Ford Madox Ford and “Parade’s End”

28 Feb
Image from George T. Keating Home Movie featuring Ford Madox Ford

Image from George T. Keating Home Movie featuring Ford Madox Ford

This past fall the Film & Media Archive screened a recently preserved home movie featuring the only known footage of modernist writer, critic, and editor, Ford Madox Ford. As the only known footage of Mr. Ford in existence, this rare portrait preserves the legacy of one of the most prolific writers of modernist literature.

Washington University’s Film & Media Archive was able to preserve this rare footage with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF). The George T. Keating Home Movie featuring Ford Madox Ford is a 16mm film consisting of images of Mr. Ford enjoying an afternoon with family members and friends on the grounds of  Mr. Keating’s home in Plainfield, New Jersey, circa 1929.

Ford Madox Ford’s work is being introduced to a modern audience with the HBO miniseries, Parade’s End. Adapted by Tom Stoppard and starring  Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall the series is getting rave reviews. The four related novels that make up Parade’s End were published between 1924 and 1928. The novels were combined into one work which was listed at number 57 on the Modern Library‘s 100 Best Novels list. Literary critic, Mary Gordon noted that it was “quite simply, the best fictional treatment of war in the history of the novel.”

Ford’s treatment of World War I was not a straightforward linear re-telling of events. As a modernist novel the story is filtered through the consciousness of its protagonist, Christopher Tietjens, and the war is a major event in his and others’ lives but not the only one. Continuing in a modernist vein, the last volume in the series explores shifting points of view and perspectives through a series of monologues by characters other than Tietjens. This last volume was left out of the Bodley Head edition edited by Graham Greene, but has been restored to later editions.

In Mary Gordon’s book review of Parade’s End, Volume II: No More Parades: A Novel, she write of how Ford was influenced by Impressionist art and how he sought to replicate that in his writing,

Over and over, he uses the technique of the Impressionist, which he articulated in several critical essays. “I suppose,” he says in an essay on Impressionism, “that Impressionism exists to render those queer effects of real life that are like so many views seen through bright glass—through glass so bright that whilst you perceive through it a landscape or a backyard, you are aware that, on its surface, it reflects a face of a person behind you. For the whole of life is really like that; we are almost always in one place with our minds somewhere quite other.” The ideal Impressionist work, he asserts “would attain to the sort of odd vibration that scenes in real life really have; you would give your reader the impression that he was witnessing something real, that he was passing through an experience.” (Ford “On Impressionism” in Martin Stanndard’s Norton Critical Edition of The Good Soldier, 263-64).

Mary Gordon, Parade’s End, Volume II: No More Parades: A Novel

Parade’s End an HBO miniseries can be viewed on HBO this week. For more information on showtimes, check HBO’s website. For more information on Ford Madox Ford material in the Special Collections at Washington University, please contact the Film & Media Archive or the Manuscripts Unit which also holds a collection of Mr. Ford’s papers, including drafts, galleys and correspondence.

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