Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End

parades-end-ford-madox-hardcover everymanYes, 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!

Parade's End Ford Madox Ford vintageBefore 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.

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?