Good Soldier (Ford)

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.)

Author Bio
Aka—Ford Hermann Hueffer, Ford Madox Hueffer
Birth—December 17, 1873
Where—Merton, Surrey, England, UK
Death—June 26, 1939
Where—Deauville, France

Ford Madox Ford was an English novelist, poet, critic and editor whose journals, The English Review and The Transatlantic Review, were instrumental in the development of early 20th-century English literature.

He is best remembered for The Good Soldier (1915) and the Parade's End tetralogy.* The Good Soldier is frequently included among the great literature of the past century, including the Modern Library 100 Best Novels, The Observer's "100 Greatest Novels of All Time" and The Guardian's "1000 novels everyone must read."

Born Ford Hermann Hueffer, the son of Francis Hueffer, he was Ford Madox Hueffer before he finally—in 1919, at a time when German connotations proved unpopular—settled on the name Ford Madox Ford in honour of his grandfather, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown, whose biography he had written.

The Good Soldier (1915), a novel set just before World War I which chronicles the tragic lives of two "perfect couples" using intricate flashbacks. In a "Dedicatory Letter to Stella Ford” that prefaces the novel, Ford reports that a friend pronounced The Good Soldier “the finest French novel in the English language!”

Ford was involved in the British war propaganda after the outbreak of World War I. He worked for the War Propaganda Bureau managed by C. F. G. Masterman with other writers and scholars who were popular in those years, such as Arnold Bennett, G. K. Chesterton, John Galsworthy, Hilaire Belloc and Gilbert Murray. Ford wrote two propaganda books for Masterman, namely When Blood is Their Argument: An Analysis of Prussian Culture (1915), with the help of Richard Aldington, and Between St. Dennis and St. George: A Sketch of Three Civilizations (1915).

After writing the two propaganda books, Ford enlisted in the Welsh Regiment on 30 July 1915, and was sent to France, thus ending his cooperation with the War Propaganda Bureau. His combat experiences and his previous propaganda activities inspired his tetralogy Parade's End (1924–1928), set in England and on the Western Front before, during and after World War I.

Ford also wrote dozens of novels as well as essays, poetry, memoir and literary criticism, and collaborated with Joseph Conrad on two novels, The Inheritors (1901) and Romance (1903).

His novel Ladies Whose Bright Eyes (1911, extensively revised in 1935) is, in a sense, the reverse of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

In 1908, Ford founded The English Review, in which he published Thomas Hardy, H. G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, John Galsworthy and William Butler Yeats, and gave debuts to Wyndham Lewis, D. H. Lawrence and Norman Douglas.

In 1924, he founded The Transatlantic Review, a journal with great influence on modern literature. Staying with the artistic community in the Latin Quarter of Paris, France, he made friends with James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and Jean Rhys, all of whom he would publish.

In a later sojourn in the United States, he was involved with Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, Katherine Anne Porter and Robert Lowell (who was then a student).

Ford spent the last years of his life teaching at Olivet College in Michigan, and died in Deauville, France, at the age of 65.

• Despite his deep Victorian roots, Ford was always a champion of new literature and literary experimentation.

• Ford is the model for the character Braddocks in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Known in his role as critic for the statement, "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."

• He had an affair with Jean Rhys (author of The Wide Sargasso Sea — a "prequel" to Jane Eyre), which ended bitterly.

• Ford went through several name changes. He was baptized Ford Hermann Hueffer, but later adopted his mother's name of Madox. Later he claimed he was Baron Hueffer von Aschendorf, but, after World War I, wanting to disavow his German background, he finally settled on Ford Madox Ford. (From Wikipedia.)

* Parade's End consists of four novels, now bound together: Some Do Not... (1924); No More Parades (1925); A Man Could Stand Up (1926); and The Last Post (1928).

Book Reviews
(Older works have few, if any, online mainstream press reviews. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

100 Best Novels—Modern Library
100 Greatest Novels of All Time —The Observer (UK)

While readers continue to ignore Ford Madox Ford, one of this century's greatest English novelists, the Ecco Press continues to reissue his books in handsome paperback editions. When Knopf republished his two best novels — The Good Soldier and Parade's End — in 1950 and 1951, their dust jackets were festooned with critics' praises and exhortations in an attempt to bully or seduce the public. Since Ford is not so difficult as to be inaccessible, the source of readers' resistance to him must lie elsewhere. In Seeing Through Everything, the critic William Pritchard suggests that Ford's characters are storybook people, larger than life. But it might be argued that this is often true of characters in very good books. They are larger than life because life is too small. If they're too good to be true, it's partly because the truth isn't good enough.
Anatole Broyard - New York Times (4/14/1985)

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Good Soldier:

1. What do you think of John Dowell? Dowell is famous (or infamous) as one of literature's most unreliable narrators. In what way can he be considered "unreliable"? (Think, for instance, of Thomas Hardy or George Elliot, earlier 19th-century novelists. They used third-person narrators to present fairly objective versions of reality—see LitCourse 1. A more recent "unreliable" narrator is the butler from Remains of the Day.)

2. Why does Dowell consider the Ashburnhams good people? What is his standard of goodness based on?

3. Dowell says that the couples' friendship is like "an extraordinarily safe castle." What does he mean? He also compares the friendship to a minuet...but then changes his mind about the minuet. What are the two meanings the minuet comes to have for Dowell?

4. What is the symbolic significance of Edward's and Florence's "heart" problems?

5. Ford Maddox Ford's innovations in The Good Soldier foreshadowed the modernist era of the novel. Primarily, the storyline is disjointed—events are non-chronological. As a group, or individually, try tracing Ford's timeline—detailing where it jumps back and forth in time. Place plot events in the order they ocurred vs. the order in which Dowell reveals them. (It's devilishly clever; one wonders how Ford managed to keep it straight.)

Also, See a brief definition of modernism in LitPicks-Oct '06 for Mrs. Dalloway...then take a look at LitCourse 6 [slide 8] for an example of a disjointed timeline in William Faulkner's short story, A Rose for Emily.)

6. Compare John Dowell and Edward Ashburnham as characters. How are they different? At the end, Dowell says that he and Edward were just alike. What does he mean? Is Dowell correct—are they alike?

7. Talk about Florence. Why did she marry Dowell—a husband with whom, over the course of 13 years, she was never intimate? What does she want of Dowell?

8. What do you think of Leonora? Is she excessively controlling...or controlling with good reason? Why does she condone her husband's affair with Maisie Maiden? (By the attention to character names, first & last.)

9. What makes Leonora believe that Florence and Edward will eventually become intimate? What is Dowell's response to her prophecy?

10. Has Edward ever loved Leonora? Despite his many affairs, Leonora hopes that he will come to love only her. But what happens to her feelings for Edward when she realizes he is intimate with Florence?

11. What is the significance of the couples' trip to the home of Martin Luther's Protest?

12. Dowell uses the term "normal" to describe people. What does he mean when he uses the term "normal" or "perfectly normal" for Leonora and Rodney Bayham?

13. Edward is the "good soldier" of the title. Is Edward good, despite his incessant affairs...or is the title ironic? Do you sympathize with Edward at all?

14. Why does Leonora reveal the intimate details of her marital woes to Nancy? What affect does it have on Nancy? What are Nancy's feelings for Edward?

15. How and/or why do both Leonora and Nancy psychologically torture Edward?

16. Talk about Nancy's fate, why Dowell stays to care for her...and what the significance is of the word "shuttlecock."

17. More generally... Do you like any of these people? Is this simply a sensational story of sex and betrayal, or something more? Are you satisfied with the way the novel ends?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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