Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Parade's End, 1
I've been slowly working my way through the one-volume edition of Ford Madox Ford's tetralogy--Parade's End, comprising four novels (original pub dates in parentheses): Some Do Not ... (1924), No More Parades (1925), A Man Could Stand Up (1926), and The Last Post (1928). The novels take place before, during, and after World War I--a war which Ford knew intimately: He'd served in the British army, had endured some bloody battles, was wounded. Parade's End, in some ways, deals with events and emotions that roiled through his own life.
Of course, I'd heard of these novels throughout my entire adulthood but had somehow never gotten around to reading them. But when Joyce and I recently streamed the 2012 HBO Miniseries based on the novels (with Benedict Cumberbatch!), I got hooked--decided to read them--bought the one-volume edition you see above (Knopf, 1961)--and just finished the 1st novel.
I love it so far.
And one thing that has really impressed me is how screenwriter Tom Stoppard so artfully adapted the story. I mean, there are moments in the novel that merit only a sentence or two, but Stoppard saw their significance and used them in the film. We see, for example, a wordless but passionate sex scene aboard an English train--Christoper Tietjens (protagonist) and his wife-to-be, the complex Sylvia, have just met and have, uh, progressed rather rapidly. Here's what Ford says about it: Because he had had physical contact with this woman before he married her; in a railway carriage, coming down from the Dukeries. An extravagantly beautiful girl! (121).
And that's it.
I'm going to write more about this tetralogy in the coming weeks, but today--a story about Tom Stoppard. He's, of course, the celebrated playwright (The Real Inspector Hound, 1968, etc.) and screenwriter (Shakespeare in Love, 1998); he's also written novels, radio plays, and just about any other damn thing he feels like.
Back in 1979-80, Joyce and I had just arrived on the campus of Western Reserve Academy to commence our careers there. I was going to teach a section of English III (juniors), and during the junior year the students would be reading Hamlet (as they still do). I thought it would be great to introduce them to Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966), a play based on Hamlet's old university buddies who agree to spy on him for King Claudius. They are kind of clueless young men, and Hamlet catches on almost immediately. When Claudius sends Hamlet (along with R&G) to England, supposedly to collect a debt, he is actually carrying his own death notice, but he switches it up so it's R&G who get offed. Chop, chop goes the axe; plunk, plunk go their heads.
I had a first edition of the published play, and a WRA colleague (who shall remain nameless) borrowed it from me after I'd finished using it with my class. Months passed. A little concerned, I asked him about the book, and with a face as deceptive as Guildenstern's he said, "I gave it back to you a long time ago."
I replied that he had not returned it; he said he was positive he had. End of issue. (Oh, how I wished for a headsman of my own!)
What could I do? Nothing but rage, rage against the dying of the Right.
This perfidious colleague moved elsewhere after a year or so, probably packing the book with the household linen so that I, sneaking in his house late at night to go through his books, would not find it.
By the way, I just checked on Advanced Book Exchange: A 1st printing of R&G is now going for as much as $7500.