Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

Sight and Scale in Parade's End

Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

Sight and Scale in Parade's End

Article excerpt

Ford and visual scale

This chapter explores how Ford Madox Ford's on-going literary fascination with sight, scale, and reality was fundamentally altered by a war that dissolved perceived boundaries of space and time. Ford's work consistently explored the relationship between sight and scale but it was the sheer magnitude of World War that forced the issue of visual scale into the spotlight for him. Ford described the impact of war upon the collective 'Englishman' fighting: 'his entire view of life, if he had one, was smashed to fragments'.1 The war was central to Ford's significant interest in sight and he clearly believed that it had directly impacted upon his vision. He wrote: 'No one could have come through that shattering experience and still view life and mankind with any normal vision'.2 Parade 's End epitomizes Ford's desire to capture the scale of World War. His notes on creating the tetralogy are illuminating in this respect. Ford's intent to write about the war in 'an immense novel in which all the characters should be great masses of people' was hampered by the inevitability that writing about 'mankind in bulk' reduces the visual immensity of war to 'mere statistics' (IWN 195). The question of how best to describe uncontainable sights within a literary framework dominates Parade 's End and is complicated by the spatially restrictive conditions of trench warfare: often the object of sight - war - is rendered so far removed as to be out of sight.

Ford's literary relationship with sight, and the impact of the war years upon it, deserves considered analysis. In order to arrive at a more complete comprehension of Ford's engagement with sight, this chapter examines how war - and particularly the scale of World War - impacted upon Ford's pre-war understanding of vision and how it contributed to the wider visual aspects of literary modernism and art that Ford was interested in. Three crucial elements in Parade's End - external perspective, the surface of sight, and mapping - focus this exploration. Interestingly, Ford experimented with these visual elements in No Enemy where he attempted to distil the experience of war into a single poem by concentrating these three features to great effect:

To see the black perspectives of long avenues

All silent;

The white strips of sky

At the sides, cut by poplar trunks;

The white strips of sky

Above, diminishing -

The silence and blackness of the avenue

Enclosed by immensities of space

Spreading away

Over No Man's Land....3

However, the ability of these visual elements to effectively capture the scale of war is questionable. The poem's ellipses, dashes, and repetitions suggest war defies containment. Furthermore, Mrs Carmody's reading of the poem is hindered by pauses as she struggles to recite it. Parade 's End augments this exploration of the uncertain conjunction between sight and scale; it is a central crux of the tetralogy.

External perspective

Parade 's End relies on the eyes of an individual observer to capture the vast dimensions of war. Ford wrote: T knew that I should have to fall back on the old device of a world seen through the eyes of a central observer' (IWN 195). The term 'central observer' implies that the spectator has a complete view of events. Yet it also suggests the person is centrally placed and involved in unfolding events. Ford uses Tietjens, his 'central observer', to demonstrate fully this tension between objective and subjective sight. Does Tietjens' involvement in war render his visual processing inaccurate? Would an omnipresent viewpoint be a more effective literary stratagem for capturing the seismic scale of World War?

We are told in No More Parades that Tietjens is 'always in the centre of his own picture'.4 But, as Dennis Brown notes, Tietjens' 'obsession' with remaining central is increasingly frustrated by war.5 The scale of war's disruption causes Tietjens' vision to fragment and this shatters his central viewpoint. …

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