Parade’s End is a series of four novels depicting the meeting, courtship, and ultimate fulfillment of two modern heroes, Christopher Tietjens and Valentine Wannop, despite social condemnation, personal travails, and World War I. Into these novels Ford poured his own experiences as a writer, as a lover, and as a soldier; he used the techniques of literary impressionism to transform them into an utterly believable narrative. Some people have felt that, taken as a whole, these four novels constitute the best record available of the revolution in English society caused by the Great War.
The first novel of the sequence, Some Do Not . . ., begins just before the outbreak of World War I and records the creation of an emotional bond between Christopher and Valentine during a police pursuit, a breakfast party, and a fog-shrouded late-night carriage ride. Ford presents his hero and heroine as two of the last moral human beings left in Western society; while all around them friends, relatives, and nations succumb to their passions, Christopher and Valentine, as the title puts it, do not. At the same time, they are being judged according to these others’ standards, and thus their fornication is presumed on all sides. As a result, acquaintances will cut them, employers will demote them, and even their parents will endure bitter disappointment; and because Parade’s End is not a fairy tale, these reactions will never be wholly resolved.
The second novel of the sequence, No More Parades, finds Christopher with the army in France. His efforts are going unrewarded; his wife, Sylvia, is raising a scandal about him; and his love for Valentine has been buried deep under layers of responsibility. At the climax of the novel, he must undergo an extended interrogation to avoid a court-martial on charges of striking a superior officer (who had stormed into his hotel room late at night without identifying himself); that same morning, his command is to be subjected to a formal inspection. The resulting interior monologue invites comparison with Molly Bloom’s final monologue in James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). In A Man Could Stand Up, the third volume, Christopher has been moved up to the front lines, where he must survive a last-ditch enemy barrage. Shortly thereafter, the war finally ends; it is at last time for his love to surface from under four years of military repression. When Valentine’s name does pop into his conscious mind, he is astonished: “What! Is that still there?” Ford finally grants his lovers their first embrace, though not until the very conclusion of the novel: “They were dancing! . . . They were setting out.”
Later in life, Ford claimed that these three novels formed a perfect whole; the addition of The Last Post, he felt, broke the unity of time and place created by the frame of World War I and the dual themes of battles in the trenches and battles between the sexes. Most readers, however, find this final novel emotionally necessary, for in it Christopher’s wife, Sylvia, finally ends her private war and agrees to a divorce; the “curse” on the Tietjens family, which has been a recurring subtheme, is ended with the cutting down of Groby Great Tree; and Valentine gives birth to the first undisputed Tietjens. In addition, Ford provides another culminating monologue, this time the dying thoughts of Christopher’s brother Mark; confronting his impassive presence, even Sylvia falls silent.
Finally, Ford’s introduction of this final theme, a reprise of his earlier concern in The Good Soldier, gives Parade’s End a larger significance. In this tetralogy, Ford examined the profound crises that he, and England, had recently faced, and he found not the mere accommodation of “peace in our time” but the dawning of a final resolution, the acknowledgment that “you must have a pattern to interpret things by.” It is not itself a statement of the pattern, but it will have to do.