The Good Soldier


Ford Madox Ford

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The Good Soldier Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ford Madox Ford

Ford was born to a German father and an English mother and was raised in London. Ford’s father died when he was a teenager, so he was sent to live with his grandfather in 1889. Ford’s grandfather also lived in London, and while living with him, Ford studied at the University College School. In 1894, Ford married Elsie Martindale and in 1901, the two of them moved to Winchelsea. At the time, Winchelsea was home to many famous writers, including Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, and H. G. Wells. Ford was already writing himself at this point, although he wouldn’t publish any notable works for quite some time. In 1908, Ford founded The English Review, where he published many famous modernist writers, including Joseph Conrad, William Butler Yeats, D. H. Lawrence, and Ezra Pound. One year later, after many unhappy years of marriage, Ford left his wife to be with Isobel Violet Hunt, the co-founder of The English Review. By this time, Ford had published several notable books including The Inheritors (1901) and Romance (1903), both of which were coauthored with Joseph Conrad. However, it took until 1915 for Ford to publish his first classic: The Good Soldier. Although Ford would go on to publish other notable literary works after The Good Soldier, it is undeniably the work that cemented his literary legacy. It is regularly listed as one of the greatest books in all of English literature by critics and it remains his most read novel by a large margin. After The Good Soldier, Ford’s most famous works Some Do Not… (1924), No More Parades (1925), and A Man Could Stand Up (1926), and Last Post (1928). Collectively, these four books make up the Parade’s End tetralogy. In addition to novels, Ford also wrote essays, memoirs, biographies, poetry, and literary criticism. Ford spent the final years of his teaching at Olivet College in Michigan before falling ill in 1939. He died on June 26, 1939, at the age of 65.
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Historical Context of The Good Soldier

The events of The Good Soldier take place between 1904—1913, just before the start of World War I. The first decades of the 20th century in England are notable for their sense of moral panic and confusion. The Victorian era—known for its moral rigidity and sexual repression—ended in 1901, following the death of Queen Victoria. In the wake of Queen’s death, attitudes toward religion and sex began to change. Both topics began to be spoken and written about more frequently and with less self-censorship. In the early 20th century, the English began to break away from the mores of the Victorian era to establish a sensibility that was decidedly more modern. However, as with any major cultural shift, this change in attitude caused a great amount of moral confusion and backlash. The Good Soldier is a direct product of this historical context, as John Dowell, the narrator, goes on several tangents discussing the breakdown of traditionally morality. However, because John Dowell is an unreliable narrator, it is difficult to determine where the novel comes down on the social issues it addresses.

Other Books Related to The Good Soldier

The Good Soldier is a work of literary modernism, as well as a book about adultery. Sex—especially sex outside of marriage—was a taboo topic in Victorian literature, but things changed around the turn of the 20th century. Many of the most famous modernist works centered around the topic of infidelity including Henry James’s The Golden Bowl (1904), James Joyce’s Ulysses (1920), and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). Although all of these books, including The Good Soldier, faced their share of controversy, they were allowed to be published and they helped usher in an era of writers who were not afraid to write openly about taboo subjects. The Good Soldier is also a book that features an unreliable narrator. The unreliable narrator is a literary device that was popularized in modernist literature and is still used today. Other famous novels that include unreliable narrators are Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938), Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955), and Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962).
Key Facts about The Good Soldier
  • Full Title: The Good Soldier
  • When Written: 1915
  • Where Written: Winchelsea, England
  • When Published: March 1915
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Novel
  • Setting: The French Countryside and Fordingbridge, England
  • Climax: Edward receives a letter from Nancy while alone in the stables with John. After reading the letter and seeing that Nancy is safe, Edward pulls out a knife and slits his own throat.
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for The Good Soldier

What’s In a Name? Ford Madox Ford was named after the Pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown. Later in life, Ford wrote a biography of Brown.

The Saddest Story. The Good Soldier was initially titled “The Saddest Story.” However, Ford’s publishers asked him to come up with a new title that would help them sell copies because World War I had just begun, and they didn’t think “The Saddest Story” would work. Sarcastically, Ford suggested The Good Soldier.