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

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Parade's End Read Along some notes and observations on chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7

Parade's End read along notes inspired by chapters four through seven of Some Do Not (part one of the tetralogy)

Cultural Creation in Parade's End

Normally when I read a novel and I do not feel I fully understand the cultural references or some of the words used I simply go past it hoping I will figure it out latter and not wanting to stop my reading to look things up I do not worry too much about what I do not understand.   In reading the first 140 pages of Some Do Not, the first novel in the tetralogy that makes up Parade's End,  I think you cannot really do that as I think one of the very basic themes of the work is the construction of culture and identity through things understood the right way.   Parade's End is in part about effects of knowledge and the lack of it and the faking of it.    In the opening chapters you cannot, I think, but help be impressed and intimidated a bit by the depth and width of the apparent culture of our central character Christopher Tietjens.   After all, he corrects  the Encyclopedia Britannica for fun.    Another way culture is created, and I think this is also a theme of Parade's End, is through slang.   Slang also defines class structures, it includes and excludes.

For example would a kitchen worker or a horse carriage man tell his friends that he saw them "Lollipoping  down Pall  Mall".   I admit have never used this expression in conversation. In fact "lollipoping" refers to walking in a leisurely fashion perhaps with a bit of a skip in your walk.   Pall Mall is a street in London famous in the early part of the 20th century for being the home of a number of exclusive clubs.

Tietjins is giving to making sweeping pronouncements on literature such as the remark I quoted in my last post to the effect that since the 18th century all worthwhile English novels have been  by women.   He seems quite the authority figure.   One day the narrator shares Tietjins thoughts on why mankind has such a difficult acrimonious history.  

And he remember the words of some Russian "Cats and Monkeys.  Monkeys and cats.   All humanity is there.

This a  direct quote from "The Madonna of the Future" by Henry James.    I think you need to know this to follow what is going  on here.   The narrator never tells us.   Why is James quote put in the mouth of a Russian?   I think we are beginning to see maybe Sylvia Tietjens was partially right, Tietjens is in part a master of the appearing to have  great knowledge and may even have fooled himself.  This is not to say he does not know a great deal but we must now know not to accept what he says just because he says it.  On page 130 of the Penguin edition the conversation turns somehow to Gilbert White book The Natural History of Selborne (you can read it all on line) from 1832 and Tietjens at once says he was the last English writer he could read.   I read a bit of it and it is very mannered prose full of supercilious language.   Now the questions broadens to is the work telling us that the whole class structure or at least the class of society represented by Tietjens and his circle based on this fakery.  

As the work proceeds we learn more about different characters and our views of them changes and we rethink our first impressions.   At first the General seems like a colonel Blimp type figure to which the super erudite Tietjens can only talk down to (with out the General knowing it) .    Tietjens also gets interested in a new lady in his life, maybe, who is quite familiar with the work of Rosa Luxemburg, a German Marxist of some small fame.   The woman herself may also be self deceiving as she may just be the rich daughter out to make her father mad with her outspoken views while keeping all the luxuries  she says are wrong.  

A lot of Parade's End is about relations between the sexes.  Exquisite turns of phrase and epigrams that put Oscar Wilde at his most wicked to shame abound.   The book is really just a great pleasure to read for the wonderful use of language and to see a genius at work.  

As I read the first 140 pages I could not help but thing of what is to come-WWI-we wonder how the various characters will stand up to it and be transformed.   We know the British will win and we see Tietjens will be vindicated in his remarks that seemingly snobbish English  men will win the war because of the very characteristics that may make seem seem too effete to be effective warriors.  

There are many themes in this book and much to think about and enjoy.   We get a lecture on obscure Yorkshire birds, learn more about fashion accessories and we find out that Tietjens may in fact be quite fat and his wive's hair maybe blond not red as the narrator claimed.  We also learn Tietjens does know he may not be the father of the child his wife gave birth too while married to him.

I might do another post next on this section as to what to make of the entry of the woman who is a suffergete and an admiror of Rosa Luxemburg into the plot to ponder the poltical themes that might be found in Parade's End.

Previous Parade's End notes

Mel u


Unknown said...

I've long intended to read Ford Maddox Ford, but have not. I'm enjoying following your reading here, though. While I'd also never heard the phrase "lollipopping down Pall Mall," I know exactly what it means. It's a great phrase, easy to visualize the scene, young dandies on the sidewalk between clubs.

I like it.

Mel u said...

C B-there are many such expressions in the book-such as "to magpie a conversation" meaning to talk on and on and over everyone else