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Old 18th Apr 2007, 16:52   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Ford Madox Ford: The Good Soldier; Parade's End

Quote:
Mud, always the mud, a brown mountain of mud, moving . . . .
Well, hey, that’s what it felt like at times as I heaved my way through 909 pages of Christopher Tietjen’s life in Parade’s End. It’s solid and weighty and takes a long time to digest; and did I say it’s written in an episodic, modernist impressionist style that has you screwing your eyes up tight, wondering how 'what' connects with 'where' and 'whom'? Episodic, as in four books comprising the title, which were published over four years in the 1920’s and which encapsulate four days (more or less) in the protagonist’s life.

Those days highlight in extraordinary detail the mental landscape and social and emotional context of a man who starts out as an out-of-his-time George Herbert wannabe, an honourable feudal Tory of the old pre-War kind. Christopher is a somewhat bumbling, self-abnegating fellow whose inherent stolid nobility of the upper class kind doesn’t stop him from from offering himself again and again through the book as a kind of shuffling sacrifice, especially to his incredibly cold-hearted (and somewhat sado-masochistic) estranged wife Sylvia who ruins his life and reputation to the best of her ability. She pursues him throughout the book like a jealous avenging demon and her arrival at his lowly country cottage in the final pages make you shudder for the safety of the characters therein.

The central portion of the book - No More Parades and A Man Can Stand Up - deals with his time in the trenches and its after-effects, his clear capabilities as an officer as he is forced to take control amongst the ineptitude of alcoholics and abusive seniors, and his tortured deliberations on how to manage his appallingly misunderstood and misrepresented personal life. He suffers shellshock, terminal distrust despite his constantly giving nature, and an awareness of the impossibility of finding some peace in this life. These bruising war-battered sections are intense and more focused on sound and sight and the acuity of mental awareness at such times such that they surpass, for me, other Great War accounts, such as Birdsong or Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy. The land, the very stuff which Tietjens has valued so in his 'man of the English soil' position, is suddenly the stuff which is overturning and burying men, all men, of all classes, together, pressing them into death alongside one another.

Back in civilian life he is still a gentle, intelligent man,
Quote:
a solid, four-square lump of meal-sacks too heavy for … hauling about
who represses his desire for the suffragette-ish Valentine Wannop to absolute silence and immobility for several years, until the hopelessness of a relationship between them is broken along with
Quote:
this parting of the ways, .. this crack across the table of History
that results from the end of the Great War.
Only then are they able to live together
Quote:
in the intimate conversation that means the final communion of [their] souls
albeit in penury and rustic simplicity.

Christopher's integrity causes him to renounce his status as heir to the family estate, and all the fortune that would come to him thereof. He stands at the turning of the tide between the trusted values of the past and the rise of socialism, of the vulgar and careless modern age, and through his eyes and experiences we see the moral folly and degradation of the times, the vast emptiness at the heart of society, and the pitiless petty bureaucracy of the war that carelessly dooms thousands of men without a backward glance, a military and political hierarchy riddled with ineptitude and run by self-serving and self-aggrandising fools; as a -

Quote:
A disagreeable force set in motion by gawky schoolboys - but schoolboys of the Sixth Form, sinister, hobbledehoy, waiting in the corners of playgrounds to torture someone, weak and unfortunate
The book passes through the backward glance to the nostalgic days of the land-owning ruling classes, the greed and deceit on which they thrived, through their translation into the modern era, realising that is perhaps only the countryside and some of the inhabitants there who will carry with them some of the old pieced with the new. It is there that the story closes, with a death but with a younger generation due to inherit. The coming freedoms and societal revolutions are those that Christopher realises are both justified and that he most feels due to follow (and indeed he foresees the coming dissolution of empires, the necessity of market forces) and yet are those that close down forever the world that he has inhabited where a gentleman may make a living at a parsonage outside Salisbury and write poetry for pleasure.

By the close of the book Christopher is selling English antiques to nouveau riche Americans from his front room, and the great symbolic overshadowing Tree at his Groby estate has been unduly chopped down and ripped up by an uncouth American lady tenant, taking with it an entire wall of one wing of the house.

It is only in retrospect that the force of the writing makes itself felt, and rather dazzles you. The darting about of thoughts, the inexact partial descriptions of events, that have to be pieced together long after the scene has been read, proves a challenge always. But the more I reflect on it, the more I think this is great literature. It is dense and solid, like Christopher himself, but intricate and terribly moving. Since I was led to Parade’s End and a fantastic passive hero by the Tony Tanner introduction to Mansfield Park (with its own passive heroine), I’ll close with a couple of passages that typify some of the good stuff in this book:

Quote:
So [Christopher’s] refusal to take on that stewardship [of his estate] might very well arise from a sort of craving for mortification of the spirit. Old Campion had once said that he believed – he positively believed, with shudders – that Christopher desired to live in the spirit of Christ. That had seemed horrible to the general, but Mark did not see that it was horrible, per se… He doubted, however, whether Christ would have refused to manage Groby had it been his job. Christ was a sort of Englishman and Englishmen do not as a rule refuse to do their jobs…They had not used to; now no doubt they did…Perhaps Christopher was a symptom that the English were changing.
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‘But success or failure,’ Tietjens said, ‘have nothing to do with the credit of a story. And a consideration of the virtues of humanity do not omit the other side. If we lose, they win. If success is necessary to your idea of virtue – virtus – they then provide the success instead of ourselves. But the thing is to be able to stick to the integrity of your character, tumbling over your character, whatever earthquake sets the house tumbling over your head…That, thank God, we’re doing….’

½
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Old 18th Apr 2007, 17:00   #2
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Default Re: Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End

Well done for just getting through this, Col, let alone making sense of it. I couldn't even manage the 190 pages of The Good Soldier, so I don't see myself picking up Parade's End any time soon.
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Old 18th Apr 2007, 17:15   #3
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Default Re: Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End

ooo, great review Col. I've got FMF on my to read pile as I have mentioned elsewhere. It will stay there till I've got some quality concentrated time I think!
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Old 18th Apr 2007, 18:44   #4
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Default Re: Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End

Great review Col.


I loved The Good Soldier and look forward to Parade's End. I have the book and have been rather putting it off because it's so long. Actually, have been considering buying them as individual novels-which I think are available. It may be easier to get through and digest in parts.
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Old 18th Apr 2007, 19:25   #5
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Default Re: Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End

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Originally Posted by Oryx View Post
Actually, have been considering buying them as individual novels-which I think are available. It may be easier to get through and digest in parts.

That would certainly be easier to hold and read I had an array of Post-It notes and bookmarks to remind me of certain passages that kept slipping out of my immense library copy. But my copy does have the advantage of a *tremendous* introduction by Malcolm Bradbury, which I have only just this minute read, and I would hope would be available in any copy I might be able to get off Amazon. It's certainly one of those books where you wish you were cleverer or more well read in order to understand the social and literary times in which Ford wrote this, let alone the whole cultural and social implications of the Great War.
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Old 18th Apr 2007, 19:34   #6
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Default Re: Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End

The copy I have is a used Penguin edition, which is fairly old. The small type and (like my Bellow) pages threatening to fall out upon turning are further discouragment. Time for a visit ot Amazon, methinks
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Old 19th Apr 2007, 12:44   #7
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Default Re: Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End

It doesn't sound like my kind of book, but I must echo the others - great review, Col!
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Old 19th Apr 2007, 15:16   #8
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Default Re: Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End

I can't believe we've had threads on two of favourite writers in such a short space of time.

I started on FMF with The Good Soldier and then picked up the first volume of Parade's End in a second hand bookshop for about 50p. I was immediately overwhelmed by the style - richly ellipitical it was unsettling at first - like Henry Green can be the first time you pick him up - but soon i settled into the rhythms of the text. I went out the next day and bought the full quartet and gave a friend the first volume (he's never read it, despite my badgering).

It may well be one of the finest evocations of trench life, the description of an old world being blown away in a welter of mud.

Since then i have read quite a bit of his non-fiction - a fascinating character who seems to intersect with everyone of any artistic and political importance - he tells a frankly unbelievable story about meeting Bismark whilst still a child. however there are soem beautiful moments about his pre-raphaelite childhood (his grandfather was Ford Madox Brown, the painter).

I am currently reading his trilogy The Fifth Queen - a series based on the rise and fall of Katherine Howard - it seems to be an attempt to create an early twentieth century Walter Scott - an historical novel where the personality of important figure is drawn against a backdrop of 'events'.

tehre is something willfull in my love of FMF - as if the very fact that he is a bit of an oddball and is out of favour makes me love him that little bit more.
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Old 19th Apr 2007, 15:23   #9
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Default Re: Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End

Well, I would willingly hunt out more of his work when I'm next due a bookbuying session on Amazon. Despite it being a relatively well-known title, I have not found The Good Soldier in any bookshop in the last six months.
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Old 20th Apr 2007, 10:38   #10
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Default Re: Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End

So Jenks, have you read FMF's collaboration with Conrad - The Inheritors.

I've got a lovely copy that I refuse to read until I've read a little of their own works. I've struggled with Conrad and suspect that FMF will push me just as much.
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