Initially I wanted to read Parade’s End book by book, should I need to take a mental break in between. However, as previously mentioned, Parade’s End has hit me in ways I never imagined it would. You do not often read a book or series that changes the way you think, that digs a hole so deep inside your mind you know it will be the basis of comparison and thought for all future literary endeavours.
No More Parades has been my favourite of the four novels of Parade’s End. Set in France at Christopher Tietjens post near the front line, No More Parades details Christopher’s work in the trenches and Sylvia’s demolition of Christopher’s character in her mission to retain him.
No More Parades is the second book of his four-volume work titled Parade’s End. The subject was the world as it culminated in the war; the story centers on Christopher Tietjens, an officer and 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.1
Fiction on or involving war is not something I gravitate too, I was fairly certain I would struggle through Ford’s passages on the horror that is war; I was wrong, the portrayal of The First World War is enthralling. Having only really studied The Second World War I am not very well read on The First; thanks now to Ford I cannot wait to delve into literature (fiction and non-fiction) and poetry of the period. Cleverly, Ford forgoes depicting the dramatic overall depravity of WW1 and instead focuses his attention on the banality of war and the lives of these poor soldiers fighting for their country.
We meet Christopher Tietjens at his post as Captain, he is under pressure to conform to the rules with little time or resources to do so. There is such exertion to remain sane while dealing with the trivial amongst the deplorable; soldiers die, but these men got on and did their duty.
Of all the talk of war in No More Parades the following passage affected me most, to the point where I will show it to anyone I can in my persistence to get everyone reading Parade’s End.
“The beastliness of human nature is always pretty normal. We lie and betray and are wanting in imagination and deceive ourselves, always, at about the same rate. In peace and war! But, somewhere in that view there are enormous bodies of men….. If you got a still more extended range of view over this whole front you’d have still more enormous bodies of men. Seven to ten million… All moving towards places towards which they desperately don’t want to go. Desperately! Everyone of them is desperately afraid. But they go on. An immense blind will forces them in the effort to consummate the one decent action that humanity has to its credit in the whole record of history; the one we are engaged in. The effort is the one certain creditable fact in all their lives…. But the other lives of all those men are dirty, potty and discreditable little affairs…. Like yours… Like mine…”2
These soldiers are scared, they do not want to be fighting war, however, they understand the greater scope of the roles they are performing.
With one half occupying the war, conversely, the other half of No More Parades deals with the presence of Sylvia in France, desperate to seduce her husband. Sylvia is a delight to read, I both loath and adore her simultaneously, she is one of the most fascinating characters I have ever read. Such is the beauty of Ford’s writing, his characters feel so real; you can visualise encountering any of them.
Sylvia finally begins to realise she is actually in love with Christopher, however, she has no clue how to entice him. Throwing a tantrum Sylvia reverts to childish tactics, unable to win him intellectually she decides to continue to trap him in misery and torment. Sylvia’s constantly forgets that Christopher is protecting her reputation, not her; he cares nothing for her beauty, he is in love with Valentine’s mind.
Unfortunately Sylvia only knows how to use her looks and sexual prowess, she spent so long indifferent to Christopher’s intellect she has no other method to entice him; he is aware of her charms. Sylvia makes the mistake of assuming Valentine is as devious as she is, wrapping Christopher around her finger. However, it is Valentine’s purity and lack of manipulation (or intelligence beyond needing to manipulate) that attracts Christopher.
I have barely touched on Christopher Tietjens journey through this novel; after Some Do Not…, where Sylvia is barely delved into, I found the unveiling of her manipulations in No More Parades as interesting as the depiction of war. No More Parades is Parade’s End’s emotional roller-coaster, and not just romantically! Certainly my favourite of the Tetralogy.