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Book Reviews: "The Good Soldier" by Ford Madox Ford, a Study of Sexual Chemistry

An Air Warrior and devotee of Lord Krishna has published over 100 short stories and 10 books on fiction and 4 on military history.



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 novel

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. He is a soldier from the Indian army; remember those were the days of the Raj. 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.

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.

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.

The novel has a heavy undertone of sex and that is something a reader must accept.


Personal life

No famous life is complete without a reference to personal life and love. So is the case of Maddox. In 1894, he eloped with his school girlfriend Elsie Martindale, the daughter of Dr. William Martindale, a prominent analytical chemist. He opposed her marriage but they left London, and settled in Bonnington, on the Romney Marsh; in 1901 they moved to the Bungalow, Winchelsea. They had two daughters, Christina (1897-1984) and Katharine (1900-78).

But the marriage soured and Ford became involved with the novelist and socialite Violet Hunt (1862-1942). He lived openly with her at her house in Kensington, South Lodge, on Campden Hill Road. Though a Catholic, he attempted to divorce his wife. When she refused, Ford and Hunt conceived the dubious idea of going to Germany and becoming a German citizen.

He later became infatuated with Brigit Patmore and dictated his novel 'The Good Soldier' to her. The novel is a masterpiece of modernist technique, using an unreliable narrator to piece together a complex plot of sexual intrigue and betrayal through elaborate time shifts.

Demise and Position in Literature

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 in 1939.

How do we rate Madox? Many have called it the finest French novel in the English language. Graham Greene has called it probably one of the finest novels of our century. It is the first major modernist English work and remains a classic, although a surprisingly underrated one. I have read his book and when I write I am inspired by his writing. Ford’s technique is wonderful and realistic as he gradually builds up a picture of the inevitable tragedy that will ensue, and he does this brilliantly. Truly one of the great modern English writers.

My last take on this book is that Ford was a genius and he flowered because of his sexual relationship and that is the essence of one aspect of Hindu philosophy.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 05, 2021:

Yves, so nice you commented. Read the book you will like it.

Yves on July 05, 2021:

Anyone who has collaborated with Thomas Hardy definitely has my vote. Frankly, I am surprised I had not heard of this book or the author before today. Thus, I am thankful to have read your wonderful review, emge.

And how interesting that the book is divided into 4 parts with flashbacks here and there. That is fascinating.

I will add this book to my list of must reads.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 05, 2021:

Thank you, Tom, it is always a pleasure to read your comment though I haven't read the book you mentioned.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 05, 2021:

Pamela, I read this book 20 years back, and even now it is fresh in my mind. I thank you for sparing time and giving your valuable comment.

Tom on July 05, 2021:

I have heard the name and familiar with his works, there is another book novel famous the good Soldier by Jaroslav seik,similar to all quiet on the Western front

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 05, 2021:

This sounds like an interesting book, MG. You have given us an excellent review of the book. I don't believe I have read this book, and your review has gotten my very interested in reading it. Thank you.

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