Ford Madox Ford
(Born Ford Hermann Hueffer; also wrote under the pseudonyms Fenil Haig, Daniel Chaucer, and Baron Ignatz von Aschendrof) English novelist, poet, critic, biographer, historian, essayist, and autobiographer.
The following entry presents criticism of Ford's tetralogy Parade's End. For a discussion of Ford's complete career, see TCLC, Volumes I and 15; for a discussion of his novel The Good Soldier, see TCLC, Volume 39.
A major figure of the Modernist movement in English literature, Ford was a prolific author who produced works in a variety of genres. His fiction is noted for its intricate structure and impressionistic rendering of characters and events. In Parade's End Ford presented his most comprehensive treatment of the dominant theme in his work: social decay and alienation in post-Edwardian England.
Plot and Major Characters
Parade's End comprises four novels: Some Do Not, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up, and The Last Post. The protagonist, Christopher Tietjens, is referred to as "the last Tory," because of his devotion to conservative Edwardian traditions of honor and propriety, despite what appears to be the systematic dismantling of his well-ordered, mannerly world. Annoyed by Tietjens' unflagging desire to do what he believes is right, his wife Sylvia often acts as his nemesis, attempting to destroy his credibility and security through deceitful plots and extramarital affairs. Although in love with the young suffragette Valentine Wannop, Tietjens refuses to compromise his moral principles and marriage vows. In No More Parades and A Man Could Stand Up—, Ford vividly depicts the devastation of war through Tietjens' experiences on the front lines in World War I. As the world of honor he values continues to erode, Tietjens suffers a breakdown and is nursed back to health by Valentine, who finally becomes his lover. The Last Post focuses on Tietjens' adaptation to the new order, represented by Sylvia's destruction of a tree at Tietjens' ancestral home. Symbolic of the conflict between tradition and progress, the felling of Groby Great Tree allows Tietjens to successfully move into the future with Valentine and their unborn child.
Written during the 1920s, Parade's End addresses the moral uncertainties of Ford's times, documenting the sense of disorder, degeneration, and chaos he believed were the fruits of "the first modern war," the end of the Edwardian era, and the emergence of a society notable for its superficiality and rejection of such traditional values as loyalty and personal honor. Through Tietjens, who perseveres in spite of the relentless destruction of all that he values and has labored to protect, Ford suggested that humanity will survive political and social upheaval.
Critics are divided on the question of whether the Tietjens series should be considered a tetralogy with four separate but equal elements, as supported by commentators Neil D. Isaacs, Robie Macauley, and William Carlos Williams, or a trilogy with a sequel, the position taken by such critics as Graham Greene and John Meixner. Even those who assert that The Last Post is an essential component of the Tietjens saga conclude that it is structurally inferior to the first three novels. Critics also dispute the function of Sylvia in the series. While some scholars believe she signifies an evil antithesis to Tietjens' values, others argue that she is a necessary impetus to Tietjens' ultimate acceptance of change.