Thursday, March 29, 2007

"A World that's Foundering..."

"Paths of Glory" Nevinson
"The intolerable vision of the line, starving beneath the moon, of grey crowds murderously elbowing back a thin crowd in brown, zigzagged across the bronze light of the hut. The intolerable depression that, in those days, we felt- that all those millions were the play-things of ants busy in the miles of corridors beneath the domes and spires that rise up over the central heart of our comity, that intolerable weight upon the brain and the limbs, descended once more on those two men lying upon their elbows. As they listened their jaws fell open. The long, polyphonic babble, rushing in from an extended line of men stood easy, alone rewarded their ears." (No More Parades, 357)

Ann Barr Snitow wrote in Ford Madox Ford and The Voice of Uncertainty that "a central motif of all trench literature is a sort of Cassandra sydrome: men at the front are trying to tell everyone else that a disaster of unimaginable proportions is going on while it is business as usual ing London" (194).
Parade End often describes this divided consciousness. This sense of 'us' and ' them'
was perhaps the representative of the greater division that the war would represent. The war became the great divide: giving everyone who survived it and came after a distinct sense of "before" and "after". The war would come to represent the end of a way of life, both economic and social. So, in a sense, both 'us' and 'them' would become the casualties of war. Along with parades, it was the end of innocence. England, in innocence, had not foreseen the proportions of the disaster, it had not grasped its own mortality.
For after such losses, how could their be victory? George Bernard Shaw wrote "The earth is still bursting with the dead bodies of the victors"(4), and as such, the word 'victory' becomes grotesquely ironic.

Snitow writes:
"If one of the by-products of the war was a sense of irresolvable irony, of an unfitness in the scale of things that constantly rendered experience absurd, another of its by-products was the fervent desire to escape the irony, to find unity and transcendance in the midst of disorder and wholesale death." (195)

Perhaps this it what Parade's End asks... after the parades end and innocence destroyed, what is left of the joy of love or the honor of war?

"He picked a leaf, pressed it to his lips and threw it up in the wind..."That's for Valentine," he said meditatively. "Why did I do that?..Or perhaps it's for England..." He said: "Damn it all, this is patriotism!...This is patriotism..." It wasn't what you took patriotism as a rule to be. There were supposed to be more parades about that job!...But this was just a broke to the wide wheezy, half-frozen Yorkshireman, who despised everyone in England not a Yorkshireman, or from more to the North, at two in the morning picking a leaf from a rose-tree and slobbering over it, without knowing what he was doing. And then discovering that it was half for a pug-nosed girl whom he presumed, but didn't know, to smell like a primrose; and half for...England!
...And why these emotions?...Because England, not before it was time, had been allowed to decide not to do the dirty on her associates!...He said to himself: " It is probably because a hundred thousand sentamentalists like myself commit similar excesses of the subconscious that we persevere in this glorious but atrocious undertaking." (363)

Snitow, Ann Barr Ford Madox Ford and The Voice of Uncertainty Lousiana State University Press, London, 1984.

Shaw, George Bernard Heartbreak House and Horseback Hall (preface) Penguin Books, New York, 1964.

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