Monday, March 19, 2007
From Decadence to Death
As seen in the film, Parades End is filled with long sweeping scenes depicting the opulence of Edwardian England. This extravagance is particularly taken from Some Do Not, which takes place at this time in history. Recall the opening scene of the film where Tietjens and Macmaster are traveling in a railway carriage in pre-war England. This is taken right from the very beginning of the novel, where Ford sets his main characters in this era.
The two young men…sat in the perfectly appointed railway carriage.
The leather straps to the windows were of virgin newness; the mirrors
beneath the new luggage racks immaculate as if they had reflected
very little; the bulging upholstery in its luxuriant, regulated curves was
scarlet and yellow in an intricate, minute dragon pattern…. (3).
The railway carriage thus embodies Edwardian England. Its “bulging upholstery in its luxuriant, regulated curves” represents the “overstuffedness” of the time, while the “intricate, minute dragon pattern” represents the foreign decadence that took over England during this time.
While Ford introduces this era in his novel, he expresses the how shallow and morally depraved it is. In the opening scene he notes that “the mirrors beneath the new luggage racks [were] immaculate as if they had reflected nothing” (3). During his explanation of this decadence, he interjects his own ideas that this era is so lacking in substance that even the mirrors could not reflect anything. In the introduction to the novel, Max Saunders notes that the era before the war was a “descent into madness” (12) and that some “repressed Edwardian idylls figure only to be plunged into blood and darkness” (10). This Edwardian period is the catalyst that sent these figures into blood and darkness, which can be seen as the First World War.
Ford continues to represent Edwardian decadence throughout the first novel; he switches his focus from English decadence to German decadence. The scene at Lobscheid shows Sylvia Tietjens on vacation with her mother and her priest. However, it is important to note that her decadent lifestyle was what sent her to Lobscheid as she needed a place to hide her mother to cover her story while she had an affair. The resort itself is extremely decadent, which had “large verandahs and several square farmhouses, white with grey beams, painted in the gables with bouquets of blue and yellow flowers or with scarlet huntsman shooting at purple stags” (23). The difference between English decadence and German decadence is expressed in this chapter, as Ford describes that German decadence is focused around blood and death. Not only are there pictures of huntsman shooting stags, but Sylvia’s room embodies this violent decadence.
The walls of the large room were completely covered with pictures
of animals in death agonies: capercailzies giving up the ghost with
gouts of scarlet blood on the snow; deer dying with their heads back
and eyes glazing, gouts of red blood on their necks; foxes dying with
scarlet blood on green grass. (26).
Ford uses imagery of this violence to show the danger of decadence in Edwardian England. Sylvia is associated with this violence and as we see in The Last Post, she literally and figuratively destroys the house of Groby, which represents traditional and aristocratic England. Also, as this imagery is set at Lobscheid, Germany is directly associated with this violence, which Ford uses to foreshadow the First World War.
Ford, Ford Madox. Parade’s End. London: Penguin, 2002.
Saunders, Max. “Introduction” Parade’s End. London: Penguin, 2002. 7-17.