Circles: Charles Henri Ford

Charles Henri Ford

Charles Henri Ford’s vanity turns 100 today. Its owner, poet and publisher Charles Henri Ford, was by all reliable accounts born in Mississippi on this day in 1908 but he insisted that he was born in 1913, a fudge which – at time of writing – endures on his Wikipedia entry.

Beyond contention, however, is his status as a major cultural catalyst. His influence and relationships ranged from the Surrealists and the interwar expat community in Paris through to the Beats and the Factory, connections which he carried right into the 21st century, dying in 2002. Anyone whose address book has space for both Faulkner, William and Arcade, Penny is surely worth investigating further.

Even allowing for the half-decade headstart, Ford’s early activities are remarkable. At 21 he launched Blues, a literary journal which attracted contributions from the likes of Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. Soon he was off to Paris with The Young and Evil (co-written with long-time collaborator Parker Tyler) as his calling card. Edith Sitwell, shocked by the novel’s frank depiction of gay urban life, cast it onto a fire. Notorious closet case Edward James, who happened to be on hand, joined in the impromptu book-burning.

The twosome would recur in Ford’s life; James pursued his sister Ruth Ford while promoting the career of artist Pavel Tchelitchew, Ford’s partner. Said artist, meanwhile, was the unlikely object of Edith Sitwell’s passion; he painted a number of portraits of her and turned up in fictional form in her sole novel, I Live under a Black Sun. Sitwell evidently overcame her distaste for Ford’s writing, penning a preface for a volume of his poetry.

While Ford spent much of the 1930s in Paris, there was a sojourn to Morocco with Djuna Barnes. Their affair was a rare excursion to multi-gender relationships for Ford (though not so rare for Barnes). In Morocco they stayed with Paul Bowles and Ford typed up the manuscript of Barnes’ masterpiece, Nightwood. Back in New York at the outset of the Second World War, Ford sought out Tyler once more and they set to work on View, a hugely important journal of avant-garde writing and imagery from both sides of the Atlantic.

Some of Ford’s most fascinating connections elude diagrammatic rendering. While he was a subject for one of Andy Warhol’s famous screen tests, his involvement in the pop artist’s filmic endeavours goes even deeper. Ford, in fact, took Warhol shopping for his first camera. He also introduced him to visionary film artist Marie Menken, who would prove a major influence on Warhol’s moving images, as well as Gerard Malanga, who become a loyal adjutant.

Ford later hosted a salon in his apartment in the Dakota building; in Just Kids Patti Smith recollects attending with Robert Mapplethorpe, although she felt that Ford was intent on recreating his Parisian past. You can read up on the entire sweep of Ford’s career in this informative and entertaining interview from 1986. Meanwhile, here’s an attempt to map Charles Henri Ford’s most important connections:

click through for a more legible view


Further reading
Dress-down Friday: Charles Henri Ford, Charles Henri Ford | collages
Angel (Joseph Cornell/Pavel Tchelitchew)
Dress-down Friday: Djuna Barnes, Djuna 40/80/120, Circles: H.D./Bryher, Djuna Barnes | drawings (Djuna Barnes)
World Famous Aerial Queen, Dress-down Friday: Janet Flanner, El hombre elefante, Pearls: Janet Flanner (Janet Flanner)
Surreal estate, James and the giant artichoke, Strange Flowers guide to London, part 2 and part 3, The James Press, At home with Edward James, 13 books for 2013 (Edward James)
“A huge old baby vulture”, Circles; H.D./Bryher, Edith speaks, Dress-down Friday: Edith Sitwell, Pearls: Edith Sitwell (Edith Sitwell)
Salon queen, Pearls: Natalie Clifford Barney, Circles: Natalie Clifford Barney (Natalie Barney)
Look back with Anger, Go! Go! Go! (Marie Menken)
Review: Howl (Allen Ginsberg)



  1. Hi James: I interviewed CHF for the Romaine Book. He was very interesting in talking about her and Natalie and their politics or lack of it. He also talked about Djuna and his relationship with her, the book and other things. He was delightful and still had all his mental faculties that was about two years before he died.Always enjoy your posts. Date: Sun, 10 Feb 2013 12:35:18 +0000 To:

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  3. Somehow I’d completely missed his affair with Djuna! The very model of stability, those two.

    So… Just how bad is “The Young and Evil”? Because [hangs head in shame] I’ve never read it. Approximately 67.8% of the reviews I’ve read for it have been unkind, to say the least, but I know it’s important in its way.

    • I have to admit I haven’t read it either. It’s unclear if Edith was reacting to the book’s subject matter or its apparent want of literary finesse. Klaus Mann’s ‘Der fromme Tanz’ was dancing around the same kind of themes even earlier. It’s one of those books where you think ‘hmmm…pretty good’ and then you realise he was like SEVEN when he wrote it. Which is just depressing.

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  10. thombeau

    Somehow I ended up here again! Can’t imagine how!

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