Yes, Christopher Tietjens is my favorite character in literature.
He is the hero of Parade’s End, Ford Madox Ford’s elegant Modernist tetralogy about World War I: Some Do Not…, No More Parades, A Man Could Stand Up–, and The Last Post.
There is no one like Tietjens, not in my life, nor in yours. We’ve all had smart, witty boyfriends and husbands, but is there anyone as honorable as Tietjens? Not in the twenty-first century. He is thoughtful, ethical, chivalrous, philosophical, decent, a brilliant statistician, almost soldier-like in his morality. His society wife, Sylvia, a beauty whose son is probably not Tietjens’, though he is Tietjens’ heir, has affairs. He declines to live with her, but because Sylvia is Catholic, there can be no divorce. He gives her money and the run of the estate, Groby. And he enlists in the Army even though he is over forty (as Ford Madox Ford did), partly because he knows he can be a good officer, partly because there is no life for him in England. Parades’ End is partly autobiographical, the critics say.
In the second novel, No More Parades, we see the extent of Sylvia’s depravity and viciousness: she wants Tietjens back so she can humiliate him. She ruins Tietjens’ reputation in the Army by lying about his politics (she says he is a socialist) and by claiming that he is having an affair with a young woman (she is the one having an affair, cruelly, with a man under Tietjens’ command). A general who is in love with Sylvia ships Tietjens to the front, believing he will die there.
In the third novel, A Man Could Stand Up– (which I have just finished), Tietjens waits for the war to end so “a man could stand up.” He is tired of crouching in the trenches, but standing up can get people killed. The account of a day in the trenches is harrowing. He is first in command by default, much loved by the men, but he has shell-shock and is afraid of going mad. But he wants to keep the command for the money.
…Damn it, he was going to make two hundred and fifty quid towards living with Valentine Wannop–when you really could stand up on a hill…anywhere!
Before the war Tietjens met and fell in love with Valentine Wannop, a suffragette. But he would not make love to her, because she was the daughter of his father’s oldest friend, and he could not marry her.
Valentine, however, looked at it differently and was insulted. She muses about the fact that no one has ever gone mad for her freckled, sandy, snub-nosed looks.
A Man Could Stand Up begins with Valentine’s consciousness, and ends by alternating her point-of-view with Tietjens’. Valentine hears from Lady MacMaster, a woman who is indebted to Tietjens because he chivalrously did work for her husband that MacMaster took credit for, that Tietjens is back in London, mad from the war and asking for Valentine.
And so Valentine thinks about her relationship with Tietjens.
She had never–even when they had known each other–called him anything other than Mr. So and So… She could not bring herself to let her mental lips frame his name…. She had never used anything but his surname to this gray thing, familiar object of her mother’s study, seen frequently at tea-parties…. Once she had been out with it for a whole night in a dogcart! Think of that!… And they had spouted Tibullus one to another in moonlit mist. And she had certainly wanted it to kiss her–in the moon-lit mists a practicality, a really completely strange bear!
A Man Could Stand Up– is a remarkable, harrowing novel about love and war. In a different, modernist style, Ford’s book is as moving as War and Peace.
Ford considered himself an Impressionist writer, according an article by Max Saunders, Ford’s biographer, in The New Statesman (Sept. 7, 2012). There is action, dialogue, and stream-of-consciousness punctuated with dashes, ellipses, and exclamation points.
I cannot tell you if I am in love with Ford or Tietjens, since I have not read a biography of Ford.
But I assume it is Tietjens.
It does sound a really rather wonderful book. I avoided the recent BBC adaptation because I hate book adaptations usually – but maybe I will embark on the printed version!
Have I ever said sometimes your reviews are the most enjoyable thing I can find on the Net. You made me think this will be a book I’ll get to … Jim did download the HBO series and I can now look at it with a bit more background.
You may be bonding with author as embodied in the character.
Kaggsy, I would probably have watched this if it were on PBS. The book has got to be much, much better, though. It IS hard when you read the book to like an adaptation as much.
Ellen, thank you! I didn’t know the film was on HBO (we don’t have that). Yes, it’s Ford/Tietjens. Though Tietjens MUST be more perfect.
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