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

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"A Man Could Stand Up" by Ford Madox Ford

A Man Could Stand Up by Ford Madox Ford (1926, 174 pages)

A Man Could Stand Up is part three of Parade's End  Ford Madox Ford's (FMF) tetrology set in the World War I era (1914 to 1918) in England and in the trenches in France.   I have already done posts the first two works as well as a general post as to whether or not Parade's End should be treated as an encyclopedic narrative.    

Parade's End and A Man Could Stand Up are about a lot of things.    It is a love story of sorts, a war story (some say it is the best English language war story)and  a story of class in Edwardian England.    It is about partial knowledge (I think a more knowledgeable person than I on such matters could relate it to some of the  visual  art of the period), it is about the nature of history, the causes of war (some of the reflections that come from the very upper class central character  Christopher Tietjen's are quite radical), the effect of war on the close up combatants (FMF had first hand knowledge of Trench Warfare-he volunteered for combat even though he was above the draftable age).    There are a lot of very interesting references to literature and art of the 19th century and way beyond.   It is about how memory effects our perceptions.    I should note that as I read on in Parade's End I see the real difficulties in precisely knowing what the plot action of the novel is (and there is a lot going on, it is not a novel strictly of the wealthy having endless conversations about matters of interest only to those in their closed circles) as a reflective of the deeper themes of the work.   I hate to say this but if one see Parade's End as an easy read then you have missed the point of it fully.   

Dwight of A Common Reader has done a great job setting on the time frame and action in A Man Could Stand Up.   It opens on Armistice Day in London (November 11, 1918).   We enter the stream of consciousness of Valentine Wannop (unconsummated -we think?) romantic interest in the married Tietjens (Parade's End is also a great account of a marriage in perpetual crisis and of the state of the relationships between men and women among the Edwardian gentry) as she reflects on her life and life post World War I.   Another theme (yes there are this many and more) is the effect of the destruction of old values caused by the war.   Leaders lead the people into a near meaningless war over petty quarrels and dynastic squabbles that cost millions of people their lives.   To those who reflected on this it seems like a break in history or the opening up of the doors of chaos to a world without values.   (In this way Parade's End does remind me of some post WWII Japanese works).   Valentine has contact with the wife of an old friend of Tietjens which leads to some interesting interaction.    From here A Man Could Stand Up begins a flash back to Tietjens in the trenches.   The often charring quick flash writing style of this section almost evokes the feel of explosions in the trenches.   We can feel Christopher struggling to keep his sanity in the structure of the prose in this part of  the book.   The final section of A Man Could Stand Up sees Christopher back in England shortly after Armistice Day.   He and Valentine are trying to deal with and in fact find out what their feelings for each other are.   Each has a confused in part notion of what the other wants and thinks.   Tietjens mind has been effected by the war in ways we do not fully understand.   There was nothing in his upbring to prepare him for trench war even though in part one he did say it would be people like him that would win the forthcoming war.   Tietjens is a deeply cultured man (I can think of few if any books that do a better job showing the interior life of a very intelligent and deeply read man than Parade's End) and he is a bit of a class snob.   He looks out for his men while feeling it is not right for the "lower classes" to have political opinions.   He does not get along well with his superior as they are men inferior to him that in a proper world order would have no authority over him at all.

Parade's End is an incredibly well constructed and crafted novel.   Just the pleasure of the many epigrammatic observations of Tietjens on literature are enough to make the book worth reading!   We need to keep our wits fully about us as we read this work-the narrator may seem omniscient but he is not.   Even some of the literary observations of Tietjens are wrong (he attributes something from Henry James to  a Russian author-there may well be other errors I have missed also, of course).   Everything in Parade's End is deliberate.   It is not journalism turned into a novel.

I took a break between Part Two and Three of  Parade's End as I felt I needed some time to reflect on what I had read.   I will begin the final section, The Last Post soon.   I will do a post on it and then at least one over all post on Parade's End.   

All of those in the read along have posted multiple times on Parade's End.   I have profited greatly from their posts.    I also think there are a couple of others who may have read Parade's End also along with who have not yet posted on it.   I do find posting on the book intimidating

Here are links to the posts of the participants I am aware of in the read along

Dwight of A Common Reader -Dwight also has a very good resources Page on FMF.

Hannah of Hannah's Book Blog

Nicole of Bibliographing


Dwight said...

So glad to see your post on this book. As I have said before, with Ford the story line is just as important as **how** he tells the story. I think I resisted Parade's End up to this point because of that, but seeing everything fall in place ultimately won me over. Everything builds to this point, which can make the reader not appreciate the earlier volumes.

I've got one nonfiction book I want to read and post on before The Last Post, but since I'm so close to finishing it I'll have to work to restrain myself. I've read quite a bit on World War I in the past few years, fiction and nonfiction, and I've rarely seen anything that has hooked me as much as this.

the Ape said...

Nice work to all of you who are reading this; there is a special pleasure in reading a series like this that is challenging, deep, and rewarding. Makes me want to reread it..

Oinophilos said...

How is it that in chapter 1 Ford has Valentine musing on Armistice day 1918 on a line from an Eliot poem not published until 1920? Was it mere carelessness, or did Ford know of an earlier source for "promise of pneumatic bliss" that has escaped others?

Mel u said...

oinophilos- no idea - why did you comment under false ID