The Art of Seduction: Parade’s End: ‘No More Parades’ by Ford Madox Ford [1925]

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.Synopsis from GoodReads

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…”Christopher Tietjens

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.

(I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Book Blogs.)

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.

The Butterfly Effect; ‘Appointment in Samarra’ by John O’Hara [1934]

I came at Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara from an odd angle, wanting to decipher the meaning of the song of the same name by Paul Thomas Saunders. Music is not my normal route to literature, if anything it would work the other way round; I am far from a music buff. I am still unsure if I understand the song, it seems to be about the book, loosely, beautifully.

In December 1930, just before Christmas, the Gibbsville social circuit is electrified with parties and dances, where the music plays late into the night and the liquor flows freely. At the center of the social elite stand Julian and Caroline English—the envy of friends and strangers alike. But in one rash moment born inside a highball glass, Julian breaks with polite society and begins a rapid descent toward self-destruction. Appointment in Samarra brilliantly captures the personal politics and easy bitterness of small-town life. It is John O’Hara’s crowning achievement, and a lasting testament to the keen social intelligence of a major American novelist.
Synopsis from GoodReads

A wonderful representation of the hang-over era of the 30s, Appointment in Samarra is rich with social debate, damaged individuals, anti-Semitism, accepted layers of gang life, open and disguised sexuality and alcohol, rivers of alcohol. A story of an inevitable self-destruction, Appointment in Samarra, though tiresome in parts, painfully journeys through Julian English’s fall from grace.

“There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said “Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.” The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? “That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
-Somerset MaughamSource

Appointment in Samarra began enjoyably, however, the more I read of Julian English and his selfish, destructive meltdown the more aggravated I became. This can only be a testament to the talent of John O’Hara, who has created fascinatingly flawed characters you cannot entirely approve of. Having known nothing of Appointment in Samarra before I came to read it, I felt an unexplainable accompaniment of foreboding throughout the majority of my reading. Now having finished I understand this is because everything was unpreventable, something bad would always happen – if you run from death it will find you.

Julian English, our protagonist, is a member of the social elite; in a fantasy realised Julian begins a series of events which will topple him from his ‘safe’ social standing. It is never quite clear if he cares or not during his melodramatic breakdown, money and opinions seem to dictate the actions of the social elite; everything appeared to be simultaneously preventable and unpreventable. As a member of the hangover generation Julian can only be described as being ‘accustomed to the good life without having to earn it’; everything is so easy but a also so hard, he is too pathetic to know how to live independently.Wikepdia

Julian’s long suffering wife Caroline is a minor point of sympathy; if she could have stood the stigma of divorce she would have escaped sooner, but everything is about appearance and social standing. Even her mother brushes Julian’s drinking and adultery away in a sweep of a hand by accounting it to the weakness of man – I believe it can be assumed that Caroline’s father was not an easy man to be married too.

However, what shocked me most in Appointment in Samarra was the brazen anti-Semitism of the characters. These racist undertones in Julian’s Catholic controlled town made me more uncomfortable than my wait for death. I had no sympathy for Julian’s breakdown; he had no respect for anything, everything was easy, money was borrowed, alcohol was regular, he was lazy.

N.B. The title of the blog is as such because something as minor as a drink in the face leads to an unavoidable death; ‘[a] tiny change within a complex system [which] lead to results that [were] impossible to predict’.Source