I refer below to the 2012 Penguin Classics edition (836 pages), with an introduction by Julian Barnes. The four volumes of this work are: Some Do Not— (first published in 1924), No More Parades (1925), A Man Could Stand Up – (1926) and The Last Post (1928). The titles are enigmatic but make sense in context. These very phrases are repeated several times in each volume, respectively.
The first volume is set before and during the First World War, the second and third during the war, and the fourth after the war.
A ‘parade’ is a sort of a male, aristocratic, ‘noblesse oblige’ code of conduct. Christopher Tietjens attempts to say what he understands it to mean in a passage in No More Parades, where he is being interviewed by General Campion:
“There are—there used to be—in families of—position—a certain—.” He stopped.
The general said: “Well—.”
Tietjens said: “On the part of the man—a certain—Call it—parade!”
The general said: “Then there had better be no more parades—.”
[No More Parades, page 492]
An era has ended; Christopher’s attitudes are out-of-date.
Ford writes short scene-setting passages in places, as in traditional fiction, eg at the beginning of No More Parades. However, a great deal of the narrative is conveyed, not only through dialogue but also through lengthy inner monologues in the heads of the principal characters. Sometimes, a character will be hesitant in his or her speech or think one thing and say another – the message comes out wrong.
Parade’s End does not follow a linear chronology. Characters often look back to a past event, and its significance becomes evident. Sometimes, an event is recalled more than once, or by different people – subjective interpretations have a role to play.
This narrative method makes the reader work harder. It is, however, very effective.
When Christopher Tietjens is subjected by General Campion to an interrogation, in No More Parades, Christopher is distracted by his own intense thoughts and feelings, and he has to make an effort to keep up with the General’s questions. See for example:
“By God! How my mind wanders! How long will it go on?” He said: “I am at the end of my tether.” He had missed what the general had said for some time.
[No More Parades, page 485]
THE PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS
Christopher is the “youngest son of a Yorkshire country gentleman”. [Some Do Not—, page 5] He has very old-fashioned values: he is chivalrous, gallant, quixotic. He is generous, to a fault. He is intellectually intelligent but is stiff and formal in company. He is married to Sylvia – someone totally different from him.
Christopher volunteers to go to war, mainly to defend the England he loves, but also to escape the social pressures he is suffering at home (particularly the lies that are being told about him, ruining his reputation). In his first tour of duty he comes under enemy fire and suffers severe, albeit temporary, brain damage.
At the end of Some Do Not—, Christopher returns to the war, after his sick leave.
It is against Christopher’s principles for a man to divorce a woman, especially when a child is involved. “No one but a blackguard would ever submit a woman to the ordeal of divorce,” he says. [Some Do Not—, page 6]
At some time before the beginning of Parade’s End, Sylvia Satterthwaite seduces Christopher. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, Michael. She does not know whether Christopher is the father. Christopher marries Sylvia, to protect her reputation, and accepts Michael as his son.
Sylvia is, indeed, sensual and impulsive. She is manipulative and controlling. She is easily bored: she seeks excitement in sexual relationships, but becomes bored with the men (other than Christopher himself). Christopher accepts Sylvia back, after her infidelities, but only for form’s sake.
Sylvia tends to act on what she feels and to say what she thinks. She is ambivalent about Christopher; she is frustrated by his behaviour (in particular, the fact that he never condemns her); she continues to demand his attention (but has little success); she often speaks and acts cruelly towards him.
Sylvia is a Roman Catholic and does not believe in divorce.
Valentine is the daughter of a widowed novelist/writer. Her late father taught her Latin. Latin is something Christopher has studied (presumably at school). It is something they have in common.
Valentine works successively as a domestic servant, her mother’s secretary and a gym mistress in a girls’ school.
Valentine is intelligent, principled, passionate, and also decisive. Before the outbreak of war, she is active in campaigns for women’s rights (female suffrage).
When the war breaks out, Valentine expresses pacifist views (shared by her brother). She tries to understand why Christopher feels driven to serve as a soldier. She fears that he will be killed, like so many others caught up in the war.
Parts One and Three of A Man Could Stand Up – are very largely about Valentine; the relevant passages give the reader further insights into her thoughts and her behaviour.
THE LOVE TRIANGLE
In the course of Some Do Not—,Christopher and Valentine become acquainted, then they become friends; their friendship develops into a barely verbalised understanding that they love each other, despite their differences, their lack of opportunities to express their love physically, and Christopher’s strict moral code, which prohibits his divorcing his wife and his committing adultery.
Sylvia finds out about the relationship between Valentine and Christopher, firstly from rumours, and secondly from watching their body language when they are together (although they are in company and they behave discreetly).
Why shouldn’t he, she asked herself, give himself a little pleasure, before going to almost certain death—. [Some Do Not— page 167]
She says to Christopher:
“God knows I’ve no right to put a spoke in that girl’s wheel or in yours. If you love each other you’ve a right to happiness and I daresay she’ll make you happy. I can’t divorce you, being a Catholic; but I won’t make it difficult for you other ways….You’ll sleep with the Wannop girl tonight; you’re going out to be killed tomorrow.” [Some Do Not—, page 172]
Later, Sylvia warns Valentine, “Young woman! You’d better keep off the grass.” [Some Do Not—, page 270] But in the same breath, she tells Valentine where and when she can see him before he returns to active service.
Does Sylvia want Christopher to commit adultery, so she can balance his misbehaviour against her own?
The great irony is that, in the event, Valentine and Christopher are denied any opportunity to consummate their love. Their parting, as Christopher goes back to the war, is poignant. Christopher says, “We’re the sort that—do not!” and Valentine replies, “Yes – that’s it. We’re that sort!” [Some Do Not—, page 283] An anti-climax.
For the rest of the war, Valentine and Christopher think about one another – but in ignorance, as they do not communicate. The reader is invited to wonder whether Christopher will survive, whether Valentine will remain faithful to him, whether they will meet up again, and whether their relationship can be renewed.
Sylvia is well provided for, financially. By contrast, Valentine and her mother are not well-off. Mrs Wannop has to take whatever writing assignments she can obtain. For her part, Valentine works, as mentioned above. In the early 20th century, moreover, what jobs were open to intelligent women like Valentine?
Valentine explains to her friend Edith Ethel: “I’m a suffragette because I’ve been a slavey [low status domestic servant].” [Some Do Not—, page 82]
She tells Christopher:
“Women have a rotten time. They do really. If you’d seen what I’ve seen, I’m not talking through my hat.” Her voice became quite deep: she had tears in her eyes. “Poor women do!” she said, “little insignificant creatures.”
[Some Do Not—, page 114]
Our writer does not make any explicit comments about Valentine’s schooling. Her younger brother Edward receives financial assistance from benefactors to be educated at a “public” school (ie private school), with the prospect of further help to go to University, later. Christopher realises that “Miss Wannop must be a heroine who had sacrificed her life to her mother’s gifts, and no doubt to a brother at school.” [Some Do Not—, page 87]
Valentine and Edward express pacifist views, when war breaks out. The family suffer the consequences: local tradesmen refuse to serve them; local people smash their windows. They move from the countryside to the relative anonymity of London. Edward compromises with his principles by agreeing to serve on a minesweeper.
Valentine and Christopher disagree about what men should do when war breaks out. Christopher tries to explain the logic of his choice. Valentine complains passionately about the “pain” and the “torture” of war; but her own growing passion for Christopher is more powerful than her doubts about his war service.
The following passage shows Christopher using a metaphor to try to create a bridge between them:
“You and I are like two people—.” He paused and began again more quickly: “Do you know these soap advertisement signs that read differently from different angles? As you come up to them you read ‘Monkey’s Soap’; but if you look back when you’ve passed it’s ‘Needs no Rinsing.’—You and I are standing at different angles and though we look at the same thing we read different messages. Perhaps if we stood side by side we should see yet a third—”
[Some Do Not—, page 234]
The writer leaves his readers to make up their own minds as to which one has the better argument.
LIES AND THEIR EFFECTS
Witnesses jump to conclusions when they see Christopher, first with Valentine, unchaperoned, and secondly with Edith Ethel Duchemin, although on both occasions he is innocent and is acting honourably: rumours are spread among those who know Christopher, and they destroy his good name; Sylvia starts to allege that both women are his mistresses – even that Valentine has had a child by him. His cheques are rejected by his banker, out of malice; and he is spurred to resign from his London club. The lies reach the ears of Christopher’s father, who has already lost three children in the course of the war. Shortly afterwards, he is found in the grounds of the family’s ancestral home, killed by his own gun. We are never sure whether his death was an accident or suicide.
Ford depicts the First World War graphically but economically. (See, in particular, No More Parades and Part Two of A Man Could Stand Up -.) He concentrates on the fate of Christopher and a few other soldiers: we are enabled to identify with them. There is a variety of dramatic incidents, but not too many. Ford spends time on the interminable nature of the shelling and on the inefficiency of the organisation behind the lines. Christopher does not appear to be cut out to be a soldier, but he manages the men under him well, and he comes to be respected and liked by them.
Danger threatens constantly, at the front: Christopher and colleagues are blown up by a “projectile” and buried in mud (as Ford himself was, in real life):
There was so much noise it seemed to grow dark. It was a mental darkness. You could not think. A Dark Age! The earth moved.
He was looking at Aranjuez from a considerable height. He was enjoying a considerable view. Aranjuez’s face had a rapt expression – like that of a man composing poetry. Long dollops of liquid mud surrounded them in the air. Like black pancakes being tossed. He thought: “Thank God I did not write to her. We are being blown up!” The earth turned like a weary hippopotamus. It settled down slowly over the face of Lance-Corporal Duckett who lay on his side, and went on in a slow wave.
[A Man Could Stand Up –, page 637]
Parade’s End is mainly about love and about war. It is very perceptive about what love means to those in love and what war means to those who take part in the fighting. The two topics are neatly balanced. At the end of Some Do Not—, the war separates Valentine and Christopher – indefinitely, perhaps for ever. The reader is inclined to feel disappointed for them and to hope that, eventually, they will have the opportunity to be a couple who “do”, rather than a pair who “do not”. (Read on, to find out.)
Parade’s End is an extremely vivid, well-written, moving novel.
David R Harries
2 December 2012