Ford on ‘Folly’

Thanks to Brian Busby, who pointed me in the direction of All Else is Folly, by Peregrine Acland. Abebooks found me a reasonably-priced copy, which arrived this morning.
I probably won’t read the novel for a while, but I have already taken a look at the introduction, by Ford Madox Ford. In this he does the usual thing of saying that the novel he is introducing is a very good book (‘the convincing, mournful and unrelieved account of a simple soul’s suffering in the late war’). He also has some good words for the Canadians, claiming ‘I saw a good deal of the Canadians in France, and liked them really more than any other troops, my own battalion naturally excepted.’
But he also praises the novel for containing a hero ‘as normal in temperament and circumstances as it is possible to be’, on the grounds that a ‘normal’ hero who is ‘neither hypersensitized nor callous; neither Adonis nor Caliban; neither illiterate nor of the intelligentsia’ will be identified with by ‘normal’ readers.

For the defect of all novel-writing is that, as a rule, the novelist – Heaven help him – must needs select unusual, hypersensitized souls to endure the vicissitudes that he is pleased to make them endure, and that makes him lose half the game with the normal reader. I remember very well – for I am not pleading Not guilty! thinking to myself when about half way through a novel about the late war, “Well, my central character is such a queer, unusual fellow that I do not see how anyone is going much to sympathise with him in his misfortunes.”

Well, I think most of us do manage to sympathise with Tietjens, even when he is being absurdly gentlemanly even to the vile Sylvia, but undoubtedly he is odd, and it’s good to know that Ford realised the fact.
Mind you, I wonder if this is Ford musing that he has missed the literary boat. Some Do Not was begun in the early twenties, and has much in common with best-sellers of the time like Hutchinson’s If Winter Comes (a hero who represents the best of England going off to fight, while those who represent the worst profit from the War. Then the noble hero is blamed unfairly for a scandal, but he holds his tongue.) By 1931 a new model of war book was fashionable, based on All Quiet and Journey’s End. It was now the literary fashion to write about the sufferings not of ‘hypersensitized souls’, but of ordinary soldiers. What Ford is praising Acland for writing has become the orthodox way of writing about the War – and Ford must feel that his own tetralogy now seems a little old-fashioned.


  1. Roger
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Acland said “the book was extensively revised after F.M.F. wrote his preface.”

    Aldington has good words for the Canadians in Death of a Hero and Denis Winter in Death’s Men, I think, comments on the superiority of Canadian training. A major character in Robertson Davies’s Deptford Trilogy- Dunstan Ramsay[?]- also takes part in WWI and has experiences very like Fslcon’s in All Else is Folly- had he read it perhaps or was Acland’s depiction of a normal Canadian soldier’s normal war experiences so accurate as to be general?

  2. Posted November 17, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Interesting comments both. Though I don’t know whether Davies was aware of Acland’s novel, he was a bookish sixteen-year-old when it was first (and last published). Interesting to note that Acland’s sour depiction of the conflict is also found, to a greater or lesser extent, in Generals Die in Bed and God’s Sparrows, the two other novels written by Canadian CEF veterans.

    Can’t conclude without noting that of all the conflicts in Canadian history, the Great War is the most present in the country’s literature. The finest of the more recent examples is Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2005). The great Canadian Great War novel, in my opinion.

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