Friday, 27 June 2014

Parade’s End: Some do Not… (book 1) by Ford Madox Ford

published 1924




She wore a black hat like a cartwheel and her dresses appeared always to consist of a great many squares of silk that might have been thrown on to her. Since she considered that her complexion, which was matt white, had gone slightly violet from twenty years of make-up, when she was not made-up – as she never was at Lobscheid – she wore bits of puce-coloured satin ribbon stuck here and there, partly to counteract the violet of her complexion, partly to show she was not in mourning. She was very tall and extremely emaciated; her dark eyes that had beneath them dark brown thumb-marks were very tired or very indifferent by turns.





observations: I was going to move on to the next in this tetralogy, after an entry on this book here, but in the end I couldn’t resist trying to find a picture to illustrate this description. Full marks Mr Ford – he nearly always tells you what people are wearing. This is Sylvia Tietjens'  mother, Mrs Satterthwaite, a very interesting character who makes a big impression in this early scene, but then sadly disappears from the books – she is mentioned, but always in the background. Here she is visiting a German town, and giving some cover to her daughter’s scandalous goings-on. An Irish Catholic priest, Fr Consett is part of her party, enjoying his bridge (trying to finish before midnight if he is saying Mass the next day) and lecturing Sylvia severely about her wicked ways. She shows yet more badness by sabotaging his fasting for Mass. Fr Consett’s fate – most unexpected – will be revealed later. In this scene Tietjens’ wife is referred to as Sylvia and as Mrs Tietjens alternately, which is unsettling. Sylvia claims at one point that her husband believes in eugenics, but this is not followed up. It wouldn’t surprise you unduly.

Mothers are important in the book: Mrs Wannop – mother to Christopher’s great love Valentine - has a key role too. But, her character changes dramatically and unconvincingly after her first appearance. There is a quite splendid breakfast party scene, which must be one of the great meal scenes of all literature, and Mrs Wannop is a gatecrasher who behaves very badly (though not so badly as the host) - it is hard to imagine the Mrs W of later scenes doing that. She is, after all, meant to have written the only novel worth reading since the 18th century, one of Christopher Tietjens’ infuriatingly pompous judgements. There is a very funny thread in which Christopher is helping her write newspaper articles – for one of them she wants to write about a rise in illegitimate births during WW1, but he (a statistics expert) keeps telling her there is no such rise. And, as Valentine sees, he gives himself away when he explains why that is so. That’s the kind of thing that Ford does brilliantly.

There’s a lot about lies and truth – CT is fated not to be believed when he tells the truth. As his General says,
‘Damn it all, it’s the first duty of a soldier – it’s the first duty of all Englishmen – to be able to tell a good lie in answer to a charge.
But Tietjens telling unconvincing truths and not trying to convince his listener – is that not a form of lying? CT’s morals suit only himself.

More, much more, to come on these books.

The lady in the black dress and hat is Lillie Langtry. The top photo is from a collection at the Library of Congress.


11 comments:

  1. Funny how WWI fashions have never been revived... I want to know why CT's opinion on the birthrate was a giveaway now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's to do with his sense of honour, his idea of what a soldier would o. It's such a clever, funny book, when it's not being annoying.

      Delete
  2. With concealer it is yellow to counteract purple, isn't it, rather than a handful of random scraps of fabric? Wonderful description. Tho' one wonders what horrors were in her makeup to turn her lilac.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a bit hard to imagine. But good on him as a male author for knowing and thinking about it.

      Delete
  3. Moira, thanks for making it easy for me to pass on by!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes I think I am too good to you Col...

      Delete
  4. Moira - I can see why you found this novel to be one of those 'I can't stop reading it' kinds of books. Even if the characters aren't exactly likeable or always credible, it's like one of those radio dramas or television series that you find yourself following even though you sometimes get very annoyed. And I hope you'll do a post about that breakfast scene.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes exactly, Margot, it's that kind of appeal. And I'm thinking: great/terrible meals in books - sounds like a possible theme for you too...

      Delete
  5. Fascinating people in this book. Don't know if I would ever read it... but I look forward to more posts on this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't forget Tracy - this is one of the ones I'm reading so you don't have to...

      Delete
    2. You are right, Moira, I am holding out for The Good Soldier.

      Delete