by Pericles Lewis
In Ford Madox Ford‘s The Good Soldier (1915), the narrator, John Dowell, tells the story of his marriage, from 1904, when he and his wife Florence met Edward Ashburnham (the good soldier of the title) to 1913, when Ashburnham’s affair with Florence has been revealed and both Ashburnham and Florence have committed suicide. However, Dowell does not narrate these events in a strictly linear fashion. Ford tries to recreate Dowell’s ignorance of his wife’s adultery by representing events not in a causal sequence but as they occur to Dowell during the course of his reminiscences. Dowell is not deliberately misleading, but he does tease the reader by revealing crucial bits of information in an off-hand way. As he explains, “I don’t know how it is best to put this thing down—whether it would be better to try and tell the story from the beginning, as if it were a story; or whether to tell it from the distance of time, as it reached me from the lips of Leonora or from those of Edward himself.” Reading The Good Soldier feels a little like being the detective in a detective story; the great pleasure is to try to track down and make sense of the clues Dowell lets fall along the way. Ford’s work makes innovative use of unreliable narration, which plays a major role in modernist fiction by Faulkner and others.
- ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), p. 159.