The Good Soldier


Ford Madox Ford

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Themes and Colors
Marriage and Infidelity Theme Icon
The Manipulation of Reality Theme Icon
Class and Traditional Morality  Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Good Soldier, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Manipulation of Reality Theme Icon

The Good Soldier is a completely different book depending on how one chooses to interpret it. If one takes John Dowell at his word, he is the victim whose life is full of tragedy. If one assumes that John’s narration is unreliable, he can be read as a murderer who swindled Florence and her family out of a great deal of money. Furthermore, in addition to these two options, there are many interpretations of the novel that could fall somewhere in between.

Regardless of how one looks at the story, it is clear that manipulation is omnipresent. If one takes John at his word, then most of the main characters manipulate one another at some point: Florence and Edward constantly manipulate their partners to engage in affairs; Leonora manipulates Edward and Nancy’s feelings toward one another; Florence tricks John into thinking she has a heart defect and therefore can’t risk having sex with him.

However, because John narrates the story, it is possible that he’s done some manipulation of his own. For instance, it is convenient that he is the only person present for the two deaths that occur in the story. It is also convenient that Florence’s Uncle John died only a few days before Florence herself, allowing John to inherit over a million dollars. Of course, these facts could be coincidences. However, they could also be lies. The Good Soldier never tilts its hand too heavily in one direction or the other. Like many narrators, John is unreliable, but just how unreliable is he? The reader cannot definitively answer this question. However, it can be said that one reason The Good Soldier thematizes manipulation is to sow the seeds of paranoia and doubt in the reader’s mind. As such, this theme becomes a reading method, and both the theme and the method reinforce one another. The more one reads about characters being manipulated, the more one has the sense that one is being manipulated; the more one has the sense that one is being manipulated, the more manipulation one tends to find in the story.

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The Manipulation of Reality Quotes in The Good Soldier

Below you will find the important quotes in The Good Soldier related to the theme of The Manipulation of Reality.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

This is the saddest story I have ever heard.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

I don't know. And there is nothing to guide us. And if everything is so nebulous about a matter so elementary as the morals of sex, what is there to guide us in the more subtle morality of all other personal contacts, associations, and activities? Or are we meant to act on impulse alone? It is all a darkness.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

I don’t know how it is best to put this thing down—whether it would be better to try and tell the story from the beginning, as if it were a story; or whether to tell it from this distance of time, as it reached me from the lips of Leonora or from those of Edward himself.

So I shall just imagine myself for a fortnight or so at one side of the fireplace of a country cottage, with a sympathetic soul opposite me.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Edward Ashburnham, Florence Dowell
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

I inherited his money because Florence died five days after him. I wish I hadn’t. It was a great worry. I had to go out to Waterbury just after Florence's death because the poor dear old fellow had left a good many charitable bequests and I had to appoint trustees. I didn't like the idea of their not being properly handled.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Florence Dowell, Uncle John
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

Yes, that is how I most exactly remember her, in that dress, in that hat, looking over her shoulder at me so that the eyes flashed very blue—dark pebble blue...

And, what the devil! For whose benefit did she do it? For that of the bath attendant? of the passers-by? I don't know. Anyhow, it can't have been for me, for never, in all the years of her life, never on any possible occasion, or in any other place did she so smile to me, mockingly, invitingly. Ah, she was a riddle; but then, all other women are riddles.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Florence Dowell
Related Symbols: Weak Hearts
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Good God, what did they all see in him? for I swear there was all there was of him, inside and out; though they said he was a good soldier. Yet, Leonora adored him with a passion that was like an agony, and hated him with an agony that was as bitter as the sea. How could he arouse anything like a sentiment, in anybody?

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Edward Ashburnham, Florence Dowell
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

I loved Leonora always and, today, I would very cheerfully lay down my life, what is left of it, in her service. But I am sure I never had the beginnings of a trace of what is called the sex instinct towards her. And I suppose—no I am certain that she never had it towards me.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Leonora Ashburnham
Page Number: 21-22
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

But just think of that poor wretch.... I, who have surely the right, beg you to think of that poor wretch. Is it possible that such a luckless devil should be so tormented by blind and inscrutable destiny? For there is no other way to think of it. None. I have the right to say it, since for years he was my wife's lover, since he killed her, since he broke up all the pleasantnesses that there were in my life. There is no priest that has the right to tell me that I must not ask pity for him, from you, silent listener beyond the hearth-stone, from the world, or from the God who created in him those desires, those madnesses....

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Edward Ashburnham, Florence Dowell
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

You ask how it feels to be a deceived husband. Just Heavens, I do not know. It feels just nothing at all. It is not Hell, certainly it is not necessarily Heaven. So I suppose it is the intermediate stage. What do they call it? Limbo. No, I feel nothing at all about that. They are dead; they have gone before their Judge who, I hope, will open to them the springs of His compassion.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Florence Dowell, Edward Ashburnham
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

And, do you know, at the thought of that intense solitude I feel an overwhelming desire to rush forward and comfort her. You cannot, you see, have acted as nurse to a person for twelve years without wishing to go on nursing them, even though you hate them with the hatred of the adder, and even in the palm of God. But, in the nights, with that vision of judgement before me, I know that I hold myself back. For I hate Florence. I hate Florence with such a hatred that I would not spare her an eternity of loneliness. She need not have done what she did. She was an American, a New Englander. She had not the hot passions of these Europeans.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Florence Dowell
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

Well, Julius was so overcome with grief at being left behind that he must needs go and drop the precious grip. I saw red, I saw purple. I flew at Julius. On the ferry, it was, I filled up one of his eyes; I threatened to strangle him. And, since an unresisting negro can make a deplorable noise and a deplorable spectacle, and, since that was Florence’s first adventure in the married state, she got a pretty idea of my character. It affirmed in her the desperate resolve to conceal from me the fact that she was not what she would have called “a pure woman.” For that was really the mainspring of her fantastic actions. She was afraid that I should murder her....

Page Number: 65-66
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

A long time afterwards I pulled myself out of the lounge and went up to Florence’s room. She had not locked the door—for the first time of our married life. She was lying, quite respectably arranged, unlike Mrs. Maidan, on her bed. She had a little phial that rightly should have contained nitrate of amyl, in her right hand. That was on the 4th of August, 1913.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Florence Dowell, Edward Ashburnham
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

I must have talked in an odd way, as people do who are recovering from an anaesthetic. It is as if one had a dual personality, the one I being entirely unconscious of the other. I had thought nothing; I had said such an extraordinary thing.

I don't know that analysis of my own psychology matters at all to this story. I should say that it didn't or, at any rate, that I had given enough of it. But that odd remark of mine had a strong influence upon what came after. I mean, that Leonora would probably never have spoken to me at all about Florence’s relations with Edward if I hadn’t said, two hours after my wife’s death:

“Now I can marry the girl.”

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Florence Dowell, Nancy Rufford
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 5 Quotes

I call this the Saddest Story, rather than “The Ashburnham Tragedy,” just because it is so sad, just because there was no current to draw things along to a swift and inevitable end. There is about it none of the elevation that accompanies tragedy; there is about it no nemesis, no destiny. Here were two noble people—for I am convinced that both Edward and Leonora had noble natures—here, then, were two noble natures, drifting down life, like fireships afloat on a lagoon and causing miseries, heartaches, agony of the mind and death. And they themselves steadily deteriorated. And why? For what purpose? To point what lesson? It is all a darkness.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Edward Ashburnham, Leonora Ashburnham
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4, Chapter 1 Quotes

And, when one discusses an affair—a long, sad affair—one goes back, one goes forward. One remembers points that one has forgotten and one explains them all the more minutely since one recognizes that one has forgotten to mention them in their proper places and that one may have given, by omitting them, a false impression. I console myself with thinking that this is a real story and that, after all, real stories are probably told best in the way a person telling a story would tell them. They will then seem most real.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Edward Ashburnham, Florence Dowell
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:

And the longer I think about them the more certain I become that Florence was a contaminating influence—she depressed and deteriorated poor Edward; she deteriorated, hopelessly, the miserable Leonora. There is no doubt that she caused Leonora’s character to deteriorate.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Edward Ashburnham, Florence Dowell
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

I have told you, I think, that Edward spent a great deal of time, and about two hundred pounds for law fees on getting a poor girl, the daughter of one of his gardeners, acquitted of a charge of murdering her baby. That was positively the last act of Edward’s life. It came at a time when Nancy Rufford was on her way to India; when the most horrible gloom was over the household; when Edward himself was in an agony and behaving as prettily as he knew how. Yet even then Leonora made him a terrible scene about this expenditure of time and trouble. She sort of had the vague idea that what had passed with the girl and the rest of it ought to have taught Edward a lesson—the lesson of economy. She threatened to take his banking account away from him again. I guess that made him cut his throat.

Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4, Chapter 6 Quotes

For I can’t conceal from myself the fact that I loved Edward Ashburnham—and that I love him because he was just myself. If I had had the courage and virility and possibly also the physique of Edward Ashburnham I should, I fancy, have done much what he did. He seems to me like a large elder brother who took me out on several excursions and did many dashing things whilst I just watched him robbing the orchards, from a distance. And, you see, I am just as much of a sentimentalist as he was...

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Edward Ashburnham, Florence Dowell
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

When he saw that I did not intend to interfere with him his eyes became soft and almost affectionate. He remarked:

“So long, old man, I must have a bit of a rest, you know.”

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say, “God bless you,” for I also am a sentimentalist. But I thought that perhaps that would not be quite English good form, so I trotted off with the telegram to Leonora. She was quite pleased with it.

Related Characters: John Dowell (speaker), Edward Ashburnham (speaker), Florence Dowell, Leonora Ashburnham, Nancy Rufford
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis: