I am sitting here in the rain (in my flat, not literally in the rain)1 enjoying the wonders of Classical FM, which I always prefer on miserable weather days.2 Advert mentioning poo not applicable, I was not ready for that.
However, tangent aside – is it a tangent when you begin with it? – this is the last of my blogs on Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. Last Post is the epilogue to Ford’s series, focusing predominantly on Mark Tietjens; Christopher is mentioned but never heard. A reflective novel, this was not my favourite of the four, however, where this novel really shines is in Ford’s depiction of post war life; how England changed and how our protagonists fit into it.
The Last Post is the concluding chapter in Ford’s Parade End’s series. The critics were divided on whether Ford should even have written this novel as it gives short shrift to the main character, Christopher Tietjens, from the earlier books. However, others believe it had redeeming qualities, mainly to do with the symbolic nature of the Tietjens family, and that Ford’s writing from the perspective of two characters is what makes this a highly readable book.3
Mark, Christopher, Marie-Léonie and Valentine now live a tight existence in West Sussex. Christopher is stubborn, due Mark (initially) and their father believing Sylvia’s lies he refuses to take any money offered from them. Mark mentions in his monologue that when soldiers returned from The First World War they were regarded as lazy, Christopher would not have been able to reclaim his role in the Statistics Office due to this erroneous reputation. Therefore, Christopher is left to make a living in antiques, which is not without risk.
“Well, this was his, Mark’s, last post… He could have smiled at his grim joke.”4
Mark’s observations in Last Post are insightful and refreshing, finally the reader has an idea of what has been happening through another party observing the chaos, but understanding the reality behind it. Mark completes the readers knowledge of events and recalls the events leading to their current living arrangements.
In his astute assessment of Sylvia, Mark is rather funny. He sees through Sylvia, had she played the situation differently she may have had an ally in Mark, unfortunately her scheming aggravated him to the point where he appreciated Valentine’s homeliness and simplicity. Sylvia’s actions, “just to see what would happen”, lead to her downfall.
“Indeed her bitterness had by now given way almost entirely to a mere spirit of tormentingness – she wanted to torture that girl out of her mind.”5
Sylvia meanwhile is resident of the Tietjens ancestral home, Groby; threatening to cause trouble she decides to let the house out to Americans and uproot the great Groby tree. If she cannot have Christopher she will ruin him, just to have a way of still being in his life, so he will not forget her. One of Sylvia’s worst traits is her temper, if she held back from acting so rashly she would probably still have Christopher beside her.
“Sylvia Tietjens had had reason to believe that for many years, for better of for worse – and mostly for worse – she had been the dominating influence over Christopher Tietjens. Now, except for extraneous annoyances, she was aware that she could no longer influence him either for evil or for good. He was a solid, four-square lump of a meal-sacks too heavy for her hauling about.”"6
Throughout Parade’s End Sylvia is constantly screaming for someone to control her, so she can end her cycle of destruction. Christopher is incapable, and resistant, of doing so as it goes against who he is. Sylvia needs the kindness Christopher kills her with, however, she also needs him to be passionate, to display affection. Valentine and Christopher are passionate intellectually, Sylvia cannot match that.
“It had occurred to her for a long time that God would one day step in and intervene for the protection of Christopher. After all Christopher was a good man – a rather sickeningly good man.”7
Sylvia loves Christopher, Christopher certainly once desired her, however, her games killed his love for her. Rather than adopting new tactics and growing up, Sylvia tries anything to keep him, slowly pushing him away until he falls in love with someone else. Christopher, had he acted differently could have controlled Sylvia, but he was not that man. Christopher was not Drake, and Sylvia needed a combination of the two; ultimately Sylvia needed kindness, she just could not cope with it – it was not what she knew or could control.
“If only Christopher had thrashed her within an inch of her life… Or yes – there had been Drake… He had half killed her on the night before her wedding to Christopher. She had feared for the child within her! That emotion had been unbearable.”8
While Sylvia enjoys life at Groby, a scorned wife, Valentine is painfully aware of her unmarried status and lack of money, which causes tension between her and Christopher. Unfortunately, Valentine did not appeal to me in this book, she made her own bed and she needs to lie in it. Yes, Christopher can be a bit useless, but she knew this. They chose love, love is not easy.
Michael ‘Mark’ Tietjens was a wonder to encounter in Last Post, so very different from his mother and father. I was expecting Sylvia’s poison to have seeped through to him, but he is a very liberal chap. It did make me giggle that Tietjens, the last Tory, had produced a Liberal. Having Michael accept and insist on using the name Mark, the name of every first born who inherits Groby was a wonderful nod to his father and his family. Michael is a level headed boy who loves his mother but takes her with a pinch of salt; he has inherited his father’s intelligence, and perhaps unfortunately, his temperament. His worry over wanting to see his father, but not Valentine in fear of upsetting his mother was valiant.
Parade’s End has been the best thing I have read in a very long time, it has moved me to anxiety I could not shift until I knew Christopher and Valentine were together. I cannot recommend reading this tetralogy enough, it is truly magnificent, a remarkable piece of modernism.