'When you came in the space was desultory, rectangular, warm after the drip of the winter night, and transfused with a brown-orange dust that was light. It was shaped like the house a child draws. Three groups of brown limbs spotted with brass took dim high-lights from shafts that came from a bucket pierced with holes, filled with incandescent coke, and covered in with a sheet of iron in the shape of a tunnel.' FORD, FORD MADOX
This is how the second book of the 'Parade's End' teratology begins, and it sets the tone for the entire novel. This book deals with Teitjen's time as a captain at a supplies depot, close to the Front during World War One. He has left Valentine and England behind, but Sylvia, on the war-path, follows him to France and stirs up a world of trouble in the process.
However, though one could spend forever discussing the ins and out of their relationships, this blog post will focus on the aspect of the writer's style that took me by surprise: the ability of the human race to find beauty in the most unexpected of places.
It is with a painter's eye that he describes life on the front lines - a tiny speck of light, adds an additional, visual, dimension to the writing and lifts the world of the supply depot off the page. It is not surprising to learn that Ford Madox was the maternal grandson of acclaimed Victorian painter Ford Madox Brown. In 'No More Parades', Madox Ford reveals his own gift as a novelist-painter, who, with just one adjective, can illuminate an entire scene for our imaginations.
'Tietjens considered the sleeping army... That country village under the white moon, all of sackcloth sides, celluloid windows, forty men to a hut... That slumbering Arcadia was one of... how many? Thirty-seven thousand five hundred, say for a million and a half of men... But there were probably more than a million and a half in that base... Well, round the slumbering Arcadias were the fringes of virginly glimmering tents...'Not only does he create the somewhat heartbreaking yet beautiful image of the 'sleeping army', but he bathes the vision in a mixture of cold reality and magic by placing a 'white moon' overhead and by describing the endless lines of army tents as 'glimmering'. That one adjective suggests all the vulnerability and transience of life for a soldier at the Front: like the light of a candle flame, the slightest breath is enough to extinguish it. In naming it as a village, he calls up echoes of middle England, whose sons have all decamped to the battlegrounds of France; an uprooted English village, if not in term of place, then in terms of national identity. It is an Arcadia, he tells us, a place celebrated as an unspoiled, harmonious wilderness in Greek mythology, hardly apt when describing a landscape close to the Western Front, but that is how Madox Ford chooses to present it. Perhaps it is the camaraderie of war, the mutual love felt by soldiers in wartime, that inspires him to describe the scene thus, or he is simply using the nocturnal hours of peace as a contrast to the horror of the day's fighting. Indeed, there are many descriptions of moonlight reflecting silver on mounds of earth; stars, like pinpricks in the black sky, and so on. Much of the book's action, it is clear, takes place in the dark.
This is in stark contrast to imagery associated with the female characters, Sylvia and Valentine. Consider how he describes Mrs Tietjens:
'She appeared before him so extraordinarily bright and clear in the brown darkness that he shuddered: very tall, very fair... in a sheath gown of gold tissue, all illuminated, and her mass of hair, like gold tissue too, coiled round and round in plaits over her ears ...'She is positively glowing and never so much so when he remembers their last parting, the final parting as the had thought, when she left him in the middle of the night for Paddington Station. He recalls her far in the distance, standing in a long room, the '...other end of which she had seemed a mere white phosphorescence...' . She has almost disappeared in his memory, but he only recalls her glowing.
As for Valentine, her association with the fertile, natural world, continues the same from book one. He says,
' ... He drifted with regret across the plain towards his country street of huts. One of them had a coarse evergreen rose growing over it. He picked a leaf, pressed it to his lips and threw it up into the wind...' That's for Valentine,' he said meditatively. 'Why did I do that?... Or perhaps it's for England...' .'It is no coincidence that his memories of Valentine and England are intertwined, as he loves both with a deep passion. Of course, in terms of symbolism, the rose is a long established emblem of England but so too is it associated with love and romance. As such, it perfectly represents his two great loves. The flower reminds him of home and home of Valentine. A similar association occurs when, in a moment of heightened distress and trauma, a soldier, 0-Nine Morgan, dies in his arms. Madox Ford brilliantly captures how the human mind deals with such moments, by shifting focus and thinking happier thoughts. Of course, for Tietjens, that means Valentine. As the sanitary orderlies do the unpleasant job of washing away the dead man's blood from Christopher's boots and under the table and chairs, Tietjen's mind dwells on Valentine:
'Obedient heart! Like the first primrose. Not any primrose. The first primrose. Under a bank with the hounds breaking through the underwood..... That was sentimental. But one might say one special flower. A man could say that. A man's job. She smelt like a primrose when you kissed her. But, damn it, he had never kissed her. So how did he know how she smelt! She was a little tranquil, golden spot.'Here Valentine is described as smelling like a primrose, a delicate flower, again with a suggestion of 'rose'. Yet she is associated with the first one of the season, his first true love, pure and delightful; set in a particular English setting, which we can imagine to be the grounds at Groby. Note too, how she recalls a golden place, a precious home.
The images associated with both of these women are in stark contrast to the masculine, darkness of the soldier's life, as experienced by Tietjens. It is no wonder that he clings so tightly to Sylvia as they dance at the camp, despite the fact that it is Sylvia and not Valentine. Who would not be dazzled by such a light in so dark a place? It strikes me as quite significant that women and the moon should play such a vital role in creating the atmosphere of the text, as so often the moon is perceived as a female entity itself. Perhaps the author is commenting on the real power of women in the world, as distinct from the political power so desired by Valentine and the suffragettes in 'Some Do Not'.
Regardless of its symbolic meaning, there is certainly much visual beauty in this book. Of course, the shifting voice of the narrators, and their fragmented internal conversations, reflects perfectly the inner lives of real people; their internal struggles and whisperings, their reasoning and motivations. Madox Ford masters all this. Yet, for me, what I will remember most about this book, are the devastatingly beautiful moments, blazing, so unexpectedly, out of the darkness and forging precious nuggets of hope for us all.
'There was too much to think about... so that nothing at all stood out to be thought of. The sun was glowing. The valley of the Seine was blue-grey, like a Gobelin tapestry. Over it all hung the shadow of a deceased Welsh soldier. An odd skylark was declaiming over an empty field behind the incinerators' headquarters... An odd lark. For as a rule larks do not sing in December. Larks sing only when courting, or over the nest... 0 Nine Morgan was the other thing, that accounting for the prize-fighter! '