Sunday, May 1, 2011

No More Parades by Ford Madox Ford

The whole of the affair, the more she saw of it, overwhelmed her with a sense of hatred.... And of depression! She saw Christopher buried in this welter of fools, playing a schoolboy's game of make-believe. But of a make0believe that was infinitely formidable and infinitely sinister.... The crashings of the gun and of all the instruments for making noise seemed to her so atrocious and odious because they were, for her, the silly pomp of a schoolboy-man's game.... Campion, or some similar schoolboy, said: "Hullo! Some Germain airplanes about... That lets us out on the air-gun! Let's have some pops!".... As they fire guns in the park on the King's birthday. It was sheer insolence to have a gun in the garden of an hotel where people of quality might be sleeping or wishing to converse!

No More Parades follows Christopher Tietjens to the theater of World War I, which we did not get to see in Some Do Not..., though it lurked in the background. Tietjens is a quartermaster now, in charge of supplying a draft of troops and preparing them to march, a job at which, with his organizational brilliance, he excels. But the two days that make up No More Parades are ones in which Tietjens is unraveling: Not only must he cope with the stress of getting the draft off, but he has been shaken by the unexpected death of one of his soldiers by a German bomb (this is, we are told, supposed to be far from the conflict). What is worse is that his wife Sylvia has "dropped in" on the camp to turn the screws into him.

No More Parades continues many of the same themes from Some Do Not.... Christopher lives by an outdated code, radiating a propriety and goodness that for some reason makes people despise him. Every single character in this book and the last at some point either suspects Christopher of vice or accuses him of it directly, and yet Christopher continues to be upstanding. The worst of these is Sylvia, who--for no other reason than to torture him--spreads the rumor that Christopher is a communist, a rumor which ultimately, at the end of the book, gets Christopher sent to the front line.

It seems to me that Ford is commenting on the decay of the moral compass' Western world. Here is a passage that will fit quite neatly in my paper on Ford's The Good Soldier, which is about the way that modernity ruins religious sentiment:

Tietjens had walked in the sunlight down the lines, past the hut with the evergreen climbing rose, in the sunlight, thinking in an interval, good-humouredly about his official religion: about the Almighty as, on a colossal scale, a great English Landowner, benevolently awful, a colossal duke who never left his study and was thus invisible, but knowing all about the estate down to the last hind at the home farm and the last oak; Christ, and almost too benevolent Land-Steward, son of the Owner, knowing all about the estate down to the last child at the porter's lodge, apt to be got round by the more detrimental tenants; the Third Person of the Trinity, the spirit of the estate, the Game as it were, as distinct from the players of the game; the atmosphere of the estate, that of the interior of Winchester Cathedral just after a Handel anthem has been finished, a perpetual Sunday, with, probably, a little cricket for the young men...

He laughed good-humouredly at his projection of a hereafter. It was probably done with. Along with cricket. There would be no more parades of that sort. Probably they would play some beastly yelping game... Like baseball or Association football... And heaven?... Oh it would be a revival meeting on a Welsh hillside. Or Chatauqua, wherever that was... And God? A Real Estate Agent, with Marxist views... He hoped to be out of it before the cessation of the hostilities, in which case he might be just in time for the last train to the old heaven.

Of course, Tietjens is engaged in the "yelping game" right now, the one that gives his wife Sylvia such a headache with its perpetual noise. War is the new religion of the world.

Poor Tietjens. It is some comfort to watch his commanding officer and family friend General Campion slowly unravel the threads that have led to his poor reputation, and come to accurate conclusions, but in the end it is too late: public perception is all, and Tietjens is off to the trenches. Ford uses this passage from Proverbs as his epigram:

For two things my heart is grieved:
A man of war that suffereth from poverty
and men of intelligence
that are counted as refuse.

But the book brought to my mind this passage by Lady Macduff, from Macbeth:

But I remember
I am in this earthly world; where to do harm
Is often laudable, to do good sometime
Accounted dangerous folly...

I am finding these books immensely rich. They are not at all like The Good Soldier, which is often starved of detail and psychology (by design), but I would wager that three quarters of No More Parades takes place "inside" someone's head. This one suffers compared to Some Do Not... because it is missing Valentine Wannop, Christopher's would-be mistress, who was my favorite character from the first novel, but I know from flipping through the next book that she will be back.


Brooke said...

Your posts always make me feel like I did when I was in the car as a kid listening to Paul Harvey's program: more intelligent for having taken them in and less intelligent because I can never think of the right thing to say about them afterwards.

cchilton said...

I have never heard Paul Harvey.

Brooke said...

Talk radio genius. "...and that was THE REST of the story."

Brent Waggoner said...

That's weird, man.