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Monday, April 19, 2010

Read along of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End: First impressions and more considered views of part one: “Some do not”

This is part one of four instalments that I intend to write while reading Parade’s End. Mel U at The Reading Life hosts this read along.

I must admit that when I unwrapped the parcel from Amazon France and beheld Ford Madox Ford’s door stopping, flood blocking, handbag busting, super-size “Parade’s End”, my first thought was “what have I committed to here?” I have now finished the first of the four parts of this book – Some Do Not – and although there were moments when this thought came back to me, for the most part, this has been a read of challenge and discovery that I would recommend. It has become a joy.

The subject of the novel is the upstanding aristocratic Tory gentleman Christopher Tietjens. He is a man of education culture and means whose home life is far from idyllic. In fact, his wife, who is a notorious beauty and something of a bed-hopper has, at the opening of the book, left him for another man. A great deal of effort is expended by Ford to show that Tietjens is a vast intellect and a brick of the old order, but I have to say that in the first few chapters of the book my view of him was that he was an absolutely fearful prig and a total snob. When the runaway wife Sylvia puts in an appearance early in the book and claims to hate her husband because he is a patronising bore, I must say that I could see where she was coming from. The novel opens in the years immediately before the First World War – a conflict which Tietjens predicts magisterially from a train carriage, to be the inevitable result of social mobility. All rather ridiculous... or so I thought. Now, I think that these impressions were partly motivated by shock at the size of the book and compounded by reading too quickly, because as I got deeper into the Tietjens world, my ideas changed – the characters became somehow more real and the plot more involving.

Christopher Tietjens, for whom I had taken such a dislike, is slowly and beautifully revealed to be a man of deep intelligence. He is a questioning and humane soul who is unquestionably, also a snob. Through the layers of the narrative he comes to be seen as a victim and a proper subject of pity. His victimhood is based on the fact that almost everyone inexplicably appears to hate him – his wife, his brother, the social climbing characters of his daily life. He is a proper subject of pity because although there is a temptation to see Tietjens as being an “old fashioned” character in a “modern” world – in fact his displacement is far greater than that. His brand of “old fashioned” is one that never existed, was always a myth, was always an aspiration rather than reality. He floats around the narrative of the novel – almost totally out of time. His only true friends are an aging novelist and her young, spirited suffragette daughter, the lovely Valentine Wannop. Tietjen’s desperate love for Valentine grows and grows until he can barely contain it, but at the end of part one I am left wondering whether he will ever be able to reconcile his worldview with his love for a woman who is not his wife.

Some do not is a political book and it is a book about a society. Tietjens represents an idealised view of Edwardian England – of the unmuddied, clear-headed, righteous, humble, Englishman. Those around him, and in particular his wife Sylvia represent the onslaught of the modern world – a place where people may advance above their station, where the old hierarchies and certainties are a nothing, a reckless party, a meaningless charade. The themes of the novel – duty versus inclination, morality, love, society versus the self – they are all introduced and discussed directly by the characters. The narrative has the feel of a play as much of the story is acted out in epic scenes where characters come and go and plot and personalities are revealed bit by bit. There is something wonderfully Socratic about the way Ford tells us the story. He jumps about in time, he discusses everything, he makes his reader question first impressions. The surprising thing about Some Do Not is that nothing turns out to be quite as you expect it to be – so much so that I am quite sure that there will be more changes of heart as I go along.

Mel U at The Reading Life hosts this read along and there is also an excellent post on the novel by Dwight at A Common Reader. I have included the penguin front covers past and present and a picture of Ford Madox Ford as illustrations.

Look out for my first impressions and more considered view of part two No More Parades.... coming soon.


  1. Thank you for such a thoughtful review. I have had this doorstopper on my tbr shelves for 8 years (I just got up to check) & I have picked it up & put it back so many times. I've just moved it from the tbr shelves to my desk, which is a good sign. Good luck with the other books in the series. I look forward to your reviews.

  2. This was a wonderfully detailed review. I like the sound of this book a lot. And the cover looks very good to :) I suppose the other installments will carry this book through the war?

  3. Good evening both...

    Lyn - I can understand why people avoid reading this book - my heart sank when forst I saw it - but it is so worth persevering - i promise!

    Vaishnavi - Thank you for your kind comment. Yes - the war years occupy a large chunk of the narrative and as far as i can see, this is gearing up to be a book about the impact of the war upon one individual and upon a society. in fact, i probably should have mentioned that "Some do not" includes quite a few scenes that take place during wartime - although they are not necessarily in time order and do not deal with the outbreak of war. the war is a huge character in this book, put it that way.

    Happy Monday evening folks!


  4. I hadn't heard of this book, but you do make it sound wonderfully complex and interesting. I particularly like that the characters have begun to grow on you. It's always fabulous when that happens! I will be looking forward to your continuing reviews of the book and will be excited to hear what you make of it. Great review Hannah!

  5. Thank you Zibilee! So far i am loving book two "No More Parades" but of that, more, later.... thank you for your kind comment


  6. Well done for actually diving into such a huge book. It sounds like you are enjoying it. I am presently working my way through The Mists of Avalon which is such big book too, but I keep getting distracted by quicker reads.

  7. Thank you for this interesting review of a book that appears to be both daunting and complex. It's so heartening when characters begin to grown on you and your opinions of them change - a sure sign that a story has been well considered and written. I look forward to the next volume taking in the events of The Great War and the ensuing and inevitable changes in society. I really like the simple pen and ink illustration of the line of soldiers.

    So glad you enjoyed the poem today Hannah. It seemed to me a very relevant choice when I was thinking of all the travellers stranded abroad unable to return home due to flight shut-down!


  8. Thanks for the kind words. I have enjoyed the changes over the course of the first two books of Parade's End so far...nothing earth-shattering but you never quite know where you stand with certain characters. Paraphrasing from your post--they are caricatures one moment and well-rounded people the next.

    I'm looking forward to seeing where this is going as well!

  9. Hannah, I'll have to get Parade's End off the shelf. I did read this long ago when I was very young but remember nothing about it. Doesn't that make it a whole new book?

    I tried a few years ago to read The Fifth Queen, a historical novel by Ford, and thought it was simply terrible. But he wrote so much: if only I knew where to start! Returning to Parade's End might be it.

    What a beautifully written review!

    By the way, I've moved my blog to a new url: http://frisbeebookjournal.wordpress.com

  10. if only I knew where to start!

    The Good Soldier. Unquestionably. Completely different from Parade's End.

  11. What a lovely and insightful review which makes me want to read this novel. Sticking out in this instance has its rewards. Usually I need to feel sympathy for a protagonist fairly quickly after starting the book or else I'd be discouraged from continuing.

  12. Dear all - thank you so much for visiting and commenting.

    Vivienne - that is just the problem with a big book - you think, "Oh, I'll just sqeeze this little one in" and before you know where you are you have lost the plot a bit in the larger read (or at least I have!) Good luck with your mamouth read

    Jeanne - yes I will aim to post on the second book (which is extremely good) next week. thank you for the poem - it was lovely you are so good at choosing.

    Dwight - that is such a good way of putting it - I am increasingly feeling that way about Sylvia - of which, more later!

    Frisbee - thank you so much - it is work restarting it!

    Amateur Reader - on my list!

    Stephanie D - yes, i am not crazy about reading books where I have no sympathy for the protagonists but in this book it comes soon enough....

    Have a happy thursday all


  13. Parade's End is at my library! Yay!

  14. Bybee - I do so hope that you enjoy it!

    Bon weekend!