No More Parades

by Ford Maddox Ford. New York: A. and C. Boni. 1925. 12mo. x+309 pp. $2.50.
IN his serene retrospection Henry Adams observed of English Society that it ‘swarmed with exaggerated characters: it contained little else.’ The description comes forcibly to mind as one emerges from the reading of Ford Maddox Ford’s late novel, No More Parades. From the overwrought Tietjens, with whom the story begins, down the cast to the unimportant but unsexed skylark, one and all are eccentric. Yet for this, as the author reminds us in his dedication, there is some justification.
‘There was in France,’ says Mr. Ford, ‘at the time covered by this novel, an immense base camp unbelievably crowded with men whom we were engaged in getting up to the line, working sometimes day and night in the effort. That immense army was also extremely depressed by the idea that those who controlled it overseas would . . . “let us down.” We were oppressed, ordered, counter-ordered . . . harassed, strafed, denounced — and above all, dreadfully worried.’ Here are the stage directions. To staff this base camp came those officers peculiarly fitted or peculiarly unfit for the line, the brilliant as well as the decrepit, the decorative, the degenerate; and with the transient troops, British and Colonials, they formed a community as excessive and confusing as an ant-hill. To this community, contrary to all orders, came Sylvia Tietjens.
Tory principles had withheld Captain Christopher Tietjens from high place, as a weak chest had withheld him from the line. So he served at base as a brilliant and very able officer. Because he was clever, usually right, and always reticent he was mistrusted by his superiors; because he was aggressive, fair, and understanding he was trusted by his men. At his school he had been taught to love truth and not to peach to the head master. This rigid eighteenth-century principle marked him through life as the victim of suspicion. For deeds which he did not commit and would not explain he drove his father to suicide, broke his mother’s heart, encouraged the malevolent, passionate habits of his wife, and laid for himself a train of slanderous enmities which were ignited by his wife’s visit to the base. The explosion destroyed all vestige of the truth and sent Tietjens to a probable but honorable death in the trenches, the exact fate to be determined by Mr. Ford in a sequent novel.
Now evidently the causes of this catastrophe stretch far back into the past,— they have, in fact, been made the subject of an earlier book, Some Do Not, — and that they can be reproduced in the two worrying days of the present volume without straining credulity is proof of Mr. Ford’s masterly technique. Plunging in mediae res, by interspersing his narrative with long passages of introspection he weaves the story back and forth with ever-increasing clarity and suspense until at length, in a manner reminiscent of Conrad, the pattern is complete and eloquent.
It is to be regretted that he should have employed so generally the dot system of insinuation.
’He said: “Damn it all! ... I’ve loved that boy. . . . He’s my godson. . . . His father was my best friend. . . .”’
This, page after page, reminds one painfully of a stuttering orator. And it is quite unnecessary. Still more is it to be regretted that the author should enlist in his cast a group of such elaborate decadence. Veritable and vivid in his martial scenes, his marital episodes arc extravagant to the point of absurdity. It is difficult to believe that this is the fault of English Society and not of Mr. Ford.
For the novel’s sensuous presentment of war life, with its interminable worry, frustration, and degeneracy, we are truly grateful; for its tragedy, the destruction of Tietjens, a tragedy so merciless, honorable and inevitable, we are deeply touched; for its sensuality — well, chacun à son goût.