Good Books: Granfa’ Grig Had A Pig by Wallace Tripp

Back when our children were small, we picked up two books by Wallace Tripp: Granfa’ Grig Had A Pig and A Great Big Ugly Man came Up And Tied His Horse To Me . These immediately became family favorites, books still remembered as those once-small children advance into their forties.

A Great Big Ugly Man disintegrated long ago, but I did discover the dilapidated remnants  of Granfa’ Grig a little while back. The graphics from here on are scans of that particular piece of family culture. And let me just stave off those who would say that our children should have been more careful with these books. No! You do not stop a child from reading; you do not make them wash their hands before opening the cover. These are some of the myriad ways  in which people destroy a child’s interest in reading. Little children are messy and heedless of consequence, and so is their love, whether of books or anything else. Would you demand your child wash their hands before hugging you?

Ah well, another day, another rant. That’s done. Here’s the wraparound cover for Granfa’ Grig:

Tripp_cover

And the double title page:

Tripp_inscover

Is this getting through yet? This is a book of nursery rhymes, some quite obscure, illustrated by a very fine artist.

Wallace Tripp quit his day job and sought to find work illustrating children’s books in the mid-1960s. After a time, he established himself and worked on many books including the Amelia Bedelia series. Soon he discovered his forte: exquisitely rendered anthropomorphic animals. This genre lends to satire, and Tripp embraced a very gentle and humane satire that infuses all his work. Look at this silly rhyme:

Tripp_bearpin

Look at the marvelous expression on the bear’s face. And check out the children in these two rhymes:

Tripp_ale

But it’s not all animals. This rhyme was a family favorite:

Tripp_bony

“Beat you! Beat you! Beat you!” my kids would joyously shout. God knows what images were swimming in their partly-formed consciousness. And, speaking of family favorites, here is my wife’s:

Tripp_anne

She really enjoys scenes of pomposity being slapsticked.

Here’s some other Tripp work not in Granfa’ Grig:

Tripp_attila

Tripp had a company, Pawprints, that distributed his drawings in various formats. Now you should look to eBay for those calendars and greeting cards.

Tripp_ sword

In the 1990s, Tripp began to have physical problems that were diagnosed as Parkinson’s Disease. He has been retired for twenty years now.

Tripp_feet

Here is the rhyme and illustration that ends Granfa’ Grig:

Tripp_end

There are numerous collections of Wallace Tripp art reproduced on-line. For instance:

Flickriver, My Delineated Life, Michael Sporn: Some Pawprints cards

Tripp has a website but it appears moribund.

Good Books: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson; Good Movies: Treasure Island, 1950

Sometime around 1951, I saw Treasure Island  and was delighted. What a great movie, I thought, and the hero was a kid! Like me! About a year ago I got a DVD that promised to be a copy of the original film. I am fully aware that memories tarnish over time and did not expect Treasure Island to hold up after more than sixty years. But it did! I read Treasure Island as a kid and several times since, it is a fine novel. And I have seen a number of illustrations for the book done by different artists, and read the Classics Illustrated comic. Anyway, I want to review the movie (as it exists on DVD) and take a look at the book with an eye to plot differences. Along the way, I’ll mention some of the illustrators who worked on this title. (This post is image-heavy and may take a while to load. Many of the illustrations will embiggen if you click on them.)

Stevenson claimed to have been inspired by a map, possibly of one of the Scottish isles re-imagined as a pirate treasure location, by his step-son. (The map is reproduced in many editions of the book.) He also says that he set out to write a book for boys. And although it is true there are no girls in the book — the only female character is Jim’s mother, who does not appear in the Disney film at all — many young women read this novel or watch this movie with enjoyment. (One woman who was enthralled by Treasure Island was J.M.Barrie’s mother, who tried to hide her enjoyment from her novelist son for fear she would be seen as disloyal.)

The map (from the Swanston Collected R.L.Stevenson, available at gutenburg.org)

The map (from the Swanston Collected R.L.Stevenson, available at gutenburg.org) The Disney film map shows only the islet in the bottom right corner, which is where the treasure is buried.

The book begins with Jim Hawkins saying that all these events occurred years before, which is taken by cranky critics to be a spoiler, because that means the reader knows that Jim will survive. That just shows how little these critics understand literature. Anyway, Jim’s recollections begin with the wasting away of his father who dies leaving Jim and his mom to look after the Admiral Benbow Inn, located in coastal Devon. A guest named Billy Bones takes up residence at the inn during the period of Mr. Hawkins’ decline, and he is a thoroughly disagreeable mean drunk. He promises various payments to Jim’s parents and Jim himself, and cheats all three. He threatens the guests, has nasty drunken fits, and is generally a blight on the landscape. Here we might note that Stevenson never romanticizes his pirate characters — they are all scum and you don’t want to turn your back on any of them. Bones enlists Jim as lookout: the boy is to watch for seamen inquiring about him and, in particular, he is to watch for a one-legged man, who is to be feared.

Finlay Currie as Billy Bones, getting ready to take his last drink.

Finlay Currie as Billy Bones, getting ready to take his last drink.

One day, a man with a nasty scar on his face does turn up at the Admiral Benbow, looking for Billy Bones. This is where the Disney movie begins. Jim lies and says he knows no such man but the scarred man notices a sea-trunk, marked “WB” and knows that this means “William Bones”. Jim reports to Bones (played by Finlay Currie, who I believe, never, ever played a thoroughly unlikeable character) who immediately identifies the scarred man as Black Dog, which is not a name associated with Goodness and Mercy. In the book, Bones and Black Dog clash and Billy Bones drives the other pirate away.

Billy Bones: catches his sword in the inn sign when he swings at Black Dog by John Cameron; gets the Black Spot by Derek Eyles; is found dead by Louis Rhead

Billy Bones: catches his sword in the inn sign when he swings at Black Dog by John Cameron; gets the Black Spot by Derek Eyles; is found dead by Louis Rhead

Soon enough, another visitor arrives at the Admiral Benbow: Blind Pew, an uncanny figure who latches onto Jim with a vulture grip and demands to be guided to Billy Bones. This scene is handled much the same way in both book and movie. Pew makes Jim guide his hand to that of Bones and drops something into it. “Now that’s done!” he cackles and scuttles away. Bones opens his hand to reveal the Black Spot! A piece of paper with a black circle on it and the words, “after dark”, in the movie. The book has it after ten o’clock. “We have time,” shouts Bones, “We’ll do them yet!” But he collapses and dies. In the book, Jim informs us that this is the second person he has seen die, the first being his father. Now, memory of the first being “fresh in his heart”, he bursts into tears, though he never liked Billy Bones. What he doesn’t say is that he will witness quite a few more deaths over the next year or so.

Pew grabs Jim,left to right: by Frank Godwin, a comics artist whose masterful pen and ink illustrations are some of the best for Treasure Island; Roberto Innocenti, for a 2012 Italian translation of the novel.; Mervyn Peake, from 1947m still in print.

Pew grabs Jim,left to right: by Frank Godwin, a comics artist whose masterful pen and ink illustrations are some of the best for Treasure Island; Roberto Innocenti, for a 2012 Italian translation of the novel.; Mervyn Peake, from 1947 still in print.

In the movie, the dying Bones gives Jim a packet. In the book, he finds it in Billy Bones’ sea-chest which he and his mother are pillaging for the money owed them. Jim’s mother refuses to take a nickel more than her debt but the coins are all manner of issues and denominations and it takes a while to calculate. Jim urges her to take the lot, but she won’t because that is not the Right thing to do. So they are almost caught when the pirates suddenly swarm around the Admiral Benbow, not waiting until the appointed hour at all, those scurvy swabs. Jim and his mother hide outside while he ponders that they might be killed because of his mother’s “greed”. But, of course, it was not just greed, but righteousness, that caused her to delay. Jim is not quite what moderns call an unreliable narrator, but Stevenson makes it clear that he does not always see things the way others — including the reader — might. Later, Jim demonstrates a rather cavalier attitude toward doing the Right Thing. Have I made it clear yet that I admire Stevenson’s writing?

Now the cavalry arrives in the form of a posse of revenue agents called by Jim through the local lord, Squire Trelawney. The details and differences between book and movie aren’t important. What is important is that, during the confusion when the armed guard arrives and the pirates scatter, Blind Pew falls under their horses and is killed. In the book, that is; on the DVD nary a trace of Pew amongst the pirates. I thought I remembered… but possibly that’s an illustration I recall. Maybe Disney couldn’t bear to kill a blind man, even if that same blind man is one of the nastiest villains ever imagined. “It’s that boy,” says Pew, when the pirates can’t find the map, “I wish I had put his eyes out.” There’s echoes of fairy tales and myth in that declaration.

Top: Classics Illustrated #84 by Alex Blum. The face in the chopped-off panel at right is that of Billy Bones. Bottom: Pew seeking the aid of his shipmates, who have fled, by N.C. Wyeth, possibly the most famous illustrator for this story; Pew is ridden down by Edmond Dulac. Dulac was a great illustrator, but chose to see everything in Treasure Island from a distance. There is little of characters in his illustrations.

Top: Classics Illustrated #84 by Alex Blum. The face in the chopped-off panel at right is that of Billy Bones. Bottom: Pew seeking the aid of his shipmates, who have fled, by N.C. Wyeth. Wyeth’s colors are often very similar to those of the Technicolor Disney film; Pew is ridden down, by Edmund Dulac. Dulac was a great illustrator, but chose to see everything in Treasure Island from a distance. There is little of characters in his illustrations.

Jim turns the map over to Squire Trelawney and Doctor Livesey. The doctor, who had ministered to Billy Bones and tried to get him to stop drinking, is very upright, courageous, and, for Disney, a sort of father figure to Jim. In fact, the movie turns on which dad Jim will choose: the upright Livesey or the scoundrel Silver — but that’s yet to come. The Squire is a bluff gentleman, thick as a post, who cannot keep from blathering every thought that winks into his head. The Doctor tries to rein him in, but Squire Trelawney is a fool. Not that Doctor Livesey would allow you to say that, because he is as loyal as he is upright. At any rate, these two and Jim decide to sail after the treasure on the map.

The Squire sets out to Bristol where he finds a ship, the Hispaniola, and Captain Smollett to command her. He also runs his mouth about a treasure map and all the wrong type of seaman are attracted to him. All this is much the same in book and movie, except that Disney leaves out Jim taking leave of his mother and his old home. The lad setting out on his life adventure with both joy and apprehension, and the leavetaking of home, is older than fairy tales and the beginning of many great stories. Stevenson glosses this device. When Jim sees the boy who has been apprenticed to take over his work, he has an attack of tears. Then:

I am afraid I led that boy a dog’s life; for as he was new to the work, I had a hundred opportunities of setting him right and putting him down, and I was not slow to profit from them.

Jim is, you see, not a stainless hero but a genuine human being with both good and bad traits.

Jim leaves home, by N.C.Wyeth. Wyeth’s illustrations are perhaps the best-known. The original paintings are three feet by four and cost Wyeth an enormous effort but one that he felt was worth it. He called the Treasure Island illustrations “far better in every quality than anything I ever did.” Wyeth’s version has remained in print since 1911. (See end notes for more details on this edition.)

In Bristol, Jim finally meets the Old Sea-Cook, as an alternate title of Stevenson’s novel calls him. Long John Silver is a charming fellow. Although Jim remembers Billy Bones’ warning and is alarmed to meet a one-legged man, Silver soon charms him. In the movie, Silver gives Jim a pistol, which will figure in the later action; in the book, he simply talks Jim around. At one point, Jim spots Black Dog and gives the alarm. Silver sets men after the pirate, but, of course, they don’t catch him.

A bit more about Long John Silver from the book: He is now fifty years old. The men call him Barbecue. They say he has education and could have been something more than an ordinary seaman. And he is powerfully strong. Even with only one leg, the other seamen fear him. Silver has a wife, partner in his Bristol inn. She is a woman of color, a “negress” in the novel. The Squire has some casually racist things to say about her that Stevenson later exposes as gas when Silver explains to the other pirates that, the instant the Hispaniola sailed, his wife had sold up the inn and all their belongings, and now awaits his return with Flint’s treasure at a certain secret place in England. Silver also explains compound interest to his pirate buddies and says if they have any sense (which he knows they don’t) they will invest their loot, a little here, a little there, so as not to arose suspicion.

Long John Silver by Frank Schoonover, as played by Robert Newton, by Edward A. Wilson

Long John Silver by Frank Schoonover, as played by Robert Newton, by Edward A. Wilson

Both book and movie describe Silver’s outer trappings, the one leg, his parrot named Captain Flint that squawks “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!” Both present him as a charming, scheming rogue — but he is also a murderous villain, more so in book than movie.

Perhaps here is the place to talk about Robert Newton’s wonderful performance as Long John Silver. It is said that Newton, who had been a major star in English film, was a complete alcoholic. The director, Byron Haskin, kept him working by continually asking his advice on how to do scenes and treating him with the respect due a legendary actor. If so, we owe Haskin a debt of gratitude for eliciting this great performance. (Haskin says that he simply let Newton rip and chew all the scenery he wished.) And it is a performance that everyone remembers. Every time someone goes “Arrrr” on Talk Like A Pirate Day, he is quoting Robert Newton, who adapted his native West Country dialect to the role. But kids in 1951 were the people who really appreciated the Newton performance. Robert Crumb has written about his older brother, Charles, who tied up a leg and crutched around the neighborhood so much that he actually damaged his ability to walk for a while. Others may speak of Wallace Beery or Charlton Heston (haven’t seen that one myself) but Robert Newton’s is The Great Portrayal of Long John Silver for ever. So I say.

From Robert Crumb, Treasure Island Days and from an early comic scripted by Charles, drawn by Robert. (The Complete Crumb Comics vol. 13 and vol. 1, respectively.)

From Robert Crumb, Treasure Island Days and from an early comic scripted by Charles, drawn by Robert. (The Complete Crumb Comics vol. 13 and vol. 1, respectively.)

The Hispaniola sails and the voyage is uneventful except for the death of the first mate, Arrow. He is drunk when he goes on deck in a storm and is swept away. In the book, Jim learns later that Silver has been feeding rum to Arrow; in the movie, Jim is made accomplice to Arrow’s killing by bringing the rum to Silver. That’s pretty heavy and something Stevenson would have made more of. As it stands, Jim winds up his adventure with PTSD — but that’s yet to come.

“Here ye are, Mister Harrow. Sweeten the plum duff to yer taste.” Arrow chugs at the bottle before lurching on deck. Silver pushes him above with his crutch.

Jim goes to fetch an apple from the barrel that stands where every man can help himself. Doctor Livesey thinks this a good health measure, Captain Smollett (in the book) believes it will make the men soft. Smollett is a brave commander, set in his ways. Some time or other I expect some grad student has written a thesis or a dissertation on Stevenson’s approach to class — his characters simply accept it as part of the world they live in, often they are ruled by assholes and that’s the way of it — but someone else can look that paper up. Where was I? Oh, yes! The apple barrel.

The barrel is almost empty and Jim climbs inside to get an apple. Then several men group outside. One is John Silver, another is one of the non-pirate seamen, Dick. Silver (in the book) talks of days sailing with Flint, how he lost his leg and Pew his eyes in the same battle. It was an educated surgeon that amputated his leg, “knew Latin by the bucket”, but that didn’t save him: “He was hanged like a dog, and sun-dried like the rest, at Corso Castle.” Dick declares he will join the pirates — in the book, they call themselves “gentlemen of fortune”. Then both in book and movie, Silver speaks of his plans. Israel Hands wants to move now and take the ship, but Silver reminds him that, although they can steer a course, none of the seamen can set one. He bids them wait until all the treasure is aboard. In the book, he says that he would have them sail halfway back to England, to at least the trade winds region, but he knows that that the impatient pirates won’t hold out that long. He says that when they reach the island and the ship is loaded with treasure, then they will kill the others. One thing, says Silver, “I claim Trelawney. I’ll wring his calf’s head off his body with these hands.”

A pirate approaches the apple barrel and Jim fears he will be discovered — the movie does this well, with a pirate knife descending to pierce either an apple or Jim — when the cry is heard: “Land ho!” And everyone rushes to see.

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Jim calls a council in the Captain’s cabin. There, he tells Smollett, Squire Trelawney, and Doctor Livesey of what he has heard. Everyone recognizes that only Silver keeps the crew from open mutiny. Aside from the four in the cabin, only three brought from Trelawney’s estate can be counted on (says the book). So they are seven against nineteen, nine against twenty in the movie. Now comes a key moment.

In the book, Jim is told to keep his ears open. He is worried but agrees. In the movie, Doctor Livesey tells Jim to stay friends with Silver, something that causes him some dismay — “Stay friends with him?”. (Bobby Driscoll was a good actor.) One surrogate father tells Jim to spy on the other, who is not made out to be quite the villain that Stevenson created. Here is the setup for the drama of the movie’s final scene.

Robert Newton and Bobby Driscoll on the way to the island, before Jim gets away. Good old charming Long John Silver. Even the movie can't completely whitewash him.

Robert Newton and Bobby Driscoll on the way to the island, before Jim gets away. Good old charming Long John Silver. Even the movie can’t completely whitewash him.

Action in the book is compressed in the film, but the effect of both is that Jim is ashore on the island when the pirates aboard the Hispaniola try to take the ship, against Long John Silver’s orders. Then occurs perhaps the most horrifying event in the book, so chilling that Disney left it out of the movie.

Jim has scampered ashore and hides from the pirates. After a while he hears Silver arguing with Tom, who refuses to join the pirates. Their argument is interrupted by a scream from another part of the island. Someone else who refused to join the pirates has been murdered. Tom walks away from Silver who hoists himself on a tree branch and hurls his crutch so that it strikes Tom’s spine with bone-breaking force:

Silver, agile as a monkey, even without leg or crutch, was on top of him next moment, and had twice buried his knife up to the hilt in that defenceless body. From my place of ambush, I could hear him pant aloud as he struck the blows.

Death of Tom: by Frank Godwin, Louis Rhead -- Rhead worked in black and white, then colored a few pages for the publisher. Both B/w and color versions may be seen in the Gutenberg.org edition ; Mervyn Peake

Death of Tom: by Frank Godwin; Louis Rhead — Rhead worked in black and white, then colored a few pages for the publisher. Both b/w and color versions may be seen in the Gutenberg.org edition ; Mervyn Peake.

Jim falls into a swoon and lies senseless, overwhelmed by the sight. And, when I read this part, I lost any liking whatsoever for Long John Silver. But you may differ. After all, there were many folks who found Ted Bundy charming. And I do not intend this as an off-hand comparison. It seems to me that Stevenson has created a character who is a model sociopath — not that Stevenson knew the term — charming, manipulative, ruthless, and completely without remorse. I can visualize Silver ruling a gang or a prison block. Stevenson has described a particular kind of villain that now has a label.

Now the situation is: the pirates have taken the ship, Captain Smollett, Doctor Livesey, Squire Trelawney, and three loyal men are barricaded in an old stockade. Jim runs into Ben Gunn, marooned for three years and dreaming of cheese, toasted mostly, who guides him to the stockade and asks for a meeting later with someone of that party. Jim delivers his message to the stockade and the Doctor says he will speak with Ben Gunn. In the book, he mentions that he has a piece of Parmesan cheese in his snuffbox, “very nutritious”, and will give it to old Ben. But first the pirates attack the stockade with the ship’s cannon.

Ben Gunn by Ralph Steadman.

Ben Gunn by Ralph Steadman.

The cannonade failing, Long John Silver arrives under a flag of truce. Captain Smollett refuses to treat with him, offering instead to take back any pirate who surrenders to a fair trial in England. Their parley finished, no one offers a hand to help Silver up. In the movie, we can see Jim feeling sorry for Silver, but not in the book.

The pirates attack the stockade in earnest. There is fierce fighting and, when it is over, the Captain’s party has five men left (one wounded), the pirates, eight. So the odds have improved, but the situation is desperate. In the movie, Doctor Livesey gives Jim the map and tells him to buy his life with it if necessary. In the book, this comes later.

Attack on the Stockade. Top: N.C.Wyeth; Abraham Gray kills the big boatswain, by Bohuslav Mikes (Czech edition, 1967). Gray left the pirates to join Jim's party. He makes it back to England; Mervyn Peake. Bottom: Ralph Steadman

Attack on the Stockade. Top: N.C.Wyeth; Abraham Gray kills the big boatswain, by Bohuslav Mikes (Czech edition, 1967). Gray left the pirates to join Jim’s party. He makes it back to England; Mervyn Peake. Bottom: Ralph Steadman.

That night, the Doctor leaves to meet with Ben Gunn and Jim goes on his own excursion. Jim knows that if he can cut the Hispaniola free from her anchorage, she will drift into the beach. He determines to bring this about. He does not ask permission or advise anyone of his plan, he just leaves. At the end of the novel, Captain Smollett tells Jim that he won’t sail with him again. “You’re too much of the born favorite for me,” he says, which is an interesting observation. In the book, Jim grabs a brace of pistols from the common armory as he leaves; in the movie, he has the weapon given him by John Silver.

Jim boards the Hispaniola: Edmond Dulac;George Varian; Lyle Justis

Jim boards the Hispaniola: Edmond Dulac; George Varian; Lyle Justis

Jim locates Ben Gunn’s goat-skin coracle and paddles out to the Hispaniola. He cuts the hawser and climbs up a rope while the coracle is demolished by the larger vessel. Along the way, he witnesses a fight to the death between Israel Hands and another pirate. Hands, who is injured and drunk, staggers topside and collapses by the rail. Jim surveys the fallen pirate, then sets to steering the Hispaniola so that it grounds on the beach. Meanwhile, Israel Hands recovers and tries to get Jim to help him. But it is a ruse! Hands tries to grab Jim. In the book, Jim pulls out a pistol and pulls the trigger, but the powder is wet and Jim clambers aloft to recharge his pistols. In the movie, he simply climbs the rigging. Hands follows, knife in teeth, and here is a great scene in both book and movie. “One more step, Mister Hands, and I’ll blow your brains out!” Hands throws a knife that catches Jim in the shoulder as he fires his pistol(s). Hands falls to the deck. Now Jim can chalk up a killing to his credit.

“One more step, Mister Hands, and I’ll blow your brains out.” Left to Right: Frank Merril; Bobby Driscoll in the Disney version; Frank Godwin; Bohuslav Mikes.

Jim contemplates the two corpses in the water, by Zdenek Burian from a Polish edition of 1947. These deaths take a toll on Jim, in the book.

Jim contemplates the two corpses in the water, by Zdenek Burian from a Polish edition of 1947. These deaths take a toll on Jim, in the book.

The ship is beached and Jim makes his way ashore. He struggles through the jungle to the stockade where he collapses on the floor and discovers that the place has been taken over by pirates! In the book, Doctor Livesey wants to get away from the stockade, which is located in a malarial swamp, and he knows that the treasure has been moved to Ben Gunn’s cave, so he wants to go there to protect it. The Doctor later explains that it bothered him to leave Jim, but “I did what I thought best for those who had stood by their duty; and if you were not one of these, whose fault was it?” The movie is not so clear on why the stockade is given over to the pirates.

Long John Silver takes him in hand and says that the minute he spied the Hispaniola on the beach, he knew the game was up. Now he wants Jim to help keep him from hanging and, in return, he’ll keep the pirates from murdering Jim. Jim also discovers, in the book, that Doctor Livesey has given Silver the treasure map along with the stockade, something that neither Jim nor Silver understand. “There’s something under that,” says Silver, “Something, surely, under that, Jim — bad or good.” In the movie, Silver finds the map in Jim’s shirt when he tends to him.

Doctor Livesey comes to the stockade next day to tend the wounded. Jim gives his promise not to attempt escape and, when he has the opportunity to bolt, doesn’t take it. In the movie, Jim bites on a musket ball as the doctor does something unseen but painful to his knife wound. I can’t tell you how much that impressed me when I first saw the film. The doctor leaves and the pirates confer amongst themselves, finally giving Silver the Black Spot. There is a wonderful bit when Silver sees that the paper has been cut from a Bible.  He shakes his head; the pirates have brought disaster on their heads with that blasphemy.  Then he uses the treasure map to regain leadership of  the gang. This is where the treasure lies, he says, and the pirates examine the map and pronounce it genuine. The other thing is, Jim Hawkins is a hostage to prevent treachery from Smollett’s group. So, the Black Spot is rescinded and Jim will live yet a while.

“I had a line about my waist, and followed obediently after the sea-cook, who held the loose end of the rope, now in his free hand, now between his powerful teeth. For all the world, I was led like a dancing bear.” Jim complains about his indignity. A chapter later, he is afraid: “Now and again I stumbled; and it was then that Silver plucked so roughly at the rope and launched at me his murderous glances.” Left to Right: Frank Merrill, Louis Rhead, Mervyn Peake.

The pirates — only six left now — set out to get the treasure. Jim is tied up and dragged along by Silver. “It’s only for show,” Silver says in the movie, but in the book, as they get closer to the treasure, Jim senses that Silver is switching sides again and may knife him the instant he is of no value as a hostage.

They locate the spot where the treasure is supposed to be and it’s gone! Now, once again, George Merry tries to take leadership from Silver. Long John, meanwhile, has backed away from the pirates and is on the other side of the empty treasure pit when Merry threatens him. Then shots ring out from the trees! One pirate drops dead, George Merry is wounded and Silver takes the opportunity to kill him. “‘George’, said he, ‘I reckon I’ve settled you.'”

Finding the treasure: magazine illustration by Douglas Crockwell. Silver settles with George Merry, Michael Foreman, from an edition still in print

Finding the treasure: magazine illustration by Douglass Crockwell. Silver settles with George Merry: Michael Foreman, from an edition still in print

It transpires that Ben Gunn has removed all the treasure (except the bar silver) to his cave. Captain Smollett’s party, six men including Ben Gunn, seven counting the captive Long John Silver, use the only unwrecked boat to transfer wealth to the Hispaniola. There are still three pirates (besides Silver) on the island, but they seem unable to concoct a plan. Now, book and movie become very different.

In the film, Silver seizes an opportunity to grab Jim’s pistol — the one he had given the boy — forcing the others to leave him with the boat. He rows, and Jim is supposed to steer, but the boy purposely runs the boat aground. Silver jumps out to shove the craft free. He asks Jim for help, and, when that isn’t given, points a gun at his head. But Silver hasn’t the will to shoot Jim and he lowers the pistol. He tries desperately, on his one leg, to free the craft. The Doctor leads a party that is closing in. Earlier, Silver had made a little speech about giving Captain Flint to Jim as a trinket, because creatures don’t take well to prison. Now Jim jumps up and pushes the boat free. Silver waves good-bye, raises a sail, and is away. The Doctor lays a hand on Jim’s shoulder and admits to some liking for Long John Silver himself. End of movie.

In the book, the skeleton crew of the Doctor, the Squire, Jim, Abraham Gray (the only seaman to survive, he came over from the pirates), Ben Gunn, Silver, and Captain Smollett (who is wounded and unable to do anything heavy) maroon the three surviving pirates, then sail the Hispaniola to the nearest port in Spanish America and there pick up a crew. While in port, Ben Gunn helps Silver to escape so that he cannot disturb their homeward voyage, Silver has stolen a sack of gold worth perhaps £400. Everyone thinks that is a cheap price to pay for getting rid of the old pirate. Jim fills us in on what happens to some of the others: Ben Gunn runs through a thousand pounds in less than three weeks, but finds a place; Captain Smollett retires from the sea; Abraham Gray buys his own ship and becomes a master; nothing is said of the Squire or the Doctor. Nothing is known of Silver’s fate. (Nor the marooned pirates, one of whom has malaria.) As for Jim:

The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them; and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”

Stevenson was criticized for the violence in Treasure Island, but I think he is honest about its effects. Just as he is honest about every character in the book: the upright Doctor who would abandon Jim in favor of those who had done their duty; the gasbag Squire who happens to be the best shot of the party and does some damage to the pirates; the wicked Long John Silver who would only slit your throat if it meant profit to him; and Jim Hawkins, who would disobey any order if he took a notion, who saved the expedition, and who now finds his dreams haunted.

None of this is to disdain the movie. Disney, too, was criticized for too much violence and bowdlerized this film when it was released to television in the 1970s. (The DVD has been restored.) The Disney narrative is a bit different, what with the father/son overtones instead of the boy’s brush with psychopaths, but it is still a great movie.

And a great book. Stevenson was a straight-forward storyteller, but he always understood the ramifications of his narrative and the personalities of his characters. And look at the details! The map. The description of the island (it has rattlesnakes). The careful consideration of 18th Century sailing. The wonderful names: Israel Hands, Benjamin Gunn, George Merry — every one of them sings out England! An England of yeomen and sailors, a vanished vision perhaps, but still… Vladimir Nabokov was one critic who recognized Stevenson’s genius and wrote/lectured about Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde in his Lectures on Literature. Enough. You get it or you don’t.

More On The Movie:

Disney had money tied up in Britain, where post-WWII currency restrictions meant that he couldn’t remove it. So he decided to film this, his first movie not to include animation, in England, where the money he was owed could go into production. He had been thinking about an animated version of Stevenson’s book and had the rights so it seemed a natural project.

Young Bobby Driscoll had starred in Song Of The South and So Dear To My Heart, films that combined animation with live action. He received a special juvenile Oscar for his work in So Dear To My Heart. But, in England, legal problems arose with Disney using a foreign juvenile lead. Disney’s lawyers managed a one-month delay in court proceedings, which Disney used to film all of Driscoll’s parts, then shipped him back to America. The English courts were not amused and Disney paid a modest fine. But Driscoll could no longer work in England.

Some filming was done around England, some on a set with painted backdrops, and some on the ship. The Hispaniola was a re-fitted cargo ship (used to transport coal) that was a hundred years old. After the Disney movie, it was moored as a tourist attraction, then used again as a set for the 1956 production of Moby Dick.

Robert Newton returned in Long John Silver, directed by Byron Haskin in 1954. He had a few other movies but died from alcohol-related problems in 1956 at the age of 50.

Bobby Driscoll was slated to play in other Disney films, but there were problems. Disney could not clear the rights to Tom Sawyer, which was to star Driscoll, for instance, and a role in Robin Hood was axed because he could not work in England. He did the voice of Peter Pan for Disney and also served as reference model for Peter’s facial expressions in that movie. As puberty set in, Disney could not find a role for Driscoll. The young man had acne which was covered over with heavy makeup. The teen-ager turned to drugs, and did a stint in prison in 1961. In 1965, he cleaned up and went to New York where he became involved with an arty crowd, including Andy Warhol. He got back into heroin and OD’d in 1967 or ’68. His body was not identified for a year and a half until his parents, who had been searching for him, sent his fingerprints to the New York police. He was a fine actor who deserved better.

The DVD released in 2002 is serviceable, but do not try to load the player software on the disc. I could not play the DVD in DVI or Microsoft Media Player, but James River Media Player did okay. Technicolor is saturated and rich. Particularly in the opening sections at the Admiral Benbow Inn, everything has a sheen, as though some kind of weird dew was falling everywhere. If it doesn’t look that way on your TV, then adjust that machine!

The Book:

The 1911 Scribner’s edition of Treasure Island illustrated by N.C. Wyeth is the one to get if you are looking to buy a copy. Scribner’s re-photographed the Wyeth paintings and the illustrations are first rate. I cannot tell if Scribner’s is still reprinting this book or not, but copies of this edition are available. You can also read the Scribner’s edition with thumbnail versions of Wyeth’s paintings on the Net.

A better internet version is that of 1915 illustrated by Louis Rhead. (The credits state Rhead and Frank Schoonover, but Schoonover only did the 1922 dust jacket/frontispiece.) Or you can read the one illustrated by John Cameron. An edition made for Spanish-speaking people with troublesome English terms linked to their definition includes illustrations by George Roux (the original illustrator), Milo Winter, Wyeth, and Rhead, as well as  pictures of other 18th Century maritime objects.  The 1924 edition illustrated by Frank Godwin is available on-line if you are a Questia or Playster member.

Although nineteen illustrators (plus Robert Crumb) have been referenced in this post, that only scratches the surface. Early illustrations by George Roux and Frank Merrill may be seen here. The University of Minnesota has 450 illustrated editions collected by Lionel Johnson as of the year 2000. And there is a partial list at the Robert Louis Stevenson Archive. Possibly no book except Alice In Wonderland has had more good illustrators work on it, and this is still happening. In 2015 the V & A Award for book illustration went to Sterling Hundley for the Folio Society edition of Treasure Island. (None of those illos are reproduced here.) Most of the illustrated editions mentioned in the post are out of print. I have avoided more recent English illustrated editions — Michael Foreman’s 2009 version is, I think, the only exception. In-print editions besides the Hundley and Michael Foreman’s include those of Mervyn Peake, John Lawrence, Matthew Cruikshank, Robert Ingpen, and many others. Condensed or edited editions abound and are to be avoided.

Non-illustrated editions of interest include the 1905 “Biographical” edition with essays by Stevenson and his wife, and a 1909 annotated edition.

Good Books: Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War

In 1968, I heard a history professor say that Thucydides explained the Vietnam War. Thirty-five years later I heard other historians citing Thucydides as a guide to invading Iraq. At that time, we were told that General, turned Secretary of State, Colin Powell kept a quotation from Thucydides on display in his office and that the Naval War College had introduced The Peloponnesian War into its curriculum. This was actually done in 1972 by Admiral Stansfield Turner who thought that Thucydides had a lot to say about Vietnam and the Cold War. Turner was echoing General, turned Secretary of State, George Marshall, who said in 1947, that Thucydides provided a guide to the Cold War. Since people who shape military and political policies that have consequences for all of us use Thucydides as a guide, it makes sense to have some familiarity with this two-and-a-half-thousand-year-old book.

Bust of Thucydides, Royal Ontario Museum [photo:captmondo Wikipedia Commons]

Bust of Thucydides, Royal Ontario Museum [photo:captmondo Wikimedia Commons]

The city states of ancient Greece turned back two invasions by the mighty Persian empire. The second of these invasions ended with a great victory for Greek forces at Plataea in 479 BC. After this the Persians stayed away from Greece. Athens organized Greek colonies that had been ruled by Persia into the Delian League and this is where Thucydides begins his story.

Athens and Sparta are the strongest of the Greek states. They combined to defeat a great enemy, but now are suspicious of one another. The Cold War analogy begins here. It works, up to a point: the quick, inventive, democratic Athenians as Americans versus the slow, brutal, militarist Spartans/Soviets. But there are some differences that should be noted.

First, Athenian democracy (government of the People) has only a slight resemblance to modern forms. The Athenians made decisions via voting in their assemblies by representatives of the population who are selected by lot. Every eligible citizen is expected to be willing to serve when his name is drawn. “Eligible” does not include women or slaves; it does include male citizens aged thirty or more who have a certain amount of property. There were possibly thirty thousand of these, a tenth of the total population of Athens.

Nor does Sparta practice communism; it is a very aristocratic society (government of the Few). In times past, the Spartans were Dorians who moved south into the Peloponnese where they overcame and enslaved the population of Messenia. The Messenians work the farms that feed Sparta, while young Spartan men are separated by age into cohorts that train, incessantly, as soldiers.  Annually, Sparta ceremonially declares war on its slaves and Spartan citizen soldiers murder a number of them as part of their training. The Spartan army is reputed to be invincible, but Sparta hesitates to send it very far away, fearing that the slaves will revolt and there will be no one to fight them. The Spartans have a dual monarchy, but hard decisions are made by an assembly of landed aristocrats.

Sparta and Athens come to blows and conclude a treaty in 446 BC that is supposed to last for thirty years. Meanwhile, Athens tightens its grip on the Delian League cities and begins to be seen less as a liberator and more as an imperial power. Thucydides says that the main cause of the war that breaks out in 431 BC is Spartan fear of an Athenian empire. It is possible to turn that statement on its head and say that the main cause of the Peloponnesian War was Athens’ desire for an empire.

A map. Argos is neutral sometimes, but allies with Athens before the battle at Mantinea. Pylos is the foothold in the Peloponnese won by Athens. Potidaea is top center, directly underneath the

A map. Argos is neutral sometimes, but allies with Athens before the battle at Mantinea. Pylos is the foothold in the Peloponnese won by Athens. Potidaea is top center, directly underneath the “h” of Olynthos, halfway down the first of the three peninsulas that scraggle into the Aegean. [via http://www.shoretechnology.com/Oceanis46.htm ]

Corcyra (= Corfu), on the northwest coast of Greece, is engaged in civil war. Corcyra invites Athens to send some ships, otherwise they will have to get friendly with Corinth. Since Corinth and Corcyra each have a navy, together they might challenge Athens. Athens fears that and sends a force which winds up engaged with Corinth. On the other side of Greece, to the northeast, is the city of Potidaea, a Corinthian colony, which Athens fears may support its founder city. Athens makes impossible demands of Potidaea to provoke a war and lands an army there which also battles Corinthian forces. Corinth complains to Sparta, its ally,  that Athens has violated the treaty and war officially begins in 431 BC.

Donald Kagan is currently the top expert on the Peloponnesian War and he has compared its beginning to the onset of World War I when the actions of small nations brought on a struggle between great powers. Kagan also looks to other conflicts where Thucydides is applicable as we shall see.

The Spartan strategy is to invade Athenian territory in mid-summer, when the grain is ripe, and destroy crops and farms until Athens sends out its army to fight. Athens, on the other hand, follows the strategy of Pericles: do not engage the Spartan ground troops but leave the conflict up to the navy, where the strength of Athens lies. Consider Athens an island, he says, and defend it with ships. Keep a tight rein on the cities that are part of the Delian/Athenian League, because the tribute received from these cities will finance the war. Do not engage in new conquests or risky ventures. Follow these precepts and you will prevail.

So the Spartan army invades and the Athenians, all of them, move inside the city walls. It is uncomfortable: people are huddled in camps inside the long walls that stretch to the harbor and are crowded into various locations in the city itself. These refugees find it difficult to watch as the Spartans burn their homes and destroy their harvest. After several weeks of pillage, the Spartan army goes home. The refugees leave the city and rebuild their farms. Over the next few months, into the winter, Athens carries out some daring manuvers and is somewhat successful. Events seem to support the strategy of Pericles. Now he gives a speech at the funeral rites of those Athenians who have been killed in the war. Athens, he says, is the school of Greece. It is greatness and all the rest of Hellas looks up to Athens.

Pericles. Roman copy of a Greek original. [photo: Jastrow Wikipedia Commons]

Pericles. Roman copy of a Greek original. [photo: Jastrow Wikipedia Commons]

Next summer, the Spartans invade again and, once again, the Athenians seek shelter inside the city walls. But this time disease breaks out, a fierce plague that spreads quickly amongst the crowded mass of people. Experts have different opinions on what this disease could have been; guesses range from measles to smallpox to bubonic plague. Anyway, many Athenians die. Pericles is blamed and some want to give up the war. Pericles quiets them:

You should remember… that what you are fighting against is not merely slavery as an exchange for independence, but also loss of empire and danger from the animosities incurred in its exercise. Besides, to recede is no longer possible… For what you hold is, to speak somewhat plainly, a tyranny; to take it perhaps was wrong, but to let it go is unsafe. [all quotes from The Landmark Thucydides, see Notes]

It strikes me that Pericles appeals to fear, just as the two military ventures, in Corcyra and Potidaea, were undertaken out of fear of what the enemy might do. Likewise, Sparta has formed its own alliance from fear of Athens, then is dragged into war by its partners.

In Athens, the plague rages on. Thucydides contracts the disease but recovers. Pericles contracts the disease and dies. After the death of Pericles, a pro-war faction directs Athenian actions.

Fighting occurs in other places in Greece over the next few years. Athenian forces open up a front near Messenia; Sparta becomes concerned about a slave uprising and keeps its army close to home thereafter. Some slaves offer to fight for Sparta in exchange for freedom. The Spartans invite those who had most distinguished themselves in the wars to come forward, “the object being to test them, as it was thought  that [these]…would be the most high-spirited and the most apt to rebel.” Some two thousand come forward to accept their freedom and the Spartans murder them all. Even so, Sparta is later forced to enlist other slaves who then are sent to the ongoing struggle around Potidaea.

The Greek city states had warred against one another for centuries and had established certain rules of warfare. Heralds could travel unmolested through combat zones, a battle was followed by a truce in which each army recovered its dead, and temples were sacred to all and places of refuge for the dispossessed. These rules go by the wayside as the war continues. Morality and law disappear. Those who might argue for a moral path are afraid to speak, fearful that those who want war will call them traitors them. One example of atrocity: Athens has hired some Thracian mercenaries but decides not to use them. These are being returned north in 413 BC when their Athenian commander decides to attack Mycalessus, a small, poorly defended city:

The Thracians bursting into Mycallessus sacked the houses and temples, and butchered the inhabitants, sparing neither youth nor age but killing all they fell in with, one after the other, children and women, and even beasts of burden, and whatever other living creatures they saw… Everywhere confusion reigned and death in all its shapes; and in particular they attacked a boys’ school, the largest that there was in that place, into which the children had just gone, and massacred them all.

Thucydides says that most Greek cities wanted Sparta to prevail over Athens, which was viewed as a tyrannical power. Athens foments rebellion by the People against the Few whenever possible, but these new democratic cities tend to then seek freedom from Athens just like the oligarchies they replaced. Another front opens up for Athens as Aegean cities liberated from Persia renounce the Delian/Athenian League. Some begin negotiating with Sparta. Athens now supports forces in the south Peloponnese, on the islands west and north of Greece, in the area in the northeast around Potidaea and the approach to the Black Sea, and the Aegean islands east of Greece.

Both Sparta and Athens are exhausted and each wants to repair its own alliances and build up its forces so a treaty is signed in 421 BC that ends the war for a few years although both sides realize that it may start again at any time. This time it is Sparta’s troubles with neighboring Argos that eventually leads to a resumption of hostilities. In the meanwhile there is continual fighting as rebellious cities are brought to heel.

At the Battle for Potidaea, as the war began, Socrates saved the life of young Alcibiades. Alcibiades is a golden boy — beautiful, accomplished, arrogant. Alcibiades does not want peace with Sparta and subverts Spartan diplomacy, lying both to the Spartans and the Athenian assembly. Athens allies with Argos, the treaty breaks down, and a huge battle is fought at Mantinea in 418 BC. Sparta is the victor but at a cost of 300 men that she cannot afford to lose. There is a new truce between Athens and war-weary Sparta, but no one believes that it will last for a long time. Alcibiades is now a commander who has achieved some fame. He proposes that Athens send a force to Sicily in response to a request by one of the cities there that is engaged in a struggle with Syracuse, the major city.

Bust supposedly of Alcibiades. [photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen Wikimedia Commons]

Bust supposedly of Alcibiades. [photo:
Marie-Lan Nguyen Wikimedia Commons]

This is not completely off the wall, Athens had sent a couple of expeditions to Sicily earlier in the war. Sicily has strategic value — if you want to conquer the west Mediterranean — and is a producer of grain, which Athens needs. But the leading general, Nicias, argues that Athens has more pressing matters: there are forces committed in the area around Potidaea, revolt constantly a threat in the Aegean, and there are places in both Attica and the Peloponnese that require attention. But Alcibiades manages to persuade the assembly that a Sicilian expedition is a good idea even though most of those voting have no real idea of Sicily’s size nor the political situation there. Trying to dissuade the assembly, Nicias says that such an expedition would have to include huge numbers of ships and men. To his chagrin, the assembly votes to give him everything that he wants.

Although the stated purpose of the expedition is to assist Sicilian and Italian cities in a struggle against Syracuse, what the Athenians really want is to conquer the entire island, adjacent Italy, and perhaps then move against Carthage in North Africa. There is much chatter about the superiority of the Athenian miliary and there is a widespread notion that Sicily and Italy will welcome the Athenians and that there is enough wealth there to pay for the venture.

So the great expedition sets sail. In Italy, the Athenians find little support nor is there any in Sicily — everyone recognizes that this huge force is an invasion and they mean to resist. Nor can Athens find the funding that was promised them. Nicias proposes making a show and then leaving, but is overruled. Meanwhile, back in Athens, the enemies of Alcibiades have accused him of various blasphemies, including defiling holy mysteries and vandalizing the herms, phallic statues that stand outside many houses. This is no small matter as many believe it is a sign that oligarchs are planning to overthrow Athenian democracy. People are arrested and executed as traitors without evidence. Alcibiades pretends to sail back to Athens to stand trial but jumps ship and makes his way to Sparta where he offers his services. Just before leaving Sicily, though, he warns the rulers of Messana that Athens is fomenting a rebellion there and he gives names to the Messanians who have the plotters killed. Subsequently the Athenian assault fails.

Herma from the island of Siphon, National Archeological Museum, Athens [photo:Ricardo André Frantz Wikimedia Commons]

Herma from the island of Siphon, National Archeological Museum, Athens [photo:Ricardo André Frantz Wikimedia Commons]

Alcibiades persuades Sparta to aid Syracuse. Meanwhile, the Athenians have suffered losses of ships and men and request reinforcements, which Athens sends. Things worsen for the Athenians. Nicias asks that Athens send yet more ships and men and also asks that he be replaced as general. Athens refuses to remove him but sends more reinforcements. The Corinthians bring ships to Sicily and attack Athenian supply vessels. Also, Sparta has taken Declea, just northeast of Athens, and now control the land routes around the city. All of Athens’ supplies now must come in by ship.

A large-scale assault on Syracuse fails in 413 BC and an Athenian general proposes that they withdraw and go back home. But now it is Nicias who refuses — he does not want to be tried and executed as a coward and a failure, he would rather die as a soldier. Syracuse attacks the Athenian fleet and scores a stunning victory. Syracuse traps the remaining ships in harbor and destroys them, thus ending any hope of Athenian troops leaving the island. The Athenians retreat inland, the Sicilian and Spartan forces chop them up and force their surrender. The Athenian generals are executed and thousands of troops are sent to the quarries to labor for Sicilian masters.

The failure of the Sicilian venture ultimately costs Athens the war and her empire, so this is the key part of the book, the place where political scientists and generals look for meaning. The general opinion today, I think, is that Nicias was an inadequate general. There is disagreement on whether the expedition was a good idea or not, though the fact that it failed causes most to believe that it was not. Pericles had warned Athens:

I have… reasons to hope for a favorable outcome, if you can consent not to combine schemes of fresh conquest with the conduct of the war, and will abstain from willfully involving yourselves in other dangers; indeed, I am more afraid of our own blunders than of the enemy’s devices.

But the Athenians had forgotten his words. Assuming that the decision to invade Sicily was a foregone conclusion, how could disaster have been averted?  Donald Kagan thinks that Athens needed to send fewer troops in the beginning (so as not to alarm the Sicilians) and more troops later (and, of course, put a better general in charge — like the bold Alcibiades). Thucydides himself says that the expedition “failed not so much through a miscalculation of the power of those against whom it was sent, as through a fault in the senders in not taking the best measures afterwards to assist those who had gone out…” — “best measures” not being defined — but he also calls the expedition a “blunder”, one of a number that were made by politicos out for self-aggrandizement — men calling for more and bolder acts of violence, men such as Cleon, who Thucydides caricatures unmercifully. Cleon is portrayed as what we now call a “chicken hawk”, someone calling for war but unwilling to fight. Eventually, Cleon is forced to lead an Athenian contingent. He has some success but is killed at Potidaea, which has become a graveyard for important leaders from both Athens and Sparta.

One person who thought the Sicilian expedition a blunder was the political scientist, Hans Morgenthau, author of the classic text on international relations, Politics Among Nations. Morgenthau is usually cited as the founder of the Realist school of diplomacy, a group which is said to include Henry Kissinger among others. Realists think that power is very important, the most critical factor in international politics.

In 1955 Morgenthau was enlisted by the Eisenhower administration to check out the situation in Southeast Asia. He reported back that things were terrible and that the place had little value to the US which should sit back and let the Chinese and the Vietnamese duke it out, as they inevitably would. That was not what the administration wanted to hear and Morgenthau was shipped back to academia. He began writing articles for various magazines criticizing US involvement in IndoChina. By 1964 he was participating in teach-ins on the Vietnam War which he compared to the Sicilian Expedition:

I have always emphasized the importance of power in all its manifestations as an instrument of foreign policy. But I have as consistently been opposed to equating national power with military power, and I have warned against the improvident and foolish use of power. I am indeed convinced that the use we have been making of our power in Vietnam for more than a decade has been improvident and foolish, and it has been so to an ever increasing degree.

Donald Kagan seems of the opinion that the Vietnam war was lost through “defeatism”:

…deep and violent dissension at home was, perhaps, the major element in compelling the United States to accept a humiliating defeat… It was the political victory of enemies of the administration and the war it has undertaken that brought defeat.

Later, he was one of the original signatories of the neo-Conservative Project for a New American Century Statement of Principles. The PNAC called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and encouraged the invasion of Iraq. Kagan’s sons. one of whom was co-founder of the PNAC, are often listed as important neo-Conservatives. I cannot say that Kagan totally equates “national power with military power”, but he has been very much in favor of American using its military power.

Kagan likes to point out the irrational and intangible factors that cause war: “power is never pursued for itself, but always for the sake of some value or values.” “Honor” is one of these values and Kagan says that when Thucydides says “honor” he means “prestige”. Kagan says that the Realists, like Morgenthau, tend to discount these irrational factors. I don’t think much of this argument. Neither Morgenthau nor Thucydides discounts the irrational factors in warfare — but that brings us to the part of Thucydides’ writings that was most often cited in the Iraqi Invasion of 2002: the Melian dialogue.

Melos is a small island city in the Aegean that has ties to Sparta. Nevertheless, the Melians promise to stay neutral in the conflict. Athens demands that Melos become a tributary member of the Delian/Athenian League or else be destroyed. The diplomatic exchange between Athens and Melos is presented by Thucydides as a dialogue:

 Athenians: “…you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

Melians:  “…it is expedient—we speak as we are obliged, since you enjoin us to let right alone and talk only of interest—that you should not destroy what is our common protection, the privilege of being allowed in danger to invoke what is fair and right… And you are as much interested in this as any, as your fall would be a signal for the heaviest vengeance and an example for the world to meditate upon.”

Athenians: “This… is a risk that we are content to take. …we have come here in the interest of our empire, and… for the preservation of your country; as we would desire to exercise that empire over you without trouble, and see you preserved for the good of us both.”

Melians: “And how, pray, could it turn out as good for us to serve as for you to rule?”

Athenians: “Because you would have the advantage of submitting before suffering the worst, and we should gain by not destroying you.”

The Melian stance may be irrational, but it certainly isn’t one unfamiliar to Athens. Pericles had said:

 …if the only choice was between submission with loss of independence, and danger with the hope of preserving that independence — in such a case it is he who will not accept the risk that deserves blame, not he who will.

Give me liberty or give me death. So the Melians resist. Athens overruns the island, kills all the men, enslaves the women and children, and ships a bunch of Athenians over to re-colonize the place.

In the early stages of the Iraq War, neo-cons constantly referred to the Melian dialogue. “The strong do what they will” and the US was definitely the strongest military power in the world at the time. As we all know, things in Iraq didn’t go quite as planned due to certain irrational factors — religious and ethnic differences, for example — and perhaps the Melians have the last word here as they advise Athens:

 Melians: “But do you consider that there is no security in the policy which we indicate? …How can you avoid making enemies of all existing neutrals who shall look at our case and conclude from it that one day or another you will attack them? And what is this but to make greater the enemies that you have already, and to force others to become so who would otherwise have never thought of it?”

But the neo-Cons took no account of any of this and seem rather to have accepted the premise that Kagan claims is the basis of Realist thinking: that superior military power is supreme in any confrontation. Realist Morgenthau emphasized certain intangibles as part of national power — for instance, moral concepts, such as justice, as the Melians said, “…our common protection, the privilege of being allowed in danger to invoke what is fair and right…”, and cultural power as opposed to military might.

Greek hoplites at war. The Spartans used flute-players to help coordinate their movements. [via http://cliojournal.wikispaces.com/Hoplites]

Greek hoplites at war. The Spartans used flute-players to help coordinate their movements. [via http://cliojournal.wikispaces.com/Hoplites%5D

After the Sicilian debacle, the war drags on for nine years. The Spartans change their style and begin building a navy. One of their commanders is Alcibiades who operates in the Aegean aiding colonies rebelling against Athens. There are a lot of these since virtually every member of the Delian/Athenian League revolts once they hear of Athens failing in Sicily. But Alcibiades is not trusted by the Spartans and he finally seeks a post with the Persians.

Persia is the greatest power in this part of the world at the time. A Persian governor, Tissaphernes, tells Alcibiades that a navy is being constructed at that very moment, which might aid Sparta under the right circumstances. Sparta signs a treaty with Persia, promising that the Persians could regain control over all their former holdings now held by Athens. It is a mark of how low Athenian prestige has fallen that the prospect of Persian rule does not deter a single state from revolting against Athens, their self-proclaimed liberator who is now despised as a tyrant. So much for being the school of Greece.

Thucydides was still around when the Peloponnesian war ended — there are several references to the war’s end in his history — but the book breaks off in 411 BC, in mid-sentence. It is generally assumed that Thucydides died before he could finish his work. At one time, there was a theory that he was murdered by political opponents, but this is generally discounted now. Anyway, Athens fights back after the Sicilian expedition. Alcibiades, not getting anywhere with Tissaphernes, manages to get back with Athens. Although for a long time he is afraid to return to the city, he commands an Athenian contingent in the Aegean. Tissaphernes is replaced by a new governor, a member of the royal family who begins to aid Sparta with funds. The Spartan navy grows and is often successful at sea.

In Athens, an aristocratic faction seizes power after the Sicilian defeat and installs a government of the Few — the Four Hundred — in place of democracy. For a time this government, which pretends to be made up of five thousand, prevails, but eventually must give way to a real government of Five Thousand. It’s not quite the democracy of old, but close enough to be able to govern without too much dissent. After a major Athenian victory, with Alcibiades one of the victorious commanders, democracy is restored. The restored democracy makes Alcibiades supreme commander. He is defeated several times and a large portion of the Athenian navy is destroyed by Sparta while it is under the command of a crony of Alcibiades. Alcibiades is held responsible and is relieved of his command. He takes up residence on the Hellespont, never to return to Athens.

in 405 BC, the Athenian navy is anchored in the Hellespont. Alcibiades talks to the commander, warning him that he is in a bad position and that he should move his vessels. Or, alternatively, he may offer Thracian aid to the Athenians in exchange for being brought back into the Athenian command. Whichever version is correct, the Athenians ignore him and. a few days later, the Spartan navy destroys Athens’ fleet, most of which is wrecked while beached.

Athens now has no navy and, more important, no access to the Black Sea, the source of grain that feeds the city. Athens has no choice but to surrender. Sparta is urged to raze Athens to the ground but decides instead to let the city stand but to tear down its walls. A group called the Thirty Tyrants is appointed to run Athens and, in true Athenian form, they proceed to murder anyone they think might be a problem. The Thirty Tyrants are overthrown and the new democratic government tries and executes those it thinks are not on side, including Socrates. Alcibiades is killed in Asia Minor by Spartans while trying to negotiate with the Persians.

It strikes me that perhaps Athens, rather than Sparta, is a better Cold War analogue for the Soviet Union. After all, it was the USSR satellites who broke away at the first opportunity, much like the Athenian tributary states. But it also seems to me that if a powerful nation wants to take lessons from the Peloponnesian War, it might best look to Persia, the ultimate victor in this struggle. Persia regained all her old holdings in the Aegean that were lost to Athens and never lost a man or a ship doing so. They spent a little money building Sparta’s navy but nothing like what a war would have cost them. They encouraged the Greek states to fight one another but kept apart from the struggle until it was time to gather the spoils. Perhaps this is a good example of the effective use of international power.

Notes:

All references are from The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, which I recommend to anyone wanting to read Thucydides if for no other reason than it has ample maps and an excellent index. But the Richard Crawley translation it uses, first published in 1874, does not satisfy some people. Thucydides writes, reportedly, very difficult Greek and some have asserted that each translation is but a “version” authored by the translator. I read no Greek. Crawley’s translation is clear (which Thucydides may not be). Othe versions include the Rex Warner translation, History Of The Peloponnesian War, published by Penguin. More recent translations are discussed here and here. Thomas Hobbes made the first English translation in 1629; it is still very readable.

Mary Beard has remarked that the Melian Dialogue differs from translator to translator. The differences are those of nuance; the meaning is still clear, I think.

Universal Open Carry

The other day I came across an item on one of my favorite blogs, Nag On The Lake, about a new kid’s book, My Parents Open Carry.
oc_oc

Now this is great because children ought to learn not to despise minorities with peculiar life styles. And then the publisher announced that, right now, you could get a special two-for-one bundle with a book of parental guidance, Raising Boys Feminists Will Hate .
oc_boys

The author says, “Feminists would love nothing more than to take your son and eradicate his masculine uniqueness. …raise your little man into a lion, capable of leading the next generation into a moral culture of God, family and country.”

Which is really special! But it made me wonder how a boy raised like that would handle an open-carry feminist and do you want her to hate him.

oc_sharon

Now some reviewers have noticed that the art for My Parents Open Carry seems taken from those kid’s books with titles like Johnny Has Two Dads that tried to spread understanding about gay families. Check this out. Does Dad look gay to you?

 

Dad is seated. Does he look gay to you? Is the fellow standing with arms crossed, one of Dad's special friends?  Does he belong to a visible minority group? Is that why he's not carrying?

Dad is seated. Does he look gay to you? Is the fellow standing with arms crossed, one of Dad’s special friends? Does he belong to a visible minority group? Is that why he’s not carrying?

There probably are open-carry gays, some of those log-cabin Republicans, I bet, though I believe that this magazine is a phony:

oc_Gay-Sentinal

Even so, wouldn’t it liven up your local Pride Parade to have guys in buttless chaps carrying AK-47s marching beside the floats?

So, if feminists and gays start toting weapons, will it become okay for Blacks? The Panthers tried carrying weapons back in the 1970s and wound up being shot to death by the police. Still, there are black gun enthusiasts, like Colion Noir, host of the NRA sponsored Noir program.

That's Colion Noir, who got noticed a while back when he claimed that Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. was a gun enthusiast. (Hey! Do you thing his name really is "Noir"? Because, that's French or something.)

That’s Colion Noir, who got noticed a while back when he claimed that Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. was a gun enthusiast. (Hey! Do you thing his name really is “Noir”? Because, that’s French or something.)

Perhaps now, after years of battling for equality, Blacks can arm themselves openly. Perhaps we have come that far. And Hispanics and Moslems, too! Perhaps now, everyone can open-carry. Some of you will object, saying that there are folks who can’t afford decent weaponry, and to you I have this reply: it’s time for a National Gun Ownership program that gives weapons to everyone.

No, this isn’t charity, like food stamps, this is a program to provide one of the necessities of life. Some municipalities have even passed laws requiring their citizens to be armed. So, it seems to me, if government is going to dictate your possessions, then it has a duty to help provide them. All the disadvantaged should be armed: Single Moms Who Shoot, Open-Carry Homeless, Locked and Loaded Derelicts — everyone!

Universal Gun Ownership. Because once all the poor and dispossessed are armed, then they, too, can pursue the American Dream.

 

 

Parade’s End Revisited

After doing that exhaustive review of Parade’s End, I finally watched the BBC series, which is up on NetFlix now. So, how does it hold up? Pretty good, I thought — in fact, I liked it better than the books except for one thing: the final volume, Last Post, was left out. Now I know that certain critics and Graham Greene believe that Ford should have quit with a trilogy, but as I mentioned before, I think the guy was looking to do a Galsworthy/Forsyte Saga kind of deal, maybe looking to spin this sucker out right into the 1940s (when he died). Anyhow, of all the characters in the book, I liked Marie Léonie the best and she didn’t even get a line in the TV series.

But otherwise I liked the way Stoppard trimmed the work down to an essential narrative which was presented in chronological order. There was a nod to certain repeated phrases (which provide a sort of continuity in the book), Christopher is not compared to a meal-sack, but his opinions are, and we have Sylvia pulling the shower bath strings several times. There are no long sections about birds and flowers but we do have Christopher going on about how he loves England, which serves something of the same purpose. So far, so good.

Certain scenes did not work as well as they should have — the Duchemin breakfast, where Cumberpatch is given some awkward lines to make certain everyone knows that Reverend Duchemin’s servant is a professional boxer, who subdues the Reverend in a most obvious fashion, not the discreet jab to the kidneys that is in the book — but I’m not going to dwell on them.

The big question is, how well are these characters depicted? Let me jump out of order here, past the leads, to Anne-Marie Duff who plays Edith Duchemin: she is perfect. First, she looks right, like Elizabeth Siddal would have if she had lived another decade or two. Her costumes, too, are wonderfully pre-Raphaelite gone to seed. I was convinced.

I was already prepared for Christopher/Cumberpatch not to be the fat Yorkshireman portrayed in the novels, so wasn’t too shocked. Still, I wish Benny had a few more pounds on him. The entire Yorkshire connection is pretty well missing — we have Groby and Groby Great Tree and all, but none of the regional flavor. Imagine, for a moment, Christopher played by whatever actor you might prefer as Inspector Dalziel, Warren Clarke in his younger days, for instance.

Cumberpatch was given more opportunity to emote than Ford gives Christopher in the novels — he cries, I think three times, in the TV play, but only once in the novel (when the horse is going to the knacker’s, something not underlined by Stoppard). By and large, Cumberpatch and Stoppard give some life to this rigid, self-destructive character but leave enough of the original that at one point, my wife (who is not a fan of martyrdom) muttered “Bring out the cross and nails, already.”

Sylvia is a huge problem. Her behavior in the novels is borderline-psychotic, Stoppard tones her down to simple borderline-personality disorder, which is easier to digest. And, in the book and the TV series both, there are moments when you sympathize with her wish to crack Christopher’s composure. In the series’ beginning, Sylvia is ravishing — there is a scene where she rises from the bath and Christopher, poor jerk, cannot look at her body — but as the story progresses, Sylvia becomes less beautiful. Her mouth seems to get larger and larger and her teeth more prominent. In the confrontation scene with Valentine, Rebecca Hall is wearing really red thick lipstick that traces a mouth half again as large as at the series’ beginning. She is monstrous, then, especially when compared with perky, pretty Valentine.

"No! I won't look! For gentlemanlyt reasons of my own, I will not be seduced by my wife!" [via cumberbatchforum.tumblr.com]

“No! I won’t look! For gentlemanly reasons of my own, I will not be seduced by my wife!” [via cumberbatchforum.tumblr.com]

Valentine only develops depth in the fourth Parade’s End novel, so Stoppard has to work a bit to make her more than just a pretty face. He emphasizes her physicality — Valentine is seen running a number of times — and that is right in line with the book, but lacks the punchline of Last Post when Valentine’s body fails her. Still, what can you say against Adelaide Clemens, who is a really delightful little cupcake and perfect for the girl that Christopher says would make “a cracking little mistress”? Stoppard gives her some lines when the confrontation with Sylvia occurs. Valentine gets right in Sylvia’s face and tells her off and even old meal-sack Christopher smiles. (You could have done that, too, Chrissie, you gormless jerk.)

MacMaster was played well by Stephen Graham, but I wish Stoppard had gone a little deeper into his friendship with Christopher. In the book, MacMaster is explicitly compared to a pet dog, all panting admiration for Christopher, who accepts his fawning attitude as the due of a gentleman. But this brings us into the tricky realm of the way Christopher sees other people — Scots like MacMaster and Edith Duchemin are barely all right, unlike Jews who are totally unacceptable. There is only one reference to anti-Semitic attitudes in the BBC play and it is rather veiled; in the novels, anti-Semitism is rampant, constant, and I can understand why Stoppard did not want to go there. Which brings us to the larger question of how well Stoppard presents the collapse of the English system that had prevailed since the Glorious Revolution. (Do you think it an accident that the Tietjens family comes over with William of Orange? I don’t.)

The two young men, Tietjens and MacMaster, are presented at the beginning of Parade’s End as exemplars of a class that rules half the world; at the end of the tetralogy, Christopher is peddling pieces of England to Americans. The important historic shift, in Ford’s work, is in the concept of a certain kind of upper class and what being a gentleman means. This is something missed in Stoppard’s version. If Parade’s End is about historic change — which was Ford’s intention — then we should have seen more of it. Instead, Stoppard brings us some symbology about Groby Great Tree and that must make do. (To do him justice, Stoppard does have changes in sexual matters — Sylvia with a douche bag, Valentine discovering a Marie Stopes marriage manual, but even Ford has Edith Duchemin cursing MacMaster for not using a rubber. And, I give Stoppard credit for bringing in Father Consett’s execution, one of several references Ford made to Ireland, though neither he nor Ford properly link that to Sylvia’s state of mind.)

Nuzzling. [via Moriarty's Skull]

Nuzzling. [via Moriarty’s Skull]

But, what the BBC version does give us at the end is Christopher nuzzling Valentine’s naked breasts, which is far more satisfying than the non-embraces that repeatedly come up in the books. If you are going to tease the reader, then you need to come through at the end. Stoppard understands this, Ford, not so much.

Tl;dr: Swell romance with just enough gratuitous nudity, but the novel is a different story.

Good Books: Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August

In 1962, Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August was published to immediate acclaim. Causes of the First World War had been debated since 1919, when it ended, but Tuchman boiled it all down to this: the European powers had created an aggessive posture as the best defense and, once that defense was triggered, it could not be stopped. Armies could be mobilized, but not easilly made to stand down; treaties between the great powers were often secret, so that there was no clear understanding in Germany, say, that marching through Belgium would immediately cause England to enter the war; the inflexibility of military plans kept any diplomatic solution from ever having a chance.

Barbara Tuchman. "War is the unfolding of miscalculations." [Bob Child/AP via wsj.com]

Barbara Tuchman. “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.” [Bob Child/AP via wsj.com]

In her research, Tuchman quoted the German chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, when asked how the war started, “Ah,” he replied “If only one knew.” One of her readers, President John F. Kennedy, was horrified by those lines. He himself was facing the possibility of nuclear armageddon — during the Berlin Crises of 1961 – 62, he asked a general what would happen if the Soviet Union did not back off. The general replied that he would order a nuclear strike. Kennedy now, for the first time, really understood the stakes in the game he was playing and immediately began removing nuclear capability from the military as a tactic. Now he read Bethmann-Hollweg’s words and said:

If this planet is ever ravaged by nuclear war—if the survivors of that devastation can then endure the fire, poison, chaos and catastrophe—I do not want one of these survivors to ask another, “How did it all happen?” and to receive the incredible reply: “Ah, if only one knew.”

Bethmann-Hollweg at Versailles in 1919. He requested that the Allies try him for war crimes rather than the Kaiser. He died two years later. [bundesarchiv.de]

Bethmann-Hollweg at Versailles in 1919. He requested that the Allies try him for war crimes rather than the Kaiser. He died two years later. [bundesarchiv.de]

Shortly after, the Cuban Missile Crisis tested Kennedy and his resolve not to allow global catastrophe on his watch. Tuchman was not the only popular writer to impress Kennedy, but she was easilly the best. Her clear and readable account of the war’s beginnings was excellent but her influence on policy-making was exemplary. Unfortunately, policy-makers ignored her later book, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, which described how nations find themselves enmeshed in stupid, self-destructive policies.

Tuchman’s work synthesized research done by others during the previous decades that emphasized the automatic responses of the nations involved when faced with a problem. Previously, most histories had dealt with assigning blame to this or that nation; Tuchman’s book pinned the blame on the system, rather than a specific country. For a while, this concept held primacy, but, slowly and surely, the human need to fix blame re-established itself as the focus of historians.

The first nation to bear the burden of causation was Germany. If Germany had not invaded France via Belgium… Okay, but France was committed to war against Austria, so if that nation had not… And so on. Every country involved, including Russia and England, has been blamed for the First World War, and that multiplicity of blame seems only to strengthen Tuchman’s thesis: once an idiotic hair-trigger policy was generally adopted, it was only a matter of time until someone caused that trigger to be pulled and then all was disaster. My own inclination is, that if a single nation is to be blamed for the war, that nation is Serbia. Which then brings up the question of nationalism, cited by many as a cause of the war, and which was very much in the minds of the Treaty of Versailles drafters, including Woodrow Wilson, who came up with a scheme to prevent future wars of nationalism. Currently, Wilson is thought a fool, and he was certainly foolish in proposing a scheme that involved what we now would call ethnic cleansing, though that fitted the engineer mentality of the best and brightest of his era.

Of course, World War I was only the first act, the second occurred between 1939 – 45. We know that now and that knowledge has kept alive the question of the cause(s) of WWI, which ended the European system inaugurated by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia and renewed by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, ending one era and beginning another. Perhaps it is a good thing that contemplating this history causes us doubt and confusion, perhaps that provides a lesson to be learned here. And another lesson, as Kennedy put it, people should beware the “stupidity, individual idiosyncrasies, misunderstandings, and personal complexes of inferiority and grandeur” that characterized the leadership of 1914 Europe.

 

Notes:

Barbara Tuchman,The Guns of August

On Kennedy and Berlin, see Michael Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Krushchev, 1960-1963

 

 

 

A Guide To Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford

Some Do Not…
No More Parades
A Man Could Stand Up–
Last Post

Ford’s tetralogy of novels, Parade’s End, is on most lists of great books about World War I and is the basis for a series now showing on the BBC to great critical acclaim. Benedict Cumberpatch plays the main character, Christopher Tietjens, and that immediately raises warning flags about the TV series. But that isn’t a reason not to watch. Look, I’m going to tell you what happens in the books, then you can pretend to have read it when the show hits NetFlix or PBS or wherever you can view it. Or, if so moved, you can read Parade’s End for yourself and tell me that I am full of it when I slag Ford’s characters.

Christopher Tietjens (pronounced TEE-jens) is the youngest son of English gentry. An ancestor came over with William of Orange and founded the family estate, Groby, in Yorkshire where the Tietjens family own a town — or so it is said in the first novel of the series, Some Do Not…, there is no further mention, later in the book, of the town, only of the great hall at Groby and Groby Great Tree that shades it. Now a Yorkshireman is supposed to be stubborn and so is a Dutchman, so we might well expect Christopher to be “obstinate as a hog” as his equally stubborn brother puts it — both of them are incredibly pig-headed to the point of self-destructive behavior. In appearance, Christopher is a large man, often described as looking like a meal-sack. Sometimes this is modified a bit: a “fat meal-sack”, for instance, or affectionately as a “dear, meal-sack elephant”, or even “as courteous as a well-trained meal-sack of the dix-huitieme” by Christopher’s French Sister-in-Law. Christopher is described as a meal-sack at least twenty times over the course of the four books. Now, I have seen meal-sacks and I have seen Sherlock and, hear me People! Benedict Cumberpatch is no meal-sack! He is a swell actor and all and photos from the BBC production indicate that he may have put on a few pounds, but I doubt that he is going to do a DeNiro and fatten up to meal-sack proportions. The fat, stubborn Yorkshireman is played by a slender southerner. Well, I haven’t seen it yet, maybe it works somehow.

Cumberpatch as Sherlock; French meal sack; Cumberpatch as Tietjens. Compare and contrast. (BTW, meal sacks are collectible. This one was on etsy.com.

Cumberpatch as Sherlock; French meal sack; Cumberpatch as Tietjens. Compare and contrast. (BTW, meal sacks are collectible. This one was on etsy.com.)

Some Do Not… begins with two young men “of the public official class” in a railway coach in the summer of 1912. One of these two is Christopher Tietjens who discusses his wife’s infidelity with the other young man, MacMaster.  Christopher tells MacMaster that he has had a message from Sylvia, Christopher’s wife. Sylvia has been in Europe having an affair, something she does fairly often, it seems. Will Christopher divorce her? No, he is too much a gentleman to ever divorce a woman, she must divorce him. Sylvia is a Catholic and unwilling to do that. So the couple is locked together. Sylvia is devious and nasty, dedicated to causing her husband pain — she can’t stand the stoic front that he presents (and, for that matter, I grew a little tired of it myself). Christopher doesn’t really believe in the value of the society whose standards he upholds, but he must, in his hard-headed stubborn way of thinking, uphold those standards because they are standards, his standards. Sylvia says that he lacks the guts to live by his own beliefs and that struck a chord with me, too, but the essence of the book is Tietjens finally coming around to living a life with meaning, rather than the sham existence — meaningless job, loveless marriage, irrelevant belief system, socializing with fools — at the novel’s beginning. Or at least that’s the best construction I can put on the narrative but actually, Christopher seems pretty lost at the end.

Tietjens, 26 years old, is “entitled to the best” but his friend MacMaster has Scots shopkeepers for parents and depends on Tietjens for cash and social entry. Tietjens can afford to neglect his own career as well as his appearance, MacMaster cannot. MacMaster is arty and latches onto the remnants of a pre-Raphaelite group (see Pre-Raphaelites) headed by Rev. Duchemin, one-time intimate of Ruskin, and Mrs. Duchemin, who lives in fear of her husband, who is completely nuts and may turn violent at any moment. MacMaster sizes up the scene and makes his move on Mrs. Duchemin, who succumbs to his charm. Also in this group is Mrs. Wannop, close friend of Christopher’s father, daughter of a famous critic and herself the author of a novel that Christopher thinks is pretty good. Mrs. Wannop’s daughter, Valentine, acts as a sometime housemaid for her mother and assists Mrs. Duchemin. She is twenty-two and a suffragette.

These characters, and some others, including General Campion, a family friend and Christopher’s godfather, entertain Christopher and MacMaster. This entire section is a venomous take on Edwardian society. The men play a round of golf first, some of them seeing if they can hit the party ahead of them with a drive, which is interrupted by suffragettes charging across the course. Some of the golfers chase after them shouting, “Strip the bitch naked!” One of the young women falls and sprains an ankle. Tietjens helps her and Valentine Wallop to evade the police and the girls get away.

Meanwhile, Christopher has refused to fake some figures for the Department of Statistics and has written a possibly insulting letter to his superior, something that upsets those around him a great deal. But Christopher wants to chuck the whole job. He winds up being lectured by his elders, frightening his good friend, irritating his co-workers, and, by the end of the golf match, is no longer on speaking terms with his golfing partner. Christopher meets each of these situations with the stolid, stoic visage of a gentleman.

Christopher and MacMaster have breakfast at the Duchemin house. Duchemin breakfasts are famous, once a main locus for artistic chat featuring Ruskin, Rossetti, and so on. The others are already at the table when Duchemin comes in, escorted by a muscular type that Tietjens recognizes as a champion prizefighter. And Christopher and the others understand that the boxer is there to restrain Duchemin if he becomes violent. A couple of times he seems building up to an explosion but MacMaster talks him down.

Anyway, by the time the golf/Duchemin visit is done, Christopher discovers an attraction to Valentine Wannop and is seen with her under circumstances that compromise the public perception of her virtue, which is a big deal here, partly because it has class implications. There is a fair amount of discussion among the male characters about when and where it is proper for a man’s mistress to make an appearance and how to deal with her financially — basically assigning her to a specfic class. A mistress is much higher in the social hierarchy than a servant but can never equal the status of a wife. This takes a fair bit of calculation and gentlemen consult one another in these matters.

Christopher and Valentine are in a horse-drawn cart during the early hours of the morning, having delivered the injured suffragette to safety. They discuss Latin, which Valentine knows very well, thank you. And they both yearn physically for one another but some do not embrace. Even so, when General Campion runs into them with his car — like a tea-tray coming out of the fog — it is assumed that they are having an affair. Christopher is also linked to Mrs. Duchemin. Sylvia piles on her own lies and Christopher is seen as a libertine and Sylvia, a wronged wife. Meantime, Christopher wonders if their son is really his child or not. Throughout, Christopher remains stoic and stolid and silent, though some detect a hint of suffering in his visage and seriously ask, “Is he trying to be Christlike?”

Cumberpatch and Rebecca Hall as Christopher and Sylvia.

Cumberpatch and Rebecca Hall as Christopher and Sylvia.

That is more or less the core story, the rest of the novel(s) will play out the ramifications of this first sequence over the next six or seven years. The War comes, Christopher finds himself facing “…death, love, and public dishonour…” — rare occurrences in the life of any man, we are told, but Christopher faces them all at once. Through it all, Christopher does not abandon his principles or his standards until toward the end of the War, by which time both he and Valentine have failed to embrace on several occasions, though each is dying to do just that. Sylvia continues on her nasty path of destruction, determined to make Christopher as unhappy as possible, possibly by warping their son, if she can find no other way.

All of this is worked out over the course of four novels that feature stream-of-consciousness, unreliable narration, and manipulated time lines. It is evident that the work is very structured but the nature of that structure is not immediately obvious.

Ford’s plan for Parade’s End seems to me like a musical composition. Once he has given us the opening story, the characters become themes, marked by recurrent words or images — meal-sacks, for instance. Sylvia is said to enjoy pulling the shower-bath strings — I think the meaning has to do with hot and cold water, but the string-pulling part of the image is evocative — she likes making trouble and she manipulates people like puppets. So “shower-bath strings” is the theme whenever she is mentioned and she is also shown pulling on actual strings, curtain cords, for example. In the musical piece, these themes would belong to specific instruments — a cello for Christopher going “I won’t. Won’t. Won’t.” and screechy violins for Sylvia with perhaps the addition of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho bird calls, but maybe I am thinking too much about showers.

The titles of the individual novels are repeated throughout as well. “Some do not…” is given a number of different readings in the first book, just as A Man Could Stand Up and No More Parades are repeated over and over in those novels. In Last Post, the bugle call itself is played in the background from time to time. The repetitions — of titles, of character themes, of the same action performed by different people under different circumstances, of specfic words, (for example, “tea-tray” usually means violence, a crash or explosion, when you read it here — it may be instructive that someone remembers the name Tietjens sounding something like “tea-trays”) — all this repetition is intended, I think, as a sort of music meant to involve the reader. By the end of the work, just about every sentence is full of these repetitions so that words ring with the accumulated music. Or, I think, that is the way it is supposed to work.

Now one thing about turning these characters into musical themes is that it gives a certain license to ignore them as people, or rather, to ignore any aspect of their lives that is not part of the theme. Let’s check out these characters:

Christopher Tietjens: Our star meal-sack is stoic, stolid, and an asshole (see Scot-Jew). Benedict Cumberpatch says that he wishes he were as principled as Christopher. Oh no, Ben! These aren’t really principles being expressed by Christopher, they are positions taken by him and from which he will not be moved. “No one but a blackguard would ever submit a woman to the ordeal of divorce.” What principle is Christopher defending when he refuses to divorce Sylvia? The sanctity of marriage? Refusal to shame a woman who is shameless? Or is he just grabbing the moral high ground so that he can maintain an air of superiority to the entire situation? Certainly there is no Responsibility in Christopher’s position — neither toward his son nor his wannabe lover. Passive-aggressive Christopher is self-absorbed to the point of narcissism.

Sylvia Tietjens: Speaking of narcissism, let’s check out Sylvia. Sylvia screws around not because she enjoys sex, but because she enjoys being the star in her own little drama. She has allies in the form of besotted men and stupid cat’s-paw women. Her game is to disturb Christopher from his superior attitude:

Every speech he utters about everything… makes me want to stick a knife in him. …I can’t prove he’s wrong, not ever, about the simplest thing. But I can pain him!

She doesn’t mind being the villain, if she gets some choice lines, and boy, does she work for them!

Sylvia’s Scandals: The important thing is that the scandals are aimed at hurting Christopher, so any other result is just gravy. Christopher has been in England, recuperating (see Shell Shock) when he is about to be returned to the Front, His godfather General Campion has arranged for him to be as far behind the lines as he can manage, as a resupply officer. But Christopher has problems, too. Sylvia and her evil allies have created a situation where Christopher bounces a cheque or two, is crapped on by his bank, and booted out of his club. Christopher bounces back, demonstrating to bank and club that he was purposely put in the red by those aforesaid evil ones.

“Good God, Man! Your club membership is hereby reinstated!”
“In that case, I resign.” Never a crack in that stolid visage.

So Christopher is back in France having a not particularly good time though he does his job and does it well. But there are disturbing messages from the outside world. General Campion wants Christopher to make Sylvia leave him alone. It takes Christopher a while to realize that Sylvia is actually in France, at a nearby hotel, where he goes to meet her.

Now we learn, in fits and starts, that on the night that Christopher did not embrace Valentine and make her his mistress (see Non-Embraces), he went back to his London apartment and sat staring out a window into the darkness. Sylvia knows he is there and divines that he has not bonked Valentine (an event Sylvia tried to facilitate for evilness reasons of her own). She calls for a cab early in the morning to take her away; she is entering a convent retreat. Christopher, hearing her go, believes that their marriage is finally over.

Ha, ha. Silly boy! Sylvia spends three months in a nun’s cell before she becomes bored and decides to go back to torturing her husband. So, in France, at the hotel where she awaits Christopher, she flirts with a Major Perowne, who believes that he has the go-ahead to visit her room later that night. Now Perowne just happens to be the same guy that Sylvia shacked up with in Europe back in 1912 when Christopher came over to help her cover up any scandal. Sylvia sits, bored by Perowne’s chatter and contemplates hurting Christopher: “By the immortal saints,” she exclaims in an aside, “I swear I’ll make his wooden face wince yet.” Sylvia has more Asides to the Audience than Richard III; she turns into the camera and intones lines about the winter of her discontent and all, but let’s face it, she’s not a spectacular royal villain, she’s only Psycho-Bitch and a mature, adult male ought to be able to get shut of their relationship, not descend into the dysfunctional battle of “You hurt me, now I will stagger about and pretend I am not wounded. Then you can hurt me again!” Rebecca Hall ( Vicky Christina Barcelona) plays Sylvia in the BBC series, and it will be very difficult for her to avoid taking the role completely over the top.

This time Sylvia decides to seduce Christopher. So she dons a sexy negligee and sits at her dressing table looking alluring. Christopher comes to her room and is just about to be seduced — well, possibly, we hope, since after all these non-embraces the reader wants the boy to get his ashes hauled, every few years or so, anyway — when Perowne barges in. There is an altercation, attracting the attention of an officer that Christopher has antagonized and the whole evening becomes a shambles and a scandal. General Campion comes to see Christopher. The ramifications are that Christopher has to be transferred and, because Sylvia has cut off a number of possible posts and Christopher has antagonized himself out of others, he is to be sent to the Front. Christopher hears all this in a daze; he knows it is a death sentence. This was not what Sylvia intended, she just pulled one shower-string too many. Not that Sylvia is really sorry. She is never sorry.

This entire dysfunctional relationship bothers me. It’s as possible as anything else involving human beings, I suppose, but generally in these situations either the couple break up pretty quick or they are together forever, like George and Martha in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for instance. Now there’s a couple that can out-dysfunction any other relationship ever recorded or invented! They are far more interesting, in their hideous way, than Christopher and Sylvia.

Adelaide Clemens as Valentine. "What a jolly mistress she'd make," says Christopher. Sure, Chrissie, but first you have to embrace her.

Adelaide Clemens as Valentine. “What a jolly mistress she’d make,” says Christopher. Sure, Chrissie, but first you have to embrace her.

Valentine Wannop: The third side of this triangle is young suffragette Valentine. She is far more likable than the Tietjens couple mainly because she is healthy. Her father had her educated in ladies’ gym rather than academics because reasons of some kind or other. So Valentine is a vigourous type, sound in mind and body. Valentine is played by Adelaide Clemens, who is Australian and thus probably very healthy. Adelaide Clemens is a pretty blonde who can play Valentine very well, no doubt, but there is a slight glint in her eye that Valentine lacks. I cannot imagine Adelaide Clemens non-embracing all the time, there’s a girl with some life to her!

Christopher’s brother, Mark, thinks Valentine “has her head screwed on right”. Well, maybe. Here she is mooning after a married man for more than six years with nary an embrace. Something a bit off there, perhaps, but compared to Sylvia, a paragon of mental health. Let’s look at the thwarted romance of Valentine and Christopher:

Non-Embraces: The first non-embrace is during the long cart ride that results in scandal because it is thought that Christopher and Valentine actually did embrace. For five years afterward the two fantasize about one another, then Christopher decides it’s time to lighten up on this moral stance he’s taken.  It’s his last night in England before he heads back to the War. “Will you be my mistress tonight?”

Will she! Valentine has already made the bed! “Yes!” Here’s instructions on when and where to meet me.

Well, finally! But things happen. Christopher and Valentine fail to embrace again. They part, Christopher headed back to France, stoic as can be.

Christopher and Valentine meet again on Armistice Day. Christopher has actually been in London a for a while but hasn’t looked up Valentine, who he has sworn will be his mistress, because some reason or other. Anyway, she goes to see him and it looks good for an upcoming embrace. But Armistice Day is a raucous event. Valentine and Christopher are interrupted by a bunch of his old trenchmates who want to celebrate, which they do, and A Man Could Stand Up ends with Valentine and Chris dancing together. Soon, the reader anticipates, they will embrace.

It is a little while into Last Post before we discover that, no, things did not go well on Armistice Day. (By this point, the reader should not be surprised.) The evening of jollity that ended with dancing at the close of A Man Could Stand Up continues into a difficult, raucous night — one of Christopher’s war buddies dies in a cab — and when Christopher tries to take Valentine back to his place so they can, you know, embrace, who is there but evil Sylvia who tells Christopher that she has cancer and then throws herself down a flight of stairs. She picks up a few bruises and muses later that she is losing her touch, why a few years back, she could take such a fall and never suffer a blemish. Valentine is not taken in by this “good theater fall” and the couple leave Sylvia on the floor. (Hooray!) So, Christopher wants some cash so he can locate an embracing spot (I don’t know if he ever found one that night) and poor Valentine winds up discussing war policy with Mark at 3:30 in the morning and occasionally dashing into the next room to weep all over Marie Léonie’s shoulder. It’s about this time you want to say, Girl, get out of this mess!

Mark Tietjens: Christopher’s eldest brother, Mark, works in Ministry of Transport where he is very high up indeed. He and Christopher meet in 1917 to discuss the deaths of their other two brothers, their sister, their mother, and their father. Yes, five family members dead. The two brothers were killed at Gallipoli, the sister was a nurse who drowned, their mother died of grief, their father… Ah! The father died of a gunshot to his head suffered while he dragged his loaded, cocked weapon through a hedge. Both the surviving brothers think it was suicide. Perhaps it was suicide caused by his disgraceful son, Christopher, who is rumored to have a child out of wedlock by a mistress he set up with a tobacco shop, and who was reputed to have an affair with Mrs. Duchemin — Mrs. MacMaster now, able to re-marry since the death of her husband — and who was a wastrel who had gone through thousands of pounds somehow, possibly on pay-offs to loose women, and military reports say he is a communist, or maybe a Francophile, and not to be trusted, and so on. Old Tietjens did not leave Christopher any money directly but instructed Mark to dole out whatever cash he requires. Christopher finds that insulting and says, all right! Then I won’t take any of that money from Mark! Yes! That’s the way to get back at the old dead guy, I’ll embarass him! By not taking any money and exhibiting an expressionless face, I will demonstrate moral superiority! And by God, Mark admires his younger brother for taking this firm stance — actually he admires any unrelenting position on anything, he believes this a proper Yorkshire attitude.

Rupert Everett as Mark. No. Forty pounds heavier and much grayer, I might believe, but this is just... no. I am not putting up any pictures of Renee As Marie Léonie because she is not even this close to looking like her character. I blame the director for this: he could have made the actors less pretty and slim.

Rupert Everett as Mark. No. Forty pounds heavier and much grayer, I might believe, but this is just… no. I am not putting up any pictures of Lyne Renee As Marie Léonie because she is not even this close to looking like her character. I blame the director for this: he could have made the actors less pretty and slim.

Mark doesn’t like Sylvia, who he thinks is a bitch. And one wonders why more people haven’t come to that conclusion, for crying out loud! She does everything except bare blood-stained fangs at the reader. But, No! Here she is persuading people to screw up Christopher’s pay and his bank account and everybody is saying, “Poor Sylvia, married to that dissolute brute!” when they must know she’s shagged half of Britain’s male citizenry by this time not to mention a few foreigners who helped wreck her husband’s reputation. I mean, at this juncture, if only the men who have boffed Sylvia know how not-nice she is, that is still a significant portion of the population. So, it is difficult to see how she can flourish except that Christopher is always rubbing people the wrong way and making enemies — perhaps, like Sylvia, Christopher’s enemies just want to wipe that smug look off his stolid face. By the end of the tetralogy people believe that Christopher is turning out his wife to get money or favors from the many many men who have bonked her. In other words, every time Sylvia screws a new guy, Christopher gets blamed. AND he wins the contempt of his fellows for not getting enough money or favors for peddling his wife’s ass. Not only is he a pimp, he’s a poor businessman!

Mark becomes upset that the Allies will not advance into Germany at the end of the War. The English failure to occupy Germany means that the years of war have been for nought. And there is an argument you could frame that way, and that argument was a serious consideration for the Allies of WWII who determined not to fail to occupy Germany again — they wanted the German populace to understand that they had lost and not, as in 1918, conclude that their victorious armies had suffered a stab in the back. Perhaps Ford, too, thought this in 1925, but here it is just one more fringe concept, just one of many thoughts and interpretations of events floating through the present that may or may not be of value in the future. Anyway, Mark is upset and determines never to speak again. Yes! That’ll show ’em! Hold your breath, too, why don’t you?

Marie Léonie: Mark has never married, but he does have a mistress. He spotted Marie Léonie in the second line of dancers at a show and was taken with her so much that he immediately looked her up and made a straight-forward proposition to set her up as his kept woman. Marie Léonie is from Normandy, which is France’s answer to Yorkshire, and was not offended by Mark’s blunt offer but accepted it. So, for twenty years, every Thursday and every Tuesday, except for a month during the summer racing season, Mark goes to the house that he rents for Marie Léonie. Marie Léonie prepares for Mark the same meal every time (see Meals), except during shooting season when pheasant are worked into the rotation, and the two have, so far as Parade’s End goes, a model relationship.

In October of 1918 (or thereabouts, Ford is purposely muzzy about the date), Mark has suffered a stroke and is mostly bed-ridden, Marie Léonie taking care of him. Christopher persuades Mark to marry Marie Léonie. No one asks her if she wants to be married; it is assumed that a woman of her class could want nothing more. Marie Léonie allows herself to be married. She is devoted to Mark, anyway, although she has looked ahead to her future and given some thought to going back to Normandy if Mark should die. Now, though, she is mistress of Groby, a member of the gentry. It doesn’t change her. She sees the possibility of a clash with Sylvia, who is living at Groby, and thinks, “Bring it on! I can handle her.” And, how exciting that would have been to read about! The clash between the stolid, firm Norman and the flaky English emotional cesspit! I’d buy tickets!

In the final novel, Last Post, Christopher has rented a Sussex farm where he lives with Valentine. Mark, completely silent and immobile, lies in a cot in a bower constructed for him. It is on this farm that we see Marie Léonie in her element. She runs that farm very well. Even though there is friction between herself and the local peasantry over Norman vs. English ways of doing things, it is not really an important issue: Marie Léonie and the local farmworkers understand each other very well. The best word for Marie Léonie is “grounded”; she grasps the fundamentals of life far better than any of the non-peasant characters in the book.

Meals: Every Thursday, every Tuesday, Marie Léonie cooks the same meal for Mark: two mutton chops, all but 1/8 inch of the fat removed, prepared without condiments, two floury potatoes, an apple tart with stilton cheese, and claret. Each book has a meal or food topic: there is the Duchemin breakfast where guests mumble iced caviar, peaches, and kidneys while wondering if a raving lunatic will swarm over the tablecloth at them; there is Christopher’s resupply officers’ lunch in France, with 1905 brut champagne that they buy themselves; there is Christopher’s luncheon at the front where the unit cook turns bully beef and other substances into mock pâté — these menus underline the absurdity of Edwardian manners in a non-genteel reality. Mark’s chops are an attempt to preserve at least some order in the world. In the final volume, Marie Léonie makes cider, upsetting the locals by using a siphon (“a chube!”) while she bemoans the lack of decent, proper turnips in England. But these folks will get along and adjust to the new reality, the local peasants and honest, solid Marie Léonie are the foundation for a new order, unless they are meant as the backbone of the old; possibly they are both.

War: No More Parades is set in the trenches in France. Christopher works at putting together units and shuffling them back to the front. There are a number of Canadian Railway Service workers, for example, who present an amusing spectacle in their furry hats. And there are Welsh soldiers — the Welsh are always good for a chuckle — some with names like 09 Morgan. See, there are so few family names in Wales that groups of men with same last name are often found in military units and numbered somehow to tell them apart. But Ford undercuts all the humorous set-ups that he creates. The general mood in Christopher’s dugout is not laughter but lunacy. Take, for instance, Christopher’s fellow officer, Mackenzie, or maybe his name is McKechnie, who is muttering to himself and seems on the verge of suddenly shooting his mates. Then 09 Morgan is killed by a bomb and dies in Christopher’s arms, his blood spreading across the floor. The men have to be got ready to move out and Christopher oversees their writing of their wills. One fellow has a girl in each of three different countries and wants to leave each of them a bit of dosh, and we have another almost comic turn. Almost.

Ford was proud of writing about the Great War and hoped that his work would aid the cause of peace, or so he said. I think that what he was really proud of was giving an honest account of modern war — it is not so much the skill or valor of the individual warrior that counts any more; it is where he is standing when the stray shell drops.

In A Man Could Stand Up… Christopher is back at the Front. A great German offensive is expected at any time. Senior officers have been killed and Christopher is in command of his unit. He bustles about, preparing for the assault on his position due to start any minute. He is not completely mad, though a little strange — he obsesses about the angles of trench lines and toys with the idea of sticking his head up above the trench. Then there are these drainage pipes that he had run horizontally instead of vertically because that would better drain the trench, he thought, except that there are vast muddy areas in the trench. A German shell explodes and half-buries Christopher. He digs himself out. He tries to help one man, who may drown in a trench mud puddle, and pulls the man up, thus exposing a part of the man’s face to a sniper who takes out his eye. This mirrors a situation in No More Parades, where Christopher does not give the Welsh soldier, 09 Morgan, leave to straighten out his marital problems at home — the local police tell him that if the man returns, he will be murdered — so Christopher has him stay in France where 09 Morgan is killed. Christopher cannot even trust his own instincts, his best intentions may make things worse. Anyway, General Campion shows up and relieves Christopher of his duties because, oh, Sylvia and this and that. Campion has been living at Groby (in the house meant for Marie Léonie) while he considers a political career and Christopher discerns that he is shagging Sylvia. By the way, Campion is looking much younger than he did in the first book — I don’t know how that was managed — but he must be approaching sixty if not already far past it. Christopher is re-assigned to looking after prisoners-of-war, thus losing command pay. Later, someone does Christopher a favor and de-mobilizes him a little early, thus costing him army pay. Christopher is broke on Armistice Day when he and Valentine meet in his rooms.

Shell Shock: After the fateful evening in 1912 when Valentine’s honor is compromised, the next part of Some Do Not takes place five years later while Christopher, who has been shell-shocked, recuperates in London. When Ford says “shell-shocked” he means exactly that: this is a man concussed by a nearby explosion. In 1917 Ford himself was sent back to England after three years in the army, diagnosed with “shell-shock”. That term’s relation to what we now call PTSD is hinted at in the novel but not spelled out. There is a mention that there are sanitoriums for veterans like that — a concept that fills me with dread since I expect they are actually prisons meant to keep these men from embarrassing anyone.

Christopher’s concussion has cost him some of his memory. He is reading the encyclopedia to regain facts that have been lost to him. Before the War, Christopher sneered at people who use encyclopedias. I think Ford wants us to know that our boy has picked up a little humility — though it is hard to tell, what with that stoic, stolid visage of his.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, photograph by Lewis Carroll [ via lewis carroll.org ]

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, photograph by Lewis Carroll [ via lewiscarroll.org ]

Pre-Raphaelites: Ford’s hatred for the pre-Raphaelites is interesting because Ford Madox Brown, a leading painter connnected with the group, was his grandfather and Ford would have met the kind of people that enlivened the Duchemin breakfasts of the past. Christopher Tietjens says of Rossetti:

…it revolts me to think of that obese, oily man who never took a bath, in a grease-spotted dressing-gown and the underclothes he’s slept in, standing beside a five-shilling model with crimped hair or some Mrs. W. Three Stars, gazing into a mirror that reflects their fetid selves and gilt sunfish and drop chandeliers and plates sickening with cold bacon fat and gurgling about passion.

Don’t hold back, Christopher! Let it all out, let that bacon fat sicken, I can smell it from here reflected in your words. Mrs. Duchemin recalls Ruskin:

Fragments of all the worst stories that in his worst moods her husband had told her of [Ruskin] went through her mind. She imagined that the shameful parts of her intimate life would be known to [MacMaster].

The mad Rev. Duchemin talks about Ruskin’s marriage:

“When he drove away in the carriage on his wedding-day, he said to his bride: ‘We will live like the blessed angels!’ How sublime! I, too, after my nuptials…”

Mrs. Duchemin suddenly screamed: “Oh…no!

Now  Ford is perfectly aware that there are various stories of Ruskin’s wedding night — you prurient types can google — so the implication here is that Mrs. Duchemin’s  honeymoon was also some kind of horror. So much for sublime angel connubial bliss! Later, when Mrs. Duchemin thinks MacMaster has knocked her up, she curses him in such a way as to indicate she knows her way around the block. Apparently, she has an abortion. So much for all that angelic innocence and ethereal feminine sensibility!

And then there is the mad Rev. Duchemin himself, one of Ruskin’s road-builders. I think we are supposed to believe that Duchemin’s mental problems stem from venereal disease or alcoholism or both.

Rossetti courting Elizabeth Siddal from Rossetti and His Circle by Max Beerbohm [ Wikipedia ]

Rossetti courting Elizabeth Siddal from Rossetti and His Circle by Max Beerbohm [ Wikipedia ]

Christopher’s Intelligence:  Directly after the evening when Valentine and Christopher first fail to embrace, Christopher heads out to Europe creating a cover story that will allow for Sylvia to avoid scandal. Then (we discover later — Ford is always tucking little bits of information here and there in the narrative) …Then, they go on to East Europe for a little while where Christopher invests heavilly in Ukrainian bonds…

Now let me pause right there: Christopher is thought by everyone to be incredibly smart. He has a calculator brain that breaks things down to numbers. Watching ships he calculates the cost/value of building a certain vessel against that of building a log raft in Russia, because that’s how he rolls. Christopher also favors himself as a bit of a classicist and has an argument with Valentine, who knows a bit of Latin herself, over a quote from Ovid. And he writes critical essays for Mrs. Wannop that make her reputation as well as reports for the Department of Statistics (including one that MacMaster takes credit for which earns him a knighthood) which are always truth because a gentleman does not tell lies. Okay, but this Smart Guy also does some dumb things, like buy Ukrainian bonds in 1913. When he knows a War is coming. And he is supposed to be an expert on East European matters, too! Christopher’s superior remarks drilly: “You’re a perfect encyclopaedia of exact material knowledge, Tietjens.” And Christopher accepts this as tribute, though he does not acknowledge it because taciturnity is one of his principles.

Rumors of War: There are various odd notions aired throughout the four novels as characters try to make sense of world events. For instance, there is the notion, held by General Campion, that England is withdrawing supplies and troops from France and sending them to Turkey to fight for the Middle East and Empire. In fact, the exact opposite is happening: in 1917 England begins shipping resources from the Turkish front to France, leaving T.E.Lawrence to battle for the Middle East all by himself. But this is a wonderful example of the kind of rumor that troops turn into grand conspiracy theories: “Why don’t we have more Mills bombs?” ” They’re being shipped to Iraq along with reinforcement troops. It’s part of a plan to pressure the French.” Sure. I have heard World War II vets who, years later, would repeat similar theories about their war. This rumor is a bit of genius by Ford, and, however I feel about his character delineation, I have to concede the man’s insight into human affairs.

In book three we have the notion of the “Single Command”, a panacea for the lack of Allied movement: it’s all because of a lack of coordination between the Allies. Put everyone under the same leader and watch what happens! Of course, the English are concerned that it will be a Frenchman in charge and so that’s why we don’t have that and everyone is getting killed. That was the theory. In 1918, the French, in the form of General Joffre, took over the single command and the German Spring offensive failed, but what probably made more of a difference than the single command was throwing 300,000 American troops into the lines, with many thousands more to follow. These theories are Ford’s attempt at showing how we try to interpret events in a meaningful way, even in a state of chaos.

Furniture Business: Christopher has a rare talent: he can look at a piece of furniture and know if it is a fine antique or junk. This is one of two talents that Christopher possesses — the other one is a remarkable facility with horses — but horses are going out and motorcars are coming in, so Christopher sells furniture to Americans. His is not an Antiques Road Show skill, Christopher never looks on the bottom or pulls out the drawers, he just looks and knows, right away, this cabinet is a fine antique but this other piece is crap. I think this may be Ford’s way of saying that Christopher has exquisite taste honed by centuries of privilege or something like that. Anyway, Christopher is an idiot-savant of furniture, and is flogging every piece that he can locate. But he is not making much money. He has a partner in the United States who, everyone says, is ripping him off. But I can’t tell if Christopher is just a rotten businessman or what. The partner is a guy Christopher met when he was sorting German prisoners and he is a Jew (which deserves some more attention, see Scot-Jew).

Birds and Plants: Birds and local plants are repeated themes throughout the four novels, pretty much one major episode per book. Christopher recites English plant names as a mantra, he and the soldiers chat about the larks at the front, and so forth. Ford is pulling out an old trope here: the English countryside with all its humble lifeforms is a renewing, wonderful source of Englishness, and even as the country falls apart, well, nature is renewing, so England is renewing. Or something like that.

Christopher is particularly given to let his consciousness stream to Shakespeare and the list of flowers that float around drowned Ophelia, particularly the long purple flower which liberal shepherds have given a grosser name. It’s a little worrisome that Christopher tends to think of Ophelia when Valentine is on his mind.

"Ophelia" by Millais. [ via tate.org.uk ] There with fantastic garlands did she come Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples That liberal shepherds give a grosser name, But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them" Hamlet Act 4. The model was Elizabeth Siddal who later married Rossetti. After she died of a laudanum overdose, Rossetti buried his unpublished poems with. Later, he dug her up and retrieved the poems

“Ophelia” by Millais. [ via tate.org.uk ] “There with fantastic garlands did she come/Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples/That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,/But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them” Hamlet Act 4. The model was Elizabeth Siddal who later married Rossetti. After she died of a laudanum overdose, Rossetti buried his unpublished poems with her body. Later, he dug her up and retrieved the poems.

Marie Léonie  doesn’t understand this English thing about giving every weed a name and, to her, all these sparrows are the same bird, but she is wonderfully appreciative of her chickens — there is a nice passage where she compares a rooster to Rodin, who she saw once in his studio, scratching about some young female visitors. If I was noting Good Parts of this work, that would be one for the list. Sylvia has her bird bit, too, she sees an eagle frightening seagulls and she immediately identifies with the eagle, not the screaming gulls, though I picture her as more screechy than soaring, myself.

Mental Health: I don’t think it possible to do psychoanalysis of a person if a) you have no psychiatric expertise or b) if that person is a literary invention. So, guilty on both counts, I will stand clear. I will hazard a guess that, if the BBC production has any traction, we will soon have a personality disorder named after Sylvia. And maybe one for Christopher. The person that is worrisome is Valentine — in Last Post she seems depressed and distraught and it looks like her pregnancy may not end happily, either miscarriage or post-partum troubles. She is already practically drooling over the thought of a bromide that the doctor may give her. Wait until she discovers the other drugs that were over-prescribed back in the day! And she was so healthy, too!

Scot-Jew: In the railway carriage scene that opens the first novel, MacMaster mentions that Christopher should be careful about how others in his civil service office see him.Tietjens agrees:

…a first-class public office is very like a public school. It might very well object to having a man whose wife has bolted amongst its members. I remember Clifton hated it when the governors decided to admit the first Jew and the first nigger.

What? Are you free-associating here, Christopher, or do you really think that a cuckold will be treated as a Jew? Or is this just an excuse to call people names? “Nigger” is used only once more and at a distance — blacks are hypothetical in Tietjens’ world — but Christopher really lays it on the Jews. Sometimes he remarks on the way they sneak into English life, but they can’t fool him — Christopher can spot the Oriental, or the Levantine, features that indicate someone is a Jew. Curiously, at one point in Parade’s End, Christopher is seen hanging about with a young woman who is Jewish — is he getting it on with her? Maybe he sets her up in a tobacco shop, which brings us back to just how much of what the characters say can be believed. Anyhow, the anti-Semitism is unrelenting. Mark, for instance, says that the only good thing about Sylvia is that she’s never had sex with a Jew — and he gives her credit for that.

Even so, Christopher has a number of relationships with Jews (not counting the young possible-tobacco-shop woman), officers, bureaucrats; he works with both and has a German-American Jew as a business partner:

That he was a Jew and an American did not worry Christopher; he had not objected to the fact that Macmaster had been the son of a Scotch grocer. …for a little shivering, artistic Jew, as of old for Macmaster, he was quite capable of feeling a real fondness — as you might for an animal.

Now if you thought I was a bit harsh when I called Christopher an asshole way back when, I ask you to consider the words from the novel quoted above: Christopher regards Jews and his friend MacMaster as pets, panting about his feet, waiting for their ears to be scratched.

MacMaster and Mrs. Duchemin are both Scots and each of them is very ambitious. Their union is a matter of using one another to climb the ladder of success and — mirabile dictu! — this works for them. MacMaster gets knighted, Mrs. Duchemin/MacMaster is a leading social light. These two grasping people are presented as Semitic, if you accept that Jews are constantly manuvering to enter English society and are grasping, greedy, etc. Scots are Jews-lite. You can indulge Scots and allow them into society (though they will always be on a lower rung than you) and perhaps, in a century or two, they will be as much English as Tietjens, who is three centuries past his own ancestors arriving in this green and pleasant land. Jews… Well, ask after a millenium has passed.

Last Post: Mark is lying in his bower which has been set up so that he will be entertained by the songbirds all around. He lies there and never says a word because he has made up his mind not to speak. That doesn’t mean that Mark is silent to the reader, no, we are treated to lengthy streams of conciousness. And, even though Mark pretends not be interested in small things, he does watch the birds. (Slow percussion for Mark, perhaps in cardiac time, with a snap on the snare for “No” when Mark blinks once, two snaps when he blinks twice for yes — that’s right, it takes less effort for Mark to say No than to say Yes which, I think, is a nice touch. So, some percussion with the flutings of birds all about.)

Besides Mark, who narrates most of the last book, Marie Léonie has a turn: stolid and Norman, France’s version of a Yorkshireman, she will bottle cider her own way, thus upsetting the Sussex locals, who also have a small section to narrate. This back-and-forth is amusing (woodwinds, mostly oboes, I think) and it happens at about the place where a symphony might also have a bit of lightness. Now the peasants scatter… Wait! I see. This should be opera!

Now the peasants scatter as a group of riders appear on the road overlooking the farm Tietjens is renting, one of them is the person Sylvia rented Groby Great Hall to, Mrs. de Bray Pape, an unsuitable American. This woman is here to talk about Groby Great Tree, that she has had taken down. Taking out the Groby Great Stump (with explosives) caused a Groby Great Hall wall to cave in, and there is now a Great Hole in Groby Great Hall wall, so this lady has quite a bit of explaining to do. Sylvia takes credit for getting Mrs. de Bray Pape to wreck Groby Great Hall, now she is using the woman to torment Christopher and Valentine. Mrs. de Bray Pape plunges into things in a heedless, reckless manner. She plows straight through the hay field, rather than go around. She is wearing an old-fashioned women’s riding get-up for side-saddle, with huge, sweeping skirts that devastate the hay. See, she pretends to be an English Lady, but she doesn’t know better than to trample the hay.

Also in this group are young Mark Tietjens and Sylvia. Sylvia has begun divorce proceedings, sort of, but she has yet to turn in the key papers and has still not decided if she will do so. The thing is, if Sylvia divorces Christopher, then she can marry General Campion who she believes will get a major posting to India as head of the Raj or whatever the deal is in 1919. Campion has already refused this proposal but Sylvia has reminded him of her own wealth and how rich Campion could be if he married it. We don’t know if that has changed General Campion’s mind but Sylvia is confident that she will have her own way whenever she decides what that is. Meantime, she enjoys fantasizing about the affairs she will have after marrying Campion. She pictures herself in stunning Orientalish costume while some young subaltern or other crawls at her feet begging for her precious love. Really!

Sylvia and General Campion played by Roger Allam. Now he looks right, but he is the guy that should have played Mark. Allam, if you don't recognize him, plays Morse's boss in Endeavour.

Sylvia and General Campion played by Roger Allam. Now he looks right, but he is the guy that should have played Mark. Allam, if you don’t recognize him, plays Morse’s boss in Endeavour.

Sylvia and young Mark come across old Mark’s bower. He reflects that this boy is definitely his brother’s son, no matter what the gossipers say. (In an earlier volume, Christopher told Sylvia that he spent a great deal of money on private detectives to ascertain that very fact. Sylvia may have been surprised. Anyway…) Mark does not speak and an awkward time is had by all.

(BTW, Ford’s disregard for young Mark begins in the first volume where Christopher’s son is named “Tommy”. When we finally meet the young fellow, he is called either Mark or Michael. Ford’s explanation for that? Sylvia. I think this is totally unfair — Sylvia is evil, sure, but it wasn’t her who forgot her son’s name, it was the author, and he has a lot of nerve, laying the blame on one of his characters like that!)

Mrs. de Bray Pape charges into Christopher’s house, confronting Valentine. Valentine is pregnant and not doing very well. Apparently she fears a miscarriage. “Too much horseback riding,” people mutter. The doctor is coming.  Valentine has always been proud of her strong, healthy body, but now finds childbirth may be too much for it.

Sylvia advances into the scene. She kicks out Mrs. de Bray Pape and confronts Valentine face-to-face. Young Mark comes in as well continually asking his mother if what she is doing is “sporting”. But what’s this? Sylvia’s eyes mist over, she almost apologizes to Valentine for screwing up her life, she says that she will give Christopher that divorce, she has already begun the process… She is crying and… No! No! NO! You’re telling me that this wicked person who combines the worst traits of Lucrezia Borigia with those of Cruella deVille, that this paragon of evilness is so moved by the sight of her husband’s pregnant mistress, that she weeps and gives up her terrible ways? I don’t believe it, not for a minute. Your fault, Ford, if you want me to believe that Sylvia has a soft center, then show her practicing a little humanity in the previous 800 or so pages. The only way to take this is that Sylvia has had a brain fart and may do something out-of-character for a day or two, but she has not reformed. No.

Mark Dies: Mark has thought of a day when he went hunting with his father and bagged four birds with one shot, It was all luck, but Mark’s father has the birds stuffed and mounted. “Mark’s Bag” stood in the nursery for the younger siblings to wonder over. It occurs to old Mark that the group of stuffed birds is the closest thing to a monument he will ever have. He naps a bit and when he opens his eyes, Christopher is standing there. He has been to Groby and flown back, then bicycled from the airfield to his brother’s side (which may be contrasted with Sylvia’s horseback riders who have invaded the place, 19th vs. 20th Century, etc.). Christopher tells his brother that Groby Great Tree is down, that a chunk of wall has gone, too, taking out the nursery, but that he has rescued Mark’s Bag from the rubbish heap. Meantime, Valentine has recalled a bit of poor business that Christopher concluded and rails at him because he has chosen to be poor and they have a child on the way and so on. Mark utters his first words in months, “Now, I must speak.” He recites a bit of a poem:

” ‘Twas the mid o’ the night and the barnies grat
And the mither beneath the mauld heard that…’

“An old song. My nurse sang it….Never thou let thy child weep for thy sharp tongue to thy good man.”

Mark takes Valentine’s hand and dies and Valentine mellows out and the book ends.

What! What is that last bit about? Mark recites a few lines about a dead mother — is this a foreshadowing of Valentine’s death in childbirth? Is this prophecy? Christopher thinks of Ophelia and Mark thinks of dead mothers when they consider Valentine. Ford, unconsciously perhaps, is letting us know that Valentine is doomed. Perhaps she’ll OD on laudanum like Elizabeth Siddal or chloral hydrate like Rossetti!

Anyway Mark chides (?) Valentine for attacking her husband because it will upset the children. And Valentine feels so good for having heard this! I have been over this ending quite a bit and still cannot make sense of it though some — many, in fact — claim they are moved to tears. I am completely befuddled here.

Happily Ever After: Now I have read that some folks, including scholars, believe Sylvia when she says she will get a divorce. This is part of her scheme to marry General Campion, who may just get a posting in India, where Edwardian manners still hold sway. But General Campion has already said No and anyway I trust Sylvia about as far as I can pitch a post-hole. Even if she does do the divorce and go off to India, she’ll be back. She still has a son she can use to torment Christopher and, what exactly is her position concerning Groby? Again, blithe souls claim that young Mark (the communist) will give up his claim on Groby, but I don’t see that necessarilly taking place. Perhaps Christopher will decide to move back to Groby and run the place and be rich. (I believe that Ford has hinted at this from the first novel.) That will give young Mark more time to give up his claim and become just another Cambridge Red waiting to be recruited by Soviet agents. Marie Léonie has a place on the Groby estate which old Mark figured she might move into, but if Christopher continues to rent this farm in the south, she may stay on there. Or she might decide to go back to Normandy. In other words, I don’t think that Ford means us to see any character as settled. There are lots of changes being made and all these characters will have to adapt.

Graham Greene said that Last Post doesn’t belong, that Parade’s End should be a trilogy ending with Christopher and Valentine dancing at the close of A Man Could Stand Up. Perhaps the fact is that Ford contracted for three books, squeezed out a fourth, but couldn’t get an advance to keep the series going. Maybe he wanted to do a Galsworthy/Forsyte Saga thing and pump out novel after novel for years and years. There are unfinished plot lines dangling like shower-bath strings all across the ending of Last Post. But that is sheer speculation.

Summary: Ford has created a very structured work, whether or not you accept my notion of music. There is some good stuff here, and I mean that. This post, long as it is, has been cut to half its original length and there is no way I could say so much unless there was something to talk about. But the characters! Ford and Joseph Conrad had discussed the idea of a novel taking place in a time of historic change which we see through the characters’ eyes. Fine. Good plan. But Christopher is such an unyielding asshole and Sylvia is such a rotten bitch, it’s a little hard to take them seriously. A writer who did accomplish the kind of historic novel that Ford and Conrad discussed was Joyce Cary. Cary’s characters embrace. All the time. But since, for me, the problem with Parade’s End is the characters, perhaps the TV version will be good — after all, there are some good actors playing these roles and Tom Stoppard writing their lines. So, we’ll see.

Notes:

I used a Signet paperback edition of Parade’s End published in the 1960s. I notice that there are certain differences between that edition and others cited on-line. In his last words, Mark says “child” in my book, “bairn” in others, for instance.

I know very well that King Edward VII ruled only from 1901, when Victoria died, to 1910, so that it may be an error to call any of this period “Edwardian”. Here I follow critics who are trying to champion Ford as the chronicler of a vanished era. Perhaps it would have been better to describe this era as Victorianism gone bad, but that opens a different can of worms.