The Good Soldier
“But the real fierceness of desire, the real heat of a passion long continued and withering up the soul of a man, is the craving for identity with the woman that he loves. He desires to see with the same eyes, to touch with the same sense of touch, to hear with the same ears, to lose his identity, to be enveloped, to be supported. For, whatever may be said of the relation of the sexes, there is no man who loves a woman that does not desire to come to her for the renewal of his courage, for the cutting asunder of his difficulties. And that will be the mainspring of his desire for her. We are all so afraid, we are all so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own worthiness to exist.” ― Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier
When a book improves with each rereading some call it great or a classic. My personal term is transcendent, as the books for which I have experienced this effect embody transcendence on one or more levels of reading. The Good Soldier is one such book for me.
As a novel is it an impressionistic masterpiece? Or is it a tragedy or a comedy? Published in 1915, from the pen of Ford Madox Ford, it is unique enough to have been described by its critics as all of the preceding and more. Subtitled "A Tale of Passion", it is unique both in my experience and within the author's total work.
The story is narrated by an American, John Dowell, who invites the reader to sit down with him beside the fire of his study to listen to the "saddest story" he has ever known. The story, set during the decade preceding the Great War, while sad for some of the participants is truly sad only in the ironic sense of the word. The characters are not particularly likable or sympathetic. Considering that, it is counter intuitive, but the reader is spurred on to read the novel by the precision and the beauty of the prose and the intrigue within the story. One example of the beauty is contained in the following comment on affairs of the heart:
“You can't kill a minuet de la coeur. You may shut up the music book... but surely the minuet-- the minuet itself is dancing itself away into the furthest stars, even as our minuet of the Hessian bathing places must be stepping itself still.”
The narrative unfolds in a mosaic-like way with a traversal of the narrator's memory back and forth over the nine year period that is covered. When complete, the tale is ended perfectly much as it begins. The result is a beautiful small novel that ranks high in this reader's experience.
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. Everyman's Library, 1991 (1914)