Author: Andrew Frayn

Ford Madox Ford

Ford and Aldington

As you’ll have seen in my previous post, there are a couple of authors with whom I’ve become particularly associated.  Richard Aldington knew Ford Madox Ford well through the London modernist networks of the early years of the twentieth century.  I find Ford a fascinating author.  He loved storytelling, even at the expense of fact, which makes all the more impressive the achievement of Max Saunders in unpicking Ford’s life in his exhaustive, magisterial two-volume biography.

My favourite anecdote brings together the two authors I’ve mentioned; Aldington tells the story in his entertaining and engaging memoir Life for Life’s Sake (1941).  Aldington was dining with his father and invited Ford, who proceeded to regale Aldington senior with stories of his childhood among the Pre-Raphaelites (Ford’s grandfather was indeed the painter Ford Madox Brown, and much of this was true).  However, the mood of the dinner took a turn for the worse when Ford started to talk about how he met Byron, who had died almost fifty years before he was born…

Ford on TV

Christopher (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sylvia Tietjens (Rebecca Hall) in the BBC/HBO Parade's End (2013).

Christopher (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sylvia Tietjens (Rebecca Hall) in the BBC/HBO Parade’s End (2013).

You might, perhaps have come across Ford in recent years if you’re a Benedict Cumberbatch fan – the big, shiny BBC/HBO miniseries (2013) of Ford’s great war novel tetralogy Parade’s End (1924-8) was striking and successful, scripted by the eminent playwright Tom Stoppard.  (You can watch it via Box of Broadcasts.)  Stoppard did a good job of adapting 840 pages of four novels into under five hours of prime time TV, although necessarily some liberties were taken.  For example, Ford’s ending looks forward after the Armistice to an uncertain but hopeful future, while Stoppard ends, perhaps too neatly, with the fevered celebrations of Armistice night.

Parade’s End

It was, of course, my interest in the First World War that brought me to Ford and Parade’s End; I’ve a chapter on Ford and War in An Introduction to Ford Madox Ford, and he features in my book, too.  The series tells us the intersecting stories of the protagonist Christopher Tietjens, his wife Sylvia Tietjens, his inamorata Valentine Wannop, and his brother Mark Tietjens.  The characters represent the push and pull in the years between circa 1912 and 1920 between insistent mechanisation and modernisation, and older moral and ethical values that are coming to seem outdated.  Christopher Tietjens insists on doing what he believes the morally right thing, even despite the potential damage to his own reputation and other practical considerations.

The Parade’s End novels use a form somewhat akin to stream of consciousness, although there are multiple consciousnesses represented.  The narrative moves associatively between different protagonists and moments in time; these chronological changes are highlighted clearly in the recent Carcanet critical edition, which makes following the shifts easier than in the longstanding Penguin editions.

Front covers of the Carcanet critical edition of Parade's End.

The Carcanet critical edition of Parade’s End.

Reading (about) Ford

I’m secretary to the Ford Madox Ford Society, which has a (usually) annual conference – I was sad not to be able to go this year, particularly as it was held in Montpellier!  The society also produces a number of publications, including collections of critical essays, and senior members were responsible for the Carcanet Parade’s End and other reprints by that publisher.

Parade’s End is quite difficult as an introduction to Ford.  His other very famous novel is The Good Soldier (1915), but for some alternative choices, why not start with his social commentary about England and the English (1905-7) (vol. 1 and vol. 2 available for free online), or his fascinating psychological novel A Call (1910)?

Let me know if you read any Ford, or would like to write about him!

Richard Aldington

In the course of an academic career, you tend to become associated with particular ideas, topics and authors.  This can often happen in part by chance – being in the right place at the right time.  As many of you will know, my main research interest is in the First World War.  It’s what I wrote my PhD on, and my monograph, along with all sorts of other publications.

In this and a subsequent post, I want to point you to a couple of authors who might not be familiar to you, but who I’m interested in, have worked on quite a bit, and am involved with author societies or other means of promoting their legacy.

Richard Aldington

Richard Aldington

Richard Aldington has become a figure I’ve returned to throughout my academic career, since writing about him for my MA thesis (now longer ago than I would prefer to think about).  He’s probably still best known as one of the original Imagist poets, along with H.D. (who was for a time his wife) and Ezra Pound; much of his poetry is available online for free at archive.org.  I was particularly drawn, though, to his First World War novel Death of a Hero (1929).  Angry, bitter, and sharply critical of the British literary and political establishments, Death of a Hero is a satire so brutal that it is often misunderstood.  Aldington’s position, though, was that the brutality of the war should be matched by the form of writing about it.  For him, to write in a polite and measured way about the conflict was fundamentally to misunderstand and misrepresent the experience of it.  I’ve recently written an overview of his war poetry Images of War (1919) and Death of a Hero for a forthcoming Handbook of British Literature and Culture of the First World War.

Death of a Hero was so confrontational and shocking that it was originally expurgated – Aldington worked with his editor at Chatto & Windus to remove sections that were thought likely to be unacceptable to a contemporary readership.  The removed words, sentences and sections are indicated in the text by asterisks as Aldington wanted the reader to know where emendations were made.  Sadly, the recent Penguin republished the expurgated text, which I thought a missed opportunity to demonstrate the vitality of Aldington’s prose; I’d recommend looking out for the unexpurgated version, which you’ll find in most 1960s paperbacks (published by Four Square and Sphere) and the 1980s Hogarth Press edition.

For information about Richard Aldington, you can look at the New Canterbury Literary Society Newsletter.  Originally founded as a paper newsletter by the late Aldington scholar Norman T. Gates, I’ve recently “rebooted” it as a blog.

Please do let me know if you read any Aldington and want to talk about it some more!

Reading for Pleasure

There will be plenty on this blog about the research that the department is doing – understandably!  But I wanted to share with you a few things that I read (mostly) for pleasure over the summer while on holiday.  For me, it’s important to read widely, and not only in the area that I research.  Reading outside the area you’re most interested in can make you rethink productively things you already (think you) know.  Admittedly, I found reading for pleasure much harder when I was a student (both an undergrad and a research student), but remembering why you enjoy reading can also make studying easier, too.

Having scanned my non-work bookshelves at the beginning of the year, I’ve been reading lots of contemporary women writers in an effort to address an unconscious bias.  Two that I particularly enjoyed were by Irish authors.

Anne Enright’s The Gathering, which won the 2007 Man Booker Prize, deals with the tragically early loss of a sibling.  The narrator, Veronica, endeavours to make sense of Liam’s suicide by engaging with the complex, troubled and troubling history of her family.  Enright movingly depicts the peculiar closenesses and distances that characterise family life, those feelings as true in the same room as when living hundreds or thousands of miles apart.  I particularly enjoyed – if that’s the right word for this moving, tragic novel – the gradual unfolding of the family’s secrets, and the subtle but accessible style.

Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, which won both the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2016, is an altogether different kettle of fish.  Ryan Cusack is endeavouring to deal with the impact of his mother’s death, and his alcoholic father’s role as a low-level gangland pawn.  None of this is made any easier by an over-attentive older neighbour, a prostitute searching for her disappeared boyfriend, and his own sometime career as a drug dealer.  And none of that is helping his treasured relationship with his girlfriend Karine.  McInerney’s prose is earthily authentic, pulling no punches, and the brisk pace of the novel makes it a good read.

Finally, on a more work-y note, I really enjoyed Richard Burton’s long biography of the late modernist poet Basil Bunting – all 608 engaging pages of it.  Bunting led a remarkable life: a conscientious objector as he turned 18 at the end of the First World War, dissolute in Paris in the mid-1920s, a longstanding friend of Ezra Pound, a senior military diplomat in the middle east in the Second World War, and finally (re)discovered as a poet in the 1960s (and his sixties) thanks to the publication of his masterpiece Briggflatts (1965) and the patronage of the poets of the British Poetry Revival.

These were just the highlights.  I hope you’ve managed to make some time to read for pleasure yourselves, too.

Andrew Frayn