Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford cover Ford Madox Ford has fascinated me ever since I read his classic First World War tetralogy Parade’s End – one of the most thrilling works of fiction ever written.

So I was interested when the modern novelist Julian Barnes wrote in the Guardian Review about his take on another Ford Madox Ford novel, The Good Soldier.

The story's narrator – a bland, American millionaire named Dowell – is not to be trusted, argues Barnes.

Ford Madox FordJulian Barnes believes the reader must treat every “sentence with care and suspicion and must prowl soft-footed through the text”. To illustrate this, Barnes cites the first line of The Good Soldier - “This is the saddest story I have ever heard” – and says the narrator is telling the story not hearing it.

It is a moot point. Dowell repeatedly says he is trying to tell the story as if “at one side of the fireplace of a country cottage with a sympathetic soul opposite me”.

Therefore, Dowell is both telling and hearing the story.

In other respects Julian Barnes is spot-on: Dowell’s account is not to be trusted.

Julian BarnesAlthough the story is supposedly told in one sitting, his views of the other major characters – his love-aholic, unfaithful friend Edward Ashburnham, long-suffering cuckquean Mrs Ashburnham, and Dowell’s cheating wife Florence, change as he goes on.

Far from being a “bumbler obliged to convey an intrigue of operatic passion which he only partially understands” as Barnes suggests, Dowell is pulling the wool over our eyes.

Through his indolence, dullness and baffling belief that beautiful women should marry him and be happy, Dowell mixes the brew for the tragedy, culminating in the untimely deaths of Edward and Florence. Dowell is the true villain.

But through his sly, propagandist telling of the story, the narrator shrouds his abject culpability.



Blogger Noelle said...

I realize this is an ancient post of yours, but I read this Good Soldier for an English class last semester; my prof. did a marvelous job uncovering these same details, if not a more complex view. Clearly it is easier to do this in a class room. But to my point, did you read it? It is funny I run across this review, as the opening line states what many do not foresee or choose to disregard about this novel, you cannot and should never trust the narrator.
I was curious if you enjoyed the novel; I was in love with it until I realized the narrator was rather, a complete asshole.

Sunday, 28 February, 2010  
Blogger Oliver said...

Yes, I read it and enjoyed it.

Sunday, 01 December, 2013  

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