Monday, May 29, 2006

Ford Madox Ford's "The Good Soldier"

"THIS is the saddest story I have ever heard."

So opens Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier (1915), subject of the latest installment of Jane Smiley's adventure in reading. She writes:
The story seems simple. Two wealthy couples, one American and one English, meet at a spa in Germany and spend several years in comfortable friendship until it is revealed that the American wife and the English husband are carrying on an affair that the English wife knows about but the American husband does not. After the deaths of the adulterers, more and more is uncovered about both the conduct and the emotional meaning of the affair. The story is narrated by the American husband and is in some sense a detective story, but he is no investigator. The facts come to him unwillingly, since he would have preferred from the beginning not to know; the suspense depends not on what has happened, as dramatic as it turns out to be, but on the narrator's unfolding interpretation of the passionate emotions manifested in very small gestures or brief remarks.
The novel's exalted reputation rests not so much on the story but with its style. Smiley:
There are those who believe that The Good Soldier is one of the few stylistically perfect novels in any language, and perhaps what Ford was alluding to in his remarks about references and cross-references is this sense that the contradictory and complementary meanings in every paradoxical sentence are entirely understandable because he has made sure a clear explication of his fictional situation--the psychologies of his characters, the interweaving of character and event, intention and chance.
I read The Good Soldier too long ago to remember much about it except that while I could see what this "style" fuss was about, it was not a style that particularly appealed to me.

Click here to read the entire Smiley article. To read earlier entries in this series, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

"Male writers are certainly capable of the most pompous dedications," writes Susan Johnson, "and Ford Madox Ford would be hard to beat." Click here to see if you disagree.

For a free download of The Good Soldier, click here.

--Marshal Zeringue