The Last Tory; Parade’s End: ‘Some Do Not…’ by Ford Madox Ford [1924]

Occasionally a book, or series or books, will come along and change your life. They will be so influential, mind-blowing or emotional that they will change the way you think about the world.

Reading the Parade’s End tetralogy has been an emotional journey, I have not enjoyed a series of books as much in a significant period of time.Tetralogy; a series of four. I began reading them in anticipation for the BBC/HBO mini series, which began two weeks ago; currently I am on the third book and I refuse to continue watching the series until I have completed them. These books, these characters, have become a permanent part of my existence; my mode of comparison, my source of morality and a collection of issues to debate. I cannot stop talking about them, to everyone. I have forgone nights out, avoided social interaction and locked myself away for these books, I am so affected by them.

With his acclaimed masterpiece Parade’s End, Ford Madox Ford set himself a work of immense scale and ambition: “I wanted the Novelist in fact to appear in his really proud position as historian of his own time… The ‘subject’ was the world as it culminated in the war.” Published in four parts between 1924 and 1928, his extraordinary novel centers on Christopher Tietjens, an officer and a gentleman — “the last English Tory”–and follows him from the secure, orderly world of Edwardian England into the chaotic madness of the First World War. Against the backdrop of a world at war, Ford recounts the complex sexual warfare between Tietjens and his faithless wife, Sylvia. A work of truly amazing subtlety and profundity, Parade’s End affirms Graham Greene’s prediction: “There is no novelist of this century more likely to live than Ford Madox Ford.”Synopsis from GoodReads

Some Do Not… is the first book in the Parade’s End series, and the longest. It sets up the characters and spans five years of Christopher Tietjens, Sylvia Tietjens and Valentine Wannop’s lives. We begin with Christopher’s dealing with his wife’s absconding to France, and his first meeting with Miss Wannop.

Christopher Teitjens is the sort of character you admire written, but were he to exist you would get stuck in frustrating debates on his moral and political beliefs. Vastly intellectual, Tietjens is stifled by his ideals; he is a soft soul, trapped in his inability to emote. He reads as a stereotypical Englishman, his sense of duty over rules all, often to his detriment.

In contrast his wife Sylvia is a vile, selfish, bi-polar woman; physically alluring, she uses this to her advantage. Being intellectually inferior to Tietjens (a fact often pointed out by her mother) leaves Sylvia angry, but unable express herself appropriately, she teases Tietjens in an attempt to crack his collected exterior. Sylvia uses her sexuality to her advantage and is enraged by Tietjens calm approach to her difficult nature. As horrid a character as she is, her frustration in her marriage to Tietjens is understandable. She just wants some passion to come from him, anger, screaming, so she can stop feeling so inferior and unworthy of him. Sylvia wants to Tietjens to feel lucky to have her, his stunning bride, however, to her frustration this seems irrelevant to Tietjens. I feel Sylvia does love Tietjens, but she hates that he does not love her equally. If he cannot love her she will make him miserable with her instead, if she can’t have his love, no one can.

Unlike Sylvia, Valentine, the idealistic young suffragette, is an old soul Tietjens instantly connects with; their infatuation is wondrously tragic. Tietjens and Valentine appear to be destined to meet, fall in love, and then wander together in a limbo neither of them can escape. Tietjens, despite Sylvia’s infidelities, refuses to scandalise her with divorce trapping he and Valentine in a love neither of them can realise.

I finished Some Do Not… in a depressive state. Teitjens loves Valentine, more than he ever will utter, but he will not damage Sylvia; as a Tory he stands for chastity and monogamy, ideals he must uphold. In his own way Tietjens does love Sylvia, just not passionately as he does Valentine. This makes my heart ache, there is no happy ending, only bad timing.

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10 Comments on "The Last Tory; Parade’s End: ‘Some Do Not…’ by Ford Madox Ford [1924]"

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Charlie
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While I’ve not read about the plot, the photos from the series didn’t give any impression that the story would be as you’ve described. Though as much as it sounds quite sad and angst-ridden, it also sounds full of interesting themes to debate. I’m currently trying to decide whether to watch it now or wait until I’ve got round to reading the books.

Jillian
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I love your “Before 30” list. I was going to comment on that page but couldn’t find a comment box. :) Great project!

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