During a Christmas leave in London, Ford Madox Ford attended a party at the French Embassy, 'a heavy blond man in a faded uniform', wearied by years of war, recalled to a longing for the life of a writer. The evening marks the beginning of a new ...
phase of Ford's life, the years of It Was the Nightingale. Ford evokes the literary milieux of London, Paris and New York between the wars with sparkle, wit and energy. Recollections range across time in a subtle and flexible narrative that fuses fiction and memoir. A memory of a dark January day in Paris, in the weeks 'between dog and wolf', when Ford read the news of the death of the novelist John Galsworthy, triggers an exploration of the transition from an entire pre-war world: a ghost had passed, writes Ford, and Nancy Cunard steps forward 'like a jewelled tropical bird'. Here is James Joyce, whom Ford found dull company with his 'thin little jokes'; Ezra Pound playing Provencal songs on the bassoon; Gertrude Stein driving through the streets of Paris with the solemn 'snail-like precision' of a Pharoah. Behind the vivacity other ghosts, too, are always present: men killed and damaged in the war, mental breakdown and betrayal, out of which Ford was to create his best-loved novel, Parade's End.