Uprooting Groby Great Tree

Christopher Tietjens, with his brilliant mind, predicted long before the war that America would come out on top soon enough, and that that’s where the money would be. After he’s done soldiering, he goes into the antique furniture business, fixing up old pieces and selling them for a bundle to rich Americans. This is of course not terribly respectable, but it’s smart.

Who are these Americans on the cusp of taking over the world? Mark muses in his tent before the unexpected arrival of one such: “Nearly all he knew of Americans came from a book he had once read—about a woman like a hedge-sparrow, creeping furtive in hedgerows and getting into trouble with a priest….But no doubt there were other types.”

No doubt. The one who shows up is Mrs. de Bray Pape, a horribly vulgar (and wealthy) woman who is letting Groby, furnished. She believes she is “descended spiritually from the Maintenon,” lord knows why, but she certainly won’t shut up about it:

‘You are probably too haughtily aristocratic to speak to me, Sir Mark Tietjens. But I have in me the soul of the Maintenon; you are only the fleshly descendent of a line of chartered libertines. That is what Time and the New World have done to redress the balance of the old. It is we who are keeping up the status of the grands seigneurs of old in your so-called ancestral homes.’

She expects the children of Mark’s tenant farmers to bow to her as she passes in the street, as if she could rent his family name and history along with his house. It’s tragic what she does to Groby, but it turns out to be on some level their saving grace. Obsessed as she is with the Maintenon, Mrs. de Bray Pape has no sense of history—which mean she isn’t hobbled by it as Tietjens is. She can go into a place and throw out and tear down and rip up and clear out. Just as Christopher knew it would be the vulgar Americans without the burden of history on a cramped continent who would eventually come into England with their money and change just about everything. His eighteenth century—no, seventeenth century—no, sixteenth century Toryism can only be shaken up and shaken off with the help of this awful woman, who convinces Mark that the curse on their house has been lifted and brings him—impossibly as it seems—peace.

I could write about this book without saying anything for ages, and there are more beautiful passages than I could possibly quote in any kind of structured posts. Don’t worry, there will be re-reads someday. I would like to thank once more Mel U of The Reading Life for organizing an unstructured group read of Parade’s End, without which I would surely have waited years more to experience this amazing work.

3 comments to Uprooting Groby Great Tree

  • Americans are not shown in a real flattering light in several occasion in this book-I wonder how FMF did as a teacher in Michigan toward the end of his life?-I hope to reread it when the annotated Parade’s End now at press (edited by Max Saunders and others -leading FMF biographer)-I enjoyed our read along experience a lot and like you I find myself tending to go magpie in my postings

  • not Bridget

    Will anybody read this in February of 2012?

    I inhaled the tetralogy (in an omnibus edition) back in August 2011 & have been searching for more by & about Ford since then. Obtained the Carcanet critical edition & have had a hard time escaping from that world.

    Alan Judd’s biography is excellent–he’s not uncritical of Ford but is a writer, not an academic; so he is quite sympathetic to a fellow writer. Generally, Ford loved America; his books sold well over here & Americans were less critical of his irregular life style.

    Of course Mrs de Bray Pape is ridiculous; and Tietjens’ American partner is a bit shady, although he’s well drawn. But the big landowner in Last Post is married to an American–she & her friends seem on the side of the Tietjens menage, rather than the odious Sylvia.

    Judd’s book is valuable because he points us to worthwhile works in Ford’s massive output. He doesn’t say much about The Good Soldier or Parade’s End–but just instructs us to read them. Or read them again.

  • I don’t know; I heard there was another readalong planned and I was a bit surprised—I know Benedict Cumberbatch is quite the hot little item, but is a miniseries enough to get many people to read this monster? (And I mean that in a good way!) I wish I had time to participate myself but there’s just no way right now.

    I’ll have to take a look at the Judd biography. I’ve read a fairish amount of Ford’s other work, none of which holds a candle to the big two you mentioned, but I love it all the same. And those two I plan to read again, and again, and again…