The Good Soldier
A Tale of Passion
By Ford Madox Ford
First Published: 1915
Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Classic Fiction, Literature
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford is a terrific novel of English manners. It features an abundance of comic irony, highly memorable characters, and some serious tragedy. One thing this is certainly not is a romantic novel. Instead, this is a novel that exposes the worst sides of love and marriage. It paints an unflattering view of married life and simply skewers the British upper class tradition of maintaining appearances at all costs.
The Good Soldier is focused on two couples who meet at a European spa for people with heart problems where they see each other during the summer season over a period of many years. One couple is from England and one from America although the Americans are living permanently in Europe due to the heart condition of the wife. Both couples are from high society and are well off. Outwardly, they’re both model couples but have some serious issues and/or secrets.
The Good Soldier is narrated in first person format by the American husband who starts off the novel with, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” Right off the bat we’re informed there has been a tragedy that has broken up this perfect foursome and the narrator wastes no time is mentioning that his wife and the English husband are dead. It’s also immediately clear that the two were having an affair for years while the narrator was oblivious. What we don’t know is what exactly caused the deaths and what further tragedies are involved.
Ford does an amazing job in this novel of weaving a tale of complex relationships which are gradually revealed as the narrator slowly unravels the tangle. He navigates the reader through a maze of emotions, deceits, loves, and the history of the two marriages. In addition, the story is laced with comic irony as the narrator looks back on events where he can’t believe he didn’t see signs of major problems. The reader will find it even more unbelievable that the narrator was completely in the dark and we have to assume he either just didn’t want to know anything or else he is exceedingly stupid. In any case, the narrator is obviously highly biased and lays virtually all the blame in the novel on women. He does lay a bit of blame on the English husband but finds that he has such a liking for him that he can’t really blame him too much.
Throughout the tale, the English couple works to maintain a good and proper outward appearance. In addition, the English upper classes are shown to have a mentality of avoiding at all costs any expressions of feelings no matter what the situation. Maintaining a perfect image, despite realities, appears to be the ultimate goal at the expense of all else, even life itself. As the story unfolds, it becomes quite clear how tragic the results can become from following this philosophy.The Good Soldier is a great book that highlights the differences between appearances and actuality. This isn’t an adventure or action book. It’s a book with intense psychology and deep emotions. I found the slow untangling of the story to be really gripping and I highly recommend The Good Soldier to anyone except for newlyweds. If you’re a newlywed, wait until the honeymoon wears off and until you start getting into more and more fights with your spouse. Then read this book and you should realize how lucky you are. If you don’t, my best advice is to file for divorce immediately!