Dress Down Sunday: Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

book 2 – No More Parades

published 1925


At those words it came to Tietjens suddenly to think of Sylvia, with the merest film of clothing on her long, shining limbs . . . She was working a powder-puff under her armpits in a brilliant illumination from two electric lights, one on each side of her dressing-table. She was looking at him in the glass with the corners of her lips just moving. A little curled . . . He said to himself: ‘One is going to that fine and secret place . . . Why not have?’ She had emanated a perfume founded on sandalwood. As she worked her swansdown powder-puff over those intimate regions he could hear her humming. Maliciously! It was then that he had observed the handle of the door moving minutely. She had incredible arms, stretched out amongst a wilderness of besilvered cosmetics. Extraordinarily lascivious! Yet clean! Her gilded sheath gown was about her hips on the chair . . . 

observations: Another visit to this series of books: more of the plot in these entries, or click on the labels below.

Christopher Tietjens is in the trenches during the First Wold War, but remembering a recent moment when his estranged wife, the deeply wicked Sylvia, came to France (with no papers) to visit him and to make his life as difficult as possible – something which seems to be her only aim in life.

The night is going to end up in a drunken brawl in the hotel corridor. The door handle he can see moving is someone who thinks he might just visit the lovely Mrs Tietjens.

There is a lot in the series about gentlemen having regular mistresses, and we are twice informed that the correct way to pay off these women is to set her up in a tobacco shop. They don’t exist much any more, but now I’m thinking again of the respectable women who ran them in my youth… surely not….?

The relationship between Christopher and Sylvia has elements that resemble the marriage of George Smiley and Lady Ann in John le Carre’s books. Christopher is even more annoying than Sylvia: at one point he says ‘I have not got a friend in the world’ and you can’t help thinking that it’s hardly surprising. Just for starters, he has attractive views like this:

A heavy dislike that this member of the lower middle classes should have opinions on public affairs overcame Tietjens.
Another character says to him:
Yet you’re a disaster; you are a disaster to every one who has to do with you. You are as conceited as a hog; you are as obstinate as a bullock . . . You drive me mad.
… and that seems about right.

A key element of his memories of her – ‘three months ago they parted’, above – has her going to Paddington station so as to travel to Birkenhead and a convent where she will go on retreat. Nowadays you would certainly be going to Euston, not Paddington.

The description of life in the trenches has a ring of total authenticity, and there are interesting points about the differences between enlisted men and conscripts, and the importance that quite small sums of pay might mean. And there is a nice bit of character-drawing for Christopher’s brother Mark, who has

his copy of The Times airing on a chair-back before the fire – for he was just the man to retain the eighteen-forty idea that you catch cold by reading a damp newspaper.
The picture is a saucy French postcard of the era, something that both Christopher and Sylvia would both consider to be very low class.


  1. Moira - No, indeed, that doesn't sound like a very attractive pair of personalities! And it's interesting how the mores of the era are conveyed in the story. Really? Tobacco shops? I didn't know that. Hmm.....makes me wonder about Alice Ascher, the shopkeeper in Christie's The ABC Murders... Hmmm...now that story takes place a few decades later, but still! . ;-) - I do like novels that accurately portray the history of an era. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Oh what an excellent point about the ABC Murders! I think tobacconists' shops pop up a fair bit in her books, and other GA detection - I shall pay particular attention from now on....

  2. Two very unlikable characters. It would be interesting to learn about the times, but ... will still hold out for a more approachable Ford Madox Ford book should I venture into his books.

    The story behind that postcard would be interesting.

    1. It's quite an undertaking to embark on Parade's End - you might be right to hold out for now. And yes, like you I always wonder about the women in these pictures. I really hope it was a way of making a living and they were OK with what they did, not being exploited. Is that naïve?

    2. Good question. Probably many had no other choice. For some maybe it was the best choice. Not that I have any real knowledge on this. In some of the books and TV movies of The Murdoch Mysteries (not the TV series) a prostitute is featured who has been able to improve her situation, but probably it is wishful thinking to believe that was common.

    3. Yes I'm sure you're right. I haven't managed to catch the Murdoch Mysteries yet.

  3. I was put off Murdoch by conversations like this:

    Have you seen the new buildings going up in Chicago? Apparently they're built on a steel frame. It's the architecture of the future!

    Discarded mistresses might be lucky and get a hat shop or dress shop.

    1. Hat shop or dress shop would be much nicer than tobacconists. Maybe a tea shop? I think I would hold out for a bookshop if I were in that position....

  4. I was instantly reminded of a John Cooper Clarke song - Never See a Nipple in the Daily Express when I saw the photo. Off to see it on You Tube now! Not a book for me TBH.

    1. I suspect John Cooper Clarke isn't often linked with Ford Madox Ford (though they do both have 3 names) so kudos to you for achieving that....


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