Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

'The 'Ind Legs of the Elephink': Pantomime, Prophecy, and Tosh in Parade's End

Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

'The 'Ind Legs of the Elephink': Pantomime, Prophecy, and Tosh in Parade's End

Article excerpt

With the end of A Man Could Stand Up -, Ford gives us the climax but not the conclusion of Parade's End, his sequence of novels on England, the English, and the First World War. On the night of the Armistice ending the war, Ford's hero, Christopher Tietjens, the Tory gentleman and Anglican saint, is reunited with his long-lost love, Valentine Wann op, the suffragette and classicist, in Gray's Inn, London. Valentine and Christopher are joined there by some comrades-in-arms who had served under 'Good old Fat Man' Tietjens during the war.1 'Over here! Pom Pom Over here! Pom Pom! That's the word, that's the word; Over here . . . .' these comrades sing, at the top of their lungs (MCSU 217). As Tietjens and Valentine dance, it feels to her as if the whole world round them were 'prancing around', and they were hubs for all those 'roaring circles' that were turning round England on that longed-for night, when they could first make love, their world no longer at war (MCSU 217). A French phrase comes to mind that helps her figure how it feels being moved by this less martial kind of music than she and her fat man have moved to before, a phrase that shows what Ford himself was feeling as he wrote Parade 's End: 'Les petites marionettes, font! font! font. . . . ' (MCSU 218).

Ford stages Valentine and Tietjens as marionettes, archetypes and emblems of fairy-tale romance. With the last three lines of A Man Could Stand Up -, Valentine will cast herself and Tietjens - and Ford will cast them both - in terms that suggest generic bearings for Parade 's End, bearings that will keep the connotation of Valentine and Tietjens as fairy-tale figures, but cast it in their native terms of Englishness, the essence of the whole tetralogy: 'On an elephant. A dear, meal-sack elephant. She was setting out on. . . .' (MCSU 218). The figure of the 'meal-sack elephant' conveys in its immediate sense the weight of physical girth. Ford tells us in Some Do Not . . ., the opening volume of Parade's End, that his hero is 'big' and carries 'more weight' than he should, being 'shapelessly' swollen like 'a bladder of lard'.2 But in a less immediate yet more important sense, the figure conveys as well a sense of Tietjens' fictive weight within the tetralogy. 'Elaborate' of 'character' and 'phrase', Ford's hero is described in the closing volume, Last Post, as 'protuberant' in places, with a mannered extravagance that gives him his air of an elephant composed from 'sacks' of 'meal', built up from bladders of lard.3 Bulky both in physical and fictive terms, the elephant Tietjens will 'balloon' throughout Parade 's End as an assemblage made from mealsacks of Englishness that Ford had larded up before the war (SDN 316). The meal-sack elephant will take on even greater fictive weight if we regard him in the context of a genre that his figure implies, a genre that will clarify Ford's project in the wake of the war, having larded-up reserves of English essence throughout his career. That genre, as Thomas C. Moser suggests, is the English pantomime, in terms of which Ford's sequence is staged,4 and staged in ways a consciousness of which will help us recognize the fairy-tale drama of archetypes and emblems Ford mounts around Tietjens, and that Tietjens mounts himself, in staging himself, performing himself, within the terms of what I want to suggest is a pantomimic mode. That mode draws on English pantomime or pantomime-proper toward the innovative end of staging Tietjens' performance as prophetic tosh - a mixture of 'prophecy' and 'tosh,' to use the terms that his estranged wife Sylvia uses to describe the ambiguity in Tietjens between what seems, on the one hand, to be the 'nonsense', 'rubbish', or 'twaddle' that 'tosh' denotes in Edwardian slang and what, on the other hand, will prove to be a genuine insight into English conditions which Tietjens possesses by virtue of this same quixotic distance from mere common sense (SDN 191, 193).

In the autumn of 1915, well into the First World War, Sylvia remembers an occasion two or three years before, when Tietjens had 'prophesied' what 'at the time' had seemed 'to her' to be 'a lot of tosh' - the fact that 'about the time grouse-shooting began, in 1914, a European conflagration would take place which would shut up half the houses in Mayfair and beggar their inhabitants' (SDN 193). …

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