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The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion Paperback – August 24, 2004

4.1 out of 5 stars 132 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

First published in 1915, Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier begins, famously and ominously, "This is the saddest story I have ever heard." The book then proceeds to confute this pronouncement at every turn, exposing a world less sad than pathetic, and more shot through with hypocrisy and deceit than its incredulous narrator, John Dowell, cares to imagine. Somewhat forgotten as a classic, The Good Soldier has been called everything from the consummate novelist's novel to one of the greatest English works of the century. And although its narrative hook--the philandering of an otherwise noble man--no longer shocks, its unerring cadences and doleful inevitabilities proclaim an enduring appeal.

Ford's novel revolves around two couples: Edward Ashburnham--the title's soldier--and his capable if off-putting wife, Leonora; and long-transplanted Americans John and Florence Dowell. The foursome's ostensible amiability, on display as they pass parts of a dozen pre-World War I summers together in Germany, conceals the fissures in each marriage. John is miserably mismatched with the garrulous, cuckolding Florence; and Edward, dashing and sentimental, can't refrain from falling in love with women whose charms exceed Leonora's. Predictably, Edward and Florence conduct their affair, an indiscretion only John seems not to notice. After the deaths of the two lovers, and after Leonora explains much of the truth to John, he recounts the events of their four lives with an extended inflection of outrage. From his retrospective perch, his recollections simmer with a bitter skepticism even as he expresses amazement at how much he overlooked.

Dowell's resigned narration is flawlessly conversational--haphazard, sprawling, lusting for sympathy. He exudes self-preservation even as he alternately condemns and lionizes Edward: "If I had had the courage and the virility and possibly also the physique of Edward Ashburnham I should, I fancy, have done much what he did." Stunningly, Edward's adultery comes to seem not merely excusable, but almost sublime. "Perhaps he could not bear to see a woman and not give her the comfort of his physical attractions," John surmises. Ford's novel deserves its reputation if for no other reason than the elegance with which it divulges hidden lives. --Ben Guterson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Whether you know Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier or not, don't miss this reading by Kerry Shale, who varies his performance brilliantly as the story shifts from platitudes to a rollercoaster ride of intimate revelation. Written on the eve of the First World War and satirising the complacency and immorality of the age, the book is an experimental narrative, moving to and fro in time with explanations inserted as if recounted to a friend. 'This is the saddest story I have ever heard' is the opening line, but within seconds we are wondering how on earth it can be as we hear of the impeccable social credentials of the two couples at its core. Give it a few minutes, and you will be agog, uncertain whether to laugh at its first-person narrator's gullibility or cry at the tragic outcome. Poetically resonant and painterly in its word pictures, the book was regarded by Ford as his best. Don't be misled by the studiously ironic title: the only conflict in the story is that between the sexes. - Christina Hardyment, The Times --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Wildside Press (August 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557422729
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557422729
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,321,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
I was in a bookstore and picked a copy of this novel up, and from the second I read what I later learned was a famous first sentence (and justifiably so)--"This is the saddest story I have ever heard"--I knew I had to read it. What is truly sad about the book is that the narrator has no conception of where the tragedy in the book lies. While he is articulate and seemingly insightful in his analysis of others, he remains blissfully unaware of his own enormously failings, both in morals and in character. It is indeed a very sad story, but the narrator leaves out the fact that he is quite possibly one of the most pathetic characters in all fiction.
If one prefers one's narrators and ostensible heroes to be truly heroic and sympathetic, then this novel will not please. If one, however, can imagine enjoying a novel written with J. Alfred Prufrock as the narrator and central character, then one is in a position to appreciate THE GOOD SOLDIER.
The novel is not a page-turner. If you read this novel quickly, you have read it wrongly. The beauty of the book is the exquisite prose, and should be read slowly, savoring each sentence and each sentiment. There is a dreamlike (one could say nightmarish) quality to the book, and one will most enjoy it by allowing oneself to become entranced by the atmospheres summoned up.
If you are willing to take the novel on its own terms, with its unheroic and unadmirable characters, with its pathetic elements and situations, and its subtle psychological observations, then there will be few reading experiences that will match THE GOOD SOLDIER. One of the most remarkable novels of the past century. But if you only like novels where there is a definite hero and admirable characters, you probably wouldn't enjoy this very much.
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By A Customer on August 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
One of the greatest examples of the spoken-word novel, The Good Soldier succeeds where authors as great as Conrad have failed. Our narrator does not tell a straight, linear story. No. He forgets things, comes back to them later, revives a subject you thought dead and meaningless only to shed new light on it and make it important.
Perhaps the greatest effect the book has is the after-taste. When reading the book, I found it slow and boring. Once I set it down, though, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I had to read it again. And once I began again, I found myself reading it slowly once more, though not from boredom, but rather because I wanted to savor it and take it all in.
I encourage anyone who has begun this book only to find themselves tired of it rather quickly to stick with it. You'll be glad you did. You'll find yourself buying copies for friends to read, as I do. This book truly gets under your skin.
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Format: Paperback
This novel broke new ground when it was written, something in these jaded days that is almost impossible to do. Ford created an unreliable narrator and also wrote about the complex inner workings of relationships, an area of darkness that will always be immune from full enlightenment. His characters also deceive themselves as well as significant others, and yet are always in pursuit of the perfect appearance. The subtlety with which Ford has woven this tapestry makes you think twice and then three times about who his people are and what they want. Unbridled lust also rides through the book, but is forever reigned in by double standards and self-torturing conscience. Although the book requires a patient reader so that it can bloom, its payoff stays with you, and its sharp observations and lack of sentiment make you realize what a brilliant piece of art it is. As such it is not subject to becoming dated or stale, a true test of its merit. I recommend it to anyone looking for a great work.
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By A Customer on April 13, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Don't get caught up in a reading that doesn't get beyond the most shallow interpretation of events and phrasing. This apparently casually written work is a masterpiece of finely thought out detail. While deconstruction can be pointless, taking irony at face value is just as futile.
It seems like a book about Leonora and Edward Ashburnham as told by a naive and passive friend, John Dowell. In reality, it is the transformation of John Dowell as he makes sense of his world after shattering information. His entire sense of reality has been undermined by the knowledge that the past 13 years 6 months were established in lies.
The structure of the novel is deceptively simple. His retelling of past events masks the fact that the action of telling the story occurs in the present. Dowell tells us he has been writing for 6 months, he goes away for 18 months, returns, and then finishes the last two chapters. The lack of a fixed time frame for the narrated histories of the major characters again blurs time. And then there is the fact that there are several layers of story. There is reality, which we can never know. There is what Dowell believed was reality, of which he gives some description. There are the stories from various points of view that Dowell was told and then digests and retells to us. Then there is the present action of Dowell's changing self. All of these except for the last, are filtered through Dowell's narration. The last is exposed through his narration. In this work we have one of the finest examples of the Impressionist style of writing, as well as the Modern.
Dowell is a recovering innocent.
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