The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (book review)

Ford Madox Ford opens The Good Soldier with the words: ‘This is the saddest story I have ever heard.’ The novel, written between 1913 and 1914, was originally called The Saddest Story, but given the political situation at the time, Ford’s publisher pressed for an alternative title (which came with its own problems). The original title might have been more fitting for a novel that features two mismatched couples, the Ashburnhams and the Dowells, for it is a very sad story indeed. It tells of the consequences of reigning in desires, of the damage caused when these desires are unleashed. It’s a story of intrigues, betrayals and duplicity.

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The Good Soldier is narrated by Dowell, who, as the novel opens, is looking back over the previous nine years. Dowell and his wife Florence are ‘leisured Americans’ living in Europe and spending the summer seasons in Nauheim, a German spa town. Here they meet and befriend Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, an English couple of a certain class. To all intents and purposes the Ashburnhams appear quiet and well-mannered; they are what Dowell believes the British would call ‘quite good people.’

By the time we reach the end of the novel’s first page, we learn that Florence Dowell is now dead, and there are hints of an affair having taken place between her and Edward Ashburnham – both are referred to as having ‘had a heart’ (this organ is an important recurring symbol in this book). What we don’t know is when or why Florence died. We can also assume Ashburnham is dead – use of the term had a heart’ indicates that he too is no longer alive.

Over the remainder of the novel, Dowell tries to relate the story of the two couples, but in so doing, he does not begin at the beginning. Instead, he imagines himself relaying the tale to a silent listener, going backwards and forwards in time over the previous nine or so years as one does when ‘one discusses an affair – a long, sad affair’:

One remembers points that one has forgotten and one explains them all the more minutely since one recognises that one has forgotten to mention them in their proper places and that one may have given, by omitting them, a false impression. (pg. 134)

As a consequence of this approach and shifting timeline, particular events (or characters) are introduced briefly or alluded to but not necessarily developed at the time. We assume these things are significant, but as our impressions are incomplete, we are left anticipating a return to the scenes in question. As the novel moves forward, our perceptions of events and the characters themselves shift as new information is revealed. We are constantly reflecting and updating our impressions.

I’ll return to how my impressions of the main characters changed in a little while, but Ford’s approach to the novel also conveys the feeling that Dowell is trying to make sense of both the story and the nature of relationships between men and woman in general:

And there is nothing to guide us. And if everything is so nebulous about a matter so elementary as the morals of sex, what is there to guide us in the more subtle morality of all other personal contacts, associations and activities? Or are meant to act on impulse alone? It is all a darkness. (pg. 32)

Dowell’s initial impression of Edward Ashburnham is that of an upright and honourable man, ‘exactly the sort of chap that you could have trusted your wife with.’ At various points in the nine years in question, Ashburnham serves in the army, is a county magistrate and landowner – he believes in the good of the community. But Ashburnham is also a sentimentalist – much is made of this description, it recurs repeatedly. And this, together with his naivety, leads to his undoing in two critical areas: affairs of the heart and affairs of a financial nature.

Ashburnham is attractive and having fallen out of love with Leonora within a year or two of their marriage, he embarks upon a string of affairs:

I had forgotten about his eyes. They were as blue as the sides of a certain type of box of matches. When you looked at them carefully you saw that they were perfectly honest, perfectly straightforward, perfectly, perfectly stupid. But the brick pink of his complexion, running perfectly level to the brick pink of his inner eyelids, gave them a curious, sinister expression – like a mosaic of blue porcelain set in pink china. And that chap, coming into a room, snapped up the gaze of every woman in it, as dexterously as a conjurer pockets billiard balls. It was most amazing. (pg. 42)

A short-lived dalliance with the ruthless mistress of a Russian Grand Duke, coupled with a brief gambling spree at Monte Carlo, results in near financial ruin for Ashburnham. As a consequence, Leonora takes control of the couple’s finances.

At first, Leonora appears patient, principled and outwardly loyal to Edward. But as the story unravels, we learn more of her character – a different side is revealed, and we understand how mismatched she and Edward are as a couple. Edward is a Protestant, Leonora a Catholic. He is too sentimental for his own good, rather foolish, a sucker for a poor cause and a pretty woman. Beneath her exterior image, Leonora is cold, unsympathetic and controlling. She is an individualist whereas Edward is more democratic, a collectivist.

Alongside her control of the purse strings, Leonora also attempts to dictate Edward’s amorous affairs. The way Leonora sees it, if Edward has to play away, he may as well do so with someone she approves of, someone relatively stable – if nothing else it prevents him from running loose. There are times when she hopes Edward will return to her, but she would rather keep him occupied with an acceptable mistress than have him behave promiscuously.

However, once the Dowells arrive on the scene, it’s not long before Leonora realises that an affair between her husband and Florence is inevitable. And she knows this will create trouble for the two couples because when Edward embarks on an affair, he falls long and hard:

With Edward it was fatal. For, such was his honourable nature, that for him to enjoy a woman’s favours made him feel that she has a bond on him for life. That was the way it worked out in practice. Psychologically it meant that he could not have a mistress without falling violently in love with her. (pg. 120)

Turning our attention to the Dowells for a few moments, they have marital troubles of their own. Dowell is a man of ‘solid and serious virtues,’ and after a year or two of marriage to Florence, he falls out of love with her:

She became for me a rare and fragile object, something burdensome, but very frail. […] Yes, she became for me, as it were, the subject of a bet – the trophy of an athlete’s achievement, a parsley crown that is the symbol of his chastity, his soberness, his abstentions, and of his inflexible will. Of intrinsic value as a wife, I think she had none at all for me. I fancy I was not even proud of the way she dressed. (pg. 79)

At first, Florence is portrayed as a fragile creature with a weak heart, but as with other characters, we learn more about her as Dowell continues his story. There is little she would like more than to take her place as a lady of the English county society, and she harbours hopes of installing herself at Bramshaw, the Ashburnham’s residence. Dowell readily admits that Florence is a riddle to him, and he remains ignorant of Florence’s affair with Edward for quite some time – she is a flirt and a good actress with it.

That’s as much as I’m going to reveal about the plot save to say that there are further indiscretions and intrigues along the way. The Ashburnhams young ward, Nancy, also plays a significant role in the story. (It’s quite difficult to discuss the key events without revealing spoilers.)

The Good Soldier is a truly great novel. Ford’s prose is superb, and his descriptions of characters and their gestures are simply wonderful. It’s a very controlled piece of writing. The novel’s structure and shifting timeline requires the reader to play close attention to the text as the story is revealed in waves. There is much for the reader to process and assemble, and it’s a book I’d like to reread to gain a better understanding of the different layers and connections in the story.

I’ve talked a little about how my perceptions of the characters changed during the course of the book. In the beginning, I had Edward Ashburnham down as a cad and my sympathies were with Leonora. However, as I continued to read, I found some of my sympathy shifting from Leonora to Edward. Ultimately, I thought of Leonora as a rather cold and manipulative woman. She seemed well-equipped to deal with normality, but her behaviour became extreme when faced with the emotional dysfunction and duplicity of those around her. Despite Edward’s failings, his hopeless naivety and foolishness, he appeared powerless to quell his sentimental nature. Each character has their own flaws.

Dowell, the narrator, is left questioning it all and we’re left querying his reliability. There’s a wonderful passage in the opening pages where he questions the loss of permanence and stability in the couples’ lives. They appeared to be living their lives like a formal dance, a minuet, knowing exactly where they should go and what to do in every possible circumstance. All dancing together in perfect time with not a foot or hand out of place. This was how their lives appeared on the surface, but behind the façade all hell was breaking loose.

I’ll finish with a quote that for me seems to capture something of the feel of this novel:

I call this the Saddest Story, rather than ‘The Ashburnham Tragedy’, just because it is so sad, just because there was no current to draw things along to a swift and inevitable end. There is about it none of the elevation that accompanies tragedy; there is about it no nemesis, no destiny. Here were two noble people – for I am convinced that both Edward and Leonora had noble natures – here, then, were two natures, drifting down life, like fireships afloat on a lagoon and causing miseries, heartaches, agony of the mind and death. And they themselves steadily deteriorate. And why? For what purpose? To point what lesson? It is all a darkness. (pg 123)

I’ve been reading The Good Soldier alongside Emma at Book Around the Corner (Emma’s review is here) and Max at Pechorin’s Journal (Max’s review is here). Both bring different insights to the party.

My copy of The Good Soldier is published in the UK by Wordsworth Classics. Source: personal copy. Book 4/20 in my #TBR20.

88 thoughts on “The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (book review)

  1. MarinaSofia

    What a lovely, thoughtful review. It’s been a very long time since I read this, so have only vague memories, but your review certainly helped jolt my brain a little.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Marina. There’s quite a lot to think about here, and I’ve a feeling that it might come across as a different book on second reading. Glad to hear that my thoughts acted as a bit of a reminder.

      Reply
  2. hastanton

    I have read this but a very long time ago ….so long ago that i just have tge vaguest memory tgat i enjoyed it . Having read your review, i suspect i was probably too young to have really appreciated it too. I have really enjoyed my reread of MM and have decided to continue with rereads of the classics throughout 2015 ….i am sure i have my old penguin cooy of this somewhere …….

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Fantastic. I thought you might have read it. It does feel as if it would stand up to a few rereads, and I’d like to revisit it with the knowledge of where Ford was going with the structure and overall shape of the story. Have your impressions changed as you’ve reread the novel? Also, I had a quick look for a review at yours but couldn’t see one. Let me know if you have written about it.

      Reply
      1. Guy Savage

        No I don’t think I reviewed it, but yes, it’s one of those novels that leaves you w/ a different impression w/each re-read. One of those age and experience things, I suppose.

        Reply
  3. susanosborne55

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Jacqui, and thanks for reminding me of the detail of the novel with your very thoughtful review. I read it a long time ago but the impression of it has stayed with me. Who could forget that opening line?

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Susan. Yes, the opening line (and the first couple of pages) left a deep impression on me. And thinking of our twitter exchange, you were right about Ford’s prose, it is beautiful. What writing!

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks for the link. It certainly feels like a book that’s open to different interpretations/readings. Your review is very interesting and leaves me feeling that I haven’t seen through or looked beyond Dowell’s narration to get to the truth (if there is a truth). Sorry to hear that you found the book annoying, but I can understand why. It’s a story that’s likely to provoke strong reactions.

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  4. Gemma

    A lovely thoughtful review, Jacqui. One thing I found really interesting about the novel when I read it is the narration – the story is constantly unfolding and Dowell is always changing his perspective on what has come before. I think he becomes something of an unreliable narrator which could account for why our own perceptions of different characters change throughout the novel. Your review has made me want to reread this book!

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Gemma. Yes, I completely agree with you about the narration and how perceptions change as each wave of the story is revealed. You’re right, Dowell does become an unreliable narrator and my review doesn’t bring that out sufficiently. A reread might be required for me to close to the truth if there is such a thing here! (I work in a field where much weight is attached to perceptions and impressions, so this view becomes a ‘truth’ in and of itself.) If you do reread it, let me know what you think.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I’ll reread it for sure, Tom. That first line is very interesting: the use of the word ‘heard’ suggests that someone else has told Dowell about these people. But Dowell is right in the thick of it – he’s integral to the story.

      Reply
  5. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Excellent review Jacqui – this is one of those books I’ve been thinking I must read for some time (I have the same copy as you) – and I’m thinking this even more now! I’m rather fond of unreliable narrators!

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Karen, although now I think about it, I could have done more in the way of interrogating Dowell’s narrative! I think you’d really enjoy this book.

      Reply
  6. gertloveday

    Interesting that FMF himself treated women so badly. Not relevant to the quality of this classic, I know, but the difference between writers’ understanding of human nature and the way they behave themselves always fascinates me. Perhaps you have to be able to hurt to empathise with what it feels like to be hurt.

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I must admit that I haven’t looked into Ford’s own life as I tend to avoid reading other reviews or articles before collecting my own thoughts. (I should probably do a little more reading on the author.) The introduction to my Wordsworth edition contains a little bit about Ford’s relationship with Violet Hunt, and Stella Bowen is mentioned, but it sounds as though there’s more for me to discover. I’ll take a look at his background.

      It’s interesting what you say about the contrast between writers’ understanding of human nature and the way they behave themselves. I’d hope that you wouldn’t have to be able to hurt to empathise with what it feels like to be on the receiving end. I know what you mean though about the gap between the two. It’s a little like the difference between what people say and do – our behaviours and actions don’t always stay true to our words.

      Reply
      1. gertloveday

        The triangle with Jean Rhys and Stella Bowen is the one that comes to mind, though he did have form with other women. I love biographies of writers, quite apart from reading the novels themselves.

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        1. JacquiWine Post author

          That’s very interesting. I wasn’t aware of his relationship with Jean Rhys. Just looking at biographies, there’s a recent one of Ford by Max Saunders, FMF: A Dual Life. It’s just shy of 1,400 pages!

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            1. JacquiWine Post author

              Ah, right! The only Rhys I’ve read is After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, but I do want to read more as I loved the writing. I have Good Morning, Midnight, but I’ll take a look at Quartet when I return to buying books again.

              Reply
  7. Richard

    I’ve heard so many good things about FMF, but I’ve yet to read him. Loser! My readerly self-loathing aside, I love what you say about the novel’s complex structure and timeline and FMF’s prose in general. Maybe 2015 will be the year for this for me…

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      From what I know of your tastes, Richard, I think you’d really enjoy this novel. The way that Dowell narrates the story is very interesting, and there’s plenty to get your teeth into in the way of structure, timeline and character. All the main characters are flawed – each one has a different set of failings. Ford’s prose is wonderful. (At least it is here. I’ve heard slightly mixed things about the writing in Parade’s End, although I haven’t read that one.) Read The Good Soldier and let us know what you think!

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Brian. It is very sad; both marriages appear to be poor matches, and everyone is flawed or damaged in some sense. If you were minded to read this novel, I think you’d find the psychological side very interesting.

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    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, it’s great, Lindsay, although I’m not convinced I’ve made a particularly good job of reviewing it! Merry Christmas to you, too, and all the best for 2015. x

      Reply
  8. Annabel (gaskella)

    Loved your review. We read this in book group last year and it was a really good novel for discussion, as well as being a great novel. I particularly liked the way that Dowell qualifies his memories as the story progresses and he remembers more details that make minute changes to what he has told us before.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Annabel. It’s a great one for book groups, isn’t it? In fact, Emma’s currently reading it for her group. I don’t know whether they’re meeting this month or in January, but I’m sure they’ll have an interesting discussion too. Yes, Dowell’s narration’s really interesting in that sense, and I think that’s why my perception of the characters changed along the way. I’d like to reread it at some stage now that I have a feel for the structure and overall shape of the story.

      I’m about to go out for the evening, but I’ll head over to yours at the weekend to have a read of your review.

      Reply
    2. JacquiWine Post author

      I’ve just read your review but couldn’t seem to leave a comment at yours (perhaps it’s closed for comments now?).

      Your review is great, much more concise than mine, and I love your quote on the repetition! I like what you say about Dowell: that’s he’s unreliable but doesn’t seek to deceive, only remember. I think that’s how I felt too – it’s as if he’s trying to make sense of everything. It sounds as if you had a fascinating debate about the characters, and there’s so much material for discussion as each of the main players seemed flawed or damaged in some way. It’s interesting to hear that your group thought Edward came out on top, albeit by a small margin.

      For others, here’s a link to Annabel’s review:

      https://gaskella.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/the-good-solider-ford-madox-ford/

      Reply
  9. litlove

    What a wonderful analysis! I read this several years ago for an online book group and thought it was an amazing book – sophisticated, tricksy, profound and tragic. I must admit the details are hazy now, though, it’s not one that sticks in the mind though your review does bring it back to me. I should read it again.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Victoria. ‘Sophisticated, tricksy, profound and tragic’ – I love that! Yes, it’s all those things, and tricksy is a particularly good way of describing the novel as it’s constantly playing with your perceptions throughout. In all honesty, I could have done much more to challenge Dowell’s narrative, but I’m glad my review acted as a bit of a reminder. I definitely want to read it again and suspect it might come across as a different book next time. Let me know if you do reread it.

      Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Haha! Ah well…I think there was a surge in interest in Ford Madox Ford a couple of years ago on account of the BBC adaptation of Parade’s End (that’s when I bought The Good Soldier). I thought Soldier was great, although it seems to be a novel that divides opinion. A few others have found it annoying or frustrating. I think you might like it Claire, but there’s only one way to find out!

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  10. Arti

    As I was reading Parade’s End I ordered The Good Soldier. I’m afraid I have to admit, I haven’t finished the first nor started the latter. After reading your post here, now I must take them out again. This time I’d like to start with The Good Soldier. Thanks for your excellent review.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Very welcome, although I think I could have done a better job in getting behind Dowell’s narration! It’s a really interesting novel, both in terms of its structure/approach and the story itself, and it’s much shorter than Parade’s End. Interestingly, when I mentioned on twitter that I was reading The Good Soldier a couple of people replied to say they favoured it over Parade’s End. They preferred the prose here or found it easier to get into in some way. I’d be interested to hear how you get on should you read it.

      Reply
  11. Max Cairnduff

    Skipping the comments for now, as I’m still in the first 30 pages. Will pop by once I’ve finished, though so far I agree with your calling it great.

    “They appeared to be living their lives like a formal dance, a minuet, knowing exactly where they should go and what to do in every possible circumstance. All dancing together in perfect time with not a foot or hand out of place. This was how their lives appeared on the surface, but behind the façade all hell was breaking loose.” – spot on.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Max. That minuet passage appears quite early on, but it stuck with me to the end. I guess that’s a reflection of the society at that time (in part at least). A sense that appearances had to be maintained, and no one could be open or honest with their feelings, certainly not in public.

      Glad to hear you like it so far and I’m looking forward to reading your review! Emma’s is up now, and it’s terrific. I’m sure we’ll chat about this novel again.

      Reply
  12. Emma

    My billet is written now, so I allowed myself to read yours. I like how you explain your shift in your vision of Edward and Leonora.

    I loved this book. It’s so masterly done from every side: the style is brilliant, the construction original and creating suspense, the characters are deep.

    It’s hard to write about it without giving away important pieces of information.

    So ** spoiler alert** here.
    It seems that Duty is a character itself in this story. All these repressed feelings come from a strong sense of duty and propriety. Edward is a man of the past, in a way. He sees himself as an old-fashioned landlord and he wants to be faithful to his ancestors. He wants to behave in accordance with what is expected of him whatever the cost for him.

    What did you think about Nancy? I was disappointed with her ending. It’s so Romantic in the wrong sense. Why does she have to be crazy like a Grace Poole or something like that? The last part went too far in the Wuthering Heights direction and I don’t like this novel at all.

    What did you think of Leonora’s Catholicism? I thought it was a bit over the top and I wonder what was FMF’s vision of this religion.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Emma. I’ve just had the pleasure of reading of reading yours. Yes, it’s a great book, isn’t it. I loved Ford’s prose, the rhythm of it and the way he captured gestures and small details. As you say, the characters are deep and complex. I liked the structure and shifting timelines too – it’s a challenging book in that sense. I’m quite interested in how Ford wrote it as the introduction suggests he had it all mapped out in his head by the time he started the first section.

      Yes, my perceptions of Leonara, Edward and Florence changed quite a lot during the book. I thought Dowell’s narration was quite interesting in the way it caused my impressions to shift, and it could feel like a different book on a second reading. Do you think you’ll reread it at some stage?

      *****SPOILER ALERT *****

      That’s a great point about duty, and there’s a strong sense of appearances needing to be maintained. I liked the fact that Edward wanted to do right by his tenants even if he was a fool where money and women were concerned. I ended up feeling a bit sorry for him despite his failings and flaws. You’re right, he’s a man of the past, rooted in old-fashioned traditions and ideas.

      Nancy – yes, I really felt for her as she was caught in the middle of it all. I didn’t like the way Leonora treated Nancy in the end and the revelations about Edward’s past destroyed the girl. Not that Leonora deliberately set out to annihilate Nancy, but she could have anticipated the damage it might cause especially given the girl’s sheltered upbringing. God, what a mess! The night-time scene between Leonora and Nancy was a bit ‘Grace Poole.’ Did you think that was influenced by Freud’s thinking, the type of psychological theory that was emerging at the time? I don’t know enough about that area to say.

      Yes, the Catholicism was a bit strong, and I’m not sure what guidance Leonora was getting from her religious advisors. In a way, I thought the religious angle was another fundamental fault line in the mismatch between Leonora and Edward: different personalities and values, and different religious beliefs, too.

      Such a great book, so much to discuss! I’m looking forward to reading Max’s review (and Caroline’s if she joins us).

      Reply
      1. Emma

        I felt a bit sorry for Edward too. Ford Madox Ford hints that Irish landlords have different ways of treating their tenants. Edward’s way sounds English to me and this is also a place where Edward and Leonora are different.

        ****spoiler alert****
        I agree with you about the Grace Poole vibe of the night scene. I thought about Jane Eyre too. it’s a book of mixed influences, it’s like Ford Madox Ford has absorbed and reused the best of French and English fiction of the 19thC.

        Leonora’s way of sabotaging Nancy is terrible. I think she knew what she was doing. As long as this passion remained cerebral, that Nancy and Edward didn’t have sex, it would have lasted. (Like in La Princesse de Clèves) She wanted it to become a sordid sex affair.

        But Nancy is mean too. The telegram she sent to Edward on her trip was meant to hurt.
        And Edward, his wish that Nancy keeps loving him forever from afar is totally selfish. He’s a child. When you’re an adult and really love someone, you want the best for them. And the best for Nancy would have been to be allowed to leave Edward behind and move on with her life.

        Do you think that Dowell was in love with Leonora? He admits feelings and attraction but nothing more. He seems so confused by anything he feels that he has trouble voicing his feelings.

        I think this is influenced by Freudian theories. I hope Caroline reads it because she’s a lot more knowledgeable than me in that field. She’ll probably have a valuable opinion about that.

        This novel is an endless mine for discussion.

        Reply
        1. JacquiWine Post author

          Yeah, the influences and connections are fascinating, and I’m glad you talked about them in your billet.

          ***** SPOILER ALERT ******

          It’s a terrible thing to have happened, but I fear you might be right about Leonora’s intentions in her revelations to Nancy. That’s a good point about her wanting things to go down the sex affair route. They used Nancy as a pawn in the end, and you’re right about the Brindisi telegram. That was a cruel stroke.

          I wondered about Edward’s feelings towards Leonora. I think he was edging towards love, but it’s hard to say. At one stage, I thought he might have been in love with Nancy…

          I don’t think I mentioned this in my review, but there’s a passage towards the end of the novel where Dowell reflects on all the elements being there to satisfy each party, yet everyone is left with the wrong thing: Leonora hoped Edward would come back to her, but she ends up with a ‘sheep’ for a partner (Rodney); Edward wanted Nancy, but Dowell ends up looking after her (playing the nursemaid once again); Florence wanted the Bramshaw residence, but Dowell has it (even though he never wanted it.) A terribly sad situation, and all that destruction and turmoil in the process.

          I hope Caroline does read it as I’d like to hear her thoughts on the psychology.

          Reply
          1. Emma

            I have noted down that quote about nobody getting what they truly wanted. Americans have the right to happiness in their constitution. That’s a cultural difference between the Dowells and the Ashburnhams.

            Reply
            1. JacquiWine Post author

              Oh, yes: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That could explain a lot…

              We should ensure the main discussion continues on your blog (rather than here) especially once Max and Caroline join as we have been reading along with you/your book group. :)

              Reply
  13. Pingback: The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford | Book Around The Corner

  14. heavenali

    Fabulous review Jacqui, not sure why I have avoided reading Ford Maddox Ford, but you make this novel least sound fascinating. I rather enjoy it when my view of characters change as I read.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Many thanks, Ali. Given the nature of the books you read, I’d say there’s a very good chance that you’d enjoy this one. The characters are complex, and it’s a really interesting novel from a structural perspective. If you get a chance, do head over to Emma’s as her review is terrific (there’s a link at the end of mine). You may have seen it, but Emma reviewed Willa Cather’s My Antonia earlier this week, and I’m sure you’d be able to add to the discussion. Wishing you a Merry Christmas, Ali.

      Reply
  15. Bellezza

    After the sad story of The Narrow Road to The Deep North, I need a bit of a breather.

    But, I am here to say how much you’ve blessed my 2014. It’s been wonderful to get to know you a little bit through our books, blogs and comments. Thank you for the way you bless me with your insightful reviews and comments, your compassionate and tender heart. May you have a very blessed Christmas and New Year to come! xoxo

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Bellezza! Oh yes, I’m sure you need a break after the Deep North, and it’s best to put some space between these tough stories.

      Likewise, it’s been a real pleasure to get to know you this year, and I’ve enjoyed chatting to you on our respective blogs. Sabato’s The Tunnel was a great find, and I still have Barcelona Shadows to read (so many books, so many books). Thanks so much for taking the time to drop by and commenting. Your thoughts are always very welcome. Merry Christmas to you and yours and all the best for 2015 x

      Reply
  16. Seamus Duggan

    I read this a few decades back in college and it is all rather hazy in my memory, buried beneath the weight of discussions about structures and timelines. I bought Parade’s End this year (or last) and may attempt that soon, or maybe I’ll reread this. It’s a greta novel, I do remember that much.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I can imagine the structure and timeline being a focus for discussion, especially when studying the book at college, but there’s so much to enjoy here. I loved Ford’s prose in The Good Soldier, but I’ve heard mixed things about the writing in Parade’s End. I’d be very interested to hear how you get with it whenever the time comes. Mind you, if twenty or so years have passed since you read The Good Soldier, maybe it’s time for a reread? I’d like to read it again at some stage; now that I’ve got my head around the structure and overall shape of the story I’m sure I’d get more from a reread.

      Looking forward to our What a Carve Up! celebration on Sunday (I need to get cracking on a review once the festivities are over). Merry Christmas to you, Seamus!

      Reply
  17. kainzow

    Once again,I had the opportunity to buy it,but preferred other books instead.
    The reason is it is not so well-known despite having good ratings; I wasn’t sure it was worth it.I mean,it was one of those books I said I would read ‘later’……..
    From the review I gather it is a really good story.

    And just out of curiosity,have you read Parade’s End?

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      It’s a great story and a very interesting novel from a structural and technical perspective. The characters are complex too, and it gives a feel for the society of the time. I haven’t read Parade’s End, but I might take a look at it later in the year. I loved Ford’s prose in The Good Soldier, but I’ve heard mixed things about the writing in Parade’s End and its length makes it quite a big commitment! Thanks for dropping by and following.

      Reply
  18. Pingback: A-Z Index of Book Reviews (listed by author) | JacquiWine's Journal

  19. Caroline

    This sounds terrfic and I wish i could have read it with you but I simply ran out of time. Letters from a Lost Generation was rather long. I love the idea that we have to chnage our perceptions constantly and new information is added. I hope I can read it soon.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Ah, I must read your Lost Generation review (it might be tomorrow before I get a chance, but I’ve just seen it go up). Yes, I found this a fascinating novel from a number of different perspectives and my view of the characters and dynamics definitely shifted – the psychological aspects are very interesting. I think you’d like this novel very much.

      Reply
      1. Caroline

        No worries. I’m lagging behind reading and commenting. I almost forgot to write the review although I loved the book.
        I could imagine I’d like The Good Soldier.

        Reply
  20. gertloveday

    Hey Jacqui, can’t resist returning to this post to pass on something I’ve just read about Ford and women, an account by Malcolm Cowley about Ford at a party:”…a lot of young wives were around at the party. They would be fondled by Ford, and then escape him up the stairs, Ford, heavy and wheezing by that time, would follow the to the head of the narrow stairs, and the door would close in his face. He would wheeze back down, and a while later he’d follow another young woman until she took refuge behind a locked door.”

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, good grief, a serial womaniser! I can just imagine it…lock up your wives. Thanks for dropping by with that titbit. Where did you read about it?

      Reply
      1. gertloveday

        It’s quoted in a book I have called “The Writer’s Chapbook”, full of interesting snippets from The Paris Review interviews. There is a Cowley interview on line in the Art of Fiction series, and a very interesting one,.

        Reply
  21. Pingback: My Books of the Year – 2014 | JacquiWine's Journal

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  23. Max Cairnduff

    Great piece Jacqui. I love this quote: “And that chap, coming into a room, snapped up the gaze of every woman in it, as dexterously as a conjurer pockets billiard balls. It was most amazing.” It’s just marvellously written.

    Regarding Ford Madox Ford the womaniser, the Jean Rhys novel Quartet is thought by many to be closely based on her affair with him (I don’t mention it in my review of Quartet as I tend not to speak to biography and hadn’t read any Ford at the time, so it didn’t strike me then so much) . Gert;s description though makes him sound less a womaniser and more a sex-pest.

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Max. Your review was just brilliant, one of the best pieces you’ve written and your reviews set a very high standard. That billiard balls quote is fantastic, isn’t it? I had to include it.

      I really want to read Quartet, but I have three other (unread) Rhys novels in my TBR so it might have to wait – I’m also contemplating a reread of Mr Mackenzie. Gert’s quote does make Ford sound rather predatory. Will you read any others by Ford at some point? I’m interested in Parade’s End but I’ve heard mixed things about it.

      Reply
  24. Pingback: Finishing my #TBR20 – a few reflections | JacquiWine's Journal

  25. Matthew (Bibliofreak.net)

    What a brilliant, thoughtful review Jacui, thank you. It’s such a complex novel that it takes some unwrapping and being able to read the interpretations of others is really helpful. I’d obviously read various pieces from esteemed literary figures praising the book but I don’t think I was prepared for how good it was going to be. In summary it sounds fairly mundane but it is anything but!

    My review: The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

    Reply
    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Matthew. You’re right, it is a very complex novel. Both the structure and the unreliability of Dowell’s narration take some unravelling. It was great to read along with Emma and Max as their reviews, along with the comments here, helped me gain a better appreciation of the novel. Thanks for the link to your review – I’ll take a look. :)

      Reply
      1. Matthew (Bibliofreak.net)

        Yes, definitely one that is worth a re-read or seven :) I can imagine – I like both Max’s and Emma’s blogs – they definitely help me think about books in different ways! I shall most definitely be coming back here more regularly too!

        Reply
    2. JacquiWine Post author

      Hi Matthew, I read your review – it’s excellent, very insightful. I tried to post a comment at yours, but the internet seems to have eaten it. Apologies – you may have received it 2 or 3 times or not at all. Let me know If it hasn’t worked and I’ll try again.

      Reply
      1. Matthew (Bibliofreak.net)

        No trouble at all – I had to set comments so that I authorise them to mitigate the inordinate amount of spam I was getting but it doesn’t seem to make this very clear to commenters. Thank you for taking the time to come over and take a look at the review, I appreciate it :)

        Reply
  26. Jocelyn Lenker

    Wow that was odd. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say wonderful blog!|

    Reply
  27. Pingback: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene | JacquiWine's Journal

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