restricted access Listening for Class in Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End
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Listening for Class in Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End

The opening scene of Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not … (1924), the first volume in his Parade’s End tetralogy, depicts the protagonist Christopher Tietjens and his friend Macmaster on a train.1 Criticism is near unanimous in reading the scene as an historical allegory, seeing it as a dramatization of the presence, in Raymond Williams’s classic formulation, of the residual aristocratic class alongside the emergent forces of capitalism and bureaucracy.2 “Macmaster; smallish; Whig” is the son of a Scottish grocer. Tietjens, “a Tory,” is the youngest son of a wealthy landowner from Yorkshire (and after the war he becomes heir to Groby, the family estate).3 Macmaster is the representative of the “emergent,” soon-to-be “dominant” ideology. Unlike Tietjens, Macmaster cannot depend upon birthright or family connections to advance in the world. He needs his own cunning. In the new socioeconomic system, “a pit lad may rise to be a mine owner” (17). Macmaster is not depicted as an innovative, industrious entrepreneur; rather, he is a mere parvenu, a literary hack—”the cynical social climber who symbolises the embourgeoisement of political life and the erosion of its ostensibly aristocratic standards” according to Andrzej Gasiorek—and ultimately a traitor to his friend.4 Tietjens embodies Williams’s notion of a “residual ideology” and laments that “all sorts of bounders get into all sorts of holies of holies!” (119). Tietjens is in fact quite precise as to where his ideology comes from: the eighteenth century, which embraced feudal notions of chivalry, patronage, and hierarchy.5 It was clearly on the way out long ago, although for Tietjens it takes a world war to be convinced. [End Page 689]

Ford’s staging of the “odd friendship” of the Whig and Tory (6) in the opening scene of Parade’s End is justly pointed to by critics as an example of his ability to dramatize historical conflicts like this. We witness the meeting point of these two ideologies, one waxing, the other waning. But what goes unremarked in criticism of the novels is the utter unoriginality of this scheme, and that this friendship, at least by literary standards, is not in the least bit odd. Pitting the bourgeois merchant with high aspirations against the aristocratic landowner who finds himself out of touch with the times is a device that had been repeated since at least the eighteenth century, and Ford’s staging of these two classes in amicable conflict is solidly in the English literary tradition of ideological pairings, either by friendship or by marriage.6 However, as the tetralogy progresses, both in terms of plot and the ever-shifting form of Ford’s prose, it becomes more than just a modernist, belated version of the land-capital pairing. The first scene can retrospectively be understood as merely an opening gambit in an ambitious attempt at staging multiple class conflicts, and while the novels are indeed directly depicting the fall of the aristocratic order, they are not simply charting the rise of a merchant class but are also showing, in more oblique ways, the emergence of a working class, still mostly voiceless but a powerful threat nonetheless. Critics have predominantly addressed Ford’s more explicit handling of the land-capital class war.7 In fact, the tetralogy charts the emergence of labor as a major political force, but only via the most indirect methods. Ford allows multidimensional class conflicts to influence the unfolding of Tietjens’s personal history, as well as the complex formal ambitions that mark the tetralogy. What makes Parade’s End such a valuable work for any study of literature and ideology of the 1920s is its animation of various class struggles.

The third and fourth volumes especially, A Man Could Stand Up—(1926) and Last Post (1928), contain numerous references to coal miners that resonate strikingly with what the popular press politely termed the “coal dispute” in the decade after the Great War. These allusions interrupt the more civilized rivalry of land and capital and insert a more threatening, but nebulous, class enemy into English culture. The labor struggles of...