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Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
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Parade's End (original 1925; edition 2001)

by Ford Madox Ford, Robie Macauley (Introduction)

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899189,817 (3.79)119
Member:stephmo
Title:Parade's End
Authors:Ford Madox Ford
Other authors:Robie Macauley (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Classics (2001), Paperback, 864 pages
Collections:listsofbests to get
Rating:
Tags:unowned, listsofbests, modern library 100

Work details

Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford (1925)

  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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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. ( )
1 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 |
Although Ford did not attend University like some other well known authors of the time. His writing style is typical of that era and is intellectually a match for those educated to a higher level. It is stated that Parade's End is based on Ford's own experiences at war. The novel is made up of four books: Some Do Not; No More Parades; A Man Could Stand Up and The Last Post.

The books are quite difficult to read due to the 'padding'. By 'padding' I mean that there is lot of detail on the main characters thoughts and musings. I was pleased to have seen the TV adaptation before reading this novel. I think I may have struggled to keep up otherwise. Especially, as it took me nearly two months to read. This was due to time constraints and is not a reflection of the novel. If the story just stuck to action then it would have been at least half in size, but the poorer for it.

Christopher, married to a woman who could be described as the 'devil incarnate'. So malicious and vindictive was she towards him. She went on what could almost be called a rampage to discredit and ruin him. Yet, he had married her taking on her child not knowing if it was his. He would not divorce her out of principle, he would not discredit his wife. Of course, divorce was not the done thing and would have reflected badly on him. Sylvia Tietjens was a Catholic and divorce was against her religion, she would never have agreed to it. This is the basis of the novel and what follows unfolds in the story . Christopher may be naive but he is a good sort, yet he suffers more than anyone. It is a tale of its time but is packed with social, political and moral issues. If you have the time to invest in reading this tome, it is worth your while. Enjoy! ( )
  booketta | Apr 10, 2014 |
I picked this up because it is described as an epic tale of the impact of WW I on an upper class British family and I was hoping for a combination of Downton Abbey and The Forsyte Saga. But the book uses an interesting style in telling the story - a bit of stream of consciousness narrative from a few of the main characters. Although there are points in this book where the style works brilliantly, too often the characters are thinking about mundane things - 'will anyone notice the rip in my shirt?' 'Are the scones cooked enough?' And that style might be fine for a book like Mrs. Dalloway where it's only the events of a day, but this book focuses on the Great War and the impact it has on one family. There are much bigger events going on - people getting killed or maimed, families totally devastated - and the style of telling these stories seemed too random or haphazard. This book is long - 38 hours in audio - and you would think that all that time with these characters would make you have strong feelings for or against them, but I finished the book with a feeling of ambivalence - not really caring about any of the people in this book. ( )
  jmoncton | Nov 27, 2013 |
Although it did get a BBC dramatisation a year or two ago, and it will presumably get a boost from the World War One centenary industry in 2014, this does somehow seem to have become the most neglected of the great British war novels. Unfairly, of course, because it is clearly one of the great modern novels in English. Or is it one of the great Edwardian novels? It's a tricky book to categorise: thoroughly experimental in its form, but utterly conservative in its themes. Or remarkably advanced in its subject-matter and amazingly traditional in its language... you can almost read it any way you choose.

What I expected when I started reading this was something a bit like what Evelyn Waugh does in Brideshead and the war trilogy, an account of the brutality of war smashing up everything that was decent and English and gentlemanly and plunging us all into the Age of Hooper. The frequent image of Tietjens as "the last Tory" leads us in this direction, but you probably oversimplify what Ford is trying to do if you read it like that.

Tietjens is never identified with the pre-War generation, or even with the Victorian age: Ford always locates him spiritually in 17th-century England. Ford frequently tells us that in an ideal world, Tietjens should have been a saintly Anglican poet-priest like George Herbert at Bemerton. But Herbert didn't exactly spend his life in bucolic tranquillity: he was an MP before he became a parson. The England of his day was fizzing with every possible kind of political and theological dissent, and erupted into revolution and civil war only a few years after Herbert's death. (And, of course, the first use of the term "Tory" in English politics was much later, in the 1660s.)

So we obviously shouldn't take what Ford says about Englishness entirely at face value. The opening section of the tetralogy shows us an England that is hideously smug and self-satisfied, with the Suffragettes (and the appallingly self-centred Sylvia) the only people prepared to give it a poke and stir it into some sort of life. ( )
2 vote thorold | Nov 12, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
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.
 
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The two young men - they were of the English public official class - sat in the perfectly appointed railway carriage.
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:36 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"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)

(summary from another edition)

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