by Christopher Tayler
When Ford Madox Ford published No More Parades, the second of the four novels that make up Parade’s End, in 1925, he was likened to Proust and Joyce. Three years later the final instalment, Last Post, was the biggest commercial success of his career. (In 1915 The Good Soldier had brought in £67.) Ford being the man he was, though, his triumph was confused. Was Last Post part of his master plan or was it a slightly botched afterthought? Ford sometimes took the second view, which prompted Graham Greene to exclude the novel from his edition of the sequence in 1963. Then there was the question of where Parade’s End should be shelved: along with Ulysses and Mrs Dalloway? With Goodbye to All That and All Quiet on the Western Front? Or in the nook reserved for cultish para-Jamesiana like Howard Sturgis’s Belchamber? Buoyed up by these undecidables it’s stayed more or less afloat, not as visible as The Good Soldier but not as neglected as Ford’s partisans sometimes like to make out. Copies used to be quite difficult to find and Carcanet’s critical edition costs £75.80, but thanks to the five-part BBC/HBO adaptation that came to an end last month, blurry paperbacks can now be had for less than a fiver.
Ford maintained that prose ‘should give the effect of a long monologue spoken by a lover at a little distance from his mistress’s ear’. Such lines weren’t the only part of his output to be coloured by his famously well-populated love life, and Parade’s Enddraws heavily on his overlapping entanglements – principally those with Elsie Martindale, Violet Hunt and Stella Bowen. Ian Hamilton thought Ford’s novels ‘were too often damaged by having to serve as silvery-tongued back-ups to whatever life-muddle he happened to be engaged with’. Yet Ford’s self-exculpatory fantasies animate the sequence in a wonderfully mad way. ‘I stand for monogamy and chastity,’ Christopher Tietjens says, setting himself against the times as well as his devil-wife, Sylvia. The books are suffused with a seriously meant – if somewhat vague – neo-feudalism, partly in tribute to Ford’s friend Arthur Marwood, from whom he took Tietjens’s grand Yorkshire background, mathematical skills and habit of ‘tabulating from memory the errors in the Encyclopaedia Britannica’. He seamlessly added his own experiences in the trenches, but in giving Tietjens other Fordian attributes – bouncing cheques, rumours of scandalous polygamous attachments and the like – he combined his immensely subtle ‘treatment’ with a farce-like pattern in which Tietjens is repeatedly worked over, or mistaken for a blackguard, on account of his mulish rectitude.
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