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The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

The Good Soldier (1915)

by Ford Madox Ford

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,570841,480 (3.79)277
  1. 31
    Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (chrisharpe)
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    Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley (John_Vaughan)
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    Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi (LynnB, susanbooks)
    susanbooks: Note the first lines of each -- Kureishi does such a cool job playing w/Ford

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Showing 1-5 of 79 (next | show all)
Forgettable. Absolutely and woefully forgettable. ( )
  benuathanasia | Jun 23, 2017 |
Ford Madox Ford begins the tale with the words “This is the saddest story I have ever heard,” which is a little nervy, I think – kind of like Babe Ruth stepping up to the plate and calling his shot. As if that weren’t enough, FMF “doubles down” in the preface to the version I read, explaining that when offered a chance to make revisions to the text, he decided not to change a word, as he realized the story was perfect the way it was. But d*** if the man doesn’t hit the ball exactly where he pointed.

The art of this novel isn’t in the story, which is almost tauntingly simple: an upstanding, well-meaning British officer with a romantic nature that makes him a little bit too susceptible to falling in love ends up inadvertently ruining the lives of his wife (a Catholic who feels unable to divorce him), a good friend (whose wife he succumbs to), and at least two sweetly innocent but emotionally fragile ladies.

The art of the novel is a little bit in the characterizations, which are authentic and intricate in a way I associate with Graham Greene, the highest compliment I am capable of giving. With few exceptions, no one in this terribly sad tale is actually evil: indeed, you could make the case that most of them demonstrate the capacity for extreme nobility – Edward, the tale’s tragic swain, is a generous and compassionate landowner; Leonora, his wife, willingly sacrifices her own happiness to secure his; Dowell, the tale’s narrator, similarly sacrifices his needs to accommodate the requirements of his wife’s (supposedly) ill health; Nancy, Edward’s final, fatal femme fatale, is sweet and patient and good. Each, however, additionally possesses a flaw – one tragic, inevitable, Aristotelean little flaw – that ends up perverting their nobility into something corrupt and awful and … yes … terribly sad. As summarized by Dowell (our first person narrator), part-ways through the tale: “I call this the Saddest Story, rather than “The Ashburnham Tragedy,” just because … there is about it none of the elevation that accompanies tragedy; there is about it no nemesis, no destiny. Here were two noble people … drifting down life … causing miseries, hart-aches, agony of the mind and death. And they themselves steadily deteriorated. And why? For what purpose? To point what lesson? It is all a darkness.”

Mostly, however, the art of this novel is in FMF’s masterly and novel storytelling. The tale is effectively inverted - told from end to beginning - by a narrator who assumes the reader is already familiar with the ending. In this way, FMF crafts a tale that, instead of building towards tragedy, starts with the tragedy already established and then unfolds the details in a way so maddeningly careless that the effect can only have been achieved through the most deliberate and careful writing imaginable. Instead of waiting and watching for tragedy to unfurl – as happens in most novels – tragedy meets us on the first page and accompanies us all the way through our subsequent journey. Which isn’t to suggest this is a miserable or unpleasant read: on the contrary, I would argue that FMF’s wonderfully ingenious storytelling is what makes this “saddest story ever told” not only bearable, but hauntingly human.

No short review could ever hope to capture all the worthy intricacies of this work. The title alone deserves its own paragraph: FMF’s introduction raises more questions than it answers about whether “The Good Soldier” is a literal reference to Edward, or meant in a figurative sense as a reference to all folks in this tale of act the role of “good soldier,” selflessly (or selfishly?) sacrificing themselves for the perceived good of others. Another paragraph might be devoted to FMF’s perception of Catholicism, which takes a beating in this tale. Another might be devoted to an analysis of the actual reliability of FMF’s supposed “reliable narrator”; yet another to debating whether, in this novel, FMF has indeed “laid [his] one egg and might as well die.” All of which would make this the ideal novel for a Lit 301 college course, without in any way undermining its merits as captivating and accessible tale, quickly read but not quickly forgotten. ( )
  Dorritt | Apr 8, 2017 |
I looked for this book in second-hand bookshops for a while because my supervisor recommended it. Never finding it, said supervisor simply bought me a copy when he came to visit last month. I wanted to love it more because I was assured that I would so like it, but it's a difficult book to like. I could talk about it for ages with great passion I think, and yet I dislike it in so many ways. It reminds me of my experience reading [b:The Sound and the Fury|10975|The Sound and the Fury|William Faulkner|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1391342582s/10975.jpg|1168289] in that we've got this male author and male narrators utterly obsessed with the sexuality of a female. Yes, he challenges Victorian/Edwardian ideas of feminine sexual desire, and I can see why people think that it's a breath of fresh air for that reason, but I still dislike the sense that a male mind cannot cease thinking about female sexuality even if he isn't conventional in his conclusions. I wanted to throw the book away from me for that reason. It was a good read in other ways, and I liked the way that the story unfolded, and it is a very fine piece of writing that, like I said, I could discuss at great length, and will do I am sure. ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
Read it 42 years ago. Still great ( )
  chuckpatch | Dec 29, 2016 |
I'm so conflicted on what I really think of this book. It was a struggle to get through and at times I wanted to throw it against the wall, but in the end I powered through and felt satisfied with its conclusion. This to me balances out to "average"! ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 79 (next | show all)
Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier seems to me to possess precisely those virtues to which the novel narrated in the first-person is best suited...A useful comparison: The Good Soldier very much brings to mind the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro.

» Add other authors (41 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ford Madox Fordprimary authorall editionscalculated
Henze, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kenner, HughIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lorch, FritzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Beati Immaculati - Psalm 119:1
First words
This is the saddest story I have ever heard.
I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find his path through what may be a sort of maze. I cannot help it. I have stuck to my idea of being in a country cottage with a silent listener, hearing between the gusts of the wind and amidst the noises of the distant sea the story as it comes. And, when one discusses an affair--a long, sad affair--one goes back, one goes forward. One remembers points that one has forgotten and one explains them all the more minutely since one recognizes that one has forgotten to mention them in their proper places and that one may have given, by omitting them, a false impression. I console myself with thinking that this is a real story and that, after all, real stories are probably told best in the way a person telling a story would tell them. They will then seem most real.
In all matrimonial associations there is, I believe, one constant factor - a desire to deceive the person with whom one lives as to some weak spot in one's character or in one's career. For it is intolerable to live constantly with one human being who perceives one's small meannesses.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679722181, Paperback)

First published in 1915, Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier begins, famously and ominously, "This is the saddest story I have ever heard." The book then proceeds to confute this pronouncement at every turn, exposing a world less sad than pathetic, and more shot through with hypocrisy and deceit than its incredulous narrator, John Dowell, cares to imagine. Somewhat forgotten as a classic, The Good Soldier has been called everything from the consummate novelist's novel to one of the greatest English works of the century. And although its narrative hook--the philandering of an otherwise noble man--no longer shocks, its unerring cadences and doleful inevitabilities proclaim an enduring appeal.

Ford's novel revolves around two couples: Edward Ashburnham--the title's soldier--and his capable if off-putting wife, Leonora; and long-transplanted Americans John and Florence Dowell. The foursome's ostensible amiability, on display as they pass parts of a dozen pre-World War I summers together in Germany, conceals the fissures in each marriage. John is miserably mismatched with the garrulous, cuckolding Florence; and Edward, dashing and sentimental, can't refrain from falling in love with women whose charms exceed Leonora's. Predictably, Edward and Florence conduct their affair, an indiscretion only John seems not to notice. After the deaths of the two lovers, and after Leonora explains much of the truth to John, he recounts the events of their four lives with an extended inflection of outrage. From his retrospective perch, his recollections simmer with a bitter skepticism even as he expresses amazement at how much he overlooked.

Dowell's resigned narration is flawlessly conversational--haphazard, sprawling, lusting for sympathy. He exudes self-preservation even as he alternately condemns and lionizes Edward: "If I had had the courage and the virility and possibly also the physique of Edward Ashburnham I should, I fancy, have done much what he did." Stunningly, Edward's adultery comes to seem not merely excusable, but almost sublime. "Perhaps he could not bear to see a woman and not give her the comfort of his physical attractions," John surmises. Ford's novel deserves its reputation if for no other reason than the elegance with which it divulges hidden lives. --Ben Guterson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:00 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:

  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriateAll editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

    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 nave 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.

    Frank Kermode has taught at Manchester, London, and Cambridge Universities as well as at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. Among his many books the most recent are Shakespeare's Language, Pieces of My Mind, and The Age of Shakespeare.… (more)

    » see all 12 descriptions

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