Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Ford Madox Ford

The Death of the Country Gentleman

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.

Some Do Not…

The first book of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End is beautiful. Seriously beautiful. I’ve loved Ford’s writing ever since I read The Good Soldier and am pleased that the new adaptation will get people reading it again.

Some Do Not… is beautiful because the way of life described is contradicted by the war the reader knows is coming. The last, long English summer is a much used metaphor which Ford uses to his advantage: Whilst everything and everyone is witty and sparkling and modern, inside they are slightly rotten and passionately flawed. Real, I suppose.

Christopher and Sylvia’s marriage is going to be one of the most interesting parts of Parade’s End. Katherine described Sylvia’s love as a desire for possession, which I completely agree with. Their relationship is built on layers of trust and mistrust, double meanings and potentially shady pasts. Valentine, the potential mistress, is an interesting character too – a suffragette supporting her family.

If you wanted something killed you’d go to Sylvia Tietjens in the sure faith that she would kill it: emotion, hope, ideal; kill it quick and sure. If you wanted something kept alive you’d go to Valentine: she’d find something to do for it.

As a side note, I think Rebecca Hall is going to be amazing as Sylvia and I’m looking forward to watching her performance. All the characters are so well written and I feel as though I have only caught a glimpse of their depth.

I am surprised Parade’s End is not a more frequently cited Modernist novel. It was first published just two years after Ulysses and there are some similarities between the two. Ford Madox Ford uses the stream of consciousness in different voices like Joyce did, but in an infinitely more readable way. He has also played around with conventional forms by jumbling up the story’s chronology. Time jarringly skips forwards and backwards, but it enables Ford to present parts of the story as memories. Isn’t that how real stories are? And how life is?  I think the style makes the book so much richer.

I am watching the series as well, luckily I had managed to read enough to be able to watch on Friday without fear of spoilers. Hopefully I will be able to keep ahead! I enjoyed the first episode, I think they’ve really captured the style and tone of the book.

I can’t wait to read on.

A Love Letter

I find refuge with people in drawing rooms; pulling dust sheets from the furniture and filling silent spaces with stories. I am not content with today by itself – I want context, I want meaning and I want history. I like discovering and bringing the past to life. I need The Classics. I know that older isn’t necessarily better, so I like historical fiction too – new writers bring new perspectives after all. But what is better than the wicked wit of Mitford? The cutting observations of Woolf? The universal truths of Austen? Narrowing it even further: How can you improve upon writing from the most turbulent and influential periods in history?

I’ve had a break from classics whilst I read a few of Jo Nesbo’s crime novels. They were all action, twisting plots and brutality. Yes, there are plenty of action packed classic novels (and plenty of brutal ones too) but there wasn’t that magical quality of a classic. The sense of being welcomed into something – initiated, maybe – into a much beloved book. I really enjoyed them but I didn’t want to savour them, which is another way of saying that I’d recommend them but I don’t want to write about them.

So I’ve come back to the classics, and my Classics Club list  and have started Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. Set in my favourite period of history, the crossover between the Edwardians and the Great War, the story is made up of four separate volumes: Some Do Not…No More ParadesA Man Could Stand Up- and The Last Post. The BBC adaptation starts tonight and I have nearly finished the first book so hopefully it won’t spoil anything! There is a nice introduction to Parade’s End on the Penguin Classics features page here.

As you can gather, I’m returning to the War Books project I started back in May –  a list of books that seems to be spiraling out of control, so an update post might be required soon. The Penguin link above mentions a few other WWI titles that sound interesting –

  • The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning
  • Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
  • Death of a Hero by Richard Aldington
  • Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon

I finally move house next week (cannot wait) so after Parade’s End I may have to content myself with reading whatever is unpacked. But for now, I’m going to curl up and read about Christopher and Sylvia Tietjens and the last long Edwardian summer.

The Saddest Story

The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford

This is the saddest story I have ever heard…

Marriages aren’t always what they seem to be. Ford Madox Ford is so overlooked, despite being such an influence on every writer in the twenties parisian literary scene; Conrad, Fitzgerald, Hemingway… It is very much like his novel was written for writers to notice and imitate. The Good Soldier is a very tangled study of rich Europeans who are pretty bored and not very happy. And we all know the unusual relationships that develop! Ford makes full use of his unreliable narrator, creating a story that weaves backwards and forwards through time, gets misrepresented by memory, and is every bit as complex and flawed as people can be.

A bit of unrelated trivia: Whilst exclaiming that I liked the painting on the cover, I realised it is of Luxemburg Gardens in Paris, about twenty feet from the hotel I stayed in.

The Good Soldier Quotes

“I know nothing – nothing in the world – of the hearts of men. I only know that I am alone – horribly alone.”

“Why can’t people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has got the wrong thing.”