Skip to main content
Read page text

Introduction

Ford Madox Ford is now recognised not just as a central modernist author, but as one of the major writers about the First World War. His best-known treatment of war, the sequence of four novels known collectively as Parade’s End, has been regularly in print since 1948, when perhaps it felt newly relevant after a second world war. It has been achieving broad recognition as the best English novel about the First World War. William Carlos Williams wrote that the four novels ‘constitute the English prose masterpiece of their time’. Malcolm Bradbury describes Parade’s End as ‘the most important and complex British novel to deal with the overwhelming subject of the Great War’. He judges it ‘the greatest modern war novel from a British writer’; Samuel Hynes calls it ‘the greatest war novel ever written by an Englishman’.1

It was unusual for a man of forty-two to serve in the line. Though Ford’s experience of combat was limited – he was at the Front for about two months – he took part in the Battle of the Somme, and was in the Ypres Salient. He was frequently under bombardment, and suffered from concussion, shell-shock and lung damage. His army experience was varied; and it proved to be the decisive episode in his life.

The shadow of the First World War fell on almost everything Ford wrote after the 4th of August 1914. When it broke out, he was finishing his Edwardian masterpiece, The Good Soldier. The date of the 4th August sounds through that novel like the death-knell of the era. The story ends in private devastations – madness, enervation and death – which have been read as metaphors of the public cataclysm. Ford rightly saw the war as the defining experience of technological modernity. ‘The world before the war is one thing and must be written about in one manner,’ he wrote: ‘the after-

1 Williams, Sewanee Review, 59 (Jan.–Mar. 1951), pp. 154–61; reprinted in Selected Essays

(New York: Random House, 1954), p. 316. Bradbury, ‘Introduction’, Parade’s End (London: Everyman’s Library, 1992), pp. xii, xiii. Hynes, ‘The Genre of No Enemy’, Antaeus, 56 (Spring 1986), p.140.

My Bookmarks


    Skip to main content