The Good Soldier is a novel about the differences between appearance and reality—and about human willingness to see events in a light that best suits the viewer, regardless of how accurate that vision may be. John Dowell calls his narrative “the saddest story I have ever heard”; perhaps the saddest aspect of the story is Dowell’s own unwillingness to see through the fine veneer covering the faults of his wife and friends.
The narrator sets his story up as a fireside conversation, a confession delivered in private to the reader. As the novel opens, Dowell is trying to come to terms with new and disturbing discoveries about his wife and Edward Ashburnham, both now dead, and about how thoroughly he had been deceived by appearances when they were alive. The story of the nine-year relationship of the Dowells and the Ashburnhams is revealed in fragments, and this is not surprising, considering that the import of the events of that relationship is only now becoming clear to the narrator, who was a part of the relationship from the beginning. The reader gets pieces of the puzzle, not in chronological order, but as Dowell remembers them and as their significance becomes apparent to him. Reading The Good Soldier becomes a process of discovery, along with the narrator, and it is not until the very end of the novel that one seems to have all the facts.
John and Florence Dowell first meet Edward and Leonora Ashburnham at the health resort in Nauheim, Germany. They are seated together for dinner one evening, and that is the beginning of their long, and seemingly idyllic, relationship. To John Dowell, the Ashburnhams are quintessential English gentry: Edward is a captain in his army regiment, a landowner, a philanthropist, and a gentleman of refinement; Leonora is a woman of beauty and accomplishment, the perfect partner for her husband. Edward has returned with Leonora from army duty in India...
(The entire section is 789 words.)