LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
observations: Another visit to this series of books: more of the plot in these entries, or click on the labels below.
Christopher Tietjens is in the trenches during the First Wold War, but remembering a recent moment when his estranged wife, the deeply wicked Sylvia, came to France (with no papers) to visit him and to make his life as difficult as possible – something which seems to be her only aim in life.
The night is going to end up in a drunken brawl in the hotel corridor. The door handle he can see moving is someone who thinks he might just visit the lovely Mrs Tietjens.
There is a lot in the series about gentlemen having regular mistresses, and we are twice informed that the correct way to pay off these women is to set her up in a tobacco shop. They don’t exist much any more, but now I’m thinking again of the respectable women who ran them in my youth… surely not….?
The relationship between Christopher and Sylvia has elements that resemble the marriage of George Smiley and Lady Ann in John le Carre’s books. Christopher is even more annoying than Sylvia: at one point he says ‘I have not got a friend in the world’ and you can’t help thinking that it’s hardly surprising. Just for starters, he has attractive views like this:
A heavy dislike that this member of the lower middle classes should have opinions on public affairs overcame Tietjens.Another character says to him:
Yet you’re a disaster; you are a disaster to every one who has to do with you. You are as conceited as a hog; you are as obstinate as a bullock . . . You drive me mad.… and that seems about right.
A key element of his memories of her – ‘three months ago they parted’, above – has her going to Paddington station so as to travel to Birkenhead and a convent where she will go on retreat. Nowadays you would certainly be going to Euston, not Paddington.
The description of life in the trenches has a ring of total authenticity, and there are interesting points about the differences between enlisted men and conscripts, and the importance that quite small sums of pay might mean. And there is a nice bit of character-drawing for Christopher’s brother Mark, who has
his copy of The Times airing on a chair-back before the fire – for he was just the man to retain the eighteen-forty idea that you catch cold by reading a damp newspaper.The picture is a saucy French postcard of the era, something that both Christopher and Sylvia would both consider to be very low class.