Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ford Madox Ford and The Woman Question

Ford Madox Ford depicts the essence of the English identity in the early twentieth century, and the traumatic events of the First World War, in Parade’s End. His pluralistic and fragmented prose focus, among other things, on the woman question. His characters are overwhelmed by obsolete behavior codes, war, social shifts and by women’s demands. Men and Women, equally, are led into an extensive process of self-discovery. They are lost in a society that has varied perspectives of right and wrong, and introduced to their own compulsive actions and admissions. They are taught to discern between certain degrees of sexual awareness and depravity, and induced to understand their personal decadence.

In Some Do Not, Ford commits his characters to individual battles with sexual identity. The book analyzes the polygamous desires existent in the minds of all men. The General lectures the main character, Tietjens, about the dangers of adulterous relationships. The General believes that men are not saints, and he strongly recommends that, if Tietjens is going to engage in an adulterous relationship, he should “choose a girl” who can be placed in “a tobacco shop,” a girl who he can court “in the back parlour” and not “in the face of the society,” such as he will have to behave with Miss Wannop (74). In this scene, the general explains to Tietjens that their society treats with a certain amount of sympathy the questionable tendencies of men, but that their gentlemanly behavior and their reputation is put into question when trying to satisfy their sexual needs. In the General’s view, if men are not satisfied with their wives, they are allowed to have other women on the side, but only if they are discreet with their endeavors and do not spent the money of their wives on other women. Even though Tietjens did not think about adultery before, on a subconscious level, at least, he is invited to consider it. Tietjens soon resolves that having the love of another woman and engaging in adulterous relationships “were not inherent impossibilities” for him (87). Tietjens and the General symbolize the men’s improved ability of sexual response towards women. Tietjens is a man of principle who, traditionally, does not act to fulfill his sexual impulses; however, he transforms and allows himself more sexual freedom in order to love Valentine. Valentine’s presence triggers the General’s analysis of society, and Tietjens’s journey of transformation and self- discovery. The woman’s presence translates into the male intellect and sexual confidence. Valentine can not be the traditional discreet lover. Her value as a woman does not impel Tietjens to hide his love for her.

Valentine, in contrast to Tietjens, is a strong woman who does not have to be seduced into any particular sexual life. She decides on her own that “the right man for her … will be a married man” (83). Valentine is only concerned with her true love, not with the rules of her society; her interest lies only with the man that will be the “right man” for her. The novel shows that women are in touch with their inner mind, while men do not. Women know exactly what they want, and men have to work to discover it. Tietjens is spiritually elevated through his relationships with women, and so he becomes a man free of the social expectations of his time, a man given a new life. He changes his attitude towards love and chooses to love Valentine, who presents an abysmal psychological threat to him. Valentine is the only character who can compromise his morality, his principles and his aristocratic status quo.

Ford’s prose explores the contemporary signs of male aggression towards women and their fear to them. It develops the extent to which women pose a threat to their lives. When Valentine and Gertie protest for women’s rights in front to the men at the golf course, they are forced to escape away from them. As women, they are not respected, and as suffragettes who break the law, they put themselves at risk. The men do not understand them, nor their ideals, and their boldness poses a threat to men. The men’s first impulse is not only to put them in jail, but also to take advantage of them. Two men with “lurid and obscene” eyes were chasing Gertie, yelling “Strip the bitch naked,” while Tietjens thought “This is an assaulted female” (67). Women of the time were thought to be insignificant, unable to fight for their ideals. Any transgression of the submissive female patterns would be dangerous. In this case, Valentine’s and Gertie’s punishment is not only jail-time, but also an imminent sexual attack. Women were thought only to belong to the private sphere and not the political sphere. Ford clearly exposes this derisive treatment of women through Tietjens’s actions; he was watching the man who was unable to get Gertie and observed that the man’s gaze was as “if the bottom of his assured world, where all men desire to bash women, had fallen out” (67). Ford generalizes men’s negative impulses towards women; they wan to “bash” the women of their “assured world.” In Tietjen’s society is “all men desire” to humiliate and physically harm women. Ford criticizes this attitude by making Tietjens stand against it. Tietjens helps the women escape; he makes the policeman trip over his golf bag when he is eagerly pursuing the women. Tietjens does not care about the consequences of his actions; he only wants to see the women safe. Titjens’ attitude symbolizes the attitude that men should have towards women. Men should respect women enough to help them even if they are at risk of losing their reputation as proper Englishmen.

Women are purposely portrayed as valiant and strong, their dialogue depicts them acting offensively, fearless of confrontations with other people who have other ideas. On the other hand, men are portrayed continuously defending their actions. Valentine, fearless of her actions, tells Tientjens not to “be one of those ignoble triflers who say the vote won’t do women any good” (114). Valentine courageously accuses any men who oppose the women who work hard to get the right to vote of dishonorable conduct. Valentine furthers her feminist ideals through such arguments.

The debate over women’s rights and the expectations of women’s moral behavior help the audience to understand the extent to which the contemporary view of women is transformed into a reclamation of women’s rights.

by Tania Sanchez

Ford, Ford Madox Parade's End.London, England:Penguin Books Ltd., 2002.

Haslam, Sara. Fragmenting Modernism;Ford Madox Ford, the novel and the Great War. Manchester,UK: Manchester University Press, 2002.

Meixneir, John A. Ford Madox Ford Novels. Minneapolis, US: University of Minnesota Press, 1962.

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