Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

Introduction

Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

Introduction

Article excerpt

Some Do Not . . . (1924), No More Parades (1925), A Man Could Stand Up - (1926), and Last Post (1928), known collectively as Parade's End, have long been recognised - alongside The Good Soldier (1915) - as Ford Madox Ford's finest achievements as a novelist. Indeed, many regard the tetralogy not just as Ford's best, but as one of the very best works of the twentieth century. Writing in the New Statesman in 2010, for example, John N. Gray described Parade's End as 'possibly the greatest 20th-century novel in English'.1 Very often, furthermore, those who have celebrated Parade's End have been distinguished writers in their own right: W. H. Auden observed that: 'There are not many English novels which deserve to be called great: Parade 's End is one of them'; Anthony Burgess called Ford's masterpiece 'the finest novel about the First World War'; and Malcolm Bradbury described it as 'a central Modernist novel of the 1920s, in which it is exemplary'.2 The risk of emphasising remarks like these, however, is that they foster a sense of Ford as a 'writer's writer' who fails to engage a wider audience. The suspicion, in other words, may be that despite the ringing endorsements of well-known luminaries - or perhaps even because of them - the appeal of the text in question might be purely esoteric, alienating readers lacking the literary pedigree of an Auden, a Bradbury, or a Burgess. For some, highlighting the novel's modernism, as Bradbury does, might also mark the text out as part of an inaccessible, elitist, and deliberately alienating project, hostile towards mass audiences (in line with the view most forcefully expressed by John Carey in The Intellectuals and the Masses).3 Burgess focuses on the other major lens though which Parade's End has frequently been viewed: the First World War. Again, here, the category evoked can be questioned in terms of its preeminence: the dominant forms of First World War writing, at least in terms of their claims on the popular imagination, are poetry and memoir. While both labels - modemist masterpiece and First World War novel - could, therefore, imply a certain obscurity to begin with, even within these categories Parade's End has not always been recognised to the extent that Auden, Bradbury, Burgess, and Gray might have hoped: both The Cambridge Companion to the Modernist Novel and The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the First World War contain only very brief discussions of Ford's novel sequence.4

All this is not to say that we should regard Ford's tetralogy as a neglected work. (There is of course a certain cachet - if not an industry - attached to the idea of the 'neglected classic' and claiming that the text you're about to champion has been mistreated and undervalued by the literary establishment, the scholarly community, and/or culture at large has often proved a useful rhetorical strategy.) As Max Saunders argues: 'Rumours of Ford's neglect have been exaggerated', and it is, perhaps, for this reason that Robert McDonough can quip: 'Ford is perhaps best known for not being as well known as he deserves to be'.5 In fact, the four novels that comprise Parade's End were Ford's greatest commercial successes in their day, especially in America, and they have remained in print more or less consistently since they were reissued as orange Penguins in 1948, and Alfred A. Knopfs single-volume edition appeared in 1950.6 Nevertheless, there is a significant sense in which the dual claims of obscurity and centrality, of difficulty and popularity, or of modernist experimentalism and First World War historical documentary (with the novelist 'in his really proud position as historian of his own time') can be regarded as emerging from the extraordinary and often contradictory qualities of Ford's 'immense novel'.7 In other words, the fact that the tetralogy can be experienced as accessible and engaging and difficult, baffling, and confusing - or as romance, realist, impressionist, and Vorticist - all at once tells us something important about the bewildering complexity of Ford's achievement. …

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