The Folio Society are marking the centenary of the Great War with a reprint of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End tetralogy, in two volumes. They have kindly sent copies to me to review on this site.
The books are very handsome indeed, as one might expect from the Folio Society. The paper is good, the text is clear, and there are attractive illustrations. These are lino-cuts by James Albon; the pictures are always vivid and interesting, and his style is very appropriate to the roughness and drama of the military chapters.
Maybe the lino-cut medium is less suited to the sophistication of civilian life, but I like his version of Tietjens – a lot uglier and more stubborn-looking than Benedict Cumberbatch in the television version.
This Folio publication uses the carefully edited text of the 2011 Carcanet edition, and incorporates the Carcanet notes (over 200 pages of them, at the end of the second volume). Carcanet originally asked the editors of each of the four novels to provide an introduction; all of these are good, but Max Saunders’ introduction to Some Do Not… is particularly useful. The Folio edition replaces these with a general introduction to the whole tetralogy by novelist Philip Hensher, perhaps intended as more suited to the needs of the general reader.
Hensher cheerfully warns about the difficulties of ‘this maddening, confrontational, idiotic and beautiful novel’ and gives a good explanation of what writers of the time were aiming for in their use of the stream-of-consciousness technique:
What is it like to sit inside someone’s head, as the great flood of thought washes through the synapses – the speculation, the memories, the immediate responses to what is confronting the senses?
As a novelist, Hensher is especially interested in the books’ technique (‘There are no innocent observers in this drama; it turns and consumes everyone.’). He notes that Ford’s work is different from Ulysses or Mrs Dalloway, because those novels apply the stream-of-consciousness technique in relation to events of ‘less than monumental activity’:
Only Ford attempted to marry the awesome task of investigating consciousness in its full, complex texture with the examination of events of the greatest importance, and indeed the greatest event of the age – World War I.
This is well said, but Hensher has little to tell us about the War, or about Ford’s part in it, as both propagandist and soldier. Many general readers might have been grateful for the kind of information included in Saunders’ very full introduction to the first Carcanet volume. (You can read most of it if you click on the ‘Look inside’ link on the book’s Amazon page.)
To an extent this lack is made up for in the very full notes, and there is also an extremely useful list of Military Terms and Abbreviations.
The notes are the work of the four editors of the Carcanet volumes, and are very full. Inevitably one has a few quibbles, or ideas of what might else have been included.
For example: Max Saunders, the editor of Some Do Not…, and a man who knows his Ford very well, told me something I didn’t previously know when he notes that the character of Waterhouse, the Liberal politician with his ‘immense nose and elongated Chinese eyes’ is ‘recognisably a sketch of C.F.G.Masterman’.
This note would mean more to most readers had it added that Masterman had not only been Ford’s co-editor at the English Review, but had also, as head of Wellington House at the start of the War, commissioned Ford to write works of propaganda like When Blood is their Argument and Between St Denis and St George. Probably Saunders did not include the information in his note because he had already made it clear in the Carcanet introduction that is scrapped from this edition.
The scene in Some Do Not… that always most intrigues me is the fraught breakfast at the Duchemins. Here once again, I think that the notes could have given the reader a little more help. There is no note identifying Simeon Solomon; perhaps Saunders felt that Ford’s own gloss, ‘one of the weaker and more frail aesthetes’ was enough. But in the light of Duchemin’s own sexual mania, it is maybe worth knowing that the career of the painter had been cut short when he was arrested in a public urinal near Oxford Street, and charged with attempting to commit sodomy; his later life was a descent from prison and the workhouse to an alcoholic’s death. Sexual implications could also have been highlighted in the mention that in his Oxford days Duchemin had been ‘one of Ruskin’s road-builders’. The note mentions Wilde among Ruskin’s volunteers, but some of Ford’s original readers might also have caught a hint about William Money Hardinge, sent down from the University because of his flagrant homosexuality and his relationship with Walter Pater. I think that Ford deliberately includes these hints about homosexuality (and the tag about the puer callide) to suggest that Duchemin’s perversion is not only heterosexual, but is pansexual.
But these are quibbles, and the notes are by and large of a very high standard. I have certainly learned quite a lot from them.
I would therefore recommend this edition to the general reader who wants a very handsome piece of bookmaking on his or her shelves. Those reading Ford for scholarly purposes, though, might find more to suit them in the Carcanet paperbacks.