The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 1, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

John Dowell says that Leonora Ashburnham tried to warn Florence Dowell, through subtle hints directed at John, not to go to extremes. He confesses to hating Florence for what she did, not just because she was unfaithful, but also because she meddled in Edward and Leonora's relationship. Florence taunted Leonora for years, and Leonora put up with it. John muses about how he should feel as a betrayed husband, claiming spending time with "those three hardened gamblers" made him happy. John envisions Florence, Leonora, and Maisie Maidan after death, and in his mind, Maisie will find love again but Florence will be alone. Leonora will burn like a "northern light and one of the archangels of God."

Leonora claims that Florence is responsible for the death of Maisie Maidan. On the day of the quartet's trip to Marburg, Maisie Maidan tried to pack up to leave because she had discovered that Leonora meant her to be Edward's mistress. Maisie Maidan was distraught because she had overheard Edward with Florence and decided Edward must not love her any longer. Maisie Maidan tells Leonora: "you knew the world and I knew nothing," which John claims to be his state as well. When Maisie Maidan strained herself with her luggage, her heart gave out, killing her.

Analysis

It is likely precisely because Florence and the Ashburnhams kept John in the dark that he remained so carefree. Ford Madox Ford contrasts John's blissful ignorance with Maisie Maidan's discovery of Leonora's schemes. Leonora's distress over the fallout from her schemes concerning Maisie Maidan is likely her main motive for not telling John about Edward's affair with Florence. Or at least, this is what John claims to believe as a motive after the fact. It is almost as if Ford is suggesting that clinging to illusion is preferable to facing reality, and that Leonora's mission to force public order over private chaos is justified. For this, John offers an arresting image—that of Leonora "clear and serene" in the afterlife, burning like a "northern light and one of the archangels of God." Meanwhile, John holds no such high regard for Florence, whom he would "not spare ... an eternity of loneliness." The difference between the narrator's attitudes regarding Florence and Leonora seems to be solely that Leonora never submitted to adultery, which would seem to make John a harsh judge of such immorality.

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