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Parade's End Paperback – 16 Aug 2012
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"The finest English novel about the Great War." (Guardian)
About the Author
Ford Madox Ford, born Ford Hermann Hueffer in 1873, in Surrey, published over 80 books during his writing career. His novels include The Inheritors, Romance, The Fifth Queen and The Good Soldier, and autobiographical works, Return to Yesterday, It was the Nightingale and The March of Literature.
In 1915, Ford Madox Ford enlisted in the army and served as an infantry soldier in the First World War. Parade’s End was based on his personal experiences of war. It was published in four parts between 1924 and 1928.
Ford Madox Ford died in Deauville, France, in 1939.
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Ford Madox Ford
A well written story, and an interesting one. It sets you thinking. The story focusses on Christopher Tietjens, “the last of the true tories”; the story opens in the years before World War One. This novel will take us through that war, and into the twenties, when everything has changed.
The character-interest is what holds you. Christopher Tietjens never departs from his principles, and considers himself an honourable man. And yet, you cannot help feeling that the genteel code he obliges himself to live by, is also a trap. “Honourable conduct” seems to be defined negatively—there are certain things you avoid doing, certain things you avoid saying. It is a “via negativa”. Christopher feels that by adhering to this gentlemanly code, he keeps out of trouble, and maintains his dignity. Sadly, it doesn’t turn out that way. Christopher becomes “the most dishonoured man in London”, because of certain things he is rumoured (falsely) to have done. And there are certain other things, which perhaps he ought to have done--and for which he would have been forgiven. But his code restrained him.
For example, right at the end of the first book, he fails to make a move on the Wannop girl—even though he desires her, and she him. The title of this first book “Some Do Not” refers to that scene. Christopher Tietjens is certainly honourable—but he is frustrating, too!
The European War breaks out. Everyone rather optimistically expects the war will be soon over. Christopher takes an army commission and is sent to the Western Front. The tone is quite different here, and it is well described.
World War One eventually grinds to a halt, and the world has changed completely. Christopher’s brother Mark, who works for the civil service, cannot adjust to this new world. Christopher himself makes a brave attempt to forge a place for himself: he becomes an antiques dealer.
Finally, Christopher Tietjens and the suffragette Valentine Wannop… but you must read the book, if you want to learn more.
This is a truly great book. Panoramic in its scope, thought provoking, and engaging to read.
Ford Madox Ford was a modernist and he loved to play with the chronological order of events, as can be seen right at the beginning of this book. Christopher Tietjens starts off on a train with a friend going to play golf, then the story back tracks into the events that led up to why. This happens throughout the book, indeed at one stage you read about the First World War ending, and then you are taken back to the War and the events that happened to Tietjens. This some people may find off putting, but Ford's reasons for this is that we don't think in a particular chronological order, which is after all correct. We may start talking about something that happened and then realise that we have mentioned an event that didn't happen until later in the main event. Also Ford was a great admirer of James Joyce's 'Ulysses', and thus this book or rather the four books that make up this story all contain stream of consciousness. As you can see to read all of this whilst on your daily commute is perhaps too tall an order, as you have to keep a lot in mind until you next pick the book up.
The basic storyline in itself is simple, a man marries a woman who is unfaithful, then himself falls in love with another woman. What Ford does with that story though transcends into something much more complex and powerful. Starting before and finishing after the First World War there is tragedy here, as well as quite a bit of comedy, whether that is the dark comedy of war, or the satire of the landed classes. In stories of war we are used to reading of the horrors and traumas that one faces, but here Ford also gives us the darkly comic side of all the absurdities and red tape that has to be got through just to get something as simple for instance as a blanket, or even a fire extinguisher. On top of this poor old Tietjens has to contend with his wife, her manipulations, and the rumours that she has caused to be started about him. And of course people sponging off him.
Some can argue that this book is of its time, of an era that no longer exists, and yes they can make a valid point. We know that after the horrors of the First World War and before that even, the system of great houses and servants was in decline, with the war arguably sounding the ultimate death knell. This book is more than that, it shows the horror and trauma of war and what can happen to people when you start spreading lies about them. People change, their characters alter, for the better, or worse. This book shows that clearly, along with other such things. The biggest draw though with this is Christopher Tietjens. You start off seeing him as a man with ideals from the 18th Century that arguably only ever existed on the pages of a novel. As the years and events take their toll though he does alter, but even at the end of this you still find his character a bit of an enigma, and that draws you back to him and the whole story again. Never boring, completely compelling, this is a story that often gets overlooked, but will give you hours of satisfaction and enjoyment. Just remember, this isn't a quick read, it takes time, and provided you don't forget where you are, not that complex to take in.