Dress Down Sunday: Last Post by Ford Madox Ford

book 4 of the Parade’s End tetralogy

published 1928


[Valentine Wannop considers her current mode of life]

Marie Léonie was of opinion that she would lose Christopher if she did not deluge herself with a perfume called Houbigant and wear pink silk next the skin. Elle ne demandait pas mieux – but she could not borrow twenty pounds from Marie Léonie. Nor yet forty . . . Because, although Christopher might never notice the condition of her all-wools, he jolly well would be struck by the ocean of Houbigant and the surf of pink . . . She would give the world for them . . . But he would notice – and then she might lose his love. Because she had borrowed the forty pounds. On the other hand, she might lose it because of the all-wools. And heaven knew in what condition the other pair would be when they came back from Mrs Cramp’s newest laundry attentions . . . You could never teach Mrs Cramp that wool must not be put into boiling water! Oh God, she ought to lie between lavendered linen sheets with little Chrissie on soft, pink silk, air-cushionish bosoms! . . . 

observations: For more about this book, look at the many earlier entries – click on the Parade’s End label below. And earlier this week I wrote a piece in the Guardian about Sylvia Tietjens, first wife of the Christopher mentioned above - one of the great wicked women of literature.

Valentine is pregnant and worried, and she and her lover (Christopher) are very short of money. There is absolutely no need – there is masses of Tietjens family money, but he won’t take it for absurd reasons. Eventually she will have a go at him:
Well, she had been run down . . . At that stage of parturition, call it, a woman is run down and hysterical . . . It had seemed to her overwhelmingly the fact that a breeding woman ought to have pink fluffy things next her quivering skin and sprayings of, say, Houbigant all over her shoulders and hair. For the sake of the child’s health.
Christopher, the most brilliant man in England, is shown as absurd in this final book, rather a come-down for him, and Valentine (though still very much in love) is getting impatient with him: he’d better get hold of some money soon. It is sad to see him racing off on his bicycle trying to find things to sell.

Ford’s use of language is always interesting – he uses constatation, which means assertion, several times: it’s a real word, but almost never used. The word trepan is used several times in an odd (and real if obscure) sense – to mean trapped, as in Sylvia 'trepans' Christopher into marriage via a pregnancy. There are quite a few more obscure words such as stiver, stumer, storge, inexpressibles, colobium sindonis, air resort and kur-ort.

This is probably the last of the many blog entries I have done on this series of  books: it was an extraordinary experience to read it, and one I wouldn’t have missed. 

In an earlier entry I complained about the strange structure of the book, where Ford plonks you into a situation, then only slowly explains how it came about.  Colm Toibin, talking about his plan for his book Brooklyn, said he’d noticed that Jane Austen’s novels were very linear – no going back, just descriptions of what happened, one event after another. A few hours spent in Ford’s company and you are longing for that simplicity.

And yet, and yet – the books are true masterpieces, I found them unputdownable: I had no intention of reading them as quickly as I did, but I couldn’t distract myself from them…. A rare compliment.

The picture comes from the Library of Congress, where there is a rather startling collection of Glamour photos of the 1920s.


  1. Moira - Sometimes a book or set of books is compelling enough that you find yourself forgiving things like the order in which events are narrated. And in this case, I can see why. The characters seem very textured, even if you don't like one or more of them. And I like it when an author respects readers enough to use unusual words, so long as they aren't put in there just for effect.

    1. You're so right Margot, and I love your choice of the word textured...

  2. Definitely more you than me. A touch of Cherie Blair in the photo....sire it isn't one you took of your old mate?

    1. Yes, I definitely read this one so you don't even need to think about it. Never mind, I'll see if I can find some more Mitfords I haven't yet dealt with extensively on the blog...
      If I did have compromising pictures of an old friend, would I use them on the blog? Good question....

  3. Moira, you have certainly propelled me towards Ford Madox Ford's books even though I have a collection of three or four short stories on my tablet and waiting to be read.

    1. WE all have too many books and stories waiting to be read don't we? If you do give Ford a go I will be most interested to know what you think of him....

    The Devil, having nothing else to do,
    Went off to tempt My Lady Poltagrue.
    My Lady, tempted by a private whim,
    To his extreme annoyance, tempted him.

    Was Ford inspired by Belloc or Belloc by Ford? Definitely related to Sylvia. I also wonder if Guy Crouchback's wife Virginia in Sword of Honour is an attempt to depict a more realistic version of Sylvia.

    "Ford plonks you into a situation, then only slowly explains how it came about. "
    I think that's because Ford's situations in his novels are so grotesque we'd refuse to accept them if we were carefully led to them, whereas if we're plunged in media res we are more likely to accept them in their absurdity. Ford's novels make the Young Visiters look like a model of dour realism.
    I blame Ford's childhood: someone raised in the company of Morris, the Rossettis, Swinburne, the preRaphaelites etc is bound to have a very odd perception of the world and the people in it.

    1. Roger: something went wrong with your comment, and the only way to retrieve it was to post it myself.
      Thanks for your most fascinating thoughts and questions: Ford is someone I think I will never get to the end of. Nice point about the grotesque situations....

  5. Just the fact that you liked this so well makes me think I should give it try, yet I don't really think I would have the patience for it.

    1. I think really loyal readers like yourself must feel they've practically read the whole book anyway after all these posts! You can count that....


Post a Comment