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The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 4, Chapter 3 | Summary



Nancy Rufford becomes increasingly convinced Leonora Ashburnham and Edward Ashburnham hate each other. Nancy reads the paper and reads about a couple she knows, Mr. and Mrs. Brand, divorcing. She is perplexed by the case and does not understand why a Miss Lupton is involved until she reads the word "adultery." It causes her to feel "a sickness." But she wonders if Edward could love someone besides Leonora—if maybe he could love her. But this train of thought only causes her unhappiness, and she sobs. Although she feels she has a duty to stay with Leonora, a letter from her mother gives her an escape. She resolves to go to Glasgow "to comfort her mother," prompted by her "sense of duty."


The narrator, John Dowell, focuses on events from Nancy's point of view in this chapter, and he delves further into her preconceived notions of marriage and duty. Up to this point, Nancy has been, like John himself, ignorant of all the chaos and sublimated passions around her. And like John, her ignorance has been bliss. It is only when she is made aware that not all marriages are successful ones—including Leonora and Edward's—that she feels "everything charming, all light, all sweetness had gone out of life." When faced with this reality, her life in the Ashburnhams' house becomes agony, and she only wants her illusions back again. The letter from her mother jolts her out of her feelings of inaction. Her duty to her true parents trumps any duty she feels to her guardians, Leonora and Edward. The narration is ambiguous about whether Nancy's feeling of duty is an excuse and an escape in the sense of a flight back into illusion or whether she is genuinely moral and perhaps naive in the narrator's viewpoint.

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