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This article is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

Ford Madox Ford Revisited Alan G. Hill

The Novel, we are led to believe, has reached a turning-point in its history, poised between the claims of traditional realism on the one hand and the experimentalism of the avant garde on the other. Is any rapprochement between such apparently opposed traditions now possible?

Since the time of Proust, the trap of modern solipsism has been closing in, and if the modern novelist cannot escape from his own consciousness and be sure of a reality beyond, why should he not make a virtue of necessity by exploring his own private world, as if he were writing the most intimate of lyrics? Why not reject any obligation to a shared realm of human experience and values with his readers, which may seem less real than even the most arbitrary constructs of the self-sufficient imagination? So far, it must be admitted, the avant garde has made most of the running - in the eyes of the critics at any rate, if not of the common reader - and alienation and angst have reached such a pitch that it is difficult to imagine the typical relationships and structures of society appealing to the deepest instincts of a novelist: difficult - but not perhaps impossible.

And here the example of Ford Madox Ford springs at once to mind. For his masterpiece Parade's End (1924-8) seems to speak almost prophetically to our present troubles by showing how a work can be thoroughly 'modern' in its rendering of the private ...


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