The Good Soldier
Ford Maddox Ford, 1915
120-150 pp. (varies by publisher)
At the fashionable German spa town Bad Nauheim, two wealthy, fin de siecle couples—one British, the other American —meet for their yearly assignation. As their story moves back and forth in time between 1902 and 1914, the fragile surface propriety of the pre—World War I society in which these four characters live is ruptured—revealing deceit, hatred, infidelity, and betrayal. The Good Soldier is Edward Ashburnham, who, as an adherent to the moral code of the English upper class, is nonetheless consumed by a passion for women younger than his wife—a stoic but fallible figure in what his American friend, John Dowell, calls "the saddest story I ever heard." (From the Random House edition.)
Handsome, wealthy, and a veteran of service in India, Captain Edward Ashburnham appears to be the ideal “good soldier” and the embodiment of English upper-class virtues. But for his creator, Ford Madox Ford, he also represents the corruption at society’s core.
Beneath Ashburnham’s charming, polished exterior lurks a soul well-versed in the arts of deception, hypocrisy, and betrayal. Throughout the nine years of his friendship with an equally privileged American, John Dowell, Ashburnham has been having an affair with Dowell’s wife, Florence. Unlike Dowell, Ashburnham’s own wife, Leonora, is well aware of it.
When The Good Soldier was first published in 1915, its pitiless portrait of an amoral society dedicated to its own pleasure and convinced of its own superiority outraged many readers. Stylistically daring, The Good Soldier is narrated, unreliably, by the naïve Dowell, through whom Ford provides a level of bitter irony.
Dowell’s disjointed, stumbling storytelling not only subverts linear temporality to satisfying effect, it also reflects his struggle to accept a world without honor, order, or permanence. Called the best French novel in the English language, The Good Soldier is both tragic and darkly comic, and it established Ford as an important contributor to the development of literary modernism. (From the Barnes & Noble edition.)
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