Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and John Quinn in Paris, 1923

It was Graham Greene who contended that ‘There is no novelist of this century more likely to live than Ford Madox Ford.’ This prediction didn’t quite come to pass, and Ford’s popularity has never matched that of his near contemporary Evelyn Waugh, for example.

Ford is set to experience a new lease of life, however, with the announcement of a forthcoming television adaptation of his four-volume First World War masterpiece, Parade’s End. This seems an ideal time to discover or revisit the first book in the series, Some Do Not . . . (published in 1924) which the philosopher John Gray recently described as ‘possibly the greatest twentieth-century novel in English‘.

Some Do Not . . . introduces the major themes and characters of Parade’s End, which traces the trauma of the Great War as if affects Christopher Tietjens and the two women in his life: his socialite wife, Sylvia, and Valentine Wannop, the suffragette with whom he falls in love.

We have become used to seeing depictions of the First World War on our screens of late (in the likes of War Horse, Downton Abbey and Birdsong), and can no doubt expect to see more in the run-up to the 2014 centenary. Ford’s work stands apart in being based on his own direct experiences at the Front, and being motivated by a strong anti-war stance. In that at least, Ford’s novel is as resonant as ever today. As he explained in 1934, when he’d completed Parade’s End:

I have always had the greatest contempt for novels writtten with a purpose . . . But when I sat down to write that series of volumes I sinned against my gods to the extent of saying that I was going — to the level of the light vouchsafed me — to write a work that should have for its purpose the obviating of all future wars.

UPDATE (August 2012)

The complete Parade’s End tetralogy is now available from Swift Editions, either as individual novels or in a single-volume edition.

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