Parade’s End is unlike anything I’ve read before. On so many different levels Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy is etched in my memory; It’s truly a masterpiece. Weeks after I’ve finished, it’s lingered. As I’m out for a walk my mind wanders to it. It has a rich plot, there are so many nuances. The scenes are often explored from more than one point of view so you get to know the characters on a more intimate level and with each perspective you learn more about either their history or a piece of the plot left out earlier; it’s non-linear.
Christopher Tietjens has the courage to say exactly what he thinks and feels under no obligation to take the nonsense of gossip and society– Let people say what they will about himself; He doesn’t pretend with anyone. He’s a true gentleman, intelligent, and noble but because of misunderstandings and the selfish motives of some of his contemporaries he’s thought of as disreputable.
He’s a mathematician working in statistics for the civil service, with his good friend Vincent Macmaster. Macmaster has good intentions, he truly appreciates and admires Christopher’s friendship and talents but is swayed by a desire to build an identity which would give him recognition in the upper echelons of society. He craves it!
Tietjens sees beyond what people tell him. He’s not intimidated or awed by titles and positions. He doesn’t perform, only voicing his views when he wants to, not at dinner parties to impress but he’s bound himself in a marriage that has scarred him, particularly the realization that his child may not be his. In defense he’s coiled-in his emotions; suppressed them.
It was a sort of parade of circumspection and rightness.
He’s an old soul who feels he should live by the codes of the 18th century and is protective towards the reputation of those he loves or feels obligation to, like his wife the beautiful and brazen Sylvia. It’s his duty to continue in their parade of marriage. Sylvia is ‘clumsily’ in love, if love is the right word sometimes it seems to be possession or guilt, her determination is uncontrollable. She’s reckless and doesn’t know how to show her love. Reducing herself to stratagems and with Christopher’s grand breadth of knowledge she feels at a disadvantage– something very rare for her.
She describes him as a lump and becomes impatient with him because either she can’t read him and what he’s thinking or she can and is infuriated at his controlled rein on his emotions. Tigerish with a manipulative edge, her one vulnerability seems to be how much she thrives on emotions and impulses. She has an inner rage towards his unerring propriety.
Valentine Wannop has the same boldness of spirit as Sylvia but puts it to a different use. She’s active in promoting woman’s rights and nurtures and encourages. There’s a mutual attraction between her and Christopher, they’re intellectual equals. That’s not to say Sylvia is less sharp or quick, but their minds are dissimilar, they think in different languages. Valentine understands his fluently. Like Tietjens, she doesn’t play the game of society, she’s frank and genuine.
It was no good anymore, he said to himself. She loved him, he knew, with a deep, and unshakable passion, just as his passion for her was a devouring element that covered his whole mind as the atmosphere envelopes the earth.
He’s actually quite poetic in his thoughts and Valentine re-awakens his sentimentality but he is very honorable and despite his feelings holds back. Christopher can’t divorce Sylvia, no honorable gentleman would put a lady through the rigmarole of the courts and scandal. He is torn between what he feels is his duty and acting for his own happiness. Amidst this love triangle WWI begins and we witness the kinks of the logistics and the imagery which only a veteran could describe.
Actually, this mist was not silver, or was, perhaps, no longer silver: if you looked at it with the eye of the artist… with the exact eye! It was smirched with bars of purple, of red, of orange, delicate reflections, dark blue shadows from the upper sky where it formed drifts like snow.
Its shell soaring away to an enormous height caught the reflection of the unrisen sun on its base. A shining disc, like a halo in flight… Pretty! A pretty motive for a decoration, tiny pretty planes up on a blue sky amongst shiny, flying haloes! Dragonflies amongst saints.
He loved this country for the run of its hills, the shape of its elm trees, and the way the heather, running uphill to the skyline, meets the blue of the heavens.