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Ford Madox Ford: Parade’s End

This is one of the finest novels (or, rather, four novels) to be written in English in the twentieth century and, while it certainly has not been forgotten, it does not, I feel, get its due. It deals with Englishness in a way that few have matched. It also deals with the changes that the First World War brought to England and English people in a way that has never been equaled. It also has a wonderful cast of characters, from the main characters down to the relatively minor ones.

The story is about Christopher Tietjens, younger son of the Squire of Groby, and a man with the solid English values we have already seen in Edward Ashburnham. In short, he is a Tory gentleman but in the old sense of the word. We see this early on when he marries Sylvia not because he loves her but because he has casually kissed her on a train when they were returning from a country house party and thereby compromised her. She accepted because she believed (maybe correctly) that she was pregnant by one of her lovers. Tietjens does learn of this but, regardless of whether the child is his or another man’s, he does the right thing. Even when Sylvia runs off with another lover, he is still prepared to forgive and forget. Sylvia spreads rumours about him, suggesting that he has lovers – ironically one of the rumours she spreads has some truth in that Tietjens is in love with the woman concerned, Valentine Wannop, a suffragette. When he heads off to war, he is more concerned with the situation with Sylvia and Valentine than the war. As Sylvia is a Catholic, there cannot be a divorce so he cannot marry Valentine.

War is, of course, a key part of this tetralogy. He sets off towards the end of the first novel, suffers shell shock and then returns. The second and third books are taken up with the war but it is not all fighting. Sylvia comes to France and causes him trouble in his battalion but, eventually, Tietjens comes to realize that he has to reject her for Valentine, which he does. The final book, generally agreed to be the weakest, features Mark, Tietjens’ older brother, who is bitter at the military decision not to invade Germany at the end of the war but also brings about the obligatory happy though somewhat feeble ending. Despite this ending, nothing can detract from what is a beautifully written work, impressionistic, full of colourful characters and with a strong central character struggling to stand up for his principles and finally doing so.

Publishing history

Some Do Not
First published 1924 by Duckworth
No More Parades
First published 1925 by Duckworth
A Man Could Stand Up
First published 1926 by Duckworth
Last Post
First published 1928 by Duckworth