The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 1, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

John Dowell explains that the following nine years contained "uninterrupted tranquility." He says both couples took it for granted that the others were "good people." At one point, they take a trip together to Marburg to visit the castle there, upon Florence Dowell's insistence. Before the trip, Florence reads up on the history of it, both to educate them all and to show up Leonora Ashburnham. On the way, John laughs at a scene with a cow. While they are riding on the train he sees a cow pick up a "black and white animal" with its horns and toss it into the "middle of a narrow stream." No one else notices.

At the castle, Florence points out a draft of Martin Luther's protest and praises Protestantism while putting down Catholicism. Florence lays "one finger upon Captain Ashburnham's wrist." Edward Ashburnham's face reveals "absolute panic." Leonora has an outburst in front of John where she wonders that he cannot see what is going on. John is confused, and Leonora tells him that she is Catholic.

Once again, John expresses his frustration that his relationship with the Ashburnhams lacks a "personal note." He blames this on a culture that promotes "normal" standards for "good" people. That is, everyone considered "good" must tamp down any personal idiosyncrasies and subscribe to majority rule. If "good" people prefer cold baths, for example, then everyone must take a cold bath even if some might prefer hot baths.

Analysis

When John complains that his relationship with the Ashburnhams lacks a "personal note," he is really complaining that it is too superficial. As a result of high society's shallowness and illusion of order, John is not able to see how complex and chaotic the relationships in his quartet really are. With Florence's possessive gesture towards Edward, Leonora realizes Florence and Edward have an intimate connection. John, however, claims ignorance of any impropriety. His ignorance may be feigned, whether consciously or unconsciously, so that he can preserve his ordered worldview, which does not allow for moral shades of gray. The cow John sees, which picks up a "black and white animal," foreshadows what is to come. The black and white, good and bad, binary point-of-view all the characters seem to have in common will unravel and will ultimately be the undoing of the friendship between the two couples, and Florence and Edward will both commit suicide. It is noteworthy that John laughs but no one notices because it suggests John perhaps did see more at the time than he admits to the reader.

The chapter introduces tension between Protestant and Catholic characters. As a religious reformer, Martin Luther (1483–1546) was a catalyst for the Reformation—the division of Christianity into Catholicism and Protestantism—in much the same way the quartet's viewing of his protest draft was a catalyst for the division of their group. Although Leonora is too restrained and proper to reveal her fears regarding her husband's infidelity with Florence, she nevertheless makes the declaration that she is Catholic. This puts her at direct odds with Florence, who has just insinuated that Catholics are not as "good" as Protestants. Florence says Edward is "honest, sober, industrious, provident, and clean-lived," all because he is Protestant. Since she professes the same faith, she claims these traits for herself too. Depending on how much of John's story the reader believes, Florence and Edward may embody Protestant ideals in public, but their private lives are far messier.

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