And that about sums it up.
To be blunt I didn’t like this story. Ford Maddox Ford can certainly write, and sometimes good writing can compensate for a less than compelling story – but for me – in this case – it didn’t.
It is the story of American expatriates John and Florence Dowell and their nine-year friendship with the English couple Edward and Leonora Ashburnham.
John is a fool; Edward is a letch, Florence is a manipulative adulteress, and Leonora is almost likeable, or nearly pitiable, but not quite either. They’re all a mess and I didn’t care for any of them. I think maybe I was supposed to feel sorry for the narrator – John – but I didn’t. John at least felt sorry for everybody including himself.
Ya know what? Yuck! I’m done. Some excerpts below will give you a few more insights. The last one, the one about the cow, is not critical to the story, but it might have been the best part of this story.
This novel is very short. That was good. The title refers to Edward Ashburnham who was a British officer and by all accounts a credit to the Army.
This is the first time I’ve read Ford Madox Ford or The Good Soldier.
Excerpts – all the words or thoughts of the unreliable narrator, John Dowell:
But just think of that poor wretch….I, who have surely the right, beg you to think of that poor wretch. Is it possible that such a luckless devil should be so tormented by blind and inscrutable destiny? For there is no other way to think of it. None. I have the right to say it, since for years he was my wife’s lover, since he killed her, since he broke up all the pleasantnesses that there were in my life. There is no priest that has the right to tell me that I must not ask pity for him, from you, silent listener beyond the hearthstone, from the world, or from the God who created in him those desires, those madnesses…Perhaps one day when I am unconscious or walking in my sleep I may go and spit upon poor Edward’s grave.…you may consider me even to have been an imbecile.And yet I am so near to all of these people that I cannot think any of them wicked. It is impossible for me to think of Edward Ashburnham as anything but straight, upright and honourable.I have come to be very much of a cynic in these matters…Leonora loved Edward with a passion that was yet like an agony of hatred.You see, he was really a very simple soul – very simple.So here I am very much where I started thirteen years ago. I am the attendant, not the husband of a beautiful girl, who pays no attention to me. I am estranged from Leonora, who married Rodney Bayham in my absence and went to live at Bayham. Leonora rather dislikes me, because she has got it into her head that I disapprove of her marriage with Rodney Bayham. Well, I disapprove of her marriage. Possibly I am jealous. Yes, no doubt I am jealous.Not one of us has got what he really wanted. Leonora wanted Edward, and she has got Rodney Bayham, a pleasant enough sort of sheep. Florence wanted Branshaw, and it is I who have bought it from Leonora. I didn’t really want it; what I wanted mostly was to cease being a nurse attendant. Edward wanted Nancy Rufford, and I have got her. Only she is mad. It is a queer fantastic world.Is there any terrestrial paradise where, amidst the whispering of the olive-leaves, people can be with whom they like and have what they like and take their ease in shadows and in coolness? Or are all men’s lives like the lives of us good people – like the lives of the Ashburnhams, of the Dowells, of the Ruffords – broken, tumultuous, agonized, and unromantic, lives, periods punctuated by screams, by imbecilities, by deaths, by agonies? Who the devil knows?Let me come to the 4th of August, 1913, the last day of my absolute ignorance – and, I assure you, of my perfect happiness.I chuckled over it from time to time for the whole rest of the day. Because it does look very funny, you know, to see a black and white cow land on its back in the middle of a stream. It is so just exactly what one doesn’t expect of a cow.
Film Rendition: 1981 British rendition is very true to the book...consequently just as awful.