The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 1, Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

John Dowell explains that what he and Leonora Ashburnham have in common is "keeping heart patients alive." They talked for hours about it. John also finally comes out and says that Edward Ashburnham and Florence Dowell were having a years-long affair. John mentions Edward does not really have heart trouble but simply used his heart as an excuse to follow his mistress Maisie Maidan—an actual heart patient—to Nauheim. Maisie Maidan died of her heart trouble within the first month of John knowing her.

According to John, the real reason Leonora befriended Florence was because Florence witnessed Leonora in a moment of angry passion against Maisie Maidan. Maisie Maidan was merely a convenient outlet, however. Leonora's real rage was against Edward and his habit of creating debts. The current debt they are in is a result of being blackmailed by the husband of Edward's second mistress, Mrs. Basil. John tells of an incident in 1895 when Edward took his first lover, which ended up being an expensive act that resulted in him gambling away a lot of money to meet his lover's demands for money. Leonora discovered it and took control of Edward's money. She rented out their house in England and had Edward transferred to India and Burma to save money. In fact, it was Leonora who paid Maisie Maidan's expenses for Nauheim.

John continues to profess "an affection so intense" for Edward while at the same time calling him a "luckless devil" and exposing his private sins.

Analysis

In this chapter the narrator, John Dowell, delves more deeply into the defects of Edward's character. The way John tells it, Edward is an incurable libertine, unconstrained by morals or convention, prone to high-stakes gambling and ill-advised affairs with women. So while Edward does not have anything wrong with his physical heart, he is nevertheless heartsick in the metaphorical sense. Leonora tends to his heartsickness by taking him to Nauheim, a spa renowned for its treatment of heart cases. Edward thus can draw close to Maisie Maidan, who actually suffers heart disease. This discrepancy underscores all Ford Madox Ford's major themes. Edward's orderly public conduct hides his inner chaos. His claims of physical heart disease are illusory to cover the ugly inner reality. And finally, John's shallow acquaintance with Edward allows him to live a blissfully ignorant nine years without knowing the depth of Edward's betrayal, sleeping with John's wife Florence for many years in secret.

But while John claims no knowledge of the inner workings of his peaceful quartet, Leonora is all too aware it is rotten at its core. In fact, Ford reveals in this chapter that the relationship was rotten from the start, owing to Florence's chance viewing of Leonora in a rare moment of unrestrained anger. Like Edward, Leonora cannot stand public scenes, so even though the two women never exchange a word, it is understood between them that Florence has the upper hand. Should Florence ever speak up publicly about what she saw, the illusion of Leonora's and Edward's perfect relationship would be shattered. Leonora cannot allow that to happen.

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