Last Post: one more parade

Last Post jpeg

We’ve just  launched Last Post: A Literary Journal from the Ford Madox Ford Society. So soon after the centenary of the Armistice, a paper signed in a railway carriage in Compiègne forest, we’ve been thinking about Ford in that context (among others).

“At the beginning of the war,” Tietjens said, “I had to look in on the War Office, and in a room I found a fellow What do you think he was doing what the hell do you think he was doing? He was devising the ceremonial for the disbanding of a Kitchener battalion. You can’t say we were not prepared in one matter at least. . . . Well, the end of the show was to be: the adjutant would stand the battalion at ease: the band would play Land of Hope and Glory, and then the adjutant would say: There will be no more parades. . . . Don’t you see how symbolical it was: the band playing Land of Hope and Glory, and then the adjutant saying There will be no more parades? For there won’t. There won’t, there damn well won’t. . . . No more Hope, no more Glory, no more parades for you and me any more. Nor for the country Nor for the world, I dare say None Gone Na poo, finny! No . . . more . . . parades!”[1]

In the midst of war, Christopher Tietjens looks back to a moment at the beginning of the war which looked forward to the end of the war. But that dizzying simultaneous backward and forward shift had occurred before the war in, fittingly, a book about moving through time. In Ford’s Ladies Whose Bright Eyes, published in 1911, the publisher William Sorrell is involved in a railway accident, from which he wakes, or seems to wake, in medieval England. ‘Supposing that his railway accident had really made him see something queer? Supposing that all these people were really just ghosts? He did not believe in ghosts. But, on the other hand, he was modern enough to know that in these days anything might happen, and suddenly he found himself saying to himself, that though he could not for the life of him say what he believed, he would not equally for the life of him say that he disbelieved any single thing.’ A little later, ‘he felt vaguely that if the ghosts from the past could come into the present, why in the world should not ghosts of the future be able to go back into the past?’[2] Is he himself a sort of ghost, he wonders?

LP-Blog-image

Parade’s End is, unsurprisingly, a haunted book, as was much of the literature that emerged from the conflict. ‘Ghosts were numerous in France at that time’, Robert Graves remembered, looking back to 1915. ‘Fall in, ghosts’, Edmund Blunden titled his essay on ‘a Battalion Reunion’.[3] Ford’s novel is haunted, in part, by the Armistice itself, peace after war, the first and third parts of A Man Could Stand Up— explicitly so, the reunion between Valentine Wannop and Christopher Tietjens taking place on Armistice Day, while all the main characters in Last Post recur obsessively to memories of Armistice Day or, for the most part, Armistice Night.

‘Do you not find’, Ford wrote to Isabel Paterson, in Last Post’s dedicatory letter, ‘that, however it may be with the mass of humanity, in the case of certain dead people you cannot feel that they are indeed gone from this world? You can only know it, you can only believe it. That is, at any rate, the case with me—and in my case the world daily becomes more and more peopled with such revenants and less and less with those who still walk this earth.’[4]

In Return to Yesterday, published three years later, Ford wrote that the three people in whose deaths he had never been able to believe were Conrad, Arthur Marwood and Jane Wells, wife of H. G. In an essay published in 1927, he stated that he had just ‘suddenly realised’ that Conrad, Henry James and Stephen Crane were all dead. He began writing Last Post a month after the death of another friend, the painter Juan Gris, and around the time his mother died.[5] Less than six months later, his old friend Charles Masterman, the Liberal politician and author, died at the age of fifty-four. All these deaths, following that of W. H. Hudson in 1922 and Joseph Conrad in 1924, individual as they are, also form part of a vast, cumulative wave of human loss, in and around that vast waste of life strewn across four years, thousands of miles and millions of casualties. Ford the writer and Ford the soldier had known his fair share of them: ‘I remember when I went to have lunch with the officers of our 2nd Battalion—all dead, the officers I had lunch with!—in Albert’.[6]

The first issue of Last Post ranges pretty widely, dwelling, as it happens, on neither war nor death: the stories contained in Ford’s own library (now in the Berg Collection, New York), Ford as reader, as literary ghost, as commentator on Anglo-German relations, as writer of detective stories, as subject of research, as point of reference in today’s America, plus a few reviews. Members of the Ford Madox Ford Society will receive two issues a year.

http://www.fordmadoxfordsociety.org/

 
References

[1] Ford Madox Ford, No More Parades (1925; edited by Joseph Wiesenfarth, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2011), 27; see also the reconstruction of the previous volume’s original ending, the autograph fragment in Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 412.

[2] Ford Madox Ford, Ladies Whose Bright Eyes: A Romance (London: Constable, 1911), 82-83, 100.

[3] Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That (1929 edition; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2014), 157; Edmund Blunden, Fall In, Ghosts: Selected War Prose, edited with an introduction by Robyn Marsack (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2014), 77-93.

[4] Ford Madox Ford, Last Post (1928; edited by Paul Skinner, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2011), 5.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday: Reminiscences 1894-1914 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1931), 371; Ford Madox Ford, New York Essays (New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1927), 24-25. Max Saunders remarks on the indication that ‘this most elegiac of his books was an oblique elegy for his mother’: Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), II, 316.

[6] Ford Madox Ford, No Enemy (1929; edited by Paul Skinner Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2002), 134.

 

Writing, healing and the First World War at The Authors’ Club

(Vivien Whelpton’s biography; Louisa Garrett Anderson:
https://www.londonremembers.com/subjects/dr-louisa-garrett-anderson )

Yesterday, pausing from doggedly extracting nails and staples from the newly exposed floorboards in the old kitchen, I took a crowded train to London, in the company of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy—always impressive but we’ll never be close friends.

I went to the Authors’ Club in London for an event entitled ‘Writing, Healing and the First World War’. There were three panellists: Sara Haslam, Chair of the Ford Madox Ford Society and author of—among other things—Fragmenting modernism: Ford Madox Ford, the novel and the Great War; Vivien Whelpton, who published a recent biography of poet, novelist, translator and biographer Richard Aldington; and Sunny Singh, novelist and lecturer in Creative Writing and English Literature.

Sara Haslam talked about her recent research: first, into the Endell Street Military Hospital started by Louisa Garrett Anderson and Flora Murray, doctors and suffragettes, run and staffed entirely by women and dealing almost exclusively with male patients, revolutionary facts in the context of that time; then into the War Library started by Helen Mary Gaskell to distribute free books to wounded servicemen, a scheme that produced a staggering number of volumes donated by the public, with one individual contribution of 35,000 titles and huge deliveries of new stock that often brought traffic to a standstill.

Vivien Whelpton talked very knowledgeably and engagingly about Aldington, particularly his poetry and his 1929 novel, Death of a Hero; also his marriage to H. D., and association with Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, T. S. Eliot and others, damaged, as was so much else in Aldington’s life, by his experience of war. His 1955 book on T. E. Lawrence, then still idolised by many, effectively wrecked Aldington’s standing with the literary establishment in this country and his autobiography, Life for Life’s Sake, published in the United States in 1941, finally emerged here in 1968.

Sunny Singh discussed a tale by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri, later translated as ‘The Troth’—famous among a domestic audience though little known in this country—apparently the first short story in Hindi, published early in the war (1915) and highly suggestive in its handling of the complex issues around Imperial subjects fighting in a war which did not directly affect them, highlighting too the often degrading treatment suffered by the Indian troops. Perhaps as many as a million and a quarter Indian soldiers served on the Western Front and in Africa, a huge majority of those in combat roles, almost 75,000 of whom were killed.

A fascinating – and informative – evening.

Sara Haslam talking about Endell Street Military Hospital: A Suffragette story, in a short Open University film, is here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEDRAv9NlY0

Her recent essay, ‘Reading, Trauma and Literary Caregiving 1914-1918: Helen Mary Gaskell and the War Library’, appeared in the Journal of Medical Humanities: http://oro.open.ac.uk/54285/

 

 

 

 

Isaac Rosenberg of Bristol – and Whitechapel – and France

Rosenberg-Self-Portrait-NPG

(Isaac Rosenberg, Self-Portrait 1915: National Portrait Gallery)

Exactly one hundred years ago, at dawn on 1 April 1918, the poet and painter Isaac Rosenberg was killed by a German raiding party. He was twenty-seven years old. He left behind ‘more than one hundred and fifty poems, four plays, three slight volumes of poems that he had published himself, a handful of prose works, and at least two hundred letters’, Vivien Noakes writes. She adds that, ‘Although he is thought of as a war poet, the greatest part of his output has nothing to do with war; when he left for France in the summer of 1916 he had written 137 of the 158 poems that are known to have survived.’[1]

Rosenberg was born a few hundred yards from where I’m sitting. ‘I spent my wild little pick a back days in Bristol’, he wrote to Ruth Löwy in early 1917. His three Bristol homes—in Adelaide Place, Victoria Square and Harford Street—have all been destroyed but the family lived in the city from his birth in November 1890 to 1897.[2] His boyhood in Stepney and Whitechapel was marked by extreme poverty but, in 1911, a patron named Mrs Herbert Cohen funded his first year at the Slade School of Fine Art. The famous photograph of the 1912 Slade picnic, showing Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, Dora Carrington, Barbara Hiles, C. W. R. Nevinson, William Roberts, Edward Wadsworth and David Bomberg, among others, includes Rosenberg, kneeling at the far left of the picture, a little apart from the others, his left forearm resting on his knee and so pointing away from the group, out of the frame.

Slade-picnic-1912

(Slade picnic, 1912 via Christie’s)

Before the war, Rosenberg was a part of the group that frequented the Whitechapel Library, ‘the university of the ghetto’, a member of the ‘intellectual elite among the Jewish immigrants’, which included Gertler, John Rodker and Bomberg.[3] In 1914, the Whitechapel Art Gallery’s summer exhibition, ‘Twentieth Century Art: A Review of Modern Movements’, showed fifty-four works in the ‘Jewish Section’, selected by Bomberg and including five by Rosenberg.[4]

In early 1914, Rosenberg’s poor health resulted in a trip to South Africa to stay with his sister Minnie, his fare paid by the Jewish Educational Aid Society. By October of the following year, unable to find a job, he enlisted in the army. Sent first to the Bantam Battalion of the 12th Suffolk Regiment, he was transferred, in January 1916, to the 12th South Lancashire Regiment. Reaching France in June 1916, he was soon in the front line and wrote the first of his ‘trench poems’, ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’:

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old Druid Time as ever.
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.

In a letter postmarked 8 February 1917, Rosenberg told Edward Marsh that his commanding officer, after being contacted by Marsh, had had Rosenberg examined ‘but it appears I’m quite fit.’ He went on: ‘This winter is a teaser for me; and being so long without a proper rest I feel as if I need one to recuperate and be put to rights again. However I suppose we’ll stick it, if we don’t, there are still some good poets left who might write me a decent epitaph.’ In January of the following year, he wrote, again to Marsh,‘ You see I appear in excellent health and a doctor will make no distinction between health and strength. I am not strong.’ And he added (these lines, his editor comments, were excised or censored): ‘What is happening to me now is more tragic than the “passion play”. Christ never endured what I endure. It is breaking me completely.’

And it was to Marsh that Rosenberg wrote on 28 March 1918—the letter was postmarked 2 April 1918, a day after the poet’s death: ‘We are now in the trenches again and though I feel very sleepy, I just have a chance to answer your letter so I will while I may.’[5]

A year later, Stanley Spencer wrote to Gwen and Jacques Raverat, ‘I will always feel sorry for Rosenberg; he was never fit for active service. His suffering must have been terrible.’[6] He was, Robert Graves asserted, ‘one of the three poets of importance killed in the war’, along with Wilfred Owen and Charles Sorley.[7] In 1921, Graves mentioned to Edmund Blunden that he had ‘urged’ Sydney Pawling of Heinemann, ‘to publish Rosenberg before anyone else hears about him.’[8] A few people already had: Gordon Bottomley, Laurence Binyon, R. C. Trevelyan and, of course, Edward Marsh. In 1922, Poems by Isaac Rosenberg appeared, edited by Bottomley and with an introductory memoir by Binyon. It ‘passed almost unnoticed.’[9]

Rosenberg-Portrait-of-Sonia

(Rosenberg, Portrait of Sonia Cohen, 1915: Ben Uri Gallery & Museum)
http://benuri100.org/artwork/portrait-of-sonia/

There have been several biographies – three in 1975 alone – and Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s second life of the poet was published in 2007. The late Vivien Noakes’ superb edition of Rosenberg’s poems, plays, prose and letters (following the collected editions of 1937 and 1979), appeared in 2008, as did Whitechapel at War: Isaac Rosenberg and His Circle, the catalogue accompanying the impressive exhibition of that title at the Ben Guri Galley. And, of course, Rosenberg crops up in dozens of other biographies, memoirs and art histories. Most recently, he’s warranted a good many mentions and entries on the website, A Century Back, which follows an extensive cast of characters, day by day, through the Great War:
http://www.acenturyback.com/

A few years ago, the Guardian reported on the discovery – or probable identification – of film footage of Rosenberg in the trenches:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/07/war-poet-isaac-rosenberg-film-footage

So much critical and biographical and editorial attention. And yet Rosenberg seems never to have been quite accepted at the War Poets’ top table – Owen, Sassoon, Graves – and is not even always found at the next table in the company of, variously, Brooke, Blunden, maybe Sorley and, more and more often now, Ivor Gurney. He certainly doesn’t seem as widely known, even though ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ and ‘Returning, we hear the larks’ and, perhaps, ‘Dead Man’s Dump’ are so frequently anthologised. Is he seen as just a little off the main track? And is that because he was also a painter (Wyndham Lewis suffers a little from this, in some contexts, I suspect) – two arts! confusing! – or is it to do with his background, his social class, his Jewishness? Or, most likely, a combination of several or all of these?

He may just be one of those figures that doesn’t fit easily into the dominant narrative: but then the interesting figures often turn out to be precisely those that don’t fit the accepted modernist model (from Gurney to Sylvia Townsend Warner with quite a few in between) and that narrative has, in any case, fragmented into many colliding or overlapping stories.

Here, anyway, is ‘Apparition’:

From her hair’s unfelt gold
My days are twined.
As the moon weaves pale daughters
Her hand may never fold.

Her eyes are hidden pools
Where my soul lies
Glimmering in their waters
Like faint and troubled skies.

Dream pure, her body’s grace,
A streaming light
Scatters delicious fire
Upon my limbs and face.

And – why not? – ‘August 1914’, composed in France in the summer of 1916, not least for its opening volley of monosyllables:

What in our lives is burnt
In the fire of this?
The heart’s dear granary?
The much we shall miss?

Three lives hath one life–
Iron, honey, gold.
The gold, the honey gone–
Left is the hard and cold.

Iron are our lives
Molten right through our youth.
A burnt space through ripe fields,
A fair mouth’s broken tooth.[10]

 

There are manuscript versions, letters, notes and other fascinating material on the outstanding First World War Poetry Digital Archive:
http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/rosenberg

 

References

[1] Vivien Noakes, editor, Isaac Rosenberg, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), xi, xix.

[2] See Charles Tomlinson, Isaac Rosenberg of Bristol (Bristol: The Historical Association, 1982), 1-4; Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Isaac Rosenberg: The Making of a Great War Poet. A New Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007), 18-30, on Rosenberg’s Bristol years.

[3] Rachel Lichtenstein, On Brick Lane (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2007), 32; Wilson, Isaac Rosenberg, Chapter 5, ‘The Whitechapel Group’.

[4] Lisa Tickner, Modern Life and Modern Subjects: British Art in the Early Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 145-146; Sarah MacDougall and Rachel Dickson, editors, Whitechapel at War: Isaac Rosenberg and His Circle (London: Ben Uri Gallery, 2008), 45.

[5] Noakes, Isaac Rosenberg, 327, 356, 364.

[6] Quoted by Kenneth Pople, Stanley Spencer: A Biography (London: Harper Collins, 1991),184.

[7] Robert Graves, Good-bye to All That: An Autobiography (1929; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2014), 214.

[8] In Broken Images: Selected Letters of Robert Graves, 1914-1946, edited by Paul O’Prey (London: Hutchinson, 1982), 123.

[9] Noakes, Isaac Rosenberg, xviii.

[10] Noakes, Isaac Rosenberg, 91, 106.