A couple of years ago I took the interwar lit course at uni and it's topic was The Great War and Shell Shock. The professor devoted a full month to discussing Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford, which no one had ever heard of before. It has never been out of print but it has never been a best-seller. But it has been hailed as one of the greatest English novels of the Twentieth Century, which I would have to agree with.
Parade's End is actually four novels, published separately but meant to be read as one volume. They are:
Some Do Not... (1924)
No More Parades (1925)
A Man Could Stand Up (1926)
Last Post (1928)
I have struggled since I began this blog to write a post about this novel since I began this blog. It's just so hard to put the plot and what the author is saying into words. So, here goes.
Parade's End chronicles the life of Christopher Tietjens from his life just before the outbreak of the war, to his service on the Western Front and his life after he returns and tries to find his place in a society that has no need for his character and what it stands for.
Tietjens is "the last Tory". And by Tory, I don't mean a member of the Conservative Party, I mean a Tory as opposed to a Whig. Just look it up, it's to hard to explain succinctly. Tietjens is a brilliant government numbers man, a member of the landed gentry, an officer and a gentleman and the last Edwardian. Or at least he was before 1914. After the war he is still the same man, but the problem that he faces is that the Twentieth Century started while he was serving at the Front and by the time 1918 roles around and he returns from France, everyone who acted like him and held his values had either been killed or were too old to have a meaningful place in society. For Tietjens, the Twentieth Century is embodied in the two women in his life. His bitch of a wife Sylvia, a vindictive and sadistic socialite who is determine to ruin both him and his entire family history and Valentine, a high-spirited modern woman and a suffragette whom he meets during the war and whom he lives with after the war in an unconsummated relationship.
In the book, Ford wrote that the effect of the First World War was "a crack across the tabletop of history". And in a sense, it was. It ripped an entire society from the stagnate past and thrust it into the modern world in the space of just four years. Nothing would ever be the same and this was the message that Tietjens finally begins to understand by the end of the book.
But what is the book about? Well, that's rather hard to explain. To begin with, Ford began writing it during the war, but didn't finish it until ten years after. The plot is hard to explain because Ford is one of the first writers to employ that oh so modernist method of time skips. The narrative, like memory itself, jumps around from different times and places and it is only at the end that we finally get the full picture of just how much being in the war had affected Tietjens.
Parade's End is about trying to capture and explain the world that Tietjens comes from, the world that was lost so suddenly in 1914. In a nutshell, Parade's End is about the end of an epoch and it is an attempt to recapture what was lost: lost time; lost friends; the loss of a generation of young men; the magic of the past; the ending of parades; the end of the natural officer class; and the end of a way of life.
Remember the last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth? That is what this book is about. It is about those officers who went Over The Top and survived and came back to discover that after the most horrific experience in human history (up to that point) they had no place in society.
I wouldn't say that I liked my experience of reading Parade's End. I didn't enjoy reading it, but I was engrossed by it. You have to read it in order to understand fully the effect that the Great War had, not only on those who lived through it, but more importantly, the affect that it had (and still has) on those who came after it and on the modern world itself. For without the First World War, there would be no modern world.
Because it is so long and has no linear narrative, Parade's End would be almost impossible to adapt to television (it could never be a movie) without losing the development of it's characters and Ford's message. Or at least that's what I and everyone in my class thought so when we were reading it. However, the BBC has adapted it into five episodes for broadcast later on this year and have cast Benedict Cumberbatch (the most awesome real name ever!) as Christopher Tietjens. I think he will be perfect in the role. There is only one production still at the moment, but I shall post the trailer and air dates as soon as they are released. But I do highly recommend reading the book before it airs. You have plenty of time to do so. Tell me what you think of it.