The Good Soldier | Study Guide

Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier | Quotes


This is the saddest story I have ever heard.

John Dowell, Part 1, Chapter 1

John Dowell's word choice here reveals much about his character. Despite being the narrator who is telling the story, John says heard instead of told. This word choice shows that he is taking on a passive role in his story—he claims to be not an active participant but merely an innocent victim at the whims of more active personalities. The original title for the novel was The Saddest Story but Ford Madox Ford's publishers asked him to think of a different, less depressing title.


My function in life was to keep that bright thing in existence.

John Dowell, Part 1, Chapter 2

Here, again, John Dowell is placing himself in a passive supporting role. Florence Dowell is the "bright" light, the energy in the engine of John's life. If not for her, John would never have become friends with the Ashburnhams and indeed would not be the bearer of the story he tells.


I'm sure we're all nice quiet people.

Florence Dowell, Part 1, Chapter 3

Florence Dowell says aloud in their first meeting with the Ashburnhams what John Dowell often repeats to himself throughout the novel, that is, some variation on the fact that they are all good people. This later proves ironic when John reveals that prior to this first meeting, Florence had witnessed a scene between Leonora Ashburnham and one of Edward Ashburnham's mistresses. The fact that Florence witnessed the scene gives her a power over Leonora that she exploits over the next nine years, proving that she is, in fact, not a nice person.


I was aware of something treacherous, something frightful, something evil in the day.

John Dowell, Part 1, Chapter 4

This statement shows the private chaos that brims underneath the perfectly ordered public existence of the Dowell/Ashburnham quartet. Although John Dowell will not become consciously aware of Florence Dowell's affair with Edward Ashburnham until nine years later, his subconscious is already in some way recognizing it. John is not the type to dwell on unpleasantness, however, and he dismisses the feeling and moves on with his illusory life.


Delusions are necessary to keep us going.

John Dowell, Part 1, Chapter 5

What John Dowell is referring to here is the fact that an ordered, shallow society does not allow people to publicly give into their private passions. Individuals must sacrifice their depth to fit into good society. All must cling to their outwardly perfect illusions and consciously reject their imperfect inner realities.


It as if one had a dual personality ... one ... being entirely unconscious of the other.

John Dowell, Part 3, Chapter 1

Ford hints at the possibility that John Dowell is an unreliable narrator because he is mentally unstable. While many readers might reject this idea, Ford leaves John's psychology ambiguous.


We all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist.

John Dowell, Part 3, Chapter 1

This quote may reveal John Dowell's key motivation to tell this story. He tries to put himself in the most inoffensive light to gain sympathy from the reader and to feel that he has value. He also apparently buys into the way good society thrives by keeping people in line through relying on external validation rather than their own internal compasses.


It is very difficult to give an all-round impression of any man.

John Dowell, Part 3, Chapter 4

Perhaps this is John Dowell's excuse for contradicting himself so often throughout the narrative. He claims to be trying to give an accurate representation of Edward Ashburnham but admits that he may not be very good at it. One of the reasons for this could be that John is socialized to judge others in terms of black and white. He is unable to account for moral depth and complexity.


Who in this world knows anything of any other heart—or of his own?

John Dowell, Part 3, Chapter 4

John Dowell is reacting to the fact that in a shallow, ordered society that teaches individuals to conform to certain ideals, it is difficult to explore one's true self. And if one cannot even know oneself, then it is truly impossible to know anyone else. This is part of John's failure to provide a trustworthy portrait of Edward Ashburnham, or indeed of any character in the story, including himself.


Real stories are ... told best [as] a person telling a story would tell them.

John Dowell, Part 4, Chapter 1

This statement might be seen as a justification for John Dowell's rambling mode of telling his story. Ford is commenting on the way a polished, perfectly ordered work of fiction does not read as real because no real person would tell a story without some chaos.


He can always make it all right for everybody, except me!

Leonora Ashburnham, Part 4, Chapter 4

Leonora Ashburnham laments the way Edward Ashburnham works to make everyone except her view him as a perfect specimen. Perhaps she would have rather retained her illusions about him rather than be privy to his real self. It is most likely an act of revenge that she tells Nancy Rufford about Edward's many affairs, thus shattering Nancy's illusions about him and making her fall out of love with him.


Why can't people have what they want?

John Dowell, Part 4, Chapter 5

In a well-ordered society, people must sacrifice their individual desires and follow majority rules. Ford illustrates this in that none of the characters achieve their hearts' desires, possibly because they worked harder toward maintaining the projection of their outward perfection than toward embracing their inner depth.


Conventions ... work blindly ... for the extinction of ... unusual individuals.

John Dowell, Part 4, Chapter 5

John Dowell speaks here about how Nancy Rufford and Edward Ashburnham could not survive because they are too unusual. John mentions in several places that Nancy is unusual. Edward is unusual because he is sentimental, and he lets his passions get him in trouble.


Society can only exist if the normal ... flourish and if the passionate ... are condemned.

John Dowell, Part 4, Chapter 6

The Dowells' and Ashburnhams' good society is shallow. It promotes a normal standard that all must aspire to if they wish to be considered good people. These people cling to their illusions of perfection because to embrace the reality of one's human passions is to be ostracized.


I am just as much of a sentimentalist as he was.

John Dowell, Part 4, Chapter 6

In referring to himself as a sentimentalist like Edward Ashburnham, John Dowell could be saying a number of things. He could be saying that he wants to be like Edward, especially in regard to his inner desires and love life. He could be saying that his motivation for writing was an attempt to understand the depths of Edward's heart and not simply to expose it. He could revealing that his "harmless" persona is just that, and he has been hiding his inner passions all along. Ford leaves it up to the reader to decide.

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