The Good Soldier Summary

Ford Madox Ford

The Good Soldier

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

The Good Soldier Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.

Taking place just before World War I, English novelist Ford Madox Ford’s 1915 publication The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion recounts the story of Edward Ashburnham and his seemingly idyllic life with his wife and another couple who are their friends. A series of flashbacks that are not presented in chronological order serve as the structure of the novel and serve, too, as an early example of literary impressionism. The narrator is considered unreliable as his telling of the events differs from what is suggested in the introduction. Incidents of adultery in Ford’s life are thought to have inspired the novel. The book was originally titled The Saddest Story but as World War I was underway by the time of its release, the publishers requested that Ford change the title. The text is highly respected on both sides of the Atlantic with Modern Library listing it as one of the best English language novels of the twentieth century and the BBC naming it number thirteen on its list of the one hundred greatest British novels.

John Dowell serves as the narrative voice. He is among the four people who make up the couples that the book centers on as it tells of their deteriorating relationships. There are three deaths and a fall into madness among the characters. The role that John Dowell played in the events and their outcome is left for the reader to consider. The two couples have known each other for nine years. John is married to Florence, while Captain Edward Ashburnham is married to Leonora. Edward and Florence are having an affair, of which Leonora is aware. John, however, does not know about it until after the death of Florence. As narrator, John tells that he is sharing “the saddest story” he knows to an imaginary friend, thus creating doubt about his reliability as he tries to understand relationships and the choices people make.

Florence, a young American woman, is on a worldwide journey with her uncle and his companion, Jimmy. Florence and Jimmy become involved in a physical relationship while the travelers are in England. Back in America, the wealthy John Dowell pursues Florence, and they eventually elope. They decide to journey by sea to Europe. While in transit, Florence’s heart weakens, and she is informed that she would not survive another passage. Thus, she and John decide to remain in Europe permanently. Florence spends two months each year receiving medical treatment at a health spa in Germany. It is there that she and John meet Edward and Leonora, and the two couples develop a friendship.

Edward and Leonora were united in an arranged marriage. Leonora is also the guardian of Nancy Rufford, the daughter of an old friend. A series of events surrounding Edward are described, including his time in court for kissing a girl he did not know while on a train, and Leonora sending him to Monte Carlo to relax after the incident. While in Monte Carlo, Edward runs up debts gambling and hiring a courtesan as a companion. Due to the financial strain, Edward and Leonora move to India where Edward becomes involved in affairs with Mrs. Basil and Maisie Maidan. Leonora considers having an affair but does not go through with it. Maisie and Edward both suffer from weak hearts, and in 1904, they and Leonora travel to the health spa. There, Leonora discovers Edward coming out of Maisie’s room, and she gets into a physical altercation with Maisie. Florence comes to their aid. Maisie decides to return to her husband but dies of heart failure before leaving. Florence, meanwhile, realizes that Edward and Leonora’s marriage is troubled and begins to woo Edward.

Leonora is surprised to see that John does not suspect Florence and Edward of having an affair but does not say anything about it. The two couples continue to frequent the spa where both Florence and Edward receive treatment for their conditions. Leonora believes that Edward has his eye on Nancy, and when one evening he takes her to a concert, Leonora has Florence follow them. John is having a conversation with a man named Bagshawe when they see Florence passing by the window. Bagshawe tells John that he has not seen Florence since she was at his home, and she was coming out of Jimmy’s room early in the morning. Florence is then found dead in her room with an empty vial. As soon as Florence dies, John tells Leonora that he can now marry Nancy, and he returns to America.

Edward keeps his distance from Nancy, knowing his feelings for her are wrong. Nancy realizes that she has fallen in love with Edward. Leonora and Edward both contact John in America requesting his help. He comes, thinking that he will marry Nancy. Edward’s health takes a turn for the worse. Edward tells Nancy to go to India to live with her father, which Leonora is against. At that point, Nancy’s long absent mother contacts her and asks that she come to Scotland to rescue her. Edward arranges for someone to handle Nancy’s mother and makes plans for Nancy to go to India. Before Nancy leaves, Leonora tells her Edward is dying because of his love for her and encourages her to accept him. When John arrives in England, Leonora tells him about Florence and Edward’s affair.

John and Edward take Nancy to the train station where their parting is cold. Later, Edward receives a telegram from Nancy telling him she is having a good time. John is with Edward at the time and tells him that he needs rest and gives him a knife before departing. Edward uses the knife to cut his own throat. Nancy becomes catatonic upon learning of Edward’s death and is brought to England where John takes care of her.