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introduction

7

Bécourt. There you wd. be! And I, to that extent, shd. once more have collaborated.8

Violet Hunt, with whom Ford had been living before the war, sent him the proofs of her latest novel, Their Lives. He wrote the brief preface (included here), signed with a bitter, ironic anonymity ‘Miles Ignotus’ (‘The Unknown Soldier’), in which he described reading them on a hillside watching the Germans shelling Belgian civilians in Poperinghe. It seemed an example of senseless Prussian cruelty, and is described as such in the passage in No More Parades where the protagonist Christopher Tietjens recalls having watched the same sight. There, as in Ford’s other description of the scene – in No Enemy – he records a disturbing conflict between a kind of aesthetic pleasure in the spectacle, and the thought of the human suffering it represented.9 There was also a feeling of joy at the sight of allied shells bursting over the German trenches. This volatile emotional mix of awe, pity, excitement and outrage recurs in his war prose, particularly in the most significant piece he wrote while on the Western Front: the essay ‘A Day of Battle’, dated 15 September 1916, and also signed ‘Miles Ignotus’.

Always an intense reader, Ford also managed to spend some of ‘the eternal waiting that is War’ reading. He reread the authors who had meant most to him: Flaubert, Turgenev, Maupassant, Anatole France, and his friends Henry James, W.H. Hudson, Conrad and Stephen Crane. He never forgot the moment of disorientation produced by The Red Badge of Courage: ‘having to put the book down and go out of my tent at dawn,’ he remembered, ‘I could not understand why the men I saw about were in khaki’ rather than the blue or grey of the American Civil War; ‘the impression was so strong that its visualization of war completely superimposed itself for long hours over the concrete objects of the war I was in’. Rereading James gave him the same disorientating feeling of double vision.10 In the companion piece to ‘A Day of Battle’, ‘The Enemy’, he gives another instance of this double vision, and how important it was to his activity as a novelist. He recounts a near-death experience, when shot at by a sniper. He imagines the German, then

8 Letters, pp. 75–6. 9 No More Parades (London, 1925), pp. 308–10 . No Enemy (New York, 1929), pp. 82–7. 10 Return to Yesterday (London, 1931), p. 49; New York Essays (New York, 1927), p. 30;

‘Literary Causeries: IV: Escape.....’, Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine (Paris) (9 March 1924), pp. 3, 11.

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