The Good Soldier
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1. What do you think of John Dowell? Dowell is famous (or infamous) as one of literature's most unreliable narrators. In what way can he be considered "unreliable"? (Think, for instance, of Thomas Hardy or George Elliot, earlier 19th-century novelists. They used third-person narrators to present fairly objective versions of reality—see LitCourse 1. A more recent "unreliable" narrator is the butler from Remains of the Day.)

2. Why does Dowell consider the Ashburnhams good people? What is his standard of goodness based on?

3. Dowell says that the couples' friendship is like "an extraordinarily safe castle." What does he mean? He also compares the friendship to a minuet...but then changes his mind about the minuet. What are the two meanings the minuet comes to have for Dowell?

4. What is the symbolic significance of Edward's and Florence's "heart" problems?

5. Ford Maddox Ford's innovations in The Good Soldier foreshadowed the modernist era of the novel. Primarily, the storyline is disjointed—events are non-chronological. As a group, or individually, try tracing Ford's timeline—detailing where it jumps back and forth in time. Place plot events in the order they ocurred vs. the order in which Dowell reveals them. (It's devilishly clever; one wonders how Ford managed to keep it straight.)

Also, See a brief definition of modernism in LitPicks-Oct '06 for Mrs. Dalloway...then take a look at LitCourse 6 [slide 8] for an example of a disjointed timeline in William Faulkner's short story, A Rose for Emily.)

6. Compare John Dowell and Edward Ashburnham as characters. How are they different? At the end, Dowell says that he and Edward were just alike. What does he mean? Is Dowell correct—are they alike?

7. Talk about Florence. Why did she marry Dowell—a husband with whom, over the course of 13 years, she was never intimate? What does she want of Dowell?

8. What do you think of Leonora? Is she excessively controlling...or controlling with good reason? Why does she condone her husband's affair with Maisie Maiden? (By the way...pay attention to character names, first & last.)

9. What makes Leonora believe that Florence and Edward will eventually become intimate? What is Dowell's response to her prophecy?

10. Has Edward ever loved Leonora? Despite his many affairs, Leonora hopes that he will come to love only her. But what happens to her feelings for Edward when she realizes he is intimate with Florence?

11. What is the significance of the couples' trip to the home of Martin Luther's Protest?

12. Dowell uses the term "normal" to describe people. What does he mean when he uses the term "normal" or "perfectly normal" for Leonora and Rodney Bayham?

13. Edward is the "good soldier" of the title. Is Edward good, despite his incessant affairs...or is the title ironic? Do you sympathize with Edward at all?

14. Why does Leonora reveal the intimate details of her marital woes to Nancy? What affect does it have on Nancy? What are Nancy's feelings for Edward?

15. How and/or why do both Leonora and Nancy psychologically torture Edward?

16. Talk about Nancy's fate, why Dowell stays to care for her...and what the significance is of the word "shuttlecock."

17. More generally... Do you like any of these people? Is this simply a sensational story of sex and betrayal, or something more? Are you satisfied with the way the novel ends?


* Some questions from LitLovers.

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