Steven Mcgregor

The Hamlet of the trenches: Parade’s End reviewed

Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End is being republished as well as adapted for the screen by the BBC.  I first discovered the tetralogy when, in an attempt to improve my chances, I asked my future mother-in-law for a list of must-read novels.  Parade’s End and The Good Soldier featured near the top of the list.

The Good Soldier is Ford’s most remembered work and at one time he considered it his first and last novel.  In his memoirs, Return to Yesterday, he recalls that on the 28th of June 1914, ‘there was to be no more writing for me—not even any dabbling in literary affairs.’  But then there was the war and he found himself in the Welsh Regiment, at forty-one years of age, living through what he termed ‘Armageddon.’

While The Good Soldier coils around the final tragedy, Parade’s End wanders freely.  It describes the social transformation caused by war, the grind of the trenches, the dissolution of a marriage.  There is one central character, Christopher Tietjens, but the point of view shifts almost imperceptibly; introspection and private thoughts feature largely in the narrative.  This is the charm of Parade’s End.  You’re inside Tietjen’s head when he awakes to observe the enemy line and drink his cuppa.  You’re inside his mistress’s head when she receives news of his safe return.

Tietjens is based on a university mathematician that Ford knew before the war who, again quoting from his memoirs, ‘possessed the clear, eighteenth century English mind which has disappeared from the earth.’  He is a kind of gentlemanly elephant, both in his physical presence and his memory.  The infidelity of his wife and the brutality of war become the objects of his calculated study.  He often speaks with unintentional humour in short, declarative statements.

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