The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 4, Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

John Dowell continues writing 18 months later. At this point, Edward Ashburnham is dead, Nancy Rufford is insane, John is her caretaker, and Leonora Ashburnham is remarried to Rodney Bayham and expecting a baby. John explains how he was sent to pick up Nancy from her father because she "had gone mad" after reading of Edward's suicide. John laments that he's once again acting as an "attendant ... of a beautiful girl, who pays no attention" to him.

John finally tells what happened after the events of Part 4, Chapter 4. Nancy came to Edward one night and offered herself to him in order to save him. He rejected her. Nancy told him she could be his but that after hearing all Leonora's stories about his affairs, she could never love him.

Analysis

John Dowell, the narrator, provides a neat resolution to the conflict, even as ultimately unsatisfying as it is to everyone except perhaps Leonora. Of course, Leonora wanted Edward's love but settled for Rodney Bayham. John laments he's back in the same position he was when the story began, only that his patient has changed from Florence to Nancy. Nancy, at least, does not seem to be playing games with him like Florence did, so perhaps he is better off.

Perhaps as a criticism of traditional morality, Ford Madox Ford shows how the Ashburnhams' sticking to "the conventional line" ended in this dissatisfaction for all involved. Nancy was shipped off to India to preserve the Ashburnhams' marriage. As John points out, "society does not need too many sentimentalists," and by this he means people who act according to their passions, for the good of their individual self rather than "the greater good of the body politic." Interestingly, John declares himself to be a sentimentalist in the next chapter. It is up to the reader to decide what this means exactly. Does it mean John is ultimately rebelling against society by telling this story? Is he following his individual passion of getting revenge on Edward and shaming Edward for his cowardice to live out his passions publicly? It is difficult to tell. John continues to be contradictory—in this chapter declaring Leonora to be "the villain of the piece" and in the next declaring it obvious Edward and Nancy were the villains. Perhaps, however, the real villain is John himself, and he is only telling his story to make himself look harmless and innocent.

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