The Shifting of the Fire, Ford Madox Ford

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This is an early (1892) Ford Madox Ford novel, which has been undeservedly forgotten. Yes, there are some strange bits (the crows) and some overly stagey-Gothic bits, but there is so much good here that shouldn't be rushed by. Ford, like Woolf, has a keen awareness of subjectivity: the compressed/dilated experience of time, the gap between the interior and exterior in conversation.

The premise of the book is a mercenary marriage a young woman (Edith) makes to an elderly millionaire when her fiance (Clem) suddenly loses his fortunes. What makes the story fascinating, I think, is Ford handling of it, starting with a rather extraordinary paragraph about the realities of poverty that keeps the reader from sliding into conventional moralizing.

He concludes:
"If you are sentimental you will shudder and feel righteously horror-struck at the turn of affairs, if practical you will say, 'H'm, a very proper arrangement under the circumstances."

Edith herself, when considering her options, justifies her decision as a form of 'earning money' toward her future happiness, and although Ford does not explicitly pursue this, it at least raises the reality that for young women of her class of her time, autonomy is largely beyond reach.

You find here, in early form, an observation repeated in "Parade's End" that the English are, in Ford's view, singularly ill-equipped to deal with passions and life's great events.

And then there are the tiny gems which give depth and dignity to the unremarked, like Clem's maiden aunt:
"I have little doubt that the poor old lady, stiff and starched as she was, cried a little the night before he departed, for the sight of him had caused the return to her mind of an old, sweet sorrow, and she had grown old and feeble, and her frame was ill able to stand even the shadow, falling thus after long years, of a passion that had once moved her in her most occult being."

Even Edith's horrible husband gets his moments of sympathy:
"Delays of any kind were dangerous to Mr. Kasker-Ryves, inasmuch as they forced his thoughts inwards, and he detested his thoughts."