Book Review by Roy E. Perry: Ford Madox Ford’s “The Good Soldier”


Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” is proud to periodically publish new book reviews by Roy E. Perry, the self-described “amateur philosopher” of Nolensville, Tennessee. Mr. Perry wrote book reviews for “The Tennessean” and “Nashville Banner” for more than thirty years.


Graham Greene esteemed Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier as “a masterpiece . . . one of the finest novels of [the 20th] century.” With all due respect to Mr. Greene, this novel is not a masterpiece. Reviewers who give The Good Soldier five stars are too generous. But those who give it only one star are too negatively critical. I give it three stars.

The title character (“the good soldier”) is Captain Edward Ashburnham, who, in all respects but one, is a man of sterling character—charitable, courteous, and compassionate. On two occasions, he risked his own life to save others. His one fault is that he is a womanizer, a libertine who, in his infidelity to his wife Leonora, habitually seeks to “comfort” other women.

The narrator, John Dowell, learns at a very late date that Ashburnham has had a longstanding affair with his wife Florence—a liaison of which he has been naively ignorant. Writing of “my absolute ignorance,” Dowell says, “I was such an ignorant fool . . . an imbecile singularly lacking in intelligence.” And we nod our heads in total agreement at his stupidity.

The Good Soldier chronicles the conflicts caused by an alleged “sentimentality” (translation: sexual passion) and the sadistic tendency of married people to torment one another. Although the novel is not devoid of some beautiful passages, too much of the narrator’s pronouncements are unconvincing—effusions of an infantile, half-baked, pop psychology.

Near the end of the novel, I was impressed by words that have a strikingly Nietzschean quality: “Conventions and traditions, I suppose, work blindly but surely for the preservation of the normal type; for the extinction of proud, resolute, and unusual individuals. . . . Mind, I am not preaching anything contrary to accepted morality. I am not advocating free love in this or any other case. Society must go on, I suppose, and society can only exist if the normal, if the virtuous, and the slightly deceitful flourish, and if the passionate, the headstrong, and the too-truthful are condemned to suicide and to madness. But I guess I myself, in my fainter way, come into the category of the passionate, of the headstrong, and the too-truthful. 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 the vitality 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 . . .”

One wonders how much of this novel is autobiographical. Is Ford Madox Ford’s final judgment concerning Ashburnham—basically that he was a good and noble character despite his serious flaws and numerous betrayals—an attempt by Ford to justify his own promiscuity? Was Ford himself a “good soldier”?

For other book reviews by Roy E. Perry, please visit:

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at and Dave is also a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer.

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as “beautiful, haunting, powerful”—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit and/or the page on Facebook:

Do you want to help homeless people in Nashville learn culinary arts and other employment skills that provide a specific, effective path off the streets? Please visit and consider making a financial contribution. Any amount is very helpful and appreciated. Thank you.


Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: