[Around 1912: on a Sussex golf course]
It in no way perturbed him to be watched, since he was avid of no personal glory when making his shots. A voice said: ‘I say . . . ’ He continued to look at his ball. ‘Sorry to spoil your shot,’ the voice said. ‘But . . . ’
Tietjens dropped his club altogether and straightened his back. A fair young woman with a fixed scowl was looking at him intently. She had a short skirt and was panting a little. ‘I say,’ she said, ‘go and see they don’t hurt Gertie. I’ve lost her . . . ’ She pointed back to the sand-hills. ‘There looked to be some beasts among them.’ She seemed a perfectly negligible girl except for the frown: her eyes blue, her hair no doubt fair under a white canvas hat. She had a striped cotton blouse, but her fawn tweed skirt was well hung. Tietjens said: ‘You’ve been demonstrating.’
observations: Christopher Tietjens is meeting for the first time Valentine Wannop, whom he will love fiercely for many years, unable to follow his heart because of his disastrous marriage and RC wife Sylvia, and because of the First World War. Valentine is a suffragette, so the demonstration is a political one: she and a friend have surprised a Cabinet Minister on a golf course. Tietjens does help her and her friend, though he makes it clear that this is to help everyone out of an awkward situation, not just for her benefit. In this scene I wondered about this sentence: ‘She had a striped cotton blouse, but her fawn tweed skirt was well hung.’ Why ‘but’? Christopher does follow this up, he’s very fussy about what she wears, there’s a lot about blouse choice, which we can only applaud.
Parade’s End is a collection of 4 books (more than 800 pages in all) and the reader is helpless before them. Christopher and Sylvia Tietjens are two of the most infuriating people you could ever wish to meet, and they go round destroying their own and other people’s lives like some miserable, passive-aggressive Tom and Daisy Buchanan. But Ford seems to have a massive respect for Tietjens – we are asked to believe that he is the ‘most brilliant man in England’, the last and only real gentleman, a man of great honour and principles. But he comes over as simply unpleasant and stupid. At least Sylvia is actively malevolent.
Tietjens is also the most unromantic person ever, almost endearingly so. When trying to persuade Valentine that she must forget a bad day in their relationship, he comes up with this bit of flirty talk:
You know they do it surgically; for some illness; cut out a great length of the bowel and join the tube up . . . For colitis, I think.However, all that said, the story is extraordinarily gripping, and Ford has a very confident style that makes for most enjoyable reading. It is a great book, and you can see what Graham Greene meant about Ford writing for grown-ups. The Good Soldier is truly one of the finest novels of the 20th century, and perhaps this tetralogy is on the list too. Pushing on to the next three books.
One picture shows a striped blouse of the time. The other, from the Library of Congress, is an American suffragette of the era.