Romance, Ford Madox Ford & Joseph Conrad



This is the second book Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad collaborated on, and I was excited to see, particularly in the first 1/4, the beginnings of what I would recognize as Ford's style: delayed decoding, impressionistic flashes. It works especially well in events where the narrator himself is overwhelmed, unfamiliar - there's a capture in which he has a bag over his head, or a scene later in which he witnesses a hanging. The second half of the book proceeds in a straight-forward manner.

My main issue with Romance and the reason I wouldn't recommend it unless one is especially curious and fond of either writer, is that it is a very long and rambling book. I had no sense of shape: where we were going, was this the middle, or near the end? In some ways this is an unfair judgment, because the expectations of books were different.

But then there are the brilliant bits:

...as if the oar had been a stalk of straw, as if the water of the bay had been the film of a glass bubble an unguarded movement could have shivered to atoms. I hardly breathed, for the feeling that a deeper breath would have blown away the mist that was our sole protection now. It was not blown away. On the contrary, it clung closer to us, with the enveloping chill of a cloud wreathing a mountain crag. The vague shadows and dim outlines that had hung around us began, at last, to vanish utterly in an impenetrable and luminous whiteness. We seemed to breathe at the bottom of a shallow sea, white as snow, shining like silver, and impenetrably opaque everywhere, except overhead, where the yellow disc of the moon glittered through a thin cloud of steam.

I never connected deeply with either the narrator/protagonist or his love interest, Seraphina, but there is a minor--very minor--character of a sailor's wife whom I found fascinating and really shows Ford and/or Conrad's genius: 

She is upset by the fact that Kemp (the protagonist) is traveling alone with the young woman, and takes it on herself to lecture both of them (especially him). Fine and good. So far, she's a pretty stock character. But, Kemp realizes "she had been, in reality, tremendously excited by this adventure. This was the secret of her audacity." She's wringing her hands, full of righteous indignation, but the truth is she's excited - the whole situation produces a sort of vicarious thrill in her. It is, in a way, her brush with 'romance.'