- Series: Penguin Classics
- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (December 18, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0141441844
- ISBN-13: 978-0141441849
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 163 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #412,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 18, 2007
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About the Author
Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939) began his career writing fairy tales before collaborating with Joseph Conrad on several novels. After publishing successful solo works, he established the Transatlantic Review and divided his time between France and America.
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As the first words of Part IV, Chapter I, he says, “I HAVE, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort of maze. I cannot help it.”
The story seems to start in the middle and is told by jumping ahead and back so you will have to pay attention to “keep up”. He begins with some ‘raw’ observations about his friends, the Ashburnhams, Edward & Lenora as well as his own wife, Florence. But, you will see these observations focus, change, refine, and morph to something different throughout the telling of the tale (the unreliable narrator).
And for this reader at least, the telling is MORE the point than the tale itself. You’ll see what I mean if you stick with this novel. I watched (?) imagined (?) my own rating for this book go from a very solid ★★☆☆☆ to a full ★★★★★ during the course of the read.
The story is set in the early 1900’s: the narrator is an idle American - John Dowell - recently married to an upwardly mobile Connecticut girl (…”where as you know, they are more old-fashioned than even the inhabitants of Cranford, England…”) and moved to England where they meet the Ashburnhams. It is a tale of broken hearts - both figuratively and literally! In fact, Ford’s original title was “The saddest story I have ever heard” but, his publisher was not enamored and so it is kept in the opening sentence. Edward Ashburnham is a British soldier - and by all accounts a ‘good’ one and the central character in the story. Watch how your own opinions dramatically change about virtually all of the characters during the read as it is ‘unpeeled’. Read it - I'll bet you’ll like it.
It is a book to be savoured for the beautiful prose and the clever presentation of the the three main protagonists as narrated by the fourth central character.
It could almost fall under the genre of psychological thriller were it to be published today, such is the slow but fascinating gradual exposure of the main players. The narrater himself, is central to the story. Initially presenting himself as the innocent in the unravelling of the intrigues of the hapless foursome he becomes more enlightened as the story progresses. It is as if he is a bystander viewing the whole disaster from a far off perspective, at the same time deeply involved in the psychology and emotions of his friends, who are such "good people'.
I would not recommend this to everyone, but if you enjoy a book that makes you think and creates a forum for discussion this is the book for you.
It predates The Great Gatsby by a decade and I'm guessing Fitzgerald read it. The first person narrative structure begins similarly, one man, the American John Dowell, discounting himself as a major player as he promises to tell the story of a bigger player, the British Captain Edward Asburnham, the "good soldier" of the title. Like Gatsby, the circles in which they move are largely affluent, and marriage conventions are flouted. But there the similarities begin to disappear. FMF's characters are more self-deceived than self-made, and there are the cultural contrasts of American vs. European character and protestant vs. Catholic tossed in for good measure. John Dowell proves to be a difficult narrator: though he suggests that it is the understandable problem of ordering memory that he builds the story hesitantly and thus sometimes doubles back to fill in more facts, the tangled story telling may be due as much to his own reluctance to deal with certain truths until he is finally ready. He may not be as much of a bystander as he initially suggests, or as innocent.
To say more would spoil the plot. This is an absorbing read, and relatively short. It is also worth reading as a model of modern literary art. It is well informed by the recent arrival of psychology, it strains against the rigidity of Victorian and Edwardian social codes, it smashes Aristotle's rules about plot progression. How the story is told is as important as the story. Energy electrifies it and that makes it a pleasure to read despite the fact that it deals considerably with pathetic human weaknesses.
The critical introduction is reliable as most Penguin classic supplementary essays are, and is best read afterward since there are spoilers. Helpful notes do not intrude on the text but are discretely listed at the end.
A well regarded and influential modernist short novel that is well worth reading. I read that Ford was influenced by the works of Guy De Maupassant and this book did remind me of some of De Maupassant's short fictions. Very penetrating psychological insights slowly revealed by one of the participants.