Some Do Not is the opening novel in Ford Madox Ford's four part work set in the 1910s, Parade's End. I am treating the entire tetralogy as it were artistically one work. The four parts of the work were published in rapid succession (FMF must have been a very fast writer given his huge output) and the limited research I have done (as well as the introduction to my edition on the work by Max Saunders, leading authority on FMF) indicated the four works were meant to be taken as a whole. Given the nature of the work, I have to accept that what I think I understand about Some Do Not (I completed it yesterday and have not yet begun part II) may be quite undercut by what I will read later on. I think that this is in fact reflective of the themes of the work that deal with the nature of knowledge, culture, literature, and relationships that our understanding of the novel is always on shaky ground.
Some Do Not centers on the lives of the landed gentry in England in the period right before WWI begins. We first meet two of the central characters on a train. FMF is very careful to describe an upper class train compartment so it matches the class of our characters. The lead character of Some Do Not (and I think the work as a whole) is Christopher Tietjens. He comes from a wealthy family (how wealthy is up for debate as book one closes), he is quite brilliant. He works as a statistician for the British government. He is so well read and cultured that as a hobby he is doing a report on errors in the Encyclopedia Britannica . Physically he is quite large and out of shape. He is married to Sylvia Tietjens. I have quoted previously her description. She is the very epitome of an upper class beauty. She seems to require a lot of stimulation and is easily bored indicating perhaps a lack of internal resources. She does not admire Tietjens as much as I do. Maybe she knows something or maybe Tietjens is a bit of a bluff. She sees him as terrible "know it all" and openly mocks him with her adultery which may have produced a child born in wedlock but whose father is not her husband. We also meet a seemingly good friend of Tietjens', MacMaster. In the relationships of the characters there do not seem to be too many relationships of equality as befitting this very class conscious work.
In writing about the work I am tempted to simply do a lot of quotes and say the whole 800 pages is full of one marvelous turn of phrase or epigram of wonder after another. Tietjens does like to make "pronouncements" on all sorts of topics. Some of what he says is for sure wrong. He attributes to an unspecified Russian writer a quote from a short story by Henry James. There are constant cultural references in the work. I had to think that maybe some of them are wrong also but the Henry James error is the one I could catch where as the references to Rossetti are not something I can judge.
Here are what I think are some of the themes of Parade's End as shown in Some Do Not: marriage, class structure, the nature of art and literature (Tietjens has some very interesting off the wall things to say about literature), the construction of history (history does not just happen it is a novel), the use of conversation to create bonds and to keep yourself isolated. As the work proceeds we will, I think, see much of the world of the gentry depicted in Some Do Not destroyed by events beyond their control. We will also see these same people win a war and we may learn in part why. Events are not always, for me at least, easy to follow in the narrative and that is for sure on purpose I think. ( I was I confess confused a bit by the bank overdraft that comes into play toward the end of Some Do Not). I am very much looking forward to seeing how The Great War will affect the people in Some Do Not. How will the marriage of the Tietjens hold up? Will we learn a lot about life in France during the war. There are period drama type plot threads between the characters. Not only are the perceptions of the characters not fully reliable, I think the narration of the story is itself subject to differing understandings.
Dwight of A Common Reader has done a wonderful job in sorting out the action and themes of Some Do Not-
Parade's End is a pure delight just for the turns of phrases and the conversations alone. The references to art and literature are wonderful. I am taking the trouble to track down the references I do not fully follow (imagine how hard this was to do in pre-internet days!) and am finding it very edifying.
Junichiro Tanizaki and Ryunosuke Akutagawa have have some close thematic and narrative similarities to those shown by FMF. I might go more into this latter as I read an additional work by Akutagawa to explain the very similar way both writers use artifacts to create class divides.
I will start part two, No More Parades today. I am very excited to see what will happen next. I will probably do a couple of reading note posts on it as I proceed through the work then attempt a closing post on it.