Thursday, April 08, 2010

Some Do Not... discussion: Part Two

He said: “Yes I believe I did. I used to despise it, but I've come to believe I did...But no! They'll never let me back. They've got me out, with all sorts of bad marks against me. They'll pursue me systematically...You see, in such a world as this, an idealist--or perhaps it's only a sentimentalist--must be stoned to death. He makes the others so uncomfortable. He haunts them at their golf...No; they'll get me, one way or the other. And some fellow--Macmaster here--will do my jobs. He won't do them so well, but he'll do them more dishonestly. Or no. I oughtn't to say dishonestly. He'll do them with enthusiasm and righteousness. He'll fulfil the orders of his superiors with an immense docility and unction. He'll fake figures against our allies with the black enthusiasm of a Calvin and, when that war comes, he'll do the requisite faking with the righteous wrath of Jehovah smiting the priests of Baal. And he'll be right. It's all we're fitted for. We ought never to have come into this war. We ought to have snaffled other peoples' colonies as the price of neutrality...”

“Oh!” Valentine Wannop said, “how can you so hate your country?”

He said with great earnestness: “Don't say it! Don't believe it! Don't even for a moment think it! I love every inch of its fields and every plant in the hedgerows: comfrey, mullein, paigles, long red purples, that liberal shepherds give a grosser name...and all the rest of the rubbish--you remember the field between the Duchemins' and your mother's--and we have always been boodlers and robbers and reivers and pirates and cattle thieves, and so we've built up the great tradition that we love...But, for the moment, it's painful. Our present crowd is not more corrupt than Walpole's. But one's too near them. One sees of Walpole that he consolidated the nation by building up the National Debt: one doesn't see his methods...My son, or his son, will only see the glory of the boodle we make out of this show. Or rather out of the next. He won't know about the methods. They'll teach him at school that across the counties went the sound of bugles that his father knew...Though that was another discreditable affair...”

- (from Part Two, Chapter 4)

“I have had to contend against the unkindness of his sister, and the insolence of his mother; and have suffered the punishment of an attachment, without enjoying its advantages.”

- (from Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 37)

Forgive the rushed nature of the post, but there is so much I want to include and not enough time to organize it as I would like.

The structure of Some Do Not… is relatively straightforward, providing scenes or events in roughly chronological order. Part One covers a forty-eight hour period surrounding the summer solstice (June 21-ish), 1912 in Rye. Part Two occurs in London during an August 1917 afternoon and evening. From this framework Ford weaves past events into the present. With many of the scenes including conversations in confined spaces (living room, dining room, train coach, etc.), large parts of the novel can feel like a play.

Many of my first impressions (and related reservations) about characters I described in the post on Part One have changed dramatically as Part Two seems to undermine some characterizations of the first half. While everything you know is *not* wrong, many things appear differently in this section. Mrs. Duchemin made a brief appearance in that section, mostly as a suffering wife. Her husband’s insanity seemed a little over the top but the reader was only shown his actions on a Saturday (after his Friday fast) when his behavior was at its worst. We were also shown her falling for Vincent Macmaster’s charm, figuring at that point she would be another one of his many married conquests. However Macmaster becomes her conquest as she strives for social standing that has eluded her and seeks the money that was denied her after Mr. Duchemin’s death. While it was clear Mrs. Duchemin (Edith Ethel) did not like Tietjens in Part One, his assistance to the couple adds to her contempt and his tarnished reputation seals his doom with the couple despite Macmaster’s good intentions. While Edith Ethel appears as a snob in her actions to both Tietjens and Valentine, it is Valentine that sees first-hand the monster lurking beneath the surface.

Sylvia Tietjens also provides a dramatic transformation between sections. While far from a model wife, it appears that she now shows affection to her husband, at least in her own way. Her torture of Christopher in the first two years of their marriage has already done irreversible damage to both of them. Her reputation carries forward over the five year interval between sections (as symbolized by the wonderful eagle/herring gulls recollection). In Part One, Sylvia grudgingly accepted compliments of her husband’s intelligence, unable to see any worth in him. Yet she questions the damage he received while fighting in France. Her realization that the impairment is genuine causes a breakthrough for her on several levels, most of all in her affection for him. By this point the reader can be excused for believing it’s too little too late, that neither will have what they are seeking from their partner. Tietjens’ strengths lie in areas different from what Sylvia seeks. He won’t reprove her for her actions, something she says she wanted and needed from him.

While many characters display a gritty determination what sets Valentine apart is the selfless nature of her sacrifices. As I mentioned in Part One, the reader can see Ford interweaving conscious and unconscious thoughts and actions of a character. Ford can be subtle in doing this, although with Valentine arranging the cushions for a possible tryst he beats the reader over the head with it. But then, Ford isn’t always known for subtlety, especially when it comes to dates. The Good Soldier had many events happen on August 4th. Likewise Some Do Not… has several important events all occur on the eve of the invasion date. I find Ford much more enjoyable when understated, such as having Valentine’s brother drunkenly pass out on the cushions she had hoped to use for other purposes.

Christopher Tietjens is the one character who changes the most between the two sections, but then being undermined and attacked by a wife, friends, society, work, and a war tends to wear on a person. The one thing Tietjens has maintained is his rectitude, even if only a few people understand the worth of it. I made light of errors in Tietjens’ famed intelligence in Part One, but there is little doubt as to his ability after this section. Unable to recall simple names or facts he can perform complex calculations even with the damage he sustained (described as numbing two-thirds of his brain).

Mel at The Reading Life has commented on Parade’s End as possibly being an “encyclopedic narrative”. I’m not sure it qualifies in all the criteria listed but the work certainly is encyclopedic. Quotes from Milton, Ovid and Shakespeare (among many others) are used as integral parts of the narrative and action in this section. Christina Rossetti’s poem “Somewhere or Other”, about death occurring before finding the person intended for you, resonates within Sylvia and moves her for reasons she cannot (consciously) fathom.

Some Do Not… revolves around many conflicts that shape the characters: conscious vs. unconscious, modern vs. old, memory vs. reality, appearances vs. substance, etc. That’s not including more ‘trivial’ ones like Anglican vs. Catholic or north vs. south. How the characters face and resolve these conflicts, if indeed they do, also impacts the way we look at them. Tietjens maintains control in most of these conflicts, but those that he has no control over he tries to ignore. That doesn’t mean he is passive, as his confrontation with Port Scatho shows. Tietjens doesn’t shy away from hardship, which he seems to view as a cleansing process (see his thoughts on joining the French Foreign Legion).

As Sylvia aptly described, Tietjens “was an eighteenth-century figure of the Dr Johnson type”. As such he reminded me at times of an Austen character caught in a bind, wanting neither to lie nor offend. His principles cause similar dilemmas, having to nimbly choose how to resolve conflicting standards. Elinore Dashwood’s quote at the top of this post reminded me of Tietjens, someone punished for things he should be able to enjoy. Tietjens becomes a symbol on several different levels, mostly for being a man that has lived past the end of his world in addition to someone who has lost so much from the war.

A few additional points I wanted to touch on before going on to No More Parades:

  • The war is entering its fourth year and the reader gets a glimpse of its impact for the homefront. In some ways, Tietjens isn’t the only one stuck in the past—many characters expect class distinction or well-placed contacts to assist them in avoiding the leveling effect of war. Tietjens realizes he is asked to provide propaganda instead of fact-based reports and understands the human toll it will cause. His refusal is viewed as a betrayal and reasons, other than the true ones, are fabricated by his friends and enemies. Much of Ford’s focus rests on the leaders and their delinquency of duty: “We were fitted neither for defeat nor for victory: we could be true to neither friend nor foe. Not even to ourselves!” I’m sure with the next two books, the war will play a central part of the discussion.
  • Tietjens is certain he is the father of Tommie, but his conviction raises as many questions as it answers. If there was a mathematical certainty, why did he not come to this conclusion earlier? Does his impairment play any role in his conviction?
  • I mentioned in the previous post that this is a very political novel. Part of the reason I included the opening quote was to point out Tietjens’ (and I’m assuming Ford’s) outlook that the ends should not justify the means. Teitjens believes his progeny will benefit from the war in the same way he benefited from methods he found deplorable under the previous administration. Corrupt practices, by either Lloyd George or Walpole or even further back, will be masked and a national myth established to justify disgraceful actions. His charges dovetail nicely with the theme of false nostalgia, or reality vs. memory. Sylvia, of all people, comes out with one of the more damning statements about the politicization of the war:
    ”Father Consett,” she said, “was hung on the day they shot Casement. They dare not put it into the papers because he was a priest and all the witnesses Ulster witnesses...And yet I may not say this is an accursed war.”

    The trial and execution of Roger Casement (who was hanged, not shot) provides a glimpse into fallout from the Easter Rising in Ireland (among other things), where actions on both sides would have been viewed by Sylvia just as ‘accursed’ as the war. Yet she feels she can not express herself about the war without being condemned (such as Valentine and her family). I’m guessing Ford chose Casement since he was executed on August 3, Ford's ‘anniversary’ date of choice for this book so far.

  • While there are many other things to talk about in Some Do Not…, I feel a need to move on to No More Parades or I will be forever bogged down here…such is the depth and richness of Ford’s work. I’m sure some of the additional points can be incorporated in future Parade’s End discussions.


    Mel u said...

    I also see the work as you did" large parts of the novel can feel like a play". Some times I had to read two or three times to see who is talking. Sylvia is not at all impressed or does not value the intelligence or culture of Tietjens as these are not things she seems to value over much-

    I am finding so much in Parade's End that all I feel I can really do are some more or less impressionistic posts on the work-I have altered my opinion of the work being possibly an Encyclopedic Narrative to being almost an attack on the concept of such a narrative as one of the deeper themes of the work. I am really enjoying and profiting greatly from your posts

    Dwight said...

    Thanks mel. I'm enjoying reading it and knowing others are reading it at the same time. It's always nice to get other approaches which we can pursue or reject. I'm also happy that the anticipation to reading this work, despite some reservations, lives up to what I was hoping it would be.