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Summary of “The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford”

Updated on March 3, 2017

The Good Soldier is an English novel written in 1915 by Ford Madox Ford, an English novelist. The novel is set immediately before the First World War and diaries the tragedy of a soldier, Edward Ashburnham, to whom the novels title refers. The novel chronicles the life and tragedy of Edward, his ostensibly perfect marriage and the marriage of two of his American friends. The articulation of the novel follows a succession of flashbacks in non-chronological order, a technique in literature which formed the largest part of Ford’s ground-breaking view of impressionism in literature. Ford gradually employs a device named the unreliable narrator in great measures considering the main character steadily reveals a variety of events which do not compare with what the introduction of the novel leads readers to hope for. Conversely, the novel is based loosely on Ford’s messy personal life and on two adulterous incidents. The original title of the novel was “The Saddest Story”, but the publishers requested for a new title after the commencement of the First World War, and Ford sarcastically suggested “The Good Soldier” and it stuck to date.

The Good Soldier is presented in form of a narration by John Dowell, one of the couples in the story who’s steadily dissolving relationships is the groundwork for the novel’s subject. John Dowell narrates the stories of the dissolutions and the passing on of three of the characters and of the fourth who became mad, in an inconsequential, non-chronological style and this leaves the readers with a lot of gaps to fill. The novels plot is not even the actual story as the reader is asked to indirectly consider either believing John or the part he played in how the novel actually plays out, or not. Ford Maddox in this novel, tends to challenge old-fashioned literary forms, moral codes and social structures, and he even considers this novel as the best book for a pre-war period. Ford directly handled issues that are left unmentioned mostly in the society as he broached such subjects as moral confusion, adultery and betrayal.

Consequently, his innovative style, one which he used a narrator to tell the story, sheltered him from necessarily having to condemn immoral acts, like other adultery narratives before this one. Dowell appears to be a character with such an immature faith in the traditional system and in people’s appearances. He takes the Ashburnhams for granted as purely good people due to their dress and manners. When he later comes to realize that their appearances do not dictate who they are, his whole world overturned in his face. Ford describes Dowell’s struggle as he tries to comprehend a morally chaotic and disordered world. He employs modernist innovations to achieve the reality of the confusions that Dowell is undergoing. The novel’s plot is disjointed, infused with the narrator’s contemplative commentary and is non-chronological. Fords attempt to reflect actual thoughts results in Dowell’s unreliable narrative. Considering the novel challenges traditional literary forms and social customs, the novel is considered as the best work of Ford by many, a novel which formed the groundworks for revolution of literary forms. It was also ranked as one among the top 100 best English novels of the 20th centuryand also ranked 13th best British novel by the BBC.

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