The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 2, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

John Dowell reflects on how August 4 is an important date for Florence Dowell. It is her birthday, the day she set sail with her uncle, her wedding day, the start of her affair with Edward Ashburnham, and the date of her death. He proposes it is Florence's "superstitious mind" that "forced her to certain acts" on that day. John gives a short account of his marriage to Florence. Florence had many suitors, but she chose John because "she wanted to marry a gentleman of leisure." Florence's aunts, Emily Hurlbird and Florence Hurlbird, try to warn John not to marry their niece, but they will not tell him why. He commissions a minister and they marry. She makes up a lie about her heart being weak to get out of sleeping with John.

Florence gets doctors on board with her weak heart conspiracy. Her lover, Jimmy, stays in the Dowells' Paris flat with them for two years. Florence convinces John she needs to sleep in a separate room with her door locked. The only problem with her plan is that she cannot move to England as she wishes because John thinks a sea voyage might kill her. In this way John becomes a male nurse, Florence his "rare and fragile object." John admits Florence may be afraid of him because he inflicted violence on his servant Julius when Julius lost Florence's bag John had given him for safekeeping.

John admits he has "unintentionally misled" the reader earlier when he said "that Florence was never out of [his] sight." In fact, he remarks, "she was out of my sight most of the time." Also, he asks the reader again if he has "conveyed ... the splendid fellow" that Edward was.

John also introduces Nancy Rufford, Leonora Ashburnham's ward, who idolizes Edward Ashburnham. John mentions she was with them during their last stay at Nauheim.

Analysis

August 4 is a significant date for Florence. In retelling this "curious coincidence of dates," Ford Madox Ford draws attention to Florence's attempts to assign orderly meaning to her chaotic existence. John is rather breezy in his description of Florence's vast conspiracy to use him only as a stepping stone to her dream life in Europe while refusing any physical affection in their marriage. On the surface he makes himself appear resigned to such a passionless role. However, through the incident of violence against his servant Julius, it is clear that John is concealing a capacity for great passion. John admits that Florence might have, in fact, been afraid he might murder her. This detail does not fit with the mild-mannered persona John has allowed the reader to see of him so far.

John proves himself an unreliable narrator in other ways in this chapter as well. He remarks on possibly having misled the reader, and his pronouncement of adoration for Edward comes a chapter after he reveals all of Edward's sordid infidelities. John lists Edward's many professional soldiering honors, including the Distinguished Service Order and the Royal Humane Society's medal, and says he was loved by his troop "beyond the love of men." It is difficult to know, however, how much of this is true, as Nancy Rufford is John's only source of information on the matter. Leonora and Edward are either too humble to speak on the subject or avoid it because his actual soldiering career is less stellar. As some critics have noted, had Edward really achieved such greatness, he would have certainly reached a rank higher than captain in a 15-year career.

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