Monday, 2 April 2012

The Last Post being the Fourth Book of Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

The Last Post is a coda or more a tail with semi-autonomous wagging. For some strange reason of his own Ford moves the focus of the tetralogy to Mark the eldest and only surviving sibling of Christopher Tietjens. The other two brothers and a sister were killed in the war. Mark is very ill with T.B. and is in the care of Christopher and Valentine who are living in what toffs of that era called a cottage which today would be regarded as a fine house, with a thatched roof, beams, stairs of irregular rise, that sort of thing. Mark is in bed in a construction adjacent to the building that is open sided, the open air cure. We must remember that at this time the thermometer was regarded by doctors of the older generation as a dubious innovation. The first section of the book is the stream of consciousness of Mark’s French mistress whom he all along has refused to marry even though they have been together for 20 years. As the book opens we learn that he has married her particularly to spite the depredations of Sylvia the demon-wife of Christopher. The house Groby with its famous landmark cedar that is growing into one wall of the house is being let to rich Americans. They want to cut it down to let more light in on that side, a practico-symbolico touch.

Sylvia turns up and there is a denouement. There you have it. Ford in this book descends from the heights of the first three and has a little fun mocking French thrift and a chauvinism which descends to navette de Paris (a turnip), and the mania for varnish. Christopher who is now making a living from dealing in Old Furniture for the Americans although financially scotched by an American Jew middleman. As in practically all books in the English language of that era Jews are regarded as automatically dodgy. Finding them in a plot is like a shot of gophers standing above their holes as the wagon flees from Injuns across the prairie.

Could the book have been left out? I observe the piety of the author’s intent. Ford fecit and the whole is a masterpiece that requires a gentle bathos to culminate.

By the way I read it on line at a very useful site called the Hathi Trust.
The Last Post
Google have it with pages missing. Why? It’s out of copywright. The other three books are on Gutenberg Australia which has books from authors who died up to 1955 as against 1941 everywhere else.

As the centenary year of the Great War approaches and as a tie-in with the BBC mini-series I expect there will be re-printings. Extant editions are out there. In whatever format Parade’s End is one of the best books I’ve read in ages.


ktismatics said...

"The Last Post"? I never knew that Ford wrote a blog. When I finally reach the end of my blogging parade I'll have to conclude with "...But she did not need them as much as I."

ombhurbhuva said...

Ford's test of a book was to go to page 99 and read it. If it passed muster he would go on.

ktismatics said...

'Oh!' she answered: 'If it wasn't my husband's doing it would look like ostentation. I'd find it ostentatious for myself.' She found a smile, radiant yet muted.

That's how page 99 begins in the edition I have. The rest of the page offers some tasty comestibles, such as:

'All the same, it's difficult to give a breakfast before ten.'
She didn't want to waste her careful sentences on this grey fellow.
'He's ascetic to unreasonableness. On Fridays he eats nothing at all. It makes me quite anxious...for Saturdays.'
He was the male, tender, in-fitting; the complement of the harmony, the meat for consumption, like the sweet pulp of figs...

Sure, I'd give it a go if I were Ford.

ombhurbhuva said...

That's from the wonderful demented vicar scene with the punch line that I referred to. On page 99 of The Last Post you have

And in effect the boy was saying that his mother (Sylvia Tietjens) was, of course, a splendid person, but he Mark Junior found her proceedings in many respects questionable.

By doing the honourable thing, as he saw it, Christopher Tietjens, has preserved the image of his mother in his boy's eyes and allowed the gradual falling away of the scales as maturity is reached. The boy is now in his first year at Cambridge.

Casting back to the literary friends of Ford. From a book of reminiscences called Mightier than the Sword it seems he knew everybody - James, Lawrence, Crane, W.H. Hudson, Conrad, Dreiser, Galsworthy etc. And that was just in England. He mentions Belloc whom he knew as a member of a group of writers that met regularly to dine. Slightly bitchy about him but nothing too severe. Despite the great difference in age he was a great pal of Henry James's and they would go for daily walks together when James lived at Rye in Sussex and Ford had a cottage nearby. He is amusing about being barred from summer visits as James was entertaining the nobility then and artists might be too louche. 'It would never have done for the Duke, m'Lord'.

He was a great admirer of Hudson's prose. I concur. You may recall that Hem was disparaging of The Purple Land in The Sun also Rises. That was just a yarn that made him a lot of money but his memoirs of childhood on the pampas of his native Argentina Far Away and Long Ago in my opinion is a classic.

ombhurbhuva said...

Correction: God bless google