Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

'A Taboo on the Mention of Taboo': Taciturnity and Englishness in Parade's End and André Maurois' Les Silences Du Colonel Bramble

Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

'A Taboo on the Mention of Taboo': Taciturnity and Englishness in Parade's End and André Maurois' Les Silences Du Colonel Bramble

Article excerpt

This chapter seeks to refine and extend our understanding of Ford's depiction of Englishness in Parade's End (1924-28) by juxtaposing that depiction with a roughly contemporary war novel by André Maurois. This procedure might seem to court bathos: by every measure, the ambitions of Les Silences du colonel Bramble (1918) and its sequel Le Général Bramble (1920) (later retitled Les Discours du docteur O'Grady) are more modest than those of Ford's panoramic tetralogy, which contemporary commentators likened to such imposing modernist monuments as A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27) and Ulysses (1922).1 Maurois' two Colonel Bramble novels were successful both critically and commercially, launching Maurois on what was to be a distinguished literary career, but their lightness of touch and episodic structure signal intentions very different to Ford's (or, for the matter of that, Proust's or Joyce's). As Maurois himself acknowledged, Colonel Bramble was in many ways an elegiac but anodyne diversion, perfectly pitched for a wartime public in need of consolation rather than catharsis: 'because the book appeared in a time of anguish, because it blended sadness with melancholy humour, because it opened the door to hope, because it painted our allies sympathetically, its success was immediate'.2 Nonetheless, I hope to show that the comparison with Maurois' widely read war books does illuminate at least one aspect of Ford's great theme of Englishness. This aspect is taciturnity - the English habit of stoic reserve that stood, for both Ford and Maurois, very close to the core of masculine Englishness. Les Silences du colonel Bramble and its sequel provide, I suggest, an instructive counterpoint for Ford's treatment of this subject, both because Maurois' relatively admiring portrait of English taciturnity serves to throw Ford's more critical stance into relief, and because Maurois' position as a cultural outsider mirrors Ford's own perspective in interesting ways.

André Maurois, né Emile Herzog, was bom into a wealthy Alsatian Jewish family in the Normandy town of Elbeuf in 1885. After leaving school and completing his military service he worked for his father's textile factory, and in 1914 joined the 74th regiment of the French infantry, stationed in Rouen. Before his regiment was deployed, however, he was assigned to the 9th Scottish Division of the British Expeditionary Force as a liaison and interpreter. He continued as an interpreter for the British throughout the war, and it was this experience that provided him with the material for his first novel, Les Silences du colonel Bramble, published in March 1918. Colonel Bramble was an immediate commercial success: Maurois suggests that sales were well in excess of 50,000 copies.3 The book was warmly praised by critics and apparently also garnered the approval of Sir Douglas Haig and Georges Clemenceau, both of whom arranged to meet the author.4 This initial success launched Maurois as a novelist, and he followed Colonel Bramble with a sequel, Le Général Bramble, in 1920, republished as Les Discours du docteur O'Grady in 1922, as well as many other works of fiction. His greatest success in the decade following the war, however, was with a sequence of novelized biographies [vies romancées], a genre which he made his own.5 Maurois was elected to the Académie française in 1938 and died in 1967.

Colonel Bramble and its sequel recount the experiences of an interpreter named Aurelle, assigned, like Maurois, to liaise with the British Expeditionary Force. The books are episodic, and consist mainly of conversations between Aurelle and his friends in the officer's mess: the titular Colonel Bramble, his subordinate Major Parker, the Irish Dr O'Grady and the Scottish padre Reverend Maclvor. Maurois, we have seen, attributed the success of Colonel Bramble to its qualities as an anodyne diversion. The novel never ventures into the trenches and deals with the absurdities of army bureaucracy rather than the trauma of combat; it effectively belongs to a different genre than Parade 's End. …

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