The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Part 4, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Two weeks pass between John Dowell's arrival in England and Nancy Rufford's departure, as the narrative goes back in time to before Edward Ashburnham commits suicide. During this time, Leonora Ashburnham reveals all of Edward's affairs to Nancy. John is not sure whether Nancy continues to love Edward despite all this, but he knows Leonora believes Nancy does not. Despite all this turmoil, the outward atmosphere of the house is like a "pleasant country house-party." They "presented to the world the spectacle of being the best of good people."

John takes Leonora aside and asks to marry Nancy, but Leonora insists Nancy should "see a little more of life before taking such an important step." John confesses "to having felt a little angry with Leonora" for her not apprising him of the fact that Nancy was headed off to India. He admits to loving Nancy "very much," and he knows Leonora knew it. He also knows Leonora sent Nancy away despite John's marriage proposal because it didn't "suit Leonora" to have Nancy "a mile and a half away" down the road.

Edward drives Nancy to the railway station with John in the back. Afterwards, a peace descends on the house. Some time later, Edward receives a telegram from Nancy saying she is having a good time in Italy. Edward tells John to bring it to Leonora then cuts his own throat in front of John. John admits he "didn't intend to hinder" Edward from cutting his own throat. John says, "I didn't think he was wanted in the world." At this crucial moment, John claims he almost gives into his sentimental nature and blesses Edward, but he reconsiders it would go against "English good form," so he does not. John brings the telegram to Leonora, and she is "quite pleased with it."

Analysis

John seems almost scandalized that Nancy and the Ashburnhams can keep up public appearances while they have so much melodrama in their personal lives. This, of course, is thanks to their absolute resolve to continue to give outsiders the illusion of perfection while suffering their terrible reality in private. For, as John is ready to admit, Edward "wasn't a good husband." John can imagine that nothing else mattered to Nancy, that all his public goodness could not outweigh his private sins. For this, Nancy could no longer love Edward though she had loved him "very deeply and tenderly."

But Leonora could have been the bigger person. Had she not disclosed all Edward's sins to Nancy, Nancy might have gone on loving Edward. The two might have been happy, even if they had only been able to love each other from afar. Failing that, Leonora could also have allowed Nancy to marry John. John glosses over his feelings about Nancy and her leaving for India, but they do provide a motive for him to get revenge on Leonora as well as Edward. Exposing Edward in his story necessarily exposes Leonora's private affairs as well, affairs she would certainly want to keep private.

John ends his story with a chilling coldness, presenting the brutality of Edward's death like an afterthought. It seems highly likely John is one of those who, as he says, no longer wants Edward in the world. Even worse than his decision not to bless Edward because of "English good form," John casually "trots" off to Leonora, leaving Edward's dying body. If readers have not lost sympathy for John by this point, his callousness here would certainly give them pause.

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