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Re-Reading

Forty years ago, I sat, afternoon after afternoon, for almost two years, in the Upper Reading Room of the Bodleian Library. I was purportedly pursuing literary research (I had done the serious work before lunch, honestly!), but really I was reading novels that were loosely connected to the time encompassed by my thesis. Calling up books, waiting for them to be fetched from the stacks, and then opening what proved almost consistently to be first editions, evoke a golden time that nostalgia paints deceptive sepia. The catalogue at that time had the form of large folio ledgers, divided at some arbitrary year (I do not remember which.) because the original set of ledgers had simply filled up. Even opening their pages could be perilous for the entries on long rectangular strips of paper, especially the older ones, were often loosely attached and fluttered to the floor. How to replace such an errant entry?

Thinking of these afternoons recently, I could not dissociate them from reading Ford Maddox Fords tetralogy, now called Parades End (1924 1928). I found myself opening the work again and compulsively reading it through. At the time, years ago, I offered to myself as mitigating circumstances for the indulgence in novel reading the fact that it was driven by research into life in England between the two wars roughly the time frame of my topic. Admiration for Fords The Good Soldier and the anecdotes written by and about him pushed my interest. The works chief character, Christopher Tietjens, is the second son of a great landed Yorkshire family; Tory by upbringing and conviction, and an immensely gifted mathematician, at the opening of the novel he serves a government department with great skill and with little apparent conceit. Christophers relationship with his manipulative and scheming wife, Sylvia, forms one of the major conflicts. The pair seems fated to confound each other. Sylvias Catholicism prevents divorce, and her profligacy makes the parentage of their child suspect. All this is further complicated by the unjust suspicions of Mark Tietjens, the elder brother, that Christopher is having an affair with a young woman, Valentine Wannop, who is both suffragette and a socialist in politics. The drama is played out in the years bracketing the Great War. Ford himself served in France; his experiences give eye-witness validity to his account. Tietjens, superbly competent at organization and supplying of troops with material, copes with the horrors of battle both with the enemy across No-Mans-Land and with his wife. The hero is stoically truthful and suffers constantly for his determination to act honorably. His probity makes him at times unbearable even to his friends, just as they allow him to be easily exploited. His Christological significance has often been noted.The details of plot are myriad, and the characteristic Fordian dialogue obfuscates as much as it reveals. Ford simply excels in dramatizing character through their verbal exchanges; his breadth of range and fluency are impressive, but his style may be an acquired taste. It suggests the maxim, more is more. The novels forth volume, The Last Post, set after the war, was a disappointment to some. Graham Green refused to include it in his Bodley Head edition but others have praised its interior monologue form.The BBC has announced that it will be airing a television adaptation of the work done by Sir Tom Stoppard, no more assured way to gain greater currency for the book. It is to be reprinted in a critical edition, and has been available in Modern Library form edited by the late Malcolm Bradbury.Fords role in English letters in the first part of the twentieth century is legendary. He knew and published in his The English Review, a great number of famous authors. His list of publications is enormous, rivaled only by the hyperbole that seems to surround him in the form of praise and criticism. Perhaps the BBC will bring about a Ford resurgence. In any case, he exists, indelibly, in afternoons of great and happy distraction for me, evoking a past, my own and his.

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More is more?? Hmmm.Happy Shakespeare's Birthday!

More is more?? Hmmm.

Yes, some people seem unable to stop - talking, writing, eating, legislating, ....

Edward, thank you for this. I will happily read Parade's End for a third time, and perhaps The Good Soldier as well, for I love them both. My first reading was at a youthful, romantic stage of life and it would be lovely to revisit. Well, perhaps I'll wait to see what the BBC does. They did brilliantly by Austen and Waugh, so why not Ford? Thank you again!

On hearing of the upcoming TV production, I picked up Parade's End--thinking it might be interesting; I'd read The Good Soldier many years ago. I "acquired" a taste for Ford Madox Ford almost immediately--and acquired the critical edition from Carcanet Press as the volumes were issued. Although I'm glad that I first read the book without explanatory notes, the Carcanet edition has been useful for re-reading. Other works by & about FMF joined my library. Alan Judd's biography is especially good at dealing with the gossip that dogged his reputation. Although FMF's life was far from blameless, there's a parallel with the way gossip almost ruined Christopher Tietjens's life. Hemingway, one of the many whose career was helped by FMF, was especially savage in his criticism; but I'm one who prefers "more" in my literature.The Ford Madox Ford Society has been championing his work for some time now. Their next conference deals with Parade's End! http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/fordmadoxford-society/Docs/Parades_End_Poster... tiny correction: As the novel begins, Christopher Tietjens is the youngest of four sons. The two middle sons, whom we never meet, die at Gallipoli--inspiring Mark to collect data on the next in line to inherit; unfortunately, his source has been poisoned by the lies propagated by Sylvia & others....

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About the Author

Edward T. Wheeler, a frequent contributor, is the former dean of the faculty at the Williams School in New London, Connecticut.