Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, April 2, 2010

"Parade's End" by Ford Madox Ford-Chapter Two and Three in Which we meet Sylvia Tietjens

     Parade's End Read Along-Chapter 2 and 3-do we like or hate Sylvia Tietjens, wife of Christopher Tietjens

2nd entry in my Parade's End reading notes

In writing reading notes on a work like Parade's End before you have completed the novel you run the risk of not fully understanding events, characters and themes that are fully illuminated only with the further unfolding of the story.   If one had done posts as you read The Good Soldier you would see your first perceptions of things were not quite right.   You learn as you go on that things are far from simple.   Ford Madox Ford (FMF) is as subtle  and one must say as slippery a literary artist as anyone.    In doing reading notes on one of his works without first finishing it I think I will for sure end up learning from my mistakes.   

In Chapter One we met Christopher Tietjens.   He comes from a very well off family and works a statistician for the government.    He is a man of great culture and wide knowledge as evidenced by his hobby of correcting errors in The Encyclopedia Britannica (in the time of the opening of the book-early 1910s-in England-I think the Encyclopedia Britannica was the ultimate authority.   It was also quite expensive so the possession of it is another of the many many class indicators in Parade's End).    Tietjens is traveling on a train with his good friend Macmaster (from Scotland )    The friendship of Tietjens and Macmaster is not a relationship of equals and Macmaster defers to Tietjens as a superior man.   We do not yet know how important Macmaster will be in the story and if his deference to Tietjens is justified but it is there for sure as we start our story.

In Chapter Two we meet Sylvia Tietjens, the wife of Tietjens.   It is from her we learn that his  first name is Christopher and  his nickname is "Chrissie".    There are no accidents I can already see in the work of FMF.   Why "Christopher"?    Is it as obvious as an equation of Tietjens to Jesus or Columbus?   In the 21th century, "Chrissie" is a nickname appropriate for a woman, not a man.    I do not know if the same was true in 1912 so I cannot tell if this is to indicate the wife is mocking him for a lack of masculinity.   We learn first about Sylvia through the conversations of Mrs Satterwaite  (I loved the description of her) and a priest concerning her.  They are talking about Sylvia's attitude toward her husband:

"There are times when a woman hates a man-as Sylvia hates her husband..I tell you I have walked behind a man's back and nearly screamed because of my desire to put my nails into the veins of  his neck.  It was a fascination.   And it is worse with Sylvia.   It's a natural antipathy."
I left chapter one being in awe of the brilliance and cultural depth of Tietjens but wait, his wife seems to see him as a near idiot and an insufferable know it all and bore.   She seems to say she stays married to him only so she can torture him.   She has had numerous affairs, it seems, and seemingly  Tietjens does not have any clue he is not the father of his wife's child.   Here is a  description of Sylvia (we do not yet know how much we can rely on the narrator even though it is told in the 3rd person):

Immensely tall, slight, and slow in her movements, Sylvia Tietjens wore her reddish very fair hair in great bandeaux down over her ears.   Her oval, regular face had an expression of virginal lack of interest such as used to be worn by fashionable Paris courtesans a decade before that time.   
 We are still left a bit to ourselves to figure out from this description what Sylvia looked like.   We know she had red hair for sure.   "Immensely tall"?   well a six foot five woman is immensely tall.   We can guess she was not that tall so we really do not know what this means-does it just mean two or three inches taller than average?  then why call her immense.   I confess I had to look up the meaning of "bandeaux"  and this image appears to be it.   (My knowledge of expressions for fashion accessories of the 1910 is not great.)    I guess we are to assume that either the narrator was familiar enough with fashionable courtesans of ten years prior to the start of the story that he would at once compare Sylvia's expression to theirs or that is the in fact logical way to describe her..   Of course this begs the question as to whether this is an accurate picture of French courtesans or the projection on Sylvia of the sort of images the narrator can relate to.

Here is Sylvia's description of her husband:

I call my husband the Ox.   He is repulsive, like a swollen animal.
Sylvia's mother loves Christopher, she calls him one of her "best boys"  while Sylvia tells us her husband cannot bear her.   We know already our perceptions of these people and relationships are on shifting sand.

One of the pleasure of this work is the many epigram like remarks and sentences that I already have found in abundance in the first 3 chapters.   Here is one from Sylvia  "To know everything about a person is to be bored...bored....bored".   We know already Sylvia is talking for effect, in part.

The chapters two and three have interesting conversations about the nature of marriage, about religion, and relationships and sexual morality.   I was about ready to decide ok Sylvia is a bad person married to a wonderful man until we meet "The General"  in Chapter III who seems not a fool and he goes on an on about how wonderful Sylvia is.

I see Parade's End as totally worth reading for the many marvelous turns of phrase in the book alone and there is so much more in it.   I am really looking forward to going on in this book.    I may write a good number of these reading notes type of posts and then as I finish each section of the tetralogy  I will probably do a sort of summing post or two and then on finishing the work  I will probably do two or three over all posts on the work as a whole.     Because I do not know what is coming next some of  what I say will be in error as i go along but the errors are part of my reading experience.     I may end up doing 20 or more posts as I go along.  (I keep telling myself to make shorter posts on the books I read!)    To those  the read along I will link your posts in here and comment on them if I am able.    

To readers of my blog, I read normally several things at one time and will be posting next on a great super fun  Japanese novel.   I will say the Junichiro Tanizaki is the Japanese novelist that FMF seems most like to me, so far.   

There is a very telling post on Bibliographing that echos my remarks about the wonderful phrases that about so far in Parade's End.


Dwight said...

For Chapter 2: Even though Father Consett remarked on it earlier, I didn't catch that Sylvia serving him tea and cream after midnight would upset his plans until he mentioned it at the end of the chapter. It was an accident but it seems symbolic of Sylvia upsetting things even when she doesn't plan to.

Hopefully I'll have a post on the first part by the end of the weekend.

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

I read Parade's End a few years ago when i was reading all the books on the Modern Library's Top 100 list. I thought it was engrossing. As a rule, I don't care for books about WWI because they tend to be too similar -- lots of muddy trenches and poison gas. But this one carried me all the way through.

test said...

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Audrey (holes In My brain) said...

thanks for checking out my blog via Blog Hop!! I am a follower now :) your blog is very cute, and I love how unique the books you focus on are!