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 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.
Public Domain (P)2010 Tantor
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THE GOOD SOLDIER: A TALE OF PASSION famously begins with the line, "This is the saddest story I have ever heard." The character who tells us this is John Dowell, who recounts the interrelationships of himself, his wife Florence, and their friends "the good solider" Captain Edward Ashburnham and his wife Leonora.
Each of these characters is deeply flawed. John cannot see what is right in front of him. Florence is manipulative and dishonest. Edward is an in-love-with-love philanderer. Leonora is desperate to exert control over her husband. Additional characters are swept into the wake of their disastrous interactions.
While it may not be the saddest story ever, sad it certainly is, a high drama in which deception, misunderstanding, suffering, and acts of desperation abound. The narrative structure is based on non-chronological flashbacks, which can seem disorienting at times, reflecting the sense of dissolution and collapse felt by the storyteller as he attempts to make sense of overwhelming experiences.
The novel is set just before World War I, and was published in 1915, so it should be of particular interest to those like myself who are obsessed with that time period. If this is your first Ford Madox Ford book, I'd recommend you go on to read PARADE'S END as well.
Gildart Jackson's narration is excellent. His voice is well-suited to the style and character of the writing. I'd not listened to him before but now I'd very much like to hear him read another book!
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