The Death of the Country Gentleman

by Charlotte Reads Classics

The land had not changed. … There were still the deep beech-woods making groves beside the ploughlands and the rooks rising lazily as the plough came towards them. The land had not changed. … Well, the breed had not changed. … There was Christopher. … Only, the times … they had changed.

Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford was the most difficult book I have read in ages. Worthy, beautiful, atmospheric, a document of history – yes, but don’t forget confusing, lengthy and misleading. Now that I have finished reading it, I can look back and think about how good it was – something I definitely couldn’t envisage in the last few weeks of reading.

A completely unexpected comparison can be made between Levin of Anna Karenina and Christopher Tietjens: Both are members of the upper classes connected with the land. Whilst Levin is seen as a bit of a reformist trying to make money out of farming his estate but not at the expense of the people who work on it; Christopher is presented as the last of his kind. That is, a man highly concerned with the preservation of his ancestry and obeying what he feels is his duty to the lower class people who rely on him and his land. I really liked how the Groby Great Tree becomes a symbol of pastoral scenes of country life: local couples get married underneath it and people adorn it with lucky charms during festivals. Sylvia threatening to cut it down in the years after the war are a way of showing the changing times.

Whereas Christopher was everything I wanted him to be, Valentine was a bit of a disappointment. At the beginning of the novel she is quite revolutionary. However (without plot spoilers) in the last chapters she suddenly becomes very predictable and, well, kind of drippy. I’m not sure whether this is a response to the things that happen to her or whether it is a failing of Ford’s: Maybe he couldn’t write stream of consciousness as a woman?

What would Parade’s End have been like without the crazy plot structure? I don’t need a book to be completely linear, but I had such trouble working out what was happening, let alone how much time was passing. All in all, Parade’s End is excellent in terms of character and themes, but I’ll always prefer The Good Soldier for readability.