Book Review: American Writer Maddox Ford's Novel " The Good Soldier, Tale of Passion"
American English has a realm of its own and American literature is distinct from English literature. In India we sometimes are unable to distinguish between the two, but there are subtle differences in syntax, spelling and grammar. America has a rich literary heritage in English and has thrown up many prominent English writers. Many of them have won the Nobel Prize in literature. Prominent are O Henry, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Henry Miller and many others.
One of the American writers who left an indelible mark is Maddox Ford. He was born in 1873 and died in 1939. Maddox thus had a bird's eye view of the world and life at a time when the world was changing. His book that has been of great interest to me is " A Good Soldier: Tale of Passion". Maddox wrote the book in 1915 and now we are aware, that it is considered great literature. In 1988, the book was ranked 30th in the all time list of 100 greatest books of the 20th century by the Modern Library. Many critics rate this novel as a book from the top-drawer of books of the last century.
When the book was published the First World War had the attention of the world and that was the reason that the title of the book incorporated the word 'soldier'. The book is a tortuous tale of love and betrayal. I have a feeling that much of the book was inspired by his personal life and experience in love and sex. These are the two ingredients that touch the emotional chord of most people. What greater pleasure than to read a book that perhaps has the personal experience of the author.
The novel's scenario is the onset of WW I, when war clouds were hovering over the world, with the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm wanting to assert the domination of Germany. The novel is the tale of a soldier named Edward Ashburnham. Along with this character, Ford creates two other characters, who are friends of Edward. Basically the novel delineates the sexual life of 2 couples, with the inherent contradictions of such a relationship.
The style of the novel is in my views a bit tedious as Ford relates the story through a third person named John Dowell, who becomes the narrator. The novel is in 4 parts and each part integrates into the other through flashbacks. It is a difficult style and readers will have to get used to it, but once one gets into the spirit, the novel is simply superb.
The story concerns the two couples who have gone for a health cure to a German town. There are mutual attractions and in the first part wife of one of the characters commits suicide as she feels betrayed by her lover. The novel moves further and Edward continues living with his wife, but has many sexual affairs. The most sordid of them is his infatuation for a young girl who is his ward. Her name is Nancy and Edward lusts for her. People who have been in love can easily relate to the love and infatuation of Edward for Nancy and his carnal knowledge of her body. As he makes ferocious love to Nancy who is half his age, he is consumed by an inner flame. This has a flip side and ends with John Dowell relating that Edward commits suicide.
The poor girl Nancy tormented by the goings on becomes mad. Its a macabre tale and rivets the attention of the reader. The Good Soldier is about the basic trait of human relationship, namely sex, lust and love, which are all interlinked. I suspect that most of the novel has incidents from the personal life of Ford Maddox.
Maddox was friends with 2 iconic writers namely Ernest Hemingway and Thomas hardy, who have their own place in English literature. But he was hurt as both the writers never mentioned about him in their works. Hemingway added a small line in one of his books.
The book is a top drawer novel from America. Maddox has 3 other famous books to his name. They are Parade's end,The Fifth Queen and Romance. The last novel Romance was in collaboration with Thomas Hardy.
Maddox spent the final years of his life at Oliver College where he taught English. Later he visited France in 1939 and died at Deauville. By today's standards he died young, as he was only 65. However I will recommend all readers of this article to read the novel, which is a great piece of American literature.
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