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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Parade's End (1928) by Ford Madox Ford

Stephen Fry is the obvious choice to play main character Christopher Tietjens

Book Review
Parade's End (1928)
by Ford Madox  Ford
Some Do Not... (1924)
No More Parades (1925)
A Man Could Stand Up- (1926)
The Last Post (1928)

  Nice trick by the 1001 Books people, listing Parade's End as one book, when in fact it is four books published sequentially and then collected at the end in one volume.  The Everyman's Library edition I checked out of the library ran 906 pages, not including Malcolm Bradbury's 20 page introduction.  Ford Madox Ford is a kind of 1920s literary Zelig (or Forest Gump) for the younger among you: Always there in the back ground of major developments in literary modernism during the teens and 20s.

  Ford first received renown as a critic/editor/publisher, his The English Review, which started in 1908, published Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells, Joseph Conrad (who Ford collaborated with on a couple of boos), Henry James and John Galsworthy.  After serving in the British Army in World War I, which inspired many of the scenes from Parade's End, he settled in the Latin Quarter in Paris, where he cavorted with Jean Rhys and befriended James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, AMONG OTHERS.

  Ford was incredibly prolific- authoring over 50 books in edition to his two periodicals, but he is best known for The Good Soldier (1915), which is narrated from the point of view of cuckold as he contemplates the mutual suicide of his wife, her lover (and his best friend) and his best friend's wife.  Like that book, the Parade's End tetralogy echoes with the themes of betrayed lover, notably embodied by Christopher Tietjens, the main character of the first three of four books (he hardly appears in the fourth and final book, which was written against the better judgment of Ford himself, and is largely narrated from the point of view of Tietjens incapacitated older brother.)

 Although it is fair to say that Parade's End is about World War I and Tietjens' experiences there, only the middle two books involve the war itself, with the first book taking place entirely before the beginning of the war and the last book taking place entirely at the end.  Ford was obviously at the heart of modernist innovations in the novel, and the four volumes of Parade's End employ the familiar modernist literary tactics of shifting between narrators and back and forth in time without signalling the reader, but Ford also will use chapter breaks and inter-chapter pauses to make these same shifts, lessening the disorientation felt by the reader.

  The Last Post very much seems like an afterthought, with Christopher's wife receiving something in the way of a comeuppance, and Christopher living in non-marital bliss with his honey-bee.  Ford's portrayal of the trenches of World War I (and the support staff behind the trenches) is very much that of the upper class officer's perspective.  The level of war related horror described in Parade's End pales in comparison to other World War I focused novels, but Ford also succeeds in giving World War I more context than other similarly themed books.

  I would watch a BBC miniseries of Parade's End for sure.  Can't imagine recommending it as a book to someone.  900 pages- who has time for that?

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