Ford is quite the storyteller and does so with great humor and wit with The Good Soldier, a sad tale, or rather, if I may, a tragic love quadrangle.
The novel recounts the friendship of two couples, the Ashburnhams of England and the American Dowells, over a period of nine years. The four meet at a health spa where Edward Ashburnham and Florence Dowell are being treated for their respective, and somewhat questionable, heart conditions. John Dowell, the naive and self deprecating narrator, intrigues the reader with what lies beneath the surfaces of the uppercrust Ashburnhams and comes to understand the warnings unheeded by he, with regards to his wife, Florence.
Ford has an extensive body of works and was fortunate to have the influence of a father who was a scholar and musician and a maternal grandfather who was a painter. These relationships opened up the world of literature and arts to him and set him on his writing journey.
John Dowell could almost be considered a fool if he weren’t so lovable. He narrates The Good Soldier in such an unpretentious manner that the reader comes to feel quite sorry for his ignorance. He relates the nine year time span of the friendship and seems to come to realizations just a tad after the reader does.
Florence Dowell, is a somewhat pedantic, self-absorbed woman who we come to find has enjoyed the pleasures of a few gentlemen prior to her marriage to John. She had set such high standards for a prospective husband and so assumed no one would be willing to meet them and is taken quite aback when John literally sweeps her away. After they marry, Florence plays up her heart condition leaving John as nurse, rather than husband.
Captain Edward Ashburnham, the “good soldier”, is of course, not the man, nor the friend, he is at first thought to be. This all comes rather slowly to John Dowell’s attention while the good captain carries on womanizing, drinking and gambling.
The shrewd Leonara Ashburnham is the most cognizant of the deceptions that surround her. She is a cold and proper Irish Catholic who has held her tongue for so long she no longer has much use for it. Having kept her wits about her, she plans for every detail, including employing a woman to be her husband’s mistress so as to keep him in sight.
You may well ask why I write. And yet my reasons are quite many. For it is not unusual in human beings who have witnessed the sack of city or the falling to pieces of a people to desire to set down what they have witnessed for the benefit of unknown heirs or of generations infinitely remote; or, if you please, just to get the sight of our their heads.
Do you know what it is to shudder, in later life, for some small, stupid action–usually for some small, quite genuine piece of emotionalism–of your early life?
For who in this world can give anyone a character? Who in this world knows anything of any other heart–or of his own? But one cannot be certain of the way any man will behave in every case–and until one can do that a ‘character’ is of no use to anyone.
A cozy visit with Mr. Ford would be delightful. Of course, I’d love to sit by a fire, sipping tea and listen to him spin a tale or two. He’d have me enthralled in no time.
My rating for The Good Soldier is an 8 out of 10.
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