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Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

Parade's End (1925)

by Ford Madox Ford

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,242199,309 (3.79)151
  1. 00
    The Sword of Honour Trilogy by Evelyn Waugh (thorold)
    thorold: Two rather different writers each identifying his particular war as the end of everything that was good and decent and Toryish about the England of his youth.

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» See also 151 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Not an easy book to read because of the writing style. Ford goes forward and backward in the timeline, and often you only know what is happening later on. There are also many "thought soliloquys" as Ford delves into the minds of the main characters. These are hard to follow. Still, I give this book four stars because I could identify with some of Ford's writing eg. take a holiday from yourself, the soul is second-in-command. ( )
  siok | Jan 31, 2017 |
On the front cover of the edition I borrowed from the library, there's a quote from a review in The Guardian that says "The finest English novel about the Great War". This might well be true. Ford Madox Ford certainly pulls no punches when it comes to revealing the idiotic decisions made in Whitehall about the war, nor when it comes to describing the pointless loss of life and the psychological damage inflicted on soldiers at the front. But it's more than a war novel. It's also a description of how horrible the upper classes can be to each other within the weirdness of their social structure that puts saving face and gaining revenge against perceived wrongs above trying to understand each other in order to be happy. It's also about gender politics and presents a bleak view of the differences, similarities and incompatibilities between men and women. I didn't like a single person in the book, but I found their stories compellingly written. There's a dark humour buried in the book, as well. Satirical rather than gallows. Ford allows both Tietjens and Sylvia to develop a sense of the ridiculous as the war and their tortured marriage both roll on, making wry comment on the bureaucracy of the military and society's demand for decorum. The structure of the book is interesting, told in parts that focus on the perceptions of one of the three key characters. We gain hints of events happening to the other characters, as observed by the person we are with, and then in a later section we find out what happened. It means the timeline jumps around a bit, but it also allows the reader to draw their own conclusions which are then either confirmed or challenged. It's too long and too repetitive to read as a single piece, though. It should be read as individual books, with gaps in between, as it was originally published. The brain needs respite from unrelenting misery. Overall, it's an ugly book containing little in the way of joy and plenty in the way of petty hatreds. It feels like an achievement to have ground my way through it. ( )
  missizicks | Mar 25, 2016 |
A long, dense, sometimes difficult book about a long, dense, difficult man. Har har. Christopher Tiejens is a gentleman and a gentleman is beholden to a myriad unspoken and unwritten laws, many of which appear to be made up by the gentleman to justify rather silly behaviour. Or perhaps that's unfair. Christopher aspires to a kind of Protestant sainthood and will cleave to his ideals even as England decays around him, leaving him the last decent Englishmen, susceptible to all manner of beastliness as he bulls through with an almost pathological stubbornness and an apparent addiction to manly noble suffering.

Wife Sylvia ensnared him after she thought she ha been made pregnant by another man. Sylvia turns out to be a monster, for all that she might at first eke a certain sneaking admiration for her convention defying ways. It soon becomes apparent that she isn't defying anything, just making them work to her own demented ends. Thus begins poor old Christopher's travails. Cuckolded, bitched, and now the subject of her bottomless malice, he stoically endures the whips and chains of bad fortune. Then he meets Valentine Wannop and falls in love. Then the war comes along to hasten the destruction of all he holds dear. It's pretty much downhill all the way.

Poor Christopher becomes the whipping boy for all his class, as Christ-like in his fundamental goodness as in his ability to endure the scourge. One prays for a happy ending, if only to relieve one's own suffering, but damned if I know whether any chink of happiness was allowed in at the last. Maybe? Book 4 has some amazing writing in it, but it's a bit elliptical in terms of the plot. It's a bit of a let-down after the splendid war-torn scenes of the previous two books. Perhaps that was the point, a comment on the post-war treatment of the soldiers? No, it just feels... unresolved, After Infinite Jest last year, I probably shouldn't complain about wading through 900 pages and not finding resolution, but the ambiguity of the ending felt mean-spirited rather than aesthetic. Maybe it'll grow on me. I can see why the tv series largely left it out. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
Starting Parade's End is a little like reading an ethnologist's report from some alien world. All the characters, in this vision of pre-1914 England, seem to be moved by obscure impulses and constraints; and in many ways they appear more unfamiliar than, let's say, characters of a century earlier as described by someone like Austen. The feeling passes, but it is no accident: part of Ford's argument is that the First World War spelled the end not just for a generation of young men but for a whole mindset, a way of behaving and of being English, that is now utterly gone and cannot be recovered.

Standing as the prime example is the central figure of Christopher Tietjens, who like everyone here is a strikingly original creation. A brilliant man working at an uninspiring government post, he is tired of the modern world and feels more at home in the eighteenth century, which he thinks of as ‘the only century that never went mad’ (‘Until the French Revolution; and that was either not mad or not eighteenth-century’). Christopher is no dashing hero – he is physically awkward and not very attractive, compared somewhere in book four to ‘a lumbering character from Molière’, ‘elaborate of phrase and character, but protuberant in odd places.’

He is, though, staunchly English in the most traditional sense – ‘the last Tory’, a man who considers it ‘the highest achievement and justification of English manners’ when he notices two people ‘talking with polite animation and listening with minute attention’. Reserve and privacy are his watchwords: ‘He would, literally, rather be dead than an open book.’

This odd, not especially likeable character forms the apex of an emotional triangle which, on one level, Parade's End explores across four books. The other two players are his wife Sylvia – she is unremittingly awful to him, but he considers it ungentlemanly for a man to divorce a woman – and the smart, spiky suffragette Valentine Wannop, who appears to be Christopher's opposite in every way and yet is clearly as perfect for him as he is for her.

Sylvia Tietjens is one of the most breathtakingly horrible fictional characters I can remember encountering. She is mesmerisingly unpleasant. At first I worried that she would be one of those sexily fatal femmes that male authors love to come up with; but she is a lot more than that to me. Ford gives us long exposure to her thought processes and background, so that her vindictiveness becomes gradually textured with psychological nuance. She is described once or twice as ‘Sadic’, but there is also something masochistic going on, as is made clear with a couple of hints to trauma in her past – take for instance this passage of extraordinary insight where she remembers an abusive encounter with one of her lovers:

The miserable memory would come, ghost-like, at any time, anywhere. She would see Drake's face, dark against the white things; she would feel the thin night-gown ripping off her shoulder; but most of all she would seem, in darkness that excluded the light of any room in which she might be, to be transfused by the mental agony that there she had felt: the longing for the brute who had mangled her, the dreadful pain of the mind. The odd thing was that the sight of Drake himself, whom she had seen several times since the outbreak of the war, left her completely without emotion. She had no aversion, but no longing for him…. She had, nevertheless, longing, but she knew it was longing merely to experience again that dreadful feeling. And not with Drake….

With great skill, Ford allows us to understand that Sylvia's many affairs – what are referred to wonderfully as her ‘high-handed divagations from fidelity’ – are just one facet of a tendency morbidly to sexualise everything. This comes back (as all things do in Parade's End) to the war, which for Sylvia is – an astonishing word to use – an ‘agapemone’, or zone of free-love. Indeed it's not just about sex, it's about sexual abuse: ‘You went to war when you desired to rape innumerable women. It was what war was for….’ And later:

These horrors, these infinities of pain, this atrocious condition of the world had been brought about in order that men should indulge themselves in orgies of promiscuity. That in the end was at the bottom of male honour, of male virtue, observance of treaties, upholding of the flag…. An immense warlock's carnival of appetites, lusts, ebrieties….

What a statement! And what a difference, here as everywhere, with Valentine Wannop, for whom the war is primarily a ‘mental torture’—

Immense miles and miles of anguish in darkened minds.

I fell in love with Valentine, and I found the shy, constrained romance between her and Christopher extremely moving. The section where they ride together through the moors, and become lost in fog, all while conducting a long, flirtatious game of one-upmanship about Latin poetry, is one of the best things I've read in years. Valentine is ‘the best Latinist in England’ (we learn much later), and Christopher feels that special pleasure which very intelligent people feel when they are in conversation with someone who is in a position to correct them.

‘It's alto, not caelo…“Uvidus ex alto desilientis….” How could Ovid have written ex caelo? The “c” after the “x” sets your teeth on edge.’

Christopher is deeply charmed – as is she by his general sense of bluff, rough gruffliness and his inability to do anything but what is right, no matter how much personal pain this may cause him. Or indeed her. The two of them know they cannot – should not, by all-important convention – be together, and so their courtship, such as it is, is confused, restrained, clipped, polite; and the more passionate for it.

It passed without any mention of the word ‘love’; it passed in impulses; warmths; rigors of the skin. Yet with every word they had said to each other they had confessed their love […].

When Christopher finally decides that the war has done away with the conventions he was used to, and that therefore he will damn well allow himself to have an affair if it will make him and Valentine happy, there is something both moving and hilarious in the blunt way he propositions her before returning to the Front, never previously having exchanged a single word of affection: ‘Will you be my mistress to-night? I am going out to-morrow at 8.30 from Waterloo.’ Overall, Ford's treatment of sexual desire and sexual jealousy is extraordinary – no wonder Julian Barnes, in the introduction to the Penguin edition, floats the idea that he's the English Flaubert (although this is a slightly weird comparison). Sylvia may hate Christopher but she also loves him, of course – some of her conflicted reflections on the relationship are exquisite:

When he had said: ‘I'd have liked you to have said it,’ using the past, he had said his valedictory […] her agony had been, half of it, because one day he would say farewell to her, like that, with the inflexion of a verb. As, just occasionally, using the word ‘we’ – and perhaps without intention – he had let her know that he loved her.

As should be clear from the quotations, the writing is superb throughout – but also dense, and often quite challenging. Deep psychological insight is funnelled into long, complex internal monologues, which in some cases (especially, I thought, in the last book) bear comparison with those of Molly Bloom or of Beckett's narrators. The result is deliberately confusing, with a throwaway comment in one book not explained until three hundred pages and two books later; or contradicted by another character's recollection of the same incident, so that you're never sure whose ‘version’ of the truth, if any, is the right one.

Language itself (and here again Ford seems part of the modernist project) is unstable and often breaks down. ‘What is language for? What the hell is language for?’ one character demands. ‘We go round and round.’ The ellipsis gradually becomes the primary punctuation mark, and the prose becomes increasingly aposiopetic – as can be seen even in the titles of two of the four books, Some Do Not… and A Man Could Stand Up—. At the same time, Ford can also write with eye-catching economy. When one character hears something nearby, Ford writes, magisterially:

Noises existed.

Structurally, too, the work shows great craftsmanship. All in all it covers a fairly wide timeframe, from 1911 to the mid 1920s; but only a few tiny moments are illuminated, like shafts of light in a vast tunnel. Book two covers less than forty-eight hours, and book three might be even shorter – the majority of it happens during a single evening. The overall effect, then, is stroboscopic, a series of sudden flashes separated by years, with much remaining dark to us as readers, disclosed only confusedly, through memories.

Book four, I should point out, is not universally liked. Graham Greene famously cut it out of his copy and referred to the work as a trilogy, and Virginia Woolf hated it. I have to admit I can't see why it provokes such strong feelings; it takes an oblique approach to the central characters, sure, but that's not unexpected – and it contains some of the best and funniest prose of the series. I also think the four-act structure makes sense – one of the recurring terms of Parade's End is ‘parallelogram’, for whatever reason, and I think the fourth book is needed to complete the parallelogram of novels. They make up a thick, wonderful, multitudinous work – a powerful character study, an analysis of sexuality, a contextualisation of the war, and a truly great romance…all of which leaves you feeling, at the end, that this alien world is your own world after all, that you are as alien as any of them, and that they are as richly human as you. ( )
2 vote Widsith | Nov 5, 2014 |
A brilliant British aristocrat officer's life during WWI without delving into the battles of war but instead the battles between him and his love interests. Very well written and engaging. One becomes immersed in this world. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
I think it could be argued that Last Post was more than a mistake – it was a disaster, a disaster which has delayed a full critical appreciation of Parade’s End. The sentimentality which sometimes lurks in the shadow of Christopher Tietjens, the last Tory (Ford sometimes seems to be writing about ‘the last English gentleman’), emerged there unashamed... This is a better book, a thousand times, when it ends in the confusion of Armistice Night 1918 – the two lovers united, it is true, but with no absolute certainties about the past so deformed by Sylvia’s lies (if they are lies) or about the future with that witch-wife still awaiting them there...

Parade’s End is not a war-book in the ordinary sense of the term; true, it was produced from the experiences of 1914-18, but while a novel like All Quiet on the Western Front confined its horror to the physical, to the terrors of the trenches, so that it is even possible to think of such physical terrors as an escape for some from the burden of thought and mental pain, Ford turned the screw. Here there was no escape from the private life.
added by SnootyBaronet | editObserver, Graham Greene
Many critics down the years have pointed out that almost all anti-war novels and movies are in fact pro-war. Blood and mud and terror and rape and an all-pervading anxiety are precisely what is attractive about war — in the safety of fiction — to those who, in our overprotected lives, are suffering from tedium vitae and human self-alienation. In Parade’s End Ford makes war nasty, even to the most perverse and idle...

Graham Greene once said of Parade’s End that it was the only adult novel dealing with the sexual life that has been written in English. This is a startling superlative, but it may well be true. Certainly the book has a scope and depth, a power and complexity quite unlike anything in modern fiction, and still more unusual, it is about mature people in grown-up situations, written by a thoroughly adult man.
added by SnootyBaronet | editSaturday Review, Kenneth Rexroth
Parades End has been called the last Victorian novel. And I suppose it is. So much that is Victorian is in this book, and yet… there is something of the lost generation in here also. It is in my mind a transitional novel, the last hurrah of the Victorian and a first tentative peek at the modern. Or more properly perhaps, the first description of the Modern by a Victorian: “No more hope, no more glory, not for the nation, not for the world I dare say, no more parades.”

Those who have read The Good Soldier will recognize some familiar themes, but in Parade’ End will enjoy Ford at his most expansive. Why Ford has fallen so out of favor, and this novel in particular has been all but forgotten, is one of those peculiarities of taste and time.

Ford himself once said, “Only two classes of books are of universal appeal; the very best and the very worst.” It is certain that Parade’s End belongs in the former class. Certainly it will again be “rediscovered” by some generation of writers. It’s quality and execution demand it.

» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ford Madox Fordprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barnes, JulianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Macauley, RobieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The two young men - they were of the English public official class - sat in the perfectly appointed railway carriage.
There will be no more parades.
'That's women!' he said with the apparently imbecile enigmaticality of the old and hardened. 'Some do!' He spat into the grass; said: 'Ah!' then added: 'Some do not!'
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141186615, Paperback)

In creating his acclaimed masterpiece Parade's End, Ford Madox Ford "wanted the Novelist in fact to appear in his really proud position as historian of his own time . . . The 'subject' was the world as it culminated in the war." Published in four parts between 1924 and 1928, his extraordinary novel centers on Christopher Tietjens, an officer and gentleman-"the last English Tory"-and follows him from the secure, orderly world of Edwardian England into the chaotic madness of the First World War. Against the backdrop of a world at war, Ford recounts the complex sexual warfare between Tietjens and his faithless wife Sylvia. A work of truly amazing subtlety and profundity, Parade's End affirms Graham Greene's prediction: "There is no novelist of this century more likely to live than Ford Madox Ford."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:36 -0400)

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"First published as four separate novels, Parade's End explores the world of the English ruling class as it descends into the chaos of war. Christopher Tietjens is an officer from a wealthy family who finds himself torn between his unfaithful socialite wife, Sylvia, and his suffragette mistress, Valentine."--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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