The Good Soldier (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

The Good Soldier (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)


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The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

Handsome, wealthy, and a veteran of service in India, Captain Edward Ashburnham appears to be the ideal “good soldier” and the embodiment of English upper-class virtues. But for his creator, Ford Madox Ford, he also represents the corruption at society’s core. Beneath Ashburnham’s charming, polished exterior lurks a soul well-versed in the arts of deception, hypocrisy, and betrayal. Throughout the nine years of his friendship with an equally privileged American, John Dowell, Ashburnham has been having an affair with Dowell’s wife, Florence. Unlike Dowell, Ashburnham’s own wife, Leonora, is well aware of it.

When The Good Soldier was first published in 1915, its pitiless portrait of an amoral society dedicated to its own pleasure and convinced of its own superiority outraged many readers. Stylistically daring, The Good Soldier is narrated, unreliably, by the naïve Dowell, through whom Ford provides a level of bitter irony. Dowell’s disjointed, stumbling storytelling not only subverts linear temporality to satisfying effect, it also reflects his struggle to accept a world without honor, order, or permanence. Called the best French novel in the English language, The Good Soldier is both tragic and darkly comic, and it established Ford as an important contributor to the development of literary modernism.

Frank Kermode has taught at Manchester, London, and Cambridge Universities as well as at Harvard, Yale, and Columbia. Among his many books the most recent are Shakespeare’s Language, Pieces of My Mind, and The Age of Shakespeare.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593082680
Publisher: Barnes & Noble
Publication date: 04/01/2005
Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 51,891
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.64(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Frank Kermode’s Introduction to The Good Soldier

Ford liked to appear precise about dates, and, as we shall see, The Good Soldier professes to be so; but the dates given in the narrative are in fact very confused. So are the facts of its writing and publication. It is likely that Ford began the novel in the summer or fall of 1913—using houseguests, themselves writers, as amanuenses—and worked on it possibly for a whole year. He sent some forty pages of manuscript, the opening pages of the book, to Wyndham Lewis as a contribution to Lewis’s new avant-garde periodical BLAST, and this extract appeared in the first issue of the journal, which is dated June 20, 1914 (though the issue may not have been published for some time after that date). There was a plan to serialize the whole book in BLAST, but this had to be given up because the second number of Lewis’s journal—the only successor to the first—was greatly delayed, and in fact did not come out until after the first edition of the whole novel had appeared, in March 1915.

The main reason for concerning oneself with these calendar details is this: The date August 4 is given great significance in the novel, and the question arises whether Ford picked it by accident or was choosing that date, on which the Great War began, as being particularly doom-laden—in which case he must presumably have written in the August 4 references after August 4, 1914. If the references existed earlier we are left to consider a really remarkable coincidence. Ford did attach a solemn importance to that date—it marked, for him as for many, the end of a civilization. It may not have seemed to him to matter greatly that in the novel the crowding of important events onto the date August 4 is implausible; indeed, it can be shown, in terms of the story itself, to be impossible. But all this goes to show how important the date was to Ford.

Common sense, and some scraps of external evidence, suggest that the book was indeed partly written or reworked after August 4, 1914, and that Ford, who had perhaps used the date once by accident, now forced it into the very center of the novel. (The most up-to-date study of this complicated problem is Martin Stannard’s essay “The Good Soldier: Editorial Problems” in Hampson, Ford Madox Ford’s Modernity, pp. 137–148; see “For Further Reading”.)

As we have seen, the problem is not merely bibliographical; the date August 4 affects the entire conduct of Ford’s story. He was avowedly a man who cared more for impressions than facts—indeed, he liked to call himself an impressionist—and the scope and integrity of his narrative mattered more to him than complete factual accuracy in its telling. He was more interested in what he called “the affair” than in mere story; the narrative must be shaped, constructed, with some larger purpose in mind than the simple and plausible setting forth, one after the other, of the events that constitute it. This might well involve damage to verisimilitude, and that is what happens when August 4 is obsessively repeated as the date of crucial events. A further enemy of easy plausibility is the use of an “unreliable narrator,” particularly as Dowell, without being a complete fool, seems to have rather extensive limitations as an observer of the action, so that learning about it from him is a chancy business; his occasional fits of sensitivity or perceptiveness add to rather than reduce the confusion of our impressions.

Anyway, it cannot be said that Ford made any attempt to render the date plausible. He positively brandishes it, forces its improbability on our attention. In the opening page of part II, chapter I, we are told that Maisie Maidan died on August 4, 1904. “And then nothing happened until the 4th of August, 1913. There is the curious coincidence of dates, but I do not know whether that is one of those sinister, as if half-jocular and altogether merciless proceedings on the part of a cruel Providence that we call a coincidence.” Florence, we are told, had superstitious feelings about the date: August 4 was her birthday. It was also the day in 1899 when she started on her world tour with her uncle and “a young man called Jimmy,” who became her lover on August 4, 1900; a Mr Bagshawe reports that he saw her emerging from Jimmy’s room at five o’clock in the morning on that date. “She had been born on the 4th of August; she had started to go round the world on the 4th of August; she had become a low fellow’s mistress on the 4th of August.” Exactly one year later she married Dowell. Bagshawe’s intervention, which her relationship with Edward could not have survived, also, rather amazingly, occurred on August 4, and it was followed, that same evening, by Florence’s suicide. “Mr Bagshawe and the fact that the date was the 4th of August must have been too much for her superstitious mind.”

Is this wanton and needless iteration? Perhaps not. It was part of Ford’s ambition to make apparently trivial details resonate in such a way that they suggested not local but large historical disasters. His book about Henry James, Henry James: A Critical Study, written shortly before The Good Soldier, expressly admired the older novelist for his ability to make suggestions of this kind, to induce the reader’s mind to pass “perpetually backwards and forwards between the apparent aspect of things and the essentials of life.” Thus the trivial, almost meaningless, life of rich people passing their time in spas, affecting to suffer from heart conditions, may be made to express “what life really is—a series of such meaningless episodes beneath the shadow of doom.” “Some one has said that the death of a mouse from cancer is the whole sack of Rome by the Goths, and I swear to you that the breaking up of our little four-square coterie was such another unthinkable event.” He means it was an event that for all its smallness reflected the disasters of the greater world—for example, the end of a civilization announced by the declaration of the war that, in the opinion of many, sealed its fate. In some unexpected way—as unexpected as the power of a date to draw into its orbit many apparently trivial but truly significant events—the miseries of the Ashburnhams and their friends and dependents might, to more acute sensibilities, be intelligible as reflections of an immense historical plot.

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The Good Soldier 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This arch narrative, covering the subtle, adult betrayals of four members of a pair of couples visiting spas and various grand estates in the early part of the 20th century, conveys as much tragedy as any play by O'Neill and tells you as much about England as any work of Shakespeare. Published in 1915, THE GOOD SOLDIER conveys a sense of Britain's decline not usually detailed in British literature until the 1930s. It seems extraordinarily modern. In some ways, it seems less naive than something written today. Its prose is Jamesian, but these characters are decadent to the core. James never quite describes decadence. It is, also, somehow, a very funny book. HAMLET can be funny, too, of course, so, beware: This is a dark tale indeed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'The best French novel in the English language' lives up to its description (I forget by whom). I was lucky to find (and abscond with) it in my uncle's old book closet. It is a fascinating read; the characters slowly develop and morph as the book continues, and the reader has the pleasure of watching the narrator's own perception of the incidents morph upon extended reflection. I agree with the previous review: once you've finished it, you'll find it just begs to be read a second time.
RomiandHenri More than 1 year ago
Skip the intro. It tells you everything that happens and takes away the joy of discovery. You can read it after you finish the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿If for nine years I have possessed a goodly apple that is rotten at the core and discover its rotteness only in nine years and six months less four days, isn¿t it true to say that for nine years I possessed a goodly apple?¿ Amazing. Is ignorance bliss? This book is a classic case of the 'unreliable narrator.' Don't trust what Dowell says- draw your own conclusions. Therein lies the brilliance of the story. Read it again and you'll only discover more...
Anonymous 6 months ago
The story starts out simply enough. But then, somewhere in the middle of the reading, there exists a subtle shift; the tale becomes something other, a slow transformation into a strong example of the early Modernists. The narrator Dowell exists as Prufrock's older brother: troubled, unreliable, gullible, flawed.
kant1066 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Good Soldier" follows two well-to-do couples, John (the narrator) and Florence Dowell and Edward and Leonora Ashburnham through the course of their relationships, especially Edward's endless philandering with any woman who will submit to his relentless sexual advances. The story, told long after the events have actually transpired, details Dowell's conversion from innocent onlooker in the four-way friendship into a man whose world has been turned upside down by the discovery that his wife has tried to seduce his best friend. Even then, Dowell chalks up Ashburnham's dalliances to mere "sentimentalism," a need to paternalistically place himself in a situation where he is seen as the selfless hero, as the "good soldier." While Dowell is sometimes more than fair with Ashburnham, at times he relentlessly mocks him, commenting on his stupid expressions and his petit bourgeois concern with "keeping up appearances," even in the face of a sham of a marriage. Ford seems to be looking for answers to explain such behavior, but doesn't even seem convinced by his own dubious explanations.Marked by a radical break with the earlier, traditional Victorian novel, "The Good Soldier" is highly evocative of the society novels of Henry James, Edith Wharton, and even some D. H. Lawrence. Adultery is discussed frankly and directly, and instead of the morally certain, honest, objective narration that we see in work before it, Ford's narrator is bereft when he finds his search for meaning and simplicity an empty one, finding in its place an ambiguous and unreliable world. This is a hard pill to swallow for those who have been weaned on Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope. Its subtlety and sensitive psychological representations mirror the complexities of people, not stock characters.One of the most fascinating aspects of the story is how utterly conflicted Dowell remains throughout the novel. The authority of his narrative voice waxes and wanes (mostly wanes) through the entire story, which might be frustrating for some readers, but was a welcome relief for me. Concomitant with this voice is an overall ambiance of moral turpitude and decadence, and not simply as a result of Florence and Ashburnham's affair. Dowell is never slow to remind the reader that he knows little, that he might be wrong, that this was only the way things seemed to him. It is hardly a surprise that Ford, who considered himself an "impressionist," has very much up to the name and written a novel of fleeting impressions and reminiscences which always fall short of cohering into a unified story whose characters motivations are convincingly delineated.One of the results of Ford's technique is that it breaks with one's usual response after having completed a novel: since Aristotle, we have come to find some sort of intellectual catharsis from tragedy, but this is a story that complicates that expectation, even if we are afforded some sort of edification in human moral psychology. The novel was written in 1915, no doubt a perilous time in European history. At the risk of committing an egregious post hoc ergo propter hoc, it may be that Ford's narrative is indicative of a world on the precipice of the Great War, whose social and cultural orders have shifted from firmly hierarchical to nebulous in less than a generation.Even if you do not care for the novel itself, it would be difficult to deny its important place in a canon of works that need to be carefully and thoughtfully read to have a fuller and more appreciative knowledge of twentieth-century English literature. I cherished it, and its characters seemed like some of the most artfully drawn I've ever read. Weeks after having finished the novel, the various tête-à-têtes and interrelationships continue to dance through my head while I imagine sitting down next to Dowell while he tells me his story.
jimmaclachlan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thinking this was another book ruined for me by being required reading in school, I had another go at it as an adult. Yuck. Boring.
flourishing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've heard this book touted as a 'perfect' novel, and I have to say, I think that's true. It's taut, gripping, and endlessly fascinating - despite the fact that it relies on sexist underpinnings, it still seems to ring true. I loathe every character in it, and yet I feel enormous sympathy for them, because - aren't we all loathsome?In any case, heartily recommended.
AnnieHidalgo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ford Madox Ford reportedly told someone in a letter that someone else had called this "the finest French novel ever written in English". I could see that - it is a little like Flaubert, or Zola. I think it also has a touch of the gothic about it - madness and suicide feature prominently and everything is told as though no one had acted of their own volition so much as played out their parts, long since set for them by the heavy hand of fate. See, the fact that I want to write sentences like that after I've read it shows you what a touch of the gothic it has.It is also told in parts, from the end-ish, to the beginning, to somewhere in the middle, to the end again, but hopping around between them as the spirit moves - the premise being that the narrator is writing as though he's telling you this late in the evening, as you sit by the fireside. And he's figuring out what happened to him as he goes along, himself. Honestly, while I liked the plot, and it gave me a lot of food for thought, I'm not sure I agreed with the narrator, or thought his objectives were worthy. He thinks it's too bad that he never did marry a pretty girl who loved him, and settled down to a nice, quiet life, yet he persisted in sticking with this crowd of people who obviously didn't love him, and never did try to seek what he would deem real happiness elsewhere. He admitted that silent manipulation, particularly by Florence (his wife) and Leonora (his friend's wife), had doomed many of the other characters, yet allowed himself and the others to be blindly manipulated, though in all fairness, he may not have known he was being manipulated at the time. But by the end of the book, he is STILL being manipulated, and still accepting it as its lot. Then again, one of the book's premises seems to be that he is only a person, and sometimes people do allow that. He had nothing but contempt for his wife, partially because she messed around on him (very understandable), but also because she would've told 'everyone' about it. While of course that is 'gauche', and would've hurt people, particularly him, you could certainly argue that, had she done that, it would've been the more honorable choice, compared to what ensued. Or, to put the plot another way - the protagonist from the Jeeves novels marries Emma Bovary, who falls in love with a fairly nice, if inconstant lord of the manor (generous to his tenants, and all too generous with his affections, mostly because he gets so little affection at home). Their lives are all quietly ruined by his scheming wife, who has the personality of a minor character in a Jane Austen plot (think Charlotte in Pride and Prejudice, who marries the clergyman - only a Charlotte with utter control over the lives of everyone around her).Ford originally wanted to call this book "The Saddest Story". It would've fit.
abirdman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Difficult, wordy, old-fashioned language and moral quandries, but ultimately a very satisfying book. Highly recommended.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An impressionistic masterpiece? A tragedy or a comedy? This novel, published in 1915, from the pen of Ford Madox Ford is unique enough to have been described by its critics as all of the preceding and more. Subtitled "A Tale of Passion", it is unique both in my experience and within the author's total work. The story is narrated by an American, John Dowell, who invites the reader to sit down with him beside the fire of his study to listen to the "saddest story" he has ever known. The story, set during the decade preceding the Great War, while sad for some of the participants is truly sad only in the ironic sense of the word. The characters are not particularly likable or sympathetic. Considering that, it is counter intuitive, but the reader is spurred on to read the novel by the precision and the beauty of the prose and the intrigue within the story. The narrative unfolds in a mosaic-like way with a traversal of the narrator's memory back and forth over the nine year period that is covered. When complete, the tale is ended perfectly much as it begins. The result is a beautiful small novel that ranks high in this reader's experience.
craso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 20th Century British literature it always stuns me how the characters react so stoicly when it seems more natural to act emotionally. No one is willing to talk about their feelings. This always leads to tragedy. That is why Ford Madox Ford almost named this book "The Saddest Story." Yet it isn't a tale that will make you weep. Infact, I don't feel sorry for any of the characters, because everything that happened they brought upon themselves.The novel is narrated by John Dowell the husaband of Florence. They are a rich American couple who live in Europe and go to a spa every year because Florence has a "heart." There they meet Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, a rich British couple who come to the spa for Edward's "heart." Edward is the "good soldier" who seems honnest and respectable. They start a friendship because Dowell is bored with being Florence's nursemaid and Leonora wants to use Florence to get Edward's mind of a young woman who is the real reason he is at the spa. Florence and Edward, again the only people in this novel that the narrator describes as having a "heart" start an affair and then everything goes down hill from there, or maybe that wasn't the beginning. Florence and Edward are characterized as having heart conditions when really they are two passionate people who married for convience. Their spouses, especially Leonora, are rather cold and unfeeling. Florence isn't the kindest person in the world to poor Dowell, but he is a dim-wit. At the beginning of the novel he describes the tale he is about to tell as the saddest story he has ever heard. What does he mean "heard"? He was living with these people when all the events occurred. This is where we come back to the stoic British. These two couples are portrayed as "good people" and good people never show emotion in public. They put masks on and pretend that they lead happy lives, because they are rich and hob-nob in high society.Dowell is not a reliable narrator. He tells the story in the first person, but he is relating the saga as it was told to him. He wants to state the tale as if he were sitting with the reader next a roaring fire on a cold night. The narrative starts out jumbled and gets clearer as it becomes clearer in Dowell's mind. He comes to realizations and adds his own thoughts as the story progresses.I recommend this novel because of the intriguing way it is written. The use of an unreliable narrator makes it well worth reading. It is also an excellent example of late 19th Century and early 20th Century literature with it's portrayal of members of high society caring more about how they are percieved by others than about how they treat others. It reminded me very much of Edith Warton and Henry James.
feelinglistless on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Writing in the literary appropriation of impressionism pioneered by his erstwhile friend Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford¿s modernist narrative is an enemy of structure and coherence as it mimics his American narrator Dowell¿s memory of his obsessive psycho-sexual relationships with his suicidal wife Florence, British stick Edward and his wife Leonora, chronology rolling in on itself over and again. When, at beginning of its fourth part, Dowell apologises for having told the story ¿in a very rambling way¿ because ¿it may be difficult for anyone to find their way through what may be a sort of maze¿, well, reader, I sighed. Yet this is still engrossing thanks to its thick atmosphere steeped in turn of the last century continental privilege, and some beautifully rendered characterisation, especially Leonora, a passive aggressive viper who can ruin a man by simply giving him some of her attention. And knows it. And does.
julie-lou on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book about ambiguity. Is it a tragedy or a comedy, or even a tragicomedy? Can we trust the narrator - the eponymous, personality-less John Dowell? Does he believe in what he's telling us, or is he trying to convince himself as much as us? Reflecting on his marriage to Florence Dowell and their friendship with the Ashburnhams, Dowell claims to be unaware of his wife's affair with Edward Ashburnham. As he attempts to peel back the layers of truth and fiction which make up his life, there is much which remains unsatisfactory and unresolved. If he is unaware of his wife's affair, he is beyond gullible. If he felt no pain upon enlightenment, he is either completely unfeeling or unwilling to admit it. His persistent reference to 'poor dear' Florence and his determination to justify the 'good' Edward would seem to suggest he has adopted self-delusion and denial as bulwarks against truth and 'reality'. In 'The Good Soldier' silence tells us more than words, and the relationship between truth and fiction is laid bare. In narrating his life, Dowell attempts to control it; imposing his own version of 'truth' over that which has been decided for him. The novel is structured as an imagined a conversation between Dowell and the 'silent listener'; in other words, the narrative leaps around like a frog on hot coals, telling us more about Dowell's state of mind than about the tangled plot which enveloped him. Ultimately, Ford lets us draw our own conclusions, leaving us with a sense that we have only a glimpse of a much, much larger picture.
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Good Soldier is less about what the text says than about what it doesn't.John Dowell is the narrator of this story of two couples (John and Florence Dowell; and Edward and Leonora Ashenburner). He is, allegedly, unaware of the affair between his wife and Edward until after her death, when he relates the story to the reader. How a man could be 1/4 of a close circle of people and remain unaware of their activities stretches credibility; hence, we must come to view John Dowell as an unreliable narrator.The writing is superb and kept me interested in spite of little direct action and almost no dialogue. This is the kind of book that could be read several times, and each time will bring new insights into John's character, and through those insights, to the "truth" of what really happened.
technodiabla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book starts out painfully slow and the old-school English sentence structure is really tedious until you get into the rhythm. Turns out the style suits the story perfectly. Better yet, the story does grow on you slowly but surely. I can't say it's a page turner or that I "couldn't wait to read more," but it makes its point very well and will probably stick with me for a while. It's odd that there's no real protagonist, no villain, just "good people" laid bare and fully exposed.
accidentally on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
all i ever hear about this book is that it's a fantastic example of an unreliable narrator (which is true). they don't tell you how this is the most heartbreaking and hilarious novel ever written. and so decadent! a must-read.
DieFledermaus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Spoilers) I¿d read this book before, but reading it again (for a class) reminded me what a well written tragedy it was. Especially good because we read it alongside Goethe's Elective Affinities ¿ there were many parallels between the two. It¿s a story of betrayed and lost love ¿ plenty of those ¿ but even the basic plot is complex. To make things more complicated, the book is narrated by the least aware participant in the two love quartets. He moves from generalities to specific memories, spanning different times, with changing opinions, realizing things and judging. Few novels are more subjective. The story follows John Dowell, the nearly nameless narrator, who marries Florence and takes her to Europe. There they meet the Ashburnhams and Edward starts an affair with Florence. His long suffering wife, Leonora ¿ who put up with his multiple mistresses but still loves him ¿ keeps quiet. There was also an Edward in Elective Affinities ¿ another man who is rather narcissistic and falls in love with a younger woman who¿s like a daughter to him and his long suffering, practical wife. Nancy is the stand in for Ottilie ¿ everyone falls in love with both of them, both bring about their own slow destruction when they choose to never be with either Edward. Leonora is the rational wife who attempts to smooth things over but eventually fails, as was Charlotte. She doesn¿t really have a Captain ¿ possibly the very ordinary Rodney Bayham, who she marries at the end.
KromesTomes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Somewhat dated ... some "old-fashioned" racism that may be actually used to show a negative for a character ... some of that double-reverse English understatement-type stuff ...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book just proves there is nothing new under the sun. The narrator was so wrapped up into himself that he never realized til his wife was dead that she had played him like a card! The author writes this in a realistic vein. After learning that his entire marriage has been a sham, the narrator is so upset he has to journal the events on paper. I can't say chronicle because he didn't write anything in order.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Good Soldier is a truly brilliant book. While I was a little distressed to realize I was in my 30's by the time I got around to reading it, I also suspect I might not have fully appreciated this masterpiece at a younger age, and I don't say that very often. The Good Soldier's innocuous title masks a dark, complex, and perceptive portrait of "the falling to pieces of a people." Ford Madox Ford makes masterful use of the "dim witted" narrator trick to infuse much of this dark tale with a surprisingly effective wit, in a manner reminiscent of, but much sharper than, Wilkie Collins's Moonstone character Betteredge. Indeed, Ford takes several unconventional techniques and perfects them in this book, such as the use of a non-chronological narration a la Henry James. The novel will cause you to wade up to the knees in rich and often sinister word play, but it manages to seldom feel overwhelming. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A riveting masterpieece.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago