Sunday, March 3, 2013


One of my favorite authors for decades was Ford Madox Ford. The reason was that, along with the books of Christopher Isherwood, Ford's were so well written my love of writing overwhelmed my antipathy toward the upper class Englishmen who wrote them and whom they were mostly writing about. In fact both these writers gave me insights into the common humanity I shared with the traditional enemies of my people (Irish Catholics). Quite a feat back in my youth.

I also liked Ford because despite my admiration for some of the stylistic innovations of Hemingway I hated his macho posturing, especially in his memoir A MOVEABLE FEAST where he singled out Ford Madox Ford for some particularly nasty dissing. Isherwood at least was gay and a pacifist and had other traits that made him ultimately less of "the enemy" to my younger self (and I was lucky enough in later years to consider him a friend), so embracing Ford Madox Ford was a more rebellious act on my part.

But it was Ford's most popular novel, THE GOOD SOLDIER, that drew me to him, so well plotted and written, his deliberate attempt to write a popular and critically successful novel after turning forty and having written tons of books since he was in his teens. It gave me something to aim for when I was young. I didn't read the tetralogy that is PARADE'S END until I was almost forty myself. I had just quit the only nine-to-five job I ever had, working in an office (a corner office with a view of The Chrysler building, which didn't pay as much as the view implied) for The Franklin Library after less than two years there, and decided to spend that summer writing, and reading PARADE'S END (as well as trying to act professionally for the first time).

I was never as big a Proust fan as most of my friends, and after reading PARADE'S END I tried to convince some of them that it was the English language equivalent of what was then always called REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST. I didn't convince any, as far as I remember. But for me, PARADE'S END remained for a long time near the top of my all time favorite reads.

Then the other night I was channel surfing when I came on an episode of a British TV mini-series based on PARADE'S END and couldn't wait until I had time to start watching it. So far I've only seen the first two shows of what is a five part series. But it's already clear that it is a much distilled version of what made the four books of PARADE'S END so satisfying to me back when. The distiller is Tom Stoppard, which explains why the writing is so intellectually rigorous compared to say DOWNTON ABBEY, with which it shares an era (at least for the first few seasons of D.A.) and class and political issues. Where DOWNTON ABBEY is unabashedly and satisfyingly melodramatic (or rather soap operatic) PARADE'S END is unapologetically, and for me also very satisfyingly, almost intellectual. They're both written intelligently but DOWNTON ABBEY more as intelligent entertainment and PARADE'S END more as entertaining intelligence. If that makes any sense.

Stoppard trims the complicated stories and the multi-perspectives that makes reading PARADE'S END so challenging and ultimately rewarding, and he modernizes (in the sense of a more direct treatment of the sexual episodes, unfortunately I think, though it works for TV) some of those perspectives. So far, though, I have to say if you love DOWNTON ABBEY and the sometimes simplistic stereotyping of the characters, PARADE'S END offers some of the same types only with much more uniquely individual characterizations.

And the acting is brilliant, especially the three leading characters played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall and Adelaide Clemens. Cumberbatch is so convincing as Christopher Teijans, the main character in the book, and Hall as Sylvia, his wife, that I wished the series could go on forever, the way I feel after a season of DOWNTON ABBEY. But with D.A. I'm in love with the actors and their characters, whereas in PARADE'S END I'm fascinated by the actors and their characters and feel like I'm watching a view of their world I've never seen on film before. And Cumberbatch plays Teijans not only perfectly but looks like a possible younger Ford Madox Ford.

You'll recognize some English actors from other HBO series in character roles, like the guy who plays Al Capone on BOARDWALK EMPIRE only now with a Scottish accent. Rupert Everett has a small role as well, and others. But no Maggie Smith stealing the show, making PARADE'S END feel even more realistic as it examines that First World War era and its impact on the pre-war world of English class privilege and tradition etc. I can't wait to see the other three episodes.


Anonymous said...

Oh Lal, so excited to read this. Parade's End is still my favorite book(s) - just reread for the 7th or 8th time. It continues to fascinate & absorb & challenge. I didn't realize we could get the TV version here (now I have to find a TV & I'm all set). Yay! xoElinor

Lally said...

Had no idea you were a fan of Ford's masterpiece, but am happy to hear it, Elinor. Maybe you can stream the Tv version on a computer, if you can't find someone with a TV and HBO. I'd gladly watch it again with you if you could ever make it to Jersey for a day (it probably runs about four and a half hours to watch all five episodes).