Saturday, March 24, 2007

Enlightened Promiscuity?

Sex is a topic which runs throughout Some Do Not…. Whether it is infidelity or illegitimacy, there is always sex in some permutation affecting the characters’ lives. However, I found the idea of “enlightened promiscuity” (264) to be the most interesting for many reasons. First, some may think that sexual deviance originated in Studio 54 in the 70s and this is obviously not true. Also, this sort of promiscuity seems to be the norm for women in Some Do Not… and this is quite topical with shows like “Sex and the City” these days. While Valentine prefers chastity opposed to promiscuity, she still concedes “she would have stated herself to advocate an, of course, enlightened promiscuity” (264), had she not been brought up in service with a drunk cook to expel any glorification or tenderness comcerning sex. Valentine is not a character to simply take up a popular cause – or pretend to defend one – as she is against the war and also works hard to the suffragette cause. These two causes seem to be ones she has be thoughtful about before acting. Then why does she decide she would espouse this accord with enlightened promiscuity so easily? Why would Valentine’s views simply be a matter of nurture and luck? I believe this shows how this brand of promiscuity was closely tied with feminism – and indeed, in many ways, it still is – and how accepted it was by certain groups of people in the Edwardian era.

However, while Sylvia seems to be promiscuous in this enlightened sense – she goes after men simply for her own enjoyment and does not care at all what society or especially her family and husband think. She does not seem to care about what the consequences of these actions are either. “Enlightened” has quite positive connotations. It connotes a deep understanding and knowledge and also a great peace that comes with this. However, whilst talking with her mother and Father Consett, Sylvia implies she knows everything – in particular concerning men and her husband – and instead of this knowledge making her want to forgive all as Father Consett believes it would, it makes her exceptionally bored. This shows that this enlightened promiscuity is perhaps not the correct course of action for great happiness and peace.

Of these two women, Valentine, the one first takes up chastity on her own accord and then through perhaps fate has to keep her chaste ways in the end of Some Do Not…, is the woman more at peace while she still has much turmoil she must deal with. Valentine appears more “enlightened” on the whole than Sylvia. This appears to be another way in which Some Do Not… attacks this decadence, as Darcy explains, since Sylvia, while she may find her lifestyle boring, wholly encompasses the danger of decadence and, indeed, succumbs to the downfall later on in Parade’s End. Thus Some Do Not… presents this “enlightened promiscuity” as a euphemism for decadence. And decadence ultimately leads to death and destruction, as Ford Maddox Ford shows.

- Molly Sotham

Ford, Ford Madox. Parade’s End. London: Penguin Books, 2002.


Anonymous said...

Hi Miss Blondé, I was wondering about all this promiscuity in the novel and how they got away with it. Specifically women. How did they prevent child birth when birth control was not yet invented?

Anonymous said...

Hello anonymous student, this question is an interesting one. In fact, these problems were talked about in the book. Recall that both Sylvia and Christopher are unsure of their childs father. Sylvia was canoodling with Drake during the conception of her child, so both characters were unsure.
Also, when Tietjens is contemplating having an affair with Valentine, he worries about possibly leaving her with a child when he goes to the front. Therefore he decides to forego the affair.
Thanks for the comment! Glad to see you're enjoying the text!

Miss Blondé