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The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 4, Chapter 2 | Summary



When John Dowell receives a cable from Edward Ashburnham asking him to come to England "for a chat," John debates waiting because he has business still to attend to in the United States. He discovers that Uncle John Hurlbird had died of a lung disease and "had had nothing whatever the matter with his heart." John insists he does not care about inheriting Uncle Hurlbird's money, and he does not care about what happens to it. But when Leonora Ashburnham cables shortly after, John goes to England because he thinks it might have something to do with Nancy Rufford.

Once John is at the Ashburnhams', they act properly in front of him while agonizing in private. One night at dinner, Leonora announces that Nancy is going to India the next day "to be with her father." John is confused, but Edward tells him what is going on. Upon their return from Nauheim, Leonora begins to have headaches, and Nancy sits with her all day. Then Nancy eats dinner alone with Edward, silently. Gradually, Nancy begins to notice that something is not right between Edward and Leonora. Edward tells Leonora he has written to Nancy's father that she should visit him, and Leonora is enraged. She tells Edward he should marry Nancy. Nancy tells Leonora she knows Edward is in love with her, and she is in love with him.


Much of this chapter is made up of John's digressions into irrelevant personal details. Although he insists he doesn't want Uncle John Hurlbird's money, he does not say what actually happens to it. It is entirely possible that he kept it. What stands out most from this digression is the fact that like Florence, her uncle was also lying about his heart condition, though to what end is unclear.

John also delves into Leonora's psyche in the period after Florence's death. He claims that once "cut off from the restraints of her religion ... [Leonora] acted along the lines of her instinctive desires." Leonora's ordered existence comes from her strict adherence to her Catholic morality, and when she lets that go, she allows chaos into her life. Leonora is torn between "her intense, maternal love" for Nancy and "an intense jealousy" of her for winning Edward's heart. Leonora's debilitating headaches are a symbolic outward manifestation of her inner torment. Nancy is similarly torn and sits vigil by Leonora's side as a sort of a penance. Indeed, Ford Madox Ford paints Nancy as a devout innocent, putting her in a "white silk kimono" next to a fire that is "burning brightly." And even though Leonora offers Edward to Nancy, Nancy declines despite her passion for him. She declares she and Edward "are not worth it," meaning no amount of passion is worth breaking sacred vows for. As Catholics, both women believe divorce is a sin, and Nancy is noble enough not to want Leonora to sacrifice her soul just so Nancy can be happy.

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