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The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

The Good Soldier (original 1915; edition 1989)

by Ford Madox Ford

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3,227711,718 (3.78)245
Title:The Good Soldier
Authors:Ford Madox Ford
Info:Vintage (1989), Edition: Reissue, Paperback
Collections:Your library, Classic Fiction, Favorites
Tags:Fiction, British, classic, 20th century

Work details

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)

  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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English (67)  Dutch (2)  Hebrew (1)  Piratical (1)  All languages (71)
Showing 1-5 of 67 (next | show all)
Read this because I had never read anything by Ford and it was on the Guardian's 100 best novels. Unfortunately I found it extremely tiresome and deeply uninteresting. It's well written I guess but I had zero interest in it. Total passivity by narrator became frustrating. Obsession with sex but no love or chemistry. Has completely put me off reading any more of his. ( )
  aine.fin | Sep 29, 2015 |
What I enjoyed about this most of all was the narrator and the way he tells the story. As the novel opens, you really have no idea what is coming except that it's "the saddest story in the world." The non-linear revelation of facts and details of the two couples the book focusses on are revealed piecemeal, and you the reader are left with the job of piecing it all together and drawing your own opinions about cause and effect and, if any, blame to be attributed.

The narrator himself seems very magnanimous for a man whose wife betrays him. I found this only believable if we take his word for it that he went into the marriage less for passion than for social convenience. And it's taking his word for it that we have to do if we are to have any opinion at all about the events that come to light. The narrator gives us no other viewpoint from which to see anything from.

I can see how some might find this unreliable or frustrating. For me, it's what made the novel. Yes, you have a story, but the art is more about how that story is told than what that story consists of. Early on, the narrator says he wishes that we were sat opposite him in an armchair warmed by a fire so that he could just ramble on about it all, not worrying about the form of how he relates his story so much as what he relates.

I also appreciated this because when a man finds his wife has been unfaithful, no matter how shallow his marriage may have been up to that point, there are always elements of self-questioning and uncertainty of events that plague him. In fact, when any of us find out that life and relationships, and our very own roles in them, are not as we thought, that's when life starts taking on exactly the perspective our narrator gives us: a rambling trail that starts anywhere, doubles back on itself, jumps around and rarely, if ever, reaches a destination.

Ford's genius lies in the medium of the unreliable narrator he has constructed which perfectly suits the subject matter this short novel deals with. ( )
  arukiyomi | May 28, 2015 |
The Good Soldier has one of the most famous opening sentences, and the rest of the book lives up to it.
"This is the saddest story I have ever heard." A tale of passion, miscommunication, good intentions, desperation. Two couples' lives become inextricably entwined in the late 1890s. The writing is restrained, narrated as it is by the deceived husband. He has an utterly believable voice as he drifts back and forth in time, trying to make sense of what has happened. Highly recommended if you're a fan of British literature. ( )
  booktruffler | Feb 5, 2015 |
Chronic, angst, chronic cardiopulmonary disease, chronic longings, chronic nastiness. Give me Dostoyevsky any day. . Crazy (poor) people are much more interesting than eccentric (rich) people. ( )
  Sandydog1 | Dec 18, 2014 |
In the beginning this book impresses you with its prose as it lulls you into "the saddest story I have ever heard." The prose at the end of the book is equally good. But what comes in between, well...it speaks of a time and place and perhaps way of life that doesn't exist any more, at least not for those of us who don't immerse ourselves in novels set in the same milieu. Ford's tale of infidelity, jealousy, control, heart disease, insanity, etc. etc. is told out of sequence by its unlikable, untrustworthy narrator, who is know to contradict himself. About 2/3 of the way through, it occurred to me that this was really a very black comedy about a bunch of people who pretty much deserve what they get, and after finishing the book, I'll stick to that point of view. Apparently it is at least somewhat valid based on the Introduction in this Everyman edition. This is a book that will stick with me in some ways, and reading it was mostly a pleasure. But it isn't a great novel. ( )
  datrappert | Dec 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 67 (next | show all)
The Good Soldier is an odd and maybe even unique book. That it is a masterpiece, almost a perfect novel, comes as a repeated surprise even to readers who have read it before. In a dedicatory letter to the second edition written some 10 years after the publication of the novel, Ford depicts himself "taking down one of [his] ten-year-old books [and exclaiming] 'Great Heavens, did I write as well as that then?' .
added by PGCM | editThe Guardian, Jane Smiley (Mar 18, 2010)
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 editionsconfirmed
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)

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