Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Parade's End" by Ford Madox Ford-some of the great things in Chapter One

The Read Along of Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford (a work in four parts-1924 to 1928-836 pages in the Penguin Books edition) is set to begin April 1.   Several people will be joining in so it should be very interesting-There are no rigid schedules the only request is you link your posts to here and that hopefully we can all comment on each others posts.    I invite any and all to join in.

A  Common Reader has just done a great post concerning on line resources on Ford Madox Ford and Parade's End

I want to just talk a bit about some of the wonders of Chapter 1.  (I will refer to chapters in making references as there are different editions.)   One of the great things I can already see in Parade's End are the marvelous observations about literature, history and current events by the central characters.   I enjoy a novel when the lead characters make me think.   A great novel can, through these remarks, reshape our own perceptions.   Here is a very interesting remark by the lead character of Parade's End, Tietjens:

"I don't read novels."  Tietjens answered.  "I know what is in em.   There has been nothing worth reading written in England since the eighteenth century expect by a woman...but it is natural for you enamel splashers to want to see them selves in bright and variegated literature.  Why shouldn't they?   It a healthy human desire and now that printing and paper are cheap they get it satisfied.

Maybe we do not agree with his remark about English novels but this for sure made me think.   Not just think about if this remark was correct but more about the mind set that would produce it.   Why dismiss all the canon status English male novelists of the 19th century (in an era when political correctness meant something far different than it does now).?

Parade's End  begins shortly before WWI (1914 to 1918)  on a train in England.   The conversations wanders to a consideration on the question as to why a great war is certain to happen.   Here is Tietjens explanation as to why war is sure to occur:

Yes war is inevitable.   Firstly, there is you fellows who cannot be trusted.  Then there is the multitude who mean to have bathrooms and white enamel.   Millions of them all over the world.  Not merely here.   And there aren't enough bathrooms and white enamel in the world to go around
 These few lines go a long way to explain the turmoil of the 20th century.   Here in Asia it can be seen stating the cause of the rise of communism in China with millions of deaths and the reign of Pot Pal in Cambodia,  leaving Europe aside.

This is my first reading of Parade's End and I have read only the first chapter so far but I think I can say we will be treated to 100s of such observations.   Maybe you think they are crazy (at least we now know what an enamel splasher is) but they will make us think and smile as well.  

As Tietjens and his companion Manchester begin to descend from the train here is what they see:

On the platform a number of women in lovely sable cloaks, with purple or red jewel cases, with diaphanous silky scarves flying from motor hoods, were drifting toward the branch train bound for Rye, under the shepherding of erect, burdened footmen.

Ford Madox Ford (FMF from now on) knows how to paint a scene and evoke and era in a few lines.   There  are other things in Chapter one of Parade's End .   There are quotations from wonderful poems spoke by Manchester, passing references to things that allude to events in English history, narrative remarks about  Italian painters such as Botticelli and Rosetti,  and numerous  references to English places.   Chapter One is really nearly an introduction to the gentry in England if one works through the allusions.   The characters are "snobbish" and they do evaluate people based on their clothes, the circumstances of their birth etc.   But remember before we judge them,  some of the lead characters are headed into the abyss of the trenches of WWI.   Tietjens, who we will get to know very well, I think, knows he is a snob and is rather proud of what that means:

All the same, when the war comes it will be those little snobs who will save England, because they've the courage to know what they want and to say so.
I think I will do another post on place name references and cultural asides in Chapter One.   I think FMF in Parade's End has produced a kind of encyclopedic narrative and I want to ponder  a bit how this works using the references we see already in great profusion in Chapter One.  

I found Chapter One a great pleasure to read.   It made be think.   I marveled at the glorious prose.   I dreamed I was riding on a train.   I imagined a day where people were as educated as Tietjen and Manchester obviously are.    I do see the book as possibly itself seeming somehow "snobbish"  and overbearing in its presumption of cultural depth on the part of the reader to some readers.   I actually think I will quite enjoy this aspect of the book and I expect to learn a great deal from it.   I am going to read this book slower than I normally do and will go into greater depth than I ever have before in talking of other books.  To a large extent I am doing this as the writing of the posts will help clarify for me my understanding of the book.    I will also, I think, talk some about the themes of the book but I may focus on the workings of the narrative a bit.   To participants in the read along,  please let me know when you have done a post and I will link it.  

To readers of my blog,   I will, I hope be posting on a number of interesting books at the same time I am posting on Parade's End.   I hope others will join in and I can see just in chapter one the great conversations alone will make the book a wonder to read.   I will only post on Chapter One until the read along officially begins on April 1, 2010.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I would hold off on answering that question about women writers. Tietjens may mean it more literally than you think - "a woman."

The encyclopedic mind belongs to Tietjens, of course, not Macmaster.

Finally - and now I'm really cheating, looking outside the novel - when you call D.G. Rossetti's verse wonderful you're arguing with not just Tietjens ("The beastly poem you quoted") but FMF. Not that you're wrong! Ford Ford's literary judgments are eccentric. His literary knowledge is unparalleled, but that's hardly the same thing.

Hannah Stoneham said...

Looking forward to this a lot - although mine has not arrived yet... i'm sure that it is on its way!

thanks for sharing and leading this read along


Dwight said...

Following up on AR's point on poetry, or rather adding a point--never trust a "quote" from FMF.

Joel said...

Although I'm burned out on Parade's End right now and won't be reading along (just finished my MA thesis on FMF and Rebecca West), I envy everyone reading for the first time. Enjoy!