‘raise’ her, for what could she do in any other light, in any other air? Here at least she was strong, heroic, settled and beyond any condemnation.[33]

The admiration is clear. And so, in a way, is the envy. She is ‘settled’, at rest –- something that Ford will develop in the final chapter with direct allusions to death –- ‘august’ and ‘beyond condemnation.’ ‘August’ suggests indeed that she cannot be ‘raised’; it suggests imperial status. Like an Empress, this woman has no superiors because she has matched her struggle. And like the immortal emperors of old, like the immortal dead, she is beyond condemnation.

It will be remembered that in the first paragraph of the first chapter, Ford states his thesis, ‘Thought of from sufficiently far, London offers to the mind’s eye singularly little of a picture.’ It is interesting to note, closely, how he progresses from this opening paragraph over the next two paragraphs. What I suggest is that the sort of foreshortenings, or pre-emptive shadowings mentioned by Saunders with respect to Meary Walker, are also apparent in some of the narrative and rhetorical aspects of Ford’s prose. I will quote, then, the second and third paragraphs of the first chapter in extenso.

It remains in the end always a matter of approaches. He has entered it – your man who knows his London – in one or other more or less strongly featured quarter; in his Bloomsbury of dismal, decorous, unhappy, glamorous squares; in his Camden Town of grimy box-like houses, yellow gas and perpetual ring of tram-horse hoofs; his eyes have opened to it in his Kensington, his Hoxton, his Mayfair, or his Shoreditch. He has been in it, or he has been drawn into it; he has gone through in it the slow awakening of a childhood. Or, coming an adolescent, his eyes have been opened more or less swiftly, with more or less of a wrench, to that small portion of it that is afterwards to form a “jumping-off place” into that London that he will make “his.”
And, with its “atmosphere” whatever it is, with its “character” whatever it may be, with the odd touches that go to make up familiarity and the home-feeling, the shape of its policemen’s helmets, the cachet of its shop fronts, effects of light cast by street lamps on the fog, on house fronts, on front garden trees, on park railings, all these little things going towards its atmosphere and character, that jumping-off place will remain for him, as it were, a glass through which he will afterwards view, a standard by which he will afterwards measure, the London that yet remains no one’s.[34]

There are many things to be gleaned from this passage. First, there is the introduction of this hypothetical person and his impressions: ‘your man who knows his London’. Who is the ‘you’ of the ‘your’? It is worth asking because it seems that, as we saw at the beginning of this paper, Ford is challenging the reader with pre-emption. His insecurity vis-à-vis his project seems to lead him to distance himself from his own impressions by creating this hypothetical character and thereby putting words into the mouths of his readers. And what is most significant about his prophecy for this hypothetical Londoner is the fact that he talks about his realizations or impressions in a kind of future anterior tense. From the hopeful future suggested at the end of the first paragraph cited above to the conclusion of the second paragraph we realize that some progress has been made. The ‘afterwards’ of the first paragraph looks forward; the ‘afterwards’ of the second paragraph is on the contrary disillusioned. London was to be ‘his’, but London, it turns out, is really ‘no one’s’.

But more striking from the perspective of narrative and rhetoric is not the kind of temporal progress or regress made between the two paragraphs, but rather the blatant repetitive rhythms and sentence structures, both within and between the two paragraphs. And combined with this rhetorical repetitiveness, itself a kind of stasis, is the fact that the climax at the end of the passage above is diluted in that it merely reaffirms what we know already, what was stated in the opening paragraph that preceded these two. Repetitiveness within the writing mirrors the overall structural circularity of the progress of argument or discourse. Both contribute to a sense of the cessation of chronological Time, or at least a slowing of the beat of the clock.

From this pessimistic opening, I will conclude by turning to one of the closing passages of the book which suggests a more positive future. London, it was seen, was like the elemental force of Nature. London was also death-like. Man is just as much a part of nature, and can ‘keep all on going’ like Nature. And Man also has, and earns, his death. Again, subject and object conflate, appropriating each other. At the closing of the book the protean endurance of the human spirit is invoked:

The creatures of the future will come only when our London is indeed at rest. And be they large-headed, short legged, narrow-chested, and, by our standards, hideous and miserable, no doubt they will find among themselves women to wive with, men to love and dispute for, joys, sorrows, associations, Great Figures, histories –- a London of their own, graves of their own, and rest.[35]


[1] Vladimir Nabokov, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (Penguin: 2001), p. 36-7.

[2] Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Princess Lizard’, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott (London & New York: Verso, 1999), p. 170.

[3] G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind: Part Three of The Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences, trans. William Wallace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p.29.

[4] G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford, New York, Toronto, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 52-3.

[5] This approach from a ‘distance’, to prolong the analogy with Hegel, is an essential moment of consciousness. That is to say, consciousness for Hegel, speaking broadly, is what Kant called (abstractive) understanding, the ‘distance’, is the ‘limit(ation)’ that delimits apperception. For Hegel, notoriously, recognition of this Kantian truth, the limits of mortal awareness, is itself self-transcending, rationally speaking. To re-cognise the distance of oneself from the city, is (eventually, and as will be shown through the course or calvary of this paper), is to become one with the city. See G.W.F. Hegel, Hegel’s Logic: Being Part One of The Encyclopaedia of The Philosophical Sciences, trans. William Findlay (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), p.65-94. See also, ibid., regarding Hegel’s notion of ‘speculation’ and ‘dialectics’ and how they relate to finiteness and infinity, abstraction and concretion. A very accessible account of Hegel’s critique of Kant from this perspective can be found in, Jurgen Harbermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, trans. Jeremy J. Shapiro (London: Heinemann, 1972), p. 7-24.

[6] Ford Madox Ford, The Soul of London, in England and the English (Manchester: Carcanet: 2003), p. 3.

[7] Ibid., p. 4. My italics.

[8] Ibid., p. 5.

[9] I find myself agreeing with Simon Grimble, Landscape and the Condition of England 1878-1917 (PhD thesis, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, 1998), p. 130-133. I will briefly quote a passage from p. 133 for clarity. ‘With the absence of the conceivable image, London can only be rendered positively as an “incomparable background”: the background to the everyday narratives of the modern, it can be sensed but never fully described. This is the spatial/geographic justification of an impressionistic aesthetic, which would then be so influential in aesthetics of modernism: Ford is drawn toward impression, toward visual attention because of the difficulty of grasping what is beyond.’

[10] See Michael Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of English Literary Doctrine 1908-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 116-119.

[11] Ford, op. cit., p. 5. My italics.

[12] Ibid., p. 18. This attitude that Ford outlines here, this dialectical or doubled attitude, is very similar to Hegel’s conception of ‘passion’. In that for Hegel, passion (a very Fordian preoccupation), is not just a passive suffering, but also essential to genuine activity or realization. See G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Mind: Part Three of The Encyclopaedia of The Philosophical Sciences, trans William Wallace, Zusatz trans. by A.V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 235 & p. 236-7.

[13] Though he doesn’t make it clear from what passages or what sources he comes to this conclusion, I should mention here Grimble’s own position: ‘Ford wishes to discourse upon the contemporary scene- he does not believe in the possibility of a lasting retreat- but he cannot locate a mature tone for himself, whilst mistrusting others’ arrogation of maturity for themselves. This mistrust leads to a Condition of England commentator who appears at times both unreliable and enervated, determined to reach a reading public, whilst unsure of what he will do when he has its ear.’ Grimble, op. cit., p. 118.

[14] Ford, op. cit., p. 7.

[15] Ibid., p. 9.

[16] Ibid., p. 11. My italics.

[17] Ibid., p. 8. A year before Ford published The Soul of London, G.K. Chesterton published his first novel, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), a fantasy based around, among other things, the idea of returning London to a collection of medieval townships. Implicit in this work is a critique of the indefiniteness of modernity, the expansive or boundless nature of imperialism, for example. The fact that it promotes these ideas in a fiction based around London, makes it very comparable to Ford’s own thoughts about modernity.

[18] Ford, op. cit., p. 12. My italics.

[19] Ibid., p. 94. See Levenson, op. cit., p. 48-62, for a discussion, quoting from other texts than this, of Ford’s recurring pre-war lamentation at ‘the passing of great figures.’

[20] Ford, op. cit., p. 11

[21] Ibid., p. 12. My italics. Adorno’s comment regarding anthropomorphism and its ubiquity in Hegel and later Hegelian thought and writing is interesting in this light: ‘thought that removes all participation on the subject’s part and all anthropomorphism from the object, is the consciousness of the schizophrenic. Its objectivity celebrates its triumph in a pathos-filled narcissism. The speculative Hegelian concept rescues mimesis through spirit’s self-reflection: truth is not adequatio but affinity, and in the decline of idealism reason’s mindfulness of its mimetic nature is revealed by Hegel to be its human right.’ Theodor W. Adorno, Hegel: Three Studies, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 1999), p. 40-1.

[22] Ibid., p. 41.

[23] Ibid., p. 86.

[24] Ibid., p. 88.

[25] See Ford Madox Ford, The Heart of the Country, in England and the English (Manchester: Carcanet, 2003), p. 169-170.

[26] Ford Madox Ford, The Soul of London, in England and the English (Manchester: Carcanet, 2003), p. 105. My italics.

[27] Ibid., p. 95. It is worth noting here, James’s comment on Conrad’s method, which Levenson quotes and applies to Ford as well. James had written, vis-à-vis the relations between subject/narrator and object/story in Conrad’s fiction, of “a prolonged hovering flight of the subjective over the outstretched ground of the case exposed.” Levenson extends this to Ford, and adds that with Ford these two planes, subject and object, actually collapse into each other. This sentiment is apt for Ford’s own late phrasing above, with the cloud ‘London’ which was drifting away in the sky at the end of the first chapter, now, at the end of the book, mirrored below in another, matching, cloud. See Levenson, op. cit., p. 116.

[28] See Frank Kermode, The Sense of An Ending: Studies in The Theory of Fiction (London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), p.17.

[29] To continue the analogy with Hegel: for Hegel, time as inner sense (Kant) is in contradiction with the mundus intelligibilis, as it is in Kant purely sensuous, or in the strictly Kantian sense, intuitive. This is why ‘truth’ or the Absolute Idea for Hegel, is not necessarily outside of time, but rather, as time (process, infinite negation) itself, is within both the object and the subject (pace Kant). See Hegel’s Logic op. cit. See also, regarding the significance of discontinuity immanent in development or realisation in dialectical knowing, something that would become so important to Benjamin’s conception of history, Adorno, Hegel: Three Studies, op. cit., p. 82.

[30] Ibid., p. 75.

[31] Max Saunders, Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life (Vol. 1) (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 167-8. Incidentally, G.K. Chesterton has an interestingly similar comment in his Charles Dickens (1906). Speaking of the relation between Dickens’s youth in London and his later writing, Chesterton comments: ‘There are details in the Dickens descriptions- a window, a railing, or the keyhole of a door which he endows with demoniac life. The things seem more actual than things really are. Indeed, that degree of realism does not exist in reality: it is the unbearable realism of a dream. And this kind of realism can only be gained by walking dreamily in a place; it cannot be gained by walking observantly.’ G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens (House of Stratus, 2001), p. 21. Indeed, compare this sentiment to Ford, op. cit., p. 21: ‘Above all his London, his intimate London, will be the little bits of it that witnessed the great moments of his life; it will be what happened to be the backgrounds of his more intense emotions.’ There is a similarity in that in this passage Ford is suggesting that his hypothetical Londoner’s most intimate or significant London will be that which he perceived only incidentally, while busy with things more intense and distracting.

[32] Saunders, op. cit., p. 169.

[33] Ford, op. cit., p. 56. My italics.

[34] Ibid., p. 7.

[35] Ibid., p. 104.

To Cite This Article:

Omar Sabbagh, ‘The Dialectic of ‘Soul’ in Ford Madox Ford’s The Soul of London’. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Volume 7 Number 1 (March 2009). Online at Accessed on [date of access]