On Saintliness and Despair in Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End
Brian Hall Guests on the Lit Century Podcast
Welcome to Lit Century: 100 Years, 100 Books. Combining literary analysis with an in-depth look at historical context, hosts Sandra Newman and Catherine Nichols choose one book for each year of the 20th century, and—along with special guests—will take a deep dive into a hundred years of literature.
Writer Brian Hall joins host Catherine Nichols to discuss Ford Madox Ford’s 1928 quartet of novels, Parade’s End, focusing particularly on the first book, Some Do Not... Their conversation covers the book’s place in Modernist literature, comparisons to the work of E.M. Forster and Virginia Woolf, and particularly its descriptions of World War I: as granular as a soldier’s perspective on the field all the way outward to the war’s effects on every part of British society.
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From the episode:
Brian Hall: Tietjens, who in some way is animating a big part of Ford’s own personality, has such a despairing, dark view of human society. A lot of this book feels like an even more acerbic version of Vanity Fair. Everything is corrupt, everyone lies, nobody believes anything, Christian goodness is impossible. And Tietjens says at one point that he always wanted to be a saint, like his mother. He’s attached to his mother; he thinks of her as a saint. And his view is that the only way you can be saintly in this society is to be unmoving.
He never tries to defend himself in any way. He sits there in the center and allows all of this stuff to swirl around him. He feels that trying to defend himself is useless. And that if you take the forms away—playing the game, in fact the parade; he has this line in here, “the parade of circumspection and righteousness” or something like that—playing the game, maintaining appearances. He feels—and the book argues—that appearances are the only thing we have, and that if you take them away, it’s chaos.
Brian Hall is the author of eight books, five of them novels, including The Saskiad (Houghton-Mifflin, 1997); I Should Be Extremely Happy In Your Company (Viking, 2003); and Fall of Frost (Viking, 2008). The Saskiad, a coming-of-age novel about a precocious and imaginative young girl, has been translated into 12 languages. I Should Be Extremely Happy In Your Company was named one of the best novels of the year by The Boston Globe, Salon Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and The Christian Science Monitor. Fall of Frost was named one of the best novels of the year by The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. His most recent novel is The Stone Loves the World (Viking, 2021).
Catherine Nichols is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in many places, including Jezebel, Aeon, and Electric Literature. She lives in Brooklyn.