The Good Soldier By Ford Madox Ford

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    The Good Soldier I found to be a difficult book to grasp, at least to begin with. I felt the need to go back over the first 40 pages or so, just to try and accustom myself to it. Things paid of in the end, but it really did require patience; a quiet room, and reading big chunks at a time. The theme is a strong one, that being marriage and adultery, with a narrator who you feel in the dark about, going over the events of two couples, one American, one English, the Ashburnhams, with whom they first meet at a German spa town early in the 1900's, thus they strike up a comfortable friendship. The story is told in a non chronological way, playing around with the memories of time. And there is one thing that struck me that I didn't first realize, the narrator (the American husband) didn't hear the story, he was a participant, and an arrogant one at that.

    The two couples would meet abroad for a month every year, and it transpires that one from each couple have been having a clandestine affair. You get the sense everything is drenched in misery, worry and panic the longer it goes on, even a partial happy ending feels false. In fact the very first line reads This is the saddest story I have ever heard. Love here is most certainly a battlefield, through deception, contradiction, blind ignorance and sheer horror, the reader is taken over a threshold into an unsavoury world of troubling passions. There is an air of unreliability in its fashion, in terms of the narrators voice. As if the beginning wasn't hard enough, he relates his tale jumping around in the middle of flashbacks, this would lead to things feel out of sequence, and leaving gaps that we are supposed to decipher, it's not a long novel but does need to be read nice and slow, even as the full realization of what takes place gradually emerges, it's a story that calls for the attentive reader, but there were rewards as I tried to unpick all the fine details, as the narrator's unfolding interpretation of the passionate emotions manifested here are in very small gestures or brief remarks.

    He paints the four portraits exceptionally well, where in turn I felt pity but also disgust at those involved. Edward Ashburnham, the owner of a large estate in England; his wife, Leonora, daughter of impoverished Irish gentry, Florence, heiress to a New England fortune; and Nancy Rufford, Leonora's ward, who has lived with Edward and Leonora from the age of 13. And all at some point are plagued with melancholia and unsteady minds. It is clear as the novel proceeds we learn Edward and Leonora have no idea what intimacy is, and they also have no way of finding out, for one thing, neither read, and Leonora consults priests and nuns for marital advice. Edward consults no one, and there seems to be no structure in his life. Others of his class tell dirty stories, perhaps as a form of sharing information, but these only make Edward uncomfortable. Both the American and English marriages suffer from the emasculation of the husbands, and I think there is an element of unfair failures on behalf of Leonora and Florence, but Ford depicts the husbands more complexly and with a clearer eye.

    I have to say on the whole I was very impressed; the psychologies of his characters, the interweaving of memories that are done intentionally, and the sadness that echoes throughout, gets the thumbs up from me. I guess the overwhelming question is this, what do we truly know about the people we are supposed to know inside out?

    A gracefully forlorn and beautifully explored novel. 4/5 Nook What a sick, rotten, depraved society we're treated to, populated by liars and knaves, and yet I found myself heartbroken by the end, wondering what kind of magic spell Ford had cast on me. Ford is an absolute master of technique--in this case the use of flashbacks and an unreliable narrator--and I found myself riveted throughout. The novel begins with one of the most famous opening lines in literature: This is the saddest story I have ever heard. That may well be true. Nook “I don't know what anyone has to be proud of.”
    ― Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier



    What? You mean this novel isn't about war? Is it possible to hate a book and love it at the same time? This is one of those books where it immediately becomes obvious you aren't going to read this novel for the strict pleasure of it. This book ain't ice cream on the beach folks. I don't think I've run across a more amoral, unsympathetic cast of characters since I visited Kehlsteinhaus. But, Ford Madox Ford is absolutely brilliant at portraying the decay, the depravity and the hypocrisy that existed in early 20th century English and American aristocracy. What a bunch of absolute rat bastards they all were. Nobody is happy. Nobody is true. Everybody gets eventually exactly what they deserve.

    This novel probably the most sexless novel containing the subtitle: A Tale of Passion. It is as sexy as a festering cavity and as passionate as an obsessive and unreliable group of narcissists can be. Two of my favorite writers were either heavily influenced by Ford (Graham Greene) or collaborated heavily with Ford (Joseph Conrad). This isn't a novel you can really ever love, but you will carry this novel with you and days and weeks later you still won't be able to escape its funky grasp. And THAT really is something. Nook «Ο καλός στρατιώτης», ένα μοναδικό και υπέροχο μυθιστόρημα, μια πολύπλοκη, περίπλοκη ιστορία αναφορικά με τα ανθρώπινα κίνητρα,την πρόθεση και την εμπειρία.

    Η ιστορία αφορά κυρίως την φιλία και τη φαινομενικά άψογη σχέση ανάμεσα σε δυο ζευγάρια.

    Το ανδρόγυνο της εύπορης αμερικανικής κοινωνίας και το ανδρόγυνο της επιφανούς αγγλικής αριστοκρατίας.

    Σε μια ιστορική περίοδο μεταλλάξεων,
    αλλαγών,εξελίξεων και επαναξιολόγησης όλων των κοινωνικών θεσμών και αξιών.
    Σε αυτή την τραγικά σημαντική χρονική περίοδο ο Ford με απόλυτη τόλμη γράφει μια αληθινά θλιβερή ιστορία.

    Χρησιμοποιεί άψογα ως αφηγητή τον Αμερικανό σύζυγο, ο οποίος φαινομενικά αναξιόπιστος, δύσπιστος, ιδιοτελής καταφέρνει σιγά σιγά να ξεκαθαρίσει πως η τρομακτικά ανάρμοστη αφήγηση του είναι αρκετά συνειδητή και αδυσώπητα σωστή.
    Καταφέρνει να παρουσιάσει στον αναγνώστη τη φαινομενική αφήγηση πίσω απο μια ψεύτικη πρόσοψη με βαθιά διφορούμενα ανθρώπινα κίνητρα ύπαρξης.

    Σε αυτό το βιβλίο ο αναγνώστης γνωρίζει τα πάντα εξ αρχής μα καταλαβαίνει ελάχιστα.
    Γίνεται χρονικά μια αναδρομική αναδρομή εξελίξεων και λεπτομερειών, δίνοντας το δικαίωμα στον αφηγητή να επιστρέφει ή να πετάγεται απο το παρόν στο μέλλον και αντίστροφα ώστε να προσθέτει, να αμφισβητεί ή να δείχνει τα γεγονότα με διαφορετικό ηθικό φως.

    Σχεδόν στο τέλος κάθε κεφάλαιου έρχεται μια απρόσμενη αποκάλυψη, μια συνταρακτική ανατροπή, ένα σοκαριστικό γεγονός και πάντα ο θάνατος.

    Έτσι, δημιουργ��ίται ένα ασυνήθιστο μυθιστόρημα που εστιάζει στην ψυχολογία κυρίως των δυο ζευγαριών.
    Των «καλών ανθρώπων», όπως αρέσκεται να χαρακτηρίζει ο αφηγητής τους ήρωες του βιβλίου κρατώντας τον εαυτ�� του σε μια σκιά εξωτερικής αναζήτησης και προσωπικής δυστυχίας.

    Ένα σαρωτικό κολάζ αντικατοπτρίζεται στον καθρέφτη της αντίφασης με αντικρουόμενα προσωπικά στοιχεία αγάπης, μίσους, πάθους,καθήκοντος, ματαιοδοξίας, απληστίας, δικαιοσύνης, προδοσίας, υπερηφάνειας και θεσμικών προκαταλήψεων.

    Μια εκπληκτική ελεγεία που θρηνεί σιωπηλά, ψάχνοντας τα μονοπάτια που οδηγούν τον κάθε χαρακτήρα στην τελική του μοίρα.


    Καλή ανάγνωση.
    Πολλούς ασπασμούς. Nook In all matrimonial associations there is, I believe, one constant factor - a desire to deceive the person with whom one lives as to some weak spot in one's character. (page 86)

    Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise

    Most of us aspire to knowledge and perhaps we hope it will lead to wisdom.
    But we make exceptions. Sometimes major ones.
    Wilful ignorance of some dark behaviour of another or even oneself: an affair, addiction, abuse, debt, or fraud, for example.

    The layers of deception and self-deception build up.
    The higher the walls, the more damage if they come tumbling down.
    And acknowledging the possible wrongdoing of a friend, lover, or child raises doubts about our own judgement.

    If we dare think of it at all, we defend denial as self-preservation.
    But sometimes the outcome of inaction is the opposite - for others, if not ourselves.

    That is what's at the weak heart of this novel.

    Similar themes are explored in a more interesting way, in John Williams' early novel, Nothing But the Night, which I reviewed HERE.

    “Presumed innocent until proved guilty”

    It is the bedrock of our justice system, coded as article 11 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    That’s fine in a court of law, but doesn’t always work so well in personal relationships.
    Doubt gnaws away, from inside, to outside.

    We believe or invent excuses:
    • “It was only once.”
    • “I didn’t realise what I was doing. I was a bit drunk.”
    • “Everyone else was doing it.”
    • “I can’t help it. Maybe it’s in my genes.”
    • “I was only looking. I didn’t actually do anything.”
    But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Matthew 5:28 (KJV)

    The saying doesn’t mean what I thought it did

    I knew the phrase about ignorance being bliss, but didn’t know the source. It’s the closing stanza of Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, written by Thomas Gray in 1742.

    Rather than celebrating wilfully spurning knowledge and ignoring truth, it’s a nostalgic recollection of the innocence of childhood.

    That doesn’t make it any less relevant to this book, just differently so: middle aged people, acting like children.


    Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance” - Confucius

    Quotes

    • “An acquaintanceship as loose and easy and yet as close as a good glove’s with your hand.”

    • “Our intimacy was like a minuet, simply because on every possible occasion and in every possible circumstance we knew where to go, where to sit, which table we unanimously should choose.”

    • “His face hitherto had, in the wonderful English fashion, expressed nothing whatever. Nothing.”

    • “He wanted to preserve the virginity of his wife’s thoughts.”

    • “My recollection of that night is only the sort of pinkish effulgence from the electric lamps of the hotel lounge.”

    • “x was a personality of paper - that she represented a real human being with a heart, with feelings, with sympathies and with emotions only as a banknote represents a certain quantity of gold.”

    • “Fighting a long duel with unseen weapons against silent adversaries.”

    • “They had settled down into a model couple and they never spoke in private to each other.”

    • “Skilled servants whose mere laying out of my dress clothes was like a caress.”

    For praise, look elsewhere

    I started this with high hopes: a well-regarded classic, about a small group of people with somewhat dark and twisted lives. I often enjoy curmudgeonly old men narrating unreliably, even if there’s casual misogyny. I don’t like them as people, but I’m entranced. John Banville writes them well, for example (see my reviews of some of his novels HERE).

    But I found John Dowell irritating, and utterly lacking in charm. He chats away about himself, his wife (Florence), the Ashburnhams (Edward and Leonora), and others more like a mildly inebriated old codger than the mid-forties man he says he is. There are diversions, curious euphemisms (education, wink-wink), and hints of what’s to come (who will die). Worse, he didn’t make me care about any of the people in the story, not even those he repeatedly claims to admire.

    For what the book is about, look elsewhere

    If you want a plot summary or character descriptions, GR and Google are your friends. The gist is two thirty-something couples, shortly before WW1, and the consequences of their various affairs and cover-ups. One person quietly notes and knows almost everything; another, nothing. Catholicism features strongly, along with differences between Brits and Americans.

    Rating

    Enjoyment: 1*
    Objective quality: 2*
    Thought-provokingness: 3*
    Favourite part: the illustration on the cover, which is uncredited, and seems unique to this book
    Random fact: the original tile, mentioned several times in the text, “The Saddest Story” Nook

    When John Dowell and his wife befriend Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, they appear to be the perfect couple. He is a distinguished soldier and she is beautiful and intelligent. However, what lies beneath the surface of their marriage is far more sinister and their influence leads John into a tragic drama that threatens to destroy everything he cares about.

    Ford Madox Ford wrote The Good Soldier, the book on which his reputation most surely rests, in deliberate emulation of the nineteenth-century French novels he so admired. In this way he was able to explore the theme of sexual betrayal and its poisonous after-effects with a psychological intimacy as yet unknown in the English novel. The Good Soldier

    The

    “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.”

    This novel is so stunning. Oh my god. I did not expect it to be this good.

    After reading this a second time for my term paper, I'm still in awe of this book. I've never read anything quite like it. First of all, I'm glad I picked this up. We were supposed to read this for a literature class and if it wasn't for this seminar, I would never have picked up this novel in the first place, because it's 1. old and 2. that title sound super boring. Well, the title is just as misleading as this books narrator.

    In the end, I should have known. Should have known that repeating I don't know 500 times is a good sign for a narrator's unreliability. Should have noticed the obvious mix up of dates. Should have recognised a liar when he's right in front of me. But all in all my ignorance did result in a fantastic read. Cause I never saw the many turns of events coming. Classics can be surprisingly exciting.

    This book - which has the subtitle A Tale of Passion - certainly is that. It has dark desires, hidden affairs, disturbing deaths and lots and lots of despair and madness. It's fantastic. I'd love to see it adapted as a modern film, preferably by Darren Aronofsky.

    I already told you enough, now it's your turn to read this book. Have fun and don't let yourself be fooled.

    Find more of my books on Instagram Nook Oh! Propriety!

    Nowadays there's a word for Edward Ashburnham. And I don't mean some modern vulgarity, unavailable to the Edwardians, something like emotional fuck-up, appropriate as that may be (or not). No, I'm thinking serial monogamist. The term is new, because the concept is new. At the turn of the 20th century there was monogamy. Or there was promiscuity: casual couplings with seamstresses, milliners, laundresses or the convenient and pliable housemaid. A taboo subject, to be spoken of in hushed tones in polite society. These affairs were of necessity casual, because the women, by succumbing to the blandishments of their suitors, had turned themselves into 'fallen' women, immediately and irretrievably. Business partners, the only question being that of remuneration or pay off when favours were no longer required.

    So in an age when women were thought of as either Madonna or Magdalene, in matters of the heart, Edward is a modern man, one who sincerely believes himself in love with the object of his desire. His laughable disconnect with conventional attitudes is portrayed in grotesque mode in his dealings with La Dolciquita, the mistress of the Grand Duke of Nauheim-Schwerin. With a passion that 'had arisen like a fire in dry corn' Ashburnham is ready to declare his undying love after a single night. The Spanish lady's passions however are of the more commercial kind. With all the romanticism of a risk assessment manager, she details for him the precise financial condition (twenty thousand) that might induce her to service him as well as the Duke. Premiums, policy, twenty per cent risk stand in sharp relief to Edward's discovery that 'he was madly, was passionately, was overwhelmingly in love with her.' Poor Edward. Poor noble, heroic, respectable, stupid man, to believe in true love. John Dowell, the narrator, has a word for him. Sentimentalist. A prey to his imagined sentiments.

    Serial monogamy, thus the Spanish lady is the first in a series. As one might imagine, the world of 1904 does not see this as a valid lifestyle choice. Nor does his wife truly embrace the situation, but rather tries to manage it, even anticipating his desires, arranging, paying expenses - pimping for him? She is certainly not of the disposition or religious convictions that would allow her to discreetly claim sauce for the goose as well as the gander, nor is divorce even thinkable. And like any society, the decorous world of 1904 exacts a price for aberrant behaviour. The price is high, and cannot be paid in hard currency, and will not be paid by Edward alone. 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 madness.

    What I've said so far might make this look like a fairly ornery (melodramatic?) exposé of hypocritical Edwardian sexual mores, the story of an unhappy marriage. Complexity is added by John Dowell, our narrator, being one half of a second couple, who dance an intricate minuet with the Ashburnhams. But what makes this so powerful, so mysterious, so haunting is the method of narration. Ford was a friend of Joseph Conrad. Both of them championed the technique that Ford called progression d'effet: as the story progresses it should move forward faster and faster and with more and more intensity. Well, I can testify to unmitigated success there. The start was slow, and demanded a little back and forth and round about, but from part 2 onwards the pages seemed to turn themselves, and from part 3 I'd have robbed myself of any amount of sleep to finish it.

    In my recent review of Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me (gad that sounds soooo pretentious) I mused a little on how a first person narrator could be an encumbrance or limitation. But here the opposite is the case: John Dowell's apparently haphazard way of telling this sad story adds layer upon layer. First there is the challenge of working out the chronology of events, then there are those puzzling enigmas whose true significance only becomes apparent much later, and, most engaging of all, there is the much-debated question of how much we can trust John Dowell at all. Is he disingenuous, or deliberately manipulative, or simply ignorant (as he claims)? This may be the saddest story he's ever heard - heard? But he's telling it! - but is he aware how funny he sometimes is? The delicious irony: before La Dolciquita, Edward gave himself a nasty jar when he found himself comforting a weeping nursemaid in a third class railway carriage, and went a little too far in his half-fatherly concern. The result? The Kilsyte Case. Not quite Dreyfus material, but nasty for him all the same. Multiple ironies: he was travelling third class (!) to please Leonora - see I can economise! - and would never even have met a nursemaid in first class; this, the most innocent of his affairs had the gravest of judicial consequences, and the final irony is that his brush with the law did not discourage him from more flirtation, but in fact opened up the country. Oh, and it brought him closer to his wife.

    There is more, so much more than the question of marital fidelity: social classes, America and England, deception - ah deception! Dowell's wife! But I won't spoil it for you. Impressions and ideas. Our first impressions of people, how reliable are they? And Dowell disconfirms the first impressions he gives us over and over and over. Ideas, concepts: can we experience a feeling before we know intellectually that such an emotion exists? Can we feel anything that hasn't had a name put to it?

    I'm certain that I will read this again, and if I wrote another review after the second reading it would probably be totally different. And again after the third. Is there any higher praise?

    Re-read in July 2019: this time it's all the stuff about religion that struck me hardest.

    It is a queer and fantastic world. Why can't people have what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has the wrong thing. Perhaps you can make head or tail of it; it is beyond me. Nook Αυτή: η πιο θλιβερή ιστορία που έχω ποτέ μου ακούσει – η πιο θλιβερή.

    Είναι η φράση οδοδείκτης με την οποία ο Ford Madox Ford υποδέχεται τους αναγνώστες του σε τούτο το μυθιστόρημα - κομψοτέχνημα που, διόλου άδικα, συγκαταλέγεται στα αριστουργήματα της παγκόσμιας λογοτεχνίας. Είναι η εισαγωγή και το καλωσόρισμα σε ένα κρεσέντο παθών, σε μιαν εξομολόγηση ενοχών, σε ένα δράμα που χτίζεται και κορυφώνεται τελετουργικά: σελίδα τη σελίδα, λέξη τη λέξη, ό,τι πιο μύχιο (μπορεί να) φωλιάζει στην ψυχή των ηρώων του Καλού Στρατιώτη έρχεται όλο και πιο σιμά στο φως. Όχι για να καεί, αλλά για να εξαγνιστεί.

    Αυτός, ο μέγας ανατόμος των ανθρώπινων σχέσεων, ο Ford Madox Ford, αφηγείται μια ιστορία πάθους, απιστίας και εγκαρτέρησης. Δύο ευκατάτατα ζευγάρια, οι Αμερικανοί Τζον και Φλόρενς Ντόουελ και οι εγγλέζοι Έντουαρντ και Λεονόρα Άσμπερναμ, απολαμβάνουν τα καλοκαίρια τους στη γερμανική λουτρόπολη του Νάουχαιμ. Ο λόγος της παραμονής τους εκεί είναι πως τόσο η Φλόρενς, όσο και ο Έντουαρντ, ο καλός στρατιώτης του τίτλου, πάσχουν από την καρδιά τους. Φαινομενικά, πρόκειται για τέσσερις ανθρώπους που μοιάζουν να έχουν τις ίδιες προτιμήσεις και επιθυμίες, που δρουν αξεχώριστα σαν ένα σώμα, μια ψυχή. Συναντώνται για πρώτη φορά το 1904 κι ανανεώνουν το ραντεβού τους κάθε καλοκαίρι μέχρι το 1913. Εννέα χρόνια γαλήνης που διακόπτονται βίαια και με πάταγο, σαν κάθε σαθρό οικοδόμημα που ήρθε η ώρα του να καταρρεύσει:

    Αν για εννέα χρόνια είχα στην κατοχή μου ένα όμορφο μήλο που ήταν στον πυρήνα του σάπιο, κι ανακάλυψα τη σαπίλα του μονάχα μετά απο εννέα χρόνια κι έξι μήνες μείον τέσσερις ημέρες, δεν θα είναι αληθές να πω ότι για εννέα χρόνια κρατούσα μήλο; Έτσι λοιπόν μπορεί να είναι και με τον Έντουαρντ Άσμπερναμ, με τη Λεονόρα, τη γυναίκα του, και με την καλή μου και άμοιρη Φλόρενς.

    Οι κατά φαινόμενο τέλειοι γάμοι των ηρώων του βιβλίου αποδομούνται καθώς ο Τζον Ντόουελ αφηγείται. Με έναν τρόπο ακανόνιστο, χωρίς συνοχή, που μοιάζει περισσότερο με λαβύρινθο, όσα διαδραματίστηκαν και σημάδεψαν τις σχέσεις των ζευγαριών της ιστορίας μας εξωθούνται στο φως. Όπως συμβαίνει πάντοτε σε κάθε λυπηρή και θλιμμένη ιστορία, ο αφηγητής της πηδάει ακανόνιστα από το παρελθόν στο μέλλον κι από το μέλλον στο παρελθόν. Σημεία που παραλείφθηκαν, αλλά έπρεπε οπωσδήποτε να θιγούν, παρεμβάλλονται κατά τον ρουν της ιστορίας, γιατί ο σκοπός του αφηγητή δεν είναι άλλος παρά να γίνουν γνωστά όλα τα επεισόδια του προσωπικού του δράματος∙ κάθε λεπτομέρεια που οδήγησε στην κορύφωσή του και κάθε υποβόσκον συναίσθημα που έφτασε ο καιρός να εκφραστεί.

    Άδολοι έρωτες, ασθμαίνουσες σχέσεις, αποκαμωμένες καρδιές: που φλογίζονται και διψούν για τον έρωτα, που αρνούνται να δουν τι προμηνύει η διασάλευση των αισθήσεων που προκαλεί η παρουσία τρίτων προσώπων στο πλάνο, μεταξύ των οποίων αυτή της Νάνσι Ράφορντ, προστατευόμενης του ζεύγους Άσμπερναμ.

    Τι άλλο είναι η ανθρωπότητα παρά ένα μητρώο θλίψεων, αναλοζίγεται ο συγγραφέας και θέτει ξανά και ξανά το ίδιο, αναπόφευκτα αναπάντητο, ερώτημα: Μπορεί να υπάρξει άραγε ένας επίγειος παράδεισος όπου ανάμεσα στο θρόισμα, ανάμεσα στους ψιθύρους των φύλλων των ελιών, να μπορούν οι άνθρωποι να είναι αυτοί που θέλουν και να έχουν ό,τι θέλουν και να γαληνεύουν αμέριμνοι κάτω απ’ τις σκιές και μες τη δροσιά; Ή είναι οι ζωές όλων των ανθρώπων σαν τις ζωές μας, σαν τις ζωές των καλών ανθρώπων; Σαν τις ζωές των Άσμπερναμ και των Ντόουελ και των Ράφορντ –τσακισμένες, θυελλώδεις, αγωνιώδεις και αντιρομαντικές, περίοδοι με σημεία στίξεως, κραυγές, ανημπόριες, θανάτους, αγωνίες; Ποιος διάβολο ξέρει;

    Επιγραμματικά, όσο πιο λιτά γίνεται να ειπωθεί, ο Καλός Στρατιώτης είναι μυθιστόρημα πολλών λαμπερών αστεριών (έστω πέντε, όσο το πλαφόν της ιστοσελίδας που μας φιλοξενεί)∙ με ιδιαίτερη μνεία στο τέταρτο και τελευταίο κεφάλαιο του βιβλίου που δεν θα μπορούσε να χαρακτηριστεί διαφορετικά παρά ως απλώς μνημειώδες. Nook «Αυτή: η πιο θλιβερή ιστορία που έχω ποτέ μου ακούσει». Αυτή είναι η πρώτη πρόταση του Καλού Στρατιώτη και κατά την γνώμη μου η πιο περιεκτική όλου του μυθιστορήματος. Δεν είναι τυχαίο άλλωστε που ο ίδιος ο Ford είχε επιλέξει ως αρχικό τίτλο του βιβλίου το «Η πιο θλιβερή ιστορία» κάτι που δεν έγινε δεκτό από τον εκδότη ο οποίος δεν έβρισκε καθόλου δελεαστική την ιδέα να κυκλοφορήσει ένα βιβλίο με τον συγκεκριμένο τίτλο κατά την διάρκεια του Α’ Παγκοσμίου πολέμου.

    Το γιατί είναι τόσο θλιβερή αυτή η ιστορία έχει πολλές απαντήσεις που όσο προχωράς μέσα της γίνονται ταυτόχρονα ξεκάθαρες και πολύπλοκες, όπως οι άνθρωποι και τα πάθη τους. Αφηγητής και πρωταγωνιστής του μυθιστορήματος είναι ο Ντάουελ ο οποίος μας διηγείται την διάλυση τόσο του δικού του γάμου με την Φλορένς όσο κι εκείνου του φιλικού τους ζευγαριού,0 Έντουαρντ και Λεονόρα Άσμπερναμ.

    Με το πρόσχημα ότι ξεκίνησε να καταγράφει την παραπάνω ιστορία εδώ και κάποια χρόνια δημιουργεί μία ακανόνιστη, χρονικά και δομικά, αφήγηση πάνω από την όποια πλανάται ένα διαρκές «δεν ξέρω». Προσπαθεί να βρει επιχειρήματα για να δικαιολογήσει όλη αυτή την άγνοια ή ακόμα και την αφέλεια με την οποία αντιμετώπιζε την ζωή του αλλά ταυτόχρονα αναζητά δικαιολογίες σε μία προσπάθεια να μην ακυρώσει όλο τον έγγαμο βίο του ή την μακροχρόνια φιλία με αυτούς τους «καλούς ανθρώπους», όπως επανειλημμένα χαρακτηρίζει το ζεύγος Άσμπερναμ.

    «Αν για εννέα χρόνια είχα στην κατοχή μου ένα όμορφο μήλο που ήταν στον πυρήνα του σάπιο, κι ανακάλυψα την σαπίλα του μονάχα μετά από εννέα χρόνια κι έξι μήνες μείον τέσσερις ημέρες, δε θα’ ναι αληθές να πω ότι για εννέα χρόνια κρατούσα ένα όμορφο μήλο;»

    Αργά ή γρήγορα βέβαια όλα παίρνουν την πραγματική τους διάσταση και οι πρωταγωνιστές γίνονται αυτό που ήταν πάντα και καμία θρησκεία ή κοινωνικός περιορισμός δεν στέκεται ικανός να τους κρατήσει μακριά από τα ένστικτά τους.

    Αυτό που κάνει όμως την όλη ιστορία πραγματικά θλιβερή είναι ότι στο τέλος «κανείς δεν πήρε αυτό που ήθελε», όπως τόσο απλά κι έντιμα παραδέχεται ο αφηγητής μας. Και όχι μόνο αυτό. Κάθε πρωταγωνιστής της ιστορίας εκπροσωπεί μία ομάδα της κοινωνίας, μιας κοινωνίας που αγκαλιάζει κάθε τι κανονικό και περιφρονεί οτιδήποτε διαφέρει από αυτό.

    «Ο Έντουαρντ ήταν κανονικός άνθρωπος, αλλά υπήρχαν μεγάλες δόσεις συναισθηματισμού εντός του· και η κοινωνία δεν χρειάζεται πολύ συναισθηματισμό, δεν χρειάζεται πολλούς συναισθηματίες. Η Νάνσι ήταν ένα θαυμάσιο πλάσμα, αλλά είχε πάνω της το άγγιγμα της τρέλας· και η κοινωνία δεν χρειάζεται άτομα με το άγγιγμα της τρέλας πάνω τους.»

    Ο Καλός Στρατιώτης είναι ένα μυθιστόρημα που μπορεί να διαβαστεί με χίλιους τρόπους και να σε κερδίσει με άλλους τόσους. Η μετάφραση και το επίμετρο από τον Γιώργο-Ίκαρο Μπαμπασάκη ήταν ένα αριστούργημα. Για να είμαι ειλικρινής, βέβαια, δεν περίμενα τίποτα λιγότερο από μία τόσο αγαπημένη σειρά, όπως αυτή της Aldina. Nook Storytelling is about as much an art as is writing. Any piece of paper can have beautifully constructed sentences, impeccable prose, dazzling verses, yet when there simply is nothing to tell all those words are moot. The alarming strength of the Good Soldier can be found in its maze-like narration that starts off with an innocent consciousness that through the pages, like a survivor seeing a massacre unfold as a blinding mist slowly recedes, realizes one by one the sins of the world he once thought blameless. Most novels take a linear approach to storytelling, which, if anything, makes it easier to follow. But Ford Madox Ford’s novel is unbridled both by the restraints of time, and the compunction to resist the temptation of misleading his audience. Certainly there have been a whole score of writers who have attempted to untangle the deathly winding strings of chaotic storytelling, but it is Madox Ford who truly succeeds in this aspect, if not the first to render it so masterfully. And so with this novel, it is no great wonder that he deeply influenced a bevy of wordsmiths who went on to become master storytellers themselves from Graham Greene to Julian Barnes.

    On the surface, the Good Soldier is a tale about two couples, one American – the Dowells, one English – the Ashburnhams, whose interconnected lives head towards a collision that would leave each of them devastated and shatter the perfectly fragile image of marriage in their souls. However upon closer inspection one realizes that this novel is truly centered on just one of them. This person, I won’t mention which, is the driving force that changes the direction of the haunted lives of the two couples. Of course, the somewhat unreliable narrator in John Dowell whose shifting account is responsible for the novel’s mysterious atmosphere is the observer whose feelings one directly learns. But as soon as the journey starts and things go on their way, one learns that his truth has always been missing a significant piece of information enough to contaminate the assumptions one holds. And thus, even though a lone figure is moving the story, each character gradually adds a distinct element of their truth to the pot of truths that will eventually reach its desolate perfection.

    “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.”

    This novel opens saying “this is the saddest story I have ever heard.” And, yes, there certainly is a sentimental sort of sadness that affects this work. However, frightening seems more apt to describe the sensation grasping my heart as this story progresses. It does not only depict the horrifying life of marriages tainted by infidelity but mulls over the different kinds of individuals that exist within its exclusive walls, painfully hidden from the world, all searching for redemption in a sacred union which yields only torture.

    Through this novel, Ford Madox Ford shows us the terrifying reality of veiled innocence and the impending tragedy that awaits us as we learn of the horrible truths that are looming over us undetected, like a lost sheep unaware of a pack of wolves surrounding it waiting for the right moment in which lies certain death. Nook