The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 1, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

John Dowell explains that the story he has to tell is a sad one. John and his wife, Florence, are American expatriates, having left the United States to live in Paris, France. They had been coming to Bad Nauheim, a spa town in Germany, for over 10 years. They were friends with a British couple, Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, for nine of those years. John and Florence went to Nauheim for two months every year to receive treatment for her bad heart. Edward and Leonora went for one month each year because of his bad heart.

John insists that Edward seemed like a good man. John thought that Edward was the "sort of chap that you could have trusted your wife with." But John did trust his wife with Edward, and "it was madness." John says that even though they knew the Ashburnhams "as well as it was possible to know anybody," he realizes he knows "nothing at all about them."

Analysis

John begins his story cryptically. He hints that something tragic happened as a result of his friendship with the Ashburnhams, leaving his wife dead. Although he does not yet directly say it, John hints that Edward and his wife, Florence, had an affair. In fact, as the reader later learns, Florence and Edward carry on a nine-year affair, and John never once suspects it. Interestingly, both heart patients, Florence and Edward do not actually have anything physically wrong with their hearts, though one could argue their hearts are morally sick.

When John Dowell acknowledges they knew the Ashburnhams as well as possible but still knew nothing about them, he sets up a tale that is full of contradictions. This narrative comment also establishes two of Ford's major themes, the perception of depth and the meaning of reality. As John mentions later in Part 1, Chapter 4, part of belonging to the class of "good people" meant embracing a shallow life where everyone does, and enjoys, the same things. This shallowness allows good society people to live outwardly normal and ordered lives while hiding their private vices and chaos behind closed doors.

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