03 March 2007

6. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

I have wanted to read some Ford since I found out he was BFF with Joseph Conrad. In fact, FMF wrote a book called Joseph Conrad and in it says that everything he wrote after meeting Conrad was written with the idea of reading it aloud to him.

What a great book! What Deft Mastery of Language.

The plot: a wealthy American couple permanently in Europe because the wife's heart condition will not allow her to travel. A British couple of the liesured, landed class. They meet up and spend the next 9 years worth of vacations and travels together.

Ashburnham, the Brit, is a soldier, has a regiment of some kind, and is a generous, benevolent landlord to his various farming tenants. And he has an eye for the ladies, but not in a predatory, lecherous way. He truly has a kind heart and wants to ease an other's suffering, whether it be an old farmer down on his luck, or a servant girl in the next train compartment. This being the Victorian Era, scandalous behavior is looked down upon. Any suggestion of outrageous behavior could be devastating to one's professional and social reputation. So any misbehavior is covered up with bribes, hush money, and favors. Ashburnham's wife, desperate to live the easy, socially respected life of a Landed Lady, does everything in her power to curb her husband's spending and his...indiscretions, of which there are not that many (for our day). To compound their problems he is a Protestant and she a Catholic.

Dowell, the narrator, is a Nice Guy, but I have to wonder if he is some kind of First Class Dimwit. He has a wife who is more than selfish. I feel bad for Dowell but to explain why would be to burn down the plot.

I strongly recommend this book for its use of language, and for the sheer joy of the exposition. It was delicious. The image comes to mind of an umpire brushing away the batter's box dirt from home plate after a high intensity play, each brush stroke clearing more of the dirt away, but requiring yet another and another and another swipe, until all the layers of dust and sand are swept away and the Whole is Revealed. Archeology. Quantam Mechanics.

I will definitely be looking for more FMF. And specifically to read what he wrote after 1898, when he met Conrad.

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