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Contribution to Book
Mourning and Moving On: Life after War in Ford Madox Ford’s The Last Post
Modernism and Mourning (2007)
  • Eve C Sorum, University of Massachusetts Boston
Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy Parade’s End—a story of World War I and its aftermath—is often passed over in the line-up of war literature. In part this may have to do with Ford’s method of narrating the war, which is an exercise in obliterated terrain, truncated views, and narrative gaps. Readers also criticize the final novel in the tetralogy, The Last Post (1928), as a dispiriting conclusion to an otherwise astounding sequence, and Ford himself expressed doubts about its publication. The uncertainties surrounding The Last Post reflect, I believe, the novel’s unsuccessful continuance of the narrative techniques used in the preceding three books. The “failure” of The Last Post emerges from its reliance on war-time mourning practices in a post-war world. The novel thus exposes the underlying dangers of a mourning that neither confronts nor leaves behind the traumas of war. Ultimately, The Last Post raises the dilemma of how to write a post-war novel that enables the characters and the narrative to move past the war in the face of the unending horror of such an event and the possibility of a future conflict. Ford presents not only a crisis of modern British life, but also a crisis of genre. This essay begins with an examination of the narrative techniques used by Ford in the preceding three novels. Like many modernists, Ford negotiates the boundary between crippling memory and callous dismissal by narrating the war as a series of erasures, defacements, and ellipses. This mimetic representation of loss—a way of mourning the war through the effacement of the text, memory, and actual events—occurs both in the narrative form (full of ellipses and events only told in retrospect) and in the similarly fragmented thoughts of the characters. Problems arise, however, with this type of narration when the story moves into the post-war era in The Last Post. After the rowdy, nationwide celebration of the Armistice that occupies the final pages of A Man Could Stand Up, the tetralogy collapses into a mute and isolated perspective. The silencing of the war in this last volume, we soon learn, does not release grief; instead it prolongs the trauma and exposes the unhealed wounds of the people and the country. By continuing the trope of silence, Ford effectively anesthetizes the characters. He attempts to write the post-war world into a nineteenth-century setting, but neither the continuity of the domestic drama nor the productive disjunction of the modernist war novel can effectively emerge. The story stagnates in the obsessive mental revisiting of war wounds in the novel’s fruitless search for a post-war form. Ultimately, this problem of narration in The Last Post reveals the anxiety that inflects so many pieces from the 30s about whether a post-war peace is sustainable. The novel’s claim, made in its final lines, that a return to nineteenth-century values is the only option, implicitly suggests that there is no way truly to move past the experience of the war. Lurking behind this turn to the past is the fear that another war is inevitable, and that the lessons of World War I have not been learned. The failure of narrative technique, therefore, not only reflects British society’s uneasy silence about a war that, in retrospect, seems a futile bloodbath, but also eerily foreshadows the eventual failure of the peace.
Publication Date
Patricia Rae
Bucknell University Press
Citation Information
Eve C Sorum. "Mourning and Moving On: Life after War in Ford Madox Ford’s The Last Post" LewisbergModernism and Mourning (2007)
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