This is part two of four instalments that I intend to write while reading Parade’s End. Mel U at The Reading Life hosts this read along.
In this the second book of Ford Madox Ford’s Parades End the well appointed drawing rooms of the wealthy and the dewy grass fields of the English countryside give way to an altogether different landscape. No More Parades is the story of 48 hours in the wartime life of our hero (if hero he can be called), Christopher Tietjens. Having left him in London at the end of the last book, we now find him in France in a senior position away from the front line but nevertheless surrounded on all sides by the realities of war. He now inhabits a “dust covered world” and Ford’s language is awash with browns and greys and the suggestion that colour and jollity, such as it was has now disappeared from view.
This new theatre is in large part, a chance for Ford to explore old themes – the nature of the relationship between Tietjens and his wife Sylvia and struggles that Tietjens faces in being an English gentleman in a world increasingly at odds with such an identity. The illumination of Tietjens’ mind is skilfully accomplished through the description of his thoughts. Ford uses a stream of consciousness-like technique to lead us through the avenues of Tietjens thoughts. He emerges much as he emerged in Some Do Not…” but even more so: he is a man utterly hidebound by his own values yet powerless to enforce them meaningfully.
Sylvia on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. She appears unexpectedly in France and causes a dreadful crisis for her husband during the course of No More Parades. Her visceral hatred for her husband and compulsion to punish and humiliate him know no bounds. Here in this the second book we get a better look at Sylvia and at the workings of her mind. She is in many respects an awful woman and her actions quite beyond comprehension. Having said that, there is something appealing about her as a character and the reason for this is that she lacks propriety in all things – she stands outside normal mores and sparkles in a landscape otherwise covered in dust and conformity. In a strange way she is like a living Rebecca de Winter, a woman whose glittering personality might be admirable if she did not turn it to such nasty ends.
Where Some Do Not felt like a play, this book feels more like a series of monologues. It is more psychological than the previous book and altogether more intense. Ford plays with the idea of the unreliable narrator – we see action narrated by Sylvia’s axe grinding imagination in the same way that we Tietjens’ methodical mind trying to process that which may entirely beyond method. Ford has surely chosen to illuminate this marriage in a war zone for a reason – and that reason is that no stage could sum up better, the conflict between husband and wife.
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 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 three A Man Could Stand Up.... coming soon.