Friday, December 17, 2010

Parade's End (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
Parade's End

“At the beginning of the war…I had to look in on the War Office, and in a room I found a fellow…What do you think he was doing…what the hell do you think he was doing? He was devising the ceremonial for the disbanding of a Kitchener battalion. You can’t say we were not prepared in one matter at least…. Well, the end of the show was to be: the adjutant would stand the battalion at ease; the band would play Land of Hope and Glory, and then the adjutant would say: There will be no more parades…. Don’t you see how symbolical it was—the band playing Land of Hope and Glory, and then the adjutant saying: There will be no more parades?… For there won’t. There won’t, there damn well won’t. No more Hope, no more Glory, no more parades for you and me any more. Nor for the country…nor for the world, I dare say… None… Gone… Napoo finny! No…more…parades!”

Ford Madox Ford made his reputation as a novelist on the war & peace themes. The Good Soldier (1915) is his most famous, and is on several different ‘Best 100 Novels of the Century’ lists, as is his four-part Parade's End. The latter book was recently in the news, Tom Stoppard having just completed his adaptation for BBC television, the mini-series scheduled to air in 2011. This novel reminds me of other great chronicles of individual lives and war, in this case a chronicle of the life of Christopher Tietjens, "the last Tory," a brilliant government statistician from a wealthy land-owning family who is serving in the British Army during World War I. While this is generally considered a "war" novel it is unique in the way Ford has Tietjens' consciousness taking primacy over the war-events like a filter. Ford constructs a protagonist for whom the war is but one aspect of his life, and not always even the most prominent though he is in the middle of it. The two central novels follow Tietjens in the army in France and Belgium as he ruminates on how to be a better soldier and untangle his strange social life. In a narrative beginning before the war and ending after the armistice, Ford's project is to situate an unimaginable cataclysm within a social, moral and psychological complexity. The result is a modern literary project that rivals those of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time or, more aptly, Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy.

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