Whom Do You Love? Ford Madox Ford or Christopher in Parade’s End?

"Do you write on a typewriter or computer or with a pen?"  Silly interview question

“Do you write on a computer, typewriter, or with a pen?”

Did you ever fall in love with a dead writer?

It’s best not to bother with living writers,  even though Michael Chabon is handsome,  Jonathan Lethem is brilliant, and Dave Eggers is a political saint.

I’ve only read their books.

But even if you have a great conversation at a reading about HOW MUCH YOU LOVE A WRITER’S BOOKS, remember: He or she is dazed on a book tour and barely knows what city he or she is in. He or she is desperately hoping for a drink because he or she has given a reading, a Q&A session, and two interviews. And don’t despair:  he or she only wrote that very short thing in your book because the line was awfully long.

Writers are just people, if  more brilliant than we are.  We once had to chauffeur a couple of them around to some readings I had volunteered to organize.  (PR is not my strong suit.)  They often wanted a drink after the reading, just like ordinary folks.  If my husband and I didn’t have a drink with them, I assume they watched TV in their room until their plane left the next morning.

Nice, friendly people.  But, you know, not romantic.

Not like Ford Madox Ford.

Now where did I get the idea that he’s romantic?

Ford Madox Ford:  Not cute, but probably sexy.

Ford Madox Ford: plain but probably sexy.

He’s not even handsome, but, yes, it’s that dazzling prose.

He’s dead, but oh, well…

I read in the Guardian about Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s World War I tetralogy, Parade’s End, for a miniseries in the UK.  And so I decided to reread the book.  I just finished the  first of the tetralogy, Some Do Not…

And I am in love with Ford, or the hero, Christopher Tietjens.

Christopher has complicated mores.  He takes back his beautiful wife, Sylvia, who has been living abroad with a lover, because of his tortuous sense of honor, though he is not even sure if Sylvia’s son is his.  Sylvia won’t divorce him because she is Catholic.  Christopher won’t have sex with her anymore.  The immoral Sylvia, one of those beautiful women who looks like an angel, tries to foil his burgeoning affair with a schoolteacher/suffragette.  Christopher, who comes back shell-shocked on leave, tries to decide what to do.

And then I fell in love with Ford’s slow, erotic description of the evolution of Christopher’s romance with Valentine Wannop, a suffragette.

He meets Valentine when she and a friend demonstrate for suffrage at a golf course where important men play.    Some of the men chase and try to assault her friend, and she runs over to Christopher and asks for help.

“I say,” she said, “Go and see they don’t hurt Gertie. I’ve lost her…”  She pointed back to the sandhills.  “There looked to be some beasts among them….”

Noises existed.  Sandbach, from beyond the low garden wall fifty yards away, was yelping, just like a dog: “Hi! Hi! Hi!” and gesticulating.  His little caddy, entangled with his golf-bag, was trying to scramble over the wall.  On top of the high sandhill stood the policeman:  he waved his hands like a windmill and shouted.  Beside him and behind, slowly rising, were the heads of the General, Macmaster, and their two boys.  Further along, in completion, were appearing the figures of Mr. Waterhouse, his two companions and their three boys.  The Minister was waving his driver and shouting.  They all shouted.”

Parade's EndChristopher drops his golf clubs and throws his kitbag between the policeman’s legs to stop him.  And then he apologizes, though the policeman, who was reluctant to pursue the woman anyway, knows he did it on purpose.

Valentine and Gertie could have gone to prison.  Christopher saved them.

Then for the rest of the book the attraction grows between Christopher and Valentine.

Christopher finally asks Valentine to be his mistress.  She’s been fantasizing forever.

There are actually some quite erotic parts, though not much happens.

The next two books are about his war experiences.

I probably have mixed up Ford Madox Ford with Christopher.  Do I love Ford or Christopher?

And while I am reading, tell me this: Whom do you love?

5 thoughts on “Whom Do You Love? Ford Madox Ford or Christopher in Parade’s End?

  1. I’ve not thought about loving an author as I would a man say; I admit sometimes I feel that way (love as a man) about some actors. As they grow old, they don’t attract me any more — even if I am much older. It’s not only their physical appearance but the types of parts they play. So actors I’ve loved have been Gerard Depardieu, Ralph Fiennes, Dan Stevens (in S&S), Matthew MacFayden.

    But I can love authors and characters in books for their vision and mental and emotional company, their congeniality with me. Sometimes an actor or actress can make me love them (characters) more. I can day-dream of them as I fall asleep. I used to love Samuel Johnson’s Ramblers and journalism as a great comfort and telling truths that helped me.


  2. I recommend the Alan Judd biography (Harvard, 1991) which is immediate and really brings Ford alive on the page and quotes at length from his poetry. Max Saunders is dominant in his 2 vol. biography but less sparkling although it does have lots of sources.
    I have loved me some “Fordie” ever since reading Parade’s End in the 80s and then seeking out what few books were then existant on his life and works. Ford’s poetry is amazing and delightful too and well worth seeking out.
    I am such a Fordie Fan Girl. He spent some of the last years of his life in and around Nashville, TN, with resident poets, and I often feel for him (as an asthmatic myself living in north Alabama) in the stifling summer heat without air conditioning, wheezing and being brilliant and watching the Europe he loved stumbling toward another war. He died just before the invasion of Poland and thus didn’t have to watch it again.


  3. Ellen, actors are out of my league.:) I’m sure I’ve fallen in love with other literary characters, however.

    Gina, I’ll look for the biography. How nice to be a “Fordie fan gir” (good phrase!) I read somewhere that Ford knew Robert Lowell and Caroline Gordon, and I felt quite excited about that, but I didn’t realize he’d spent time in Nashville. His books are great.


  4. I do like Russian dog stories, and enjoyed Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog (in a way). (My favorite Russian dog story is Faithful Ruslan, and since I’ve read two, there have to be more).

    I should get back to The Master and Margarita.

    Ford is so different from Bulgakov.


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