In some ways it feels a bit odd to be reviewing each volume of Parade’s End rather than the entire novel. However, the sheer scale and complexity of the four-volume book militates against my being able to do justice to each volume’s particular concerns in a single review. If I can do any kind of justice to even one volume then I will be pleased. (I haven’t yet watched the BBC adaptation, so I’m coming to the books as it were unspoiled).
I stand for monogamy and chastity. And for no talking about it.
In Some Do Not… Ford subjects the brilliant and upright Christopher Tietjens to the disintegration of his rigid Edwardian psychology and moral code. Tietjens stands for an old, feudal, landed and taciturn class of Englishman; a man at home with the contours of birth, privilege, and society, whilst hating presumption and overt sentiment. For such a man to be married to Sylvia, a repulsive but beautiful adulterer without a hint of remorse or sympathy, whilst falling in love with the intelligent, witty, altogether charming Valentine, tests both his moral and social principles to the limit.
If you wanted something killed you’d go to Sylvia Tietjens in the sure faith that she would kill it: emotion, hope, ideal; kill it quick and sure. If you wanted something kept alive you’d go to Valentine: she’d find something to do for it. . . .
With the coming of the War and his service Tietjens seems broken, his brilliance slipping away, as the world in which he was so at home slips away amidst the bellicose tumult, whilst he retains the principles which keep him from divorce and happiness. He maintains that he is a sentimentalist at heart, and it is such sentimentalism which keeps him attached to the moral code the world seems to be shedding and, perhaps, never truly held. For Ford forcefully asserts the human realities that Edwardian society struggled to deny: fractured marriage, adultery, ambition, expression, and institutional prejudice and fallibility. Throughout the novel ‘Some do and some do not’ stand as summations of divisions of class, principle and service, most of which Tietjens manages to fall foul of, be it by resentment of his birth, his ability, moral code, or War service.
She looked at Tietjens now with a sort of gloating curiosity. How was it possible that the most honourable man she knew should be so overwhelmed by foul and baseless rumours? It made you suspect that honour had, in itself, a quality of the evil eye. . . .
Sylvia, as loathsome a woman as one is likely to come across in literature, constantly works to undermine her husband. As she herself understands, ‘She preferred to inflict deeper and more quiet pains.’ That so many are prepared to believe her, and those like her, is testament to the rot Ford saw at the heart of pre-War society. Tietjens perceives this and it drives him to the nihilism of the latter part of Some Do Not…
You see in such a world as this, an idealist – or perhaps it’s only a sentimentalist – must be stoned to death. He makes the others so uncomfortable. He haunts them at their golf.
Indeed, Tietjens’ own brother – a model of Yorkshire taciturnity – is more willing to believe in the possibility of serious moral and financial failings on Christopher’s part, than to countenance the error of a bank, a ‘prop of England’.
It is Ford’s psychology which I so admire. He plunges the reader into the mental life of his characters as they twist and turn under the pressures of society, duty, memory, and love. The narrative is far from linear as we often find out about a character’s feelings about an event or individual only at the end of Ford’s investigation of their response to it. This renders our apprehension of the narrative as partial as any of its inhabitants and Parade’s End a far more modern novel than it might otherwise appear. A kind of fear seems to drive so many, epitomised, perhaps, in the person of Tietjens’ old friend Macmaster: a Scotsman of low birth who idolises the Romantics, and who is searching for security and esteem, everything his friend has without apparent effort or desire, and finds in the wife of a lewd madman the pillar he needs to rise.
One has to be slightly concerned by the anti-Semitism which occasionally emerges in Ford’s novels, or, at least, that of his characters; and one rather hopes it is merely the latter. All one can really say at this point is that such things are a reminder of how prevalent such language and sentiment really was at the time. (Parade’s End was published during the 1920s). Eliot and others were as guilty as Ford, if not more so. Which certainly excuses nothing, but at the very least it gives a more rounded picture of a period when writers might also easily oppose Protestant and Papist within the work as a signifier of divided loyalties. A very different world.
In the end we might censure Tietjens for the tenacity of his principled stand. For all his brilliance he lacks the flexibility to consummate his love for Valentine in any sense. He does not bend, he breaks as his world dissolves. But even then he cannot quite give in and Ford’s novel is greater for it. Roll on No More Parades.
A man with doubts is more of a man, with eyes, hands, the need for food and for buttons to be sown on.
My thanks to Penguin for providing this review copy.