Ford Madox

The Good Soldier - A Tale of Passion (Unabridged)

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford - is a 1915 novel by the British writer Ford Madox Ford. It is set just before World War I, and chronicles the tragedy of Edward Ashburnham and his seemingly perfect marriage, along with that of his two American friends. The novel is told using a series of flashbacks in non-chronological order, a literary technique that formed part of Ford's pioneering view of literary impressionism. Ford employs the device of the unreliable narrator to great effect, as the main character gradually reveals a version of events that is quite different from what the introduction leads the reader to believe. The novel was loosely based on two incidents of adultery and on Ford's messy personal life.

Plot summary
The Good Soldier is narrated by the character John Dowell, half of one of the couples whose dissolving relationships form the subject of the novel. Dowell tells the story of those dissolutions, plus the deaths of three characters and the madness of a fourth, in a rambling, non-chronological fashion. As an unreliable narrator the reader can consider whether they believe Dowell and his description of how the events unfolded including his own role in the "saddest story ever told".

The novel opens with the famous line: "This is the saddest story I have ever heard." Dowell explains that for nine years he, his wife Florence and their friends Captain Edward Ashburnham (the "good soldier" of the book's title) and his wife Leonora, had an ostensibly normal friendship while Edward and Florence sought treatment for their heart ailments at a spa in Nauheim, Germany.

As it turns out, nothing in the relationships or in the characters is as it first seems. Florence's heart ailment is a fiction she perpetrated on John to ensure that he did not seek intimacy from her as it would seemingly be too stressful for her heart, and so to keep him out of her bedroom at night in order that she could continue her affair with an American artist named Jimmy. Edward and Leonora have an imbalanced marriage broken by his constant infidelities (both of body and heart) and by Leonora's attempts to control Edward's affairs (both financial and romantic). Dowell is an innocent who is coming to realise how much he has been fooled as Florence and Edward had an affair under his nose for nine years without his knowing until Florence was dead.

Dowell tells the story of Edward and Leonora's relationship which appears normal to others but which is a power struggle that Leonora wins. Dowell narrates several of Edward's affairs and peccadilloes including his possibly innocent attempt to comfort a crying servant on a train, his affair with the married Maisie Maidan, the one character in the book whose heart problem was unquestionably real, and his bizarre tryst in Monte Carlo and Antibes with a kept woman known as La Dolciquita. Edward's philandering ends up costing them a fortune in bribes, blackmail and gifts for his lovers leading Leonora to take control of Edward's financial affairs. She gradually gets him out of debt.
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