Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

Articulations of Femininity in Parade's End

Academic journal article International Ford Madox Ford Studies

Articulations of Femininity in Parade's End

Article excerpt

One of the dimensions inherent in Parade 's End is that of a case study of a particular class at a particular time in the history of England. This sociological aspect perhaps still remains underrated today. John Attridge has foregrounded Ford's sociologist aspiration in The Soul of London: he demonstrates that 'modemist sociology' as derived from Matthew Arnold's ideal is intrinsic in Ford's work and argues that it is to be understood as 'cognitive altruism', mentioning Ford's quotation of Terence's aphorism in the English Review, 'nihil humanum a me alienum puto' ('Nothing that is human is foreign to me').1 I wish to argue that this maxim applies to Ford's treatment of womanhood and femininity in Parade 's End: his giving individual voices to his women characters derives from his profound humanism.

Parade's End is a reflection on Edwardian and post-war English society; and within this reflection, the changing status of women takes a major place. In keeping with Ford's aim at impersonality, the narration renders the contrasting responses of various women to the challenges set them by modernity. Femininity may first appear as articulated along a clear-cut spectrum running from conservatism to modernity, with Edith Duchemin at the more traditional end, Sylvia Tietjens striving for modernity in an inconsistent manner, and Valentine Wannop portrayed as a torchbearer for social and political autonomy. But as is often the case in Parade 's End, lines become blurred, and some of the characters' positions shift as the narration unfolds. This chapter is offered as a starting point for a wider study of the voicing of the feminine in Ford's narratives. Due to space constraints, the characters of Marie-Léonie and Mrs Wannop will not be discussed in detail.

Edith Ethel Duchemin: a frozen ideal of conservative femininity

Edith Ethel Duchemin, then Macmaster, embodies a conservative vision of femininity. This is made obvious through the following depiction, as Macmaster complacently considers his belongings:

Amongst all these [things], gracious, trailing, stopping with a tender gesture to rearrange very slightly the crimson roses in the famous silver bowls, still in dark blue silks, with [....] her elaborate black hair, waved exactly like that of Julia Domna of the Musée Lapidaire at Arles, moved Mrs. Macmaster - also from the rectory. Macmaster had achieved his desire [ ] An astonishingly beautiftil and impressive woman [. . .] dark blue eyes in the shadows of her hair and bowed, pomegranate lips in a chin curved like the bow of a Greek boat 2

Edith here encapsulates various works of art: from antiquity - through the statue of Julia Domna and the Greek boat - to the Pre-Raphaelites, partly in the echo of Rossetti's lines: T looked and saw your eyes / In the shadow of your hair' .3 The whole description is a striking match to a painting by Rossetti: Jane Morris (The Blue Silk Dress);4 it may be read as an ekphrastic rendering of the painting, through the regularly crimped hair, the 'pomegranate lips', the 'crimson roses', and the phrase 'dark blue silks', which directly echoes the painting's title. The theatrical curtain in the background of the painting emphasizes the deliberate constructedness of the scene. Additionally, the mention of the pomegranate may allude to another painting by Rossetti, Proserpine,5 where Jane Morris, holding a pomegranate next to her mouth whose shade mirrors that of the fruit, models in yet another dress of dark blue silk.6 Like Jane Morris in both paintings, Edith is frozen into a meditative pose. In both cases, the women exist as the object of a male representation and appear to behave only to satisfy a fantasized vision of femininity. The juxtaposition present in the first painting's title - Jane Morris (The Blue Silk Dress) - seems to intimate an assimilation between the portraitee and her costume. What matters is the attire that the model complies in wearing, and which finally absorbs her. …

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