Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford

FordParadesEndWhy I Read It: British classic that I had never heard of.

Where I Got It: Review copy via the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Those interested in the British society structure during WWI.

Narrator: Steven Crossley

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2012)

Length: 30 CDs

Parade’s End follows the fictional lives of the Tietjens. Christopher Tietjens is the youngest son of this high-placed family and the pivotal character. At first, he seems rather boring, being a mild-mannered statistician for the British government. But as the war breaks out and his life and social standing become tangled due to his adulteress wife, Sylvia, he becomes more interesting. His older brother, Mark, encourages Christopher to take a mistress of his own, Valentine Wannope. Christopher is sent off to war, not once, but twice, receiving injuries both times.

That’s a pretty short description of such a long book. The pacing of the plot was very, very slow. Indeed, I found myself enjoying this book more on days where I could give it a listen for 3-5 hours at a time because then I felt that the book was moving forward. Set in a time period and place where not only WWI is taking place, but the Suffragette movement, and the breaking down of class barriers, nearly the entirety of this book is about the personal social interactions of the Tietjens.

Yep, you read that right. It was like one long gossip fest with a little bit of historical bits thrown in to give it some credence. Does that sound harsh? Many classics I find to be focused on perceived societal norms (read ‘gossip’) and many people enjoy them. So, if you enjoy the drama of people trying to find love, happiness, and acceptance within constrained class systems, don’t let this review stop you from checking this classic out.

Tietjens is a descent guy, marrying a beautiful woman who seduces him for her own purposes but later comes to lust after him. I think it is a case of Sylvia can have any man she crooks her little finger at, except her husband, who she has abused for a number of years. Christopher is also generous with lending out money to the point of detriment, nearly ‘beggaring’ himself, which means he has to get a job.

I found the class differences to be one of the most interesting aspects of this book. Each societal class has it’s dos and don’ts of who you can interact with at what events to what level. The necessity of having these classes mix in the military of WWI starts to break these class barriers. However, the the British Suffragette movement was happening at the same time and is merely mentioned in a conversation or two; it’s a footnote. Sigh…..One of the biggest moves towards equality and Ford Maddox Ford turns it into a footnote.

The characters spent far more time anguishing over their personal lives and desires than fretting over the war. Yes, the war disrupted some of their planned holidays and their weekly get togethers. Yes, Sylvia managed to punish her husband through the gossip line, forcing him into ‘degrading’ service with the lower orders. These machinations of Sylvia’s practically guaranteed Christopher would be wounded. I loved hating her meanness.

Valentine Wannope is an interesting character, but doesn’t get as much reader time as the others. She is many years younger than Christopher, a Suffragette, and believes war is repulsive and peace is the way to go. Of course these opinions set her on the opposite track as Christopher, who grew up in a time where it was thought preposterous to give women the vote, equal pay, and employment opportunities. Plus he is serving in the war. On the other hand, Valentine’s mother is a well-known writer, with thoughts of her own; and Christopher has the utmost respect for her works. Alas, Valentine’s main role is as love interest.

Mark Tietjens, who is many, many years older than Christopher, has his set ideas on what female companionship is for. He expects perfect compliance within the limited role, set up for his comfort. He wants a woman to keep house, cook his meals, dust his hat, and warm his bed. Ford does a good job of placing this internal monologue of Mark’s in contrast to how the world has moved on, how women now have a greater say in their role in a relationship, society, and the work force.

In the end, I am glad I took the time to read this classic. While a bit long-winded, it was an interesting take on upper British society during WWI. I enjoyed seeing demonstrated how a bit of mean-spirited gossip could potentially ruin a man; and how that man rises up and marches on with his life.

The narrator, Steven Crossley, did a decent job of all the male voices, especially with making Mark and Christopher sound related, but distinct. His female voices could use a little more femininity, but were still distinct for each lady character.

What I Liked: Historical tidbits thrown in; class differences; breaking of societal norms.

What I Disliked: It’s a book built on gossip; Suffragette movement all but ignored; very slow unfolding of events.

I am participating in Darkcargo’s Ye Olde Booke Clubbe, a year-long event focused on classics. Anyone can join in the fun.

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