Sylvia Tietjens in Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford
Today’s entry appears on the Guardian website: they are doing a series on Baddies in Books, and I chose Sylvia Tietjens from Parade’s End as my contribution.
This is part of the article:
Has there ever been a more toxic marriage than the one at the centre of Ford Madox Ford’s four-volume Parade’s End? The disastrous relationship between Christopher and Sylvia Tietjens is hard to take for the reader, let alone the two principals themselves. Unfortunately, Christopher – the most brilliant man in England and the last true gentleman, if you believe Ford – holds the calamitous view that: “No one but a blackguard would ever submit a woman to the ordeal of divorce.”
Sylvia is Roman Catholic, and though hardly holding to the tenets of her own religion (or any other), she will not contemplate divorce herself. (This changes late on in the books, with a complex legal move, but even her own lawyer “knew that Sylvia’s aim was not divorce but the casting of all possible obloquy on Christopher.”)
It is her wickedness that holds her in the marriage: she enjoys making Christopher’s life a misery….
Sylvia is a real human being, and as such an asset in a canon too full of saintlier types. As Gillian Flynn, author of another novel about a toxic marriage, Gone Girl, put it: “the one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing. In literature, they can be dismissably bad – trampy, vampy, bitchy types – but there’s still a big push back against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad and selfish.” You can’t dismiss Sylvia. She is Ford’s greatest creation.
I read all four books last year, and was swept away by them – they will feature in my list of best books of the year tomorrow.
There are one or more blog entries on each of the books: click here or on the label below to see them. The books are not an easy read, but well worth pursuing, and I found them particularly meaningful in a year when we were marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.