Tuesday, 12 September 2000

Ford Madox Ford: No More Parades (1925)

Edition: Penguin, 1982
Review number: 612

It is clear that the second part of Ford's four novel sequence Parade's End is of pivotal important to the quartet even before starting to read it, because it provides the title for the series as a whole. It covers only a short period, a few days in the middle of the First World War; their importance is that they are a high water mark in Sylvia Tietjens' bad treatment of her husband.

The events of the novel illuminate Sylvia's character more than Christopher's, and show the reader the reasons behind her actions much more sympathetically and fully than in Some Do Not.... What she actually does her it to travel to the war zone in France without papers and attempt to cause a fight between Christopher and one of her ex-lovers, while continuing to spread the baseless rumour that Christopher has a hidden child by another woman. This all takes place at Christopher's unit, behind the Western Front.

The basic motivation behind her actions is to force a reaction from her husband, whose determination to maintain "normal" relations with Sylvia will not even permit him to have a row with her. She obviously causes him a great deal of difficulty and distress, but never has the satisfaction of causing him to break down in public.

If Christopher Tietjens is meant to represent the idea of the English gentleman, an obvious question to raise is what does Sylvia symbolise? It seems to be something like Britain itself, a country which exploited the best of its upper class with the First World War being the final betrayal of any true decency that still existed. (And, despite all the hypocrisy of the Victorian age, there was much to admire.) The title itself could be seen as a reference to this idea. The only way in which the government were prepared for the war, so far as Tietjens knew, was to come up with a ritual to use in demobilisation: after a band played, an adjutant would say, "There will be no more parades". This utterly fatuous way to plan for four years of grisly death, the decimation of the male youth and the overturning of the foundations of society has a deeper meaning that Ford skilfully brings out: things will be changed by the war; pomp and circumstance (the music the band plays is Land of Hope and Glory) will no longer be important as the old order is overthrown. This is a double sided coin, of course, for it does not just mean the destruction of the cruelty and fickleness of Sylvia but also of the virtue and decency of Christopher.

No comments: