During his long life, Ford Madox Ford published eighty-one books, of which thirty-two were novels, but of these only The Good Soldier (1915) and the tetralogy with the collective title Parade’s End are generally regarded as having the status of major works. Parade’s End is many things: a portrait of an English country gentleman before the cataclysm of World War I, an individual’s experience of the hardships of that war, a vivid picture of a terrible marriage, and a romantic story with a happy ending.
Each of the four novels that form Parade’s End makes use of impressionistic methods. Critical scenes carry most of the narrative burden, as the action moves with little transition from one scene to another, while the narrative moves backward and forward in time. An episode that concludes the sixth chapter of part 2 in the first novel, Some Do Not . . . , is, for example, not explained until part 1, chapter 3, of the second novel, No More Parades; the aftermath of that scene is not resolved until the final chapter of the third novel, A Man Could Stand Up. Jumps in time include that between the 1916 beginning of part 1 of Some Do Not . . . , when Tietjens, his memory shattered by his combat experiences, is preparing to return to the front from London, and the end of the same part four years earlier.
Ford’s style in these novels also includes experiments with point of view, and the narrative voice switches from Tietjens to the object of his love, Valentine Wannop, to Sylvia, with brief stops along the way to the minds of other characters. In the final novel, The Last Post, Christopher Tietjens’s older brother Mark becomes the central character, and most of that novel takes place in Mark’s mind. Each of the main characters is portrayed not only by a third-person narrator but also through interior monologues in a stream-of-consciousness style. Contemporaries, including James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, were using similar techniques, but Ford created an idiosyncratic combination of narrative stream of consciousness and time shifts.
The four novels of Parade’s End cover most of the adult life of Christopher. It is a life filled with frustration over the end of the world as he had known it, a world in which he seems to be the only person upholding moral standards. His wife, who both hates and loves him, treats him dreadfully. A classic shrew, she lies to Tietjens, lies to others to blacken his name, seduces anyone who catches her fancy, and fights to secure her son’s rights as heir to the Tietjens’s estates. Tietjens, in love with Valentine, refuses for years to consummate their love because of his marital vows. He endures much pain, not only from Sylvia but also from his experiences in the war and the sorrow he feels for the men under his command who are being slaughtered in the mire of trench warfare.
The first three novels paint a bitter picture of England’s destruction. Only in The Last Post, in which Christopher does not appear at all but is reported to be happily engaged in the antique business while Valentine is pregnant, does the life of this character attain peace and happiness.
Parade’s End is simultaneously a series of very funny novels and a bitterly accurate description of the destruction of a generation. Christopher and Sylvia are not only victims and victimizers, they are superbly drawn comic figures, and the attempts of both to get their own way provide a wealth of comic scenes. In one...
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scene ofSome Do Not . . . , Sylvia accuses her husband of adultery, reminds him that she has blackened his name with lies to his parents and his bank, and finally shies crockery at him in the attempt to break through his self-possession. Ford lightens even the bleak tone of the grimmest of the four novels, No More Parades, with a kind of French bedroom farce involving Sylvia and several officers in a French hotel. Valentine’s protracted conversation with the headmistress of the school where she teaches introduces a new tone in the opening of A Man Could Stand Up, which shifts to the end of the war and provides the information that Christopher has survived the war. Finally, The Last Post includes a hilarious scene in which all the main characters except Christopher gather at Groby, the Tietjens’s ancestral home, to fight over Christopher and the heritage of Groby.
Characterization is a major reason for the success of these novels, for all of the characters are sharply drawn. From Valentine and her novelist mother to General Campion, Mark Tietjens with his longtime French mistress, and Father Consett, who functions as whatever conscience Sylvia has, the characters who populate these novels are individualized and memorable.
It is beyond question that Christopher carries the heaviest significance in Parade’s End. It is clear that he is based on Ford’s own character and experience and that his highly individual sense of values is very much Ford’s own. The nostalgia for an earlier and more moral society is obviously an important element in the novels. Ford saw himself and his ideals clearly enough, however, to realize that they were anachronistic in the aftermath of World War I and to portray them as comic in the context of postwar society. Parade’s End is a superb achievement.