Ford Madox Ford, still from a home movie, c.1929
Much has been written about the BBC’s Parade’s End (brilliantly adapted by Tom Stoppard) in recent weeks. Happily the series has also focussed attention on the novels themselves, which had been all but forgotten by the reading public. What has been missing, however, is Ford Madox Ford’s own perspective on his tetralogy.
When the four volumes were first published by Duckworth between 1924 and 1928, Ford (somewhat reluctantly) provided prefaces to three of them. In the first he wrote: ‘I have always held . . . that a novel should have no preface.’ Despite his misgivings, these ‘Dedicatory Letters’, as he preferred to call them, give important insights into Ford’s mixing of fact and fiction in the depiction of the First World War (in which he served on the front line) and of his hero, Christopher Tietjens, ‘the re-creation of a friend I had’.
The prefaces can be read in full in an excellent edition of the author’s War Prose. Here is an extract from the preface to the second volume in the series, No More Parades, published in 1925:
As far as I am privately concerned these books, like all my others, constitute an attempt simply to reflect – not in the least to reflect on – our own times.
Nevertheless as far as this particular book is concerned I find myself ready to admit to certain public aims. That is to say that, in it, I have been trying to say to as much of humanity as I can reach, and, in particular to such members of the public as, because of age or for other reasons did not experience the shocks and anxieties of the late struggle:
This is what the late war was like: this is how modern fighting of the organised, scientific type affects the mind. If, for reasons of gain or, as is still more likely out of dislike for collective types other than your own, you choose to permit your rulers to embark on another war, this – or something very accentuated along similar lines – is what you will have to put up with!
I hope, in fact, that this series of books, for what it is worth, may make war seem undesirable. But in spite of that hope I have not exaggerated either the physical horrors or the mental distresses of that period. On the contrary I have selected for treatment less horrible episodes than I might well have rendered and I have rendered them with more equanimity than might well have been displayed. You see here the end of the war of attrition through the eyes of a fairly stolid, fairly well-instructed man. I should like to add that, like all of us, he in neither unprejudiced not infallible. And you have here his mental reactions and his reflections – which are not, not, NOT presented as those of the author.