Part 1, Chapters 1-2 Summary
Ford Madox Ford, known for his Imagist poetry from the turn of the twentieth century, was also an essayist and writer most remembered for his 1915 novel The Good Soldier, which he described as his best book.
Told through flashbacks that slowly unravel events from differing perspectives of the story's main characters, The Good Soldier is a study in irony and tragedy. The setting is Europe, just before England and France enter World War I. The main characters are two married couples. John Dowell, the narrator, is unreliable as he is blinded by his naivety to many critical circumstances. Not until the end does Dowell learn the true characters of his wife, Florence, and his friends Leonora and Edward Ashburnham. Captain Edward Ashburnham is "the good soldier." However, since the narrator is unreliable, the assessment of Captain Ashburnham is under suspicion throughout.
Dowell relates that this story is the saddest he has heard, priming readers for a great tragedy. Although the tale is filled with tragedies, one of the greatest is the narrator's inability to become emotionally involved in his own life. Dowell is mostly an observer in this story, which details a nine-year relationship between Dowell, Florence, and the Ashburnhams. Providing the irony, Dowell's observations often lack critical details. For instance, Dowell first describes Captain Ashburnham as a gentleman with whom one could trust his wife. This description will be far from the truth.
Likewise, Dowell also is blind to the true nature of Florence. She does prove very talkative with a wide range of interests, as Dowell described her. She also appears somewhat sickly, as Dowell believes her to be. Her family told him Florence suffers from a heart ailment and must not be aroused emotionally, as that could cause her death. Dowell appears to be the perfect husband, as he has a large income without need of work. This allows the couple to travel year round. Dowell also seems devoid of emotional expression. His calm, controlled nature was just what the doctor ordered for Florence's health. Dowell's believed his job as husband was to make sure every conversation, which Florence often initiated, stayed unemotional. Though Dowell believed he was successful in controlling his wife's social environment, readers are informed that Florence has died.
Time has passed. Dowell receives a note from the Ashburnhams requesting that he visit them in England. He does, and he senses something terribly wrong with the captain.