The Good Soldier


Ford Madox Ford

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on The Good Soldier makes teaching easy.

The Good Soldier: Foil 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis—Leonora and Florence:

Throughout The Good Soldier, Leonora Ashburnham and Florence Dowell are presented as foils to each other. Each woman represents an opposing end of the novel’s moral spectrum, although their relative goodness or badness doesn't necessarily reflect how the narrator feels about them at any given time. The difference in how John Dowell speaks about Leonora and Florence is an important aspect of his role as an unreliable narrator.

The author pits Leonora and Florence in fundamental moral opposition to one another. Leonora's character is consistently depicted as being concerned with moral uprightness, discipline, and adherence to societal norms and expectations. She’s heavily aligned with the word “should” throughout the book. In contrast, Florence embodies a more “modern” approach, less concerned with truthfulness and more focused on appearances. Rather than the word "should," the verb “to want” appears a great deal in descriptions of her. Leonora is portrayed as emotionally restrained to the point where John perceives her as almost sexless, like “marble.” This emotional containment is in line with the stereotypical Englishwoman of Ford’s books, reserved and controlled. Florence, on the other hand, is passionate and volatile, "weak-hearted" in more ways than one. She embodies Ford's more expressive and emotional American stereotype. The author characteristically aligns English stoicism and a stiff upper lip like Leonora’s with a romanticized view of Old World values, especially in the face of a world rapidly changing with the onset of global war. Although neither woman is completely blameless, Leonora is depicted as being more morally upright than Florence.

This moral dichotomy between the two women is aligned with the broader religious divide between Catholicism and Protestantism, another common concern in Ford's novels. The author ties Leonora's Catholic background to her commitment to traditional values while Florence, as a Protestant, takes a more liberal and individualistic approach. As with many of Ford's female characters, ideas of social conservatism and a kind of internal moral uprightness are linked to Catholic Englishness. Leonora is “strong-willed,” stoic, and rational. She's fundamentally concerned with her marriage’s internal consistency and with doing damage control on Edward’s infidelities. She’s internally conflicted, as she loves her husband “with a passion that was like an agony, and hated him with an agony that was as bitter as the sea.” Florence is more expressive, and her conflicts are more externally visible. Even though he is furious with her for her infidelity, John also depicts her as a tragic figure. Her unrequited love for Edward is linked to her general sense of social inferiority, as she feels she can never quite “get the better” of Leonora. The two women are literally placed in competition for the affection of the same male character.

The effect of these contrasting characters on the narrator is significant: his vision of the differences between the two is a major factor in the changes in his own attitude to marriage. In a way, the comparisons he makes between Leonora and Florence lead to John’s disillusionment with both love and religion just as much as their affairs do. Although Florence is actually John's wife, his intimacy with her doesn't seem to beget any kind of sympathy from him. Florence's betrayal shatters his romantic ideals, while Leonora's comparatively rigid virtue forces him to reassess his understanding of morality and goodness. His struggle to reconcile his experiences with his beliefs and perceptions contributes to the unreliability of his narration.