Book Review: Ford Madox Ford’s Novel’ The Good Soldier
Ford Madox Ford is one of those writers whose life spanned two centuries. He was born in 1873 and died in 1939. His novel ‘A good Soldier: Tale of Passion’ was written in 1915 and is rated as one of the great books of the twentieth century. The original title of the novel was ‘The Saddest Story’. His publishers suggested a different title as World War I was in progress. On the spur of the moment, Madox Ford suggested ‘The Good Soldier’ and the title found immediate acceptance with the publisher.
The Good Soldier is a tale of love and passion. Critics are of the view that the novel is perhaps based on the personal life of Madox Ford in which he faced intrigue and adultery. The novel is set just before the onset of World War I and relates the tale of Edward Ashburnham, a soldier. Edward is the tragic figure in the novel despite seemingly having a happy married life. Along with Edward, Ford creates two American friends of Edward.
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Madox Ford relates the story in a unique way. He incorporates flashbacks. These are not in any chronological order, but form a part of the style of Madox Ford, which is unique to him. The story is related by an American John Dowell. Basically, the novel delineates the sexual relationships between two couples, one American and the other English. The narrator of the tale John Dowell is the only person the reader can approach as he is the one who is relating the story. As a reader reads the book the story develops a macabre atmosphere.
Madox through the narrator John Dowell gradually reveals a world that leads to insanity, death, and despair. In this respect, the novel makes heavy reading. As the reader reads the book, Madox Ford brings to the fore the many vicissitudes of life and the relationship that dominate a man and a woman the most, the sexual relationship. The novel is a powerful statement of human life and after reading it one wonders that Madox Ford himself must have led a life in which his dream was not fulfilled.
The novel does not run in a single stream but is divided into four parts, all of which are interlinked.
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The novel is a powerful statement of life by Madox Ford. In 1998 the Modern library ranked ‘The Good Soldier 30th on its list of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th century. Most critics rate it as one of the best novels written in the last century. Madox Ford collaborated with Thomas Hardy and also befriended Hemingway. It was one of his regrets that he was not given recognition by these two worthies, though Hemingway wrote a chapter on his meeting with Madox in a restaurant in one of his books.
Madox spent the last years of his life at Olivet College in Michigan as a teacher. Later he died in Deauville, France. He was only 65 at that time.