Places: The Good Soldier

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1915

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBranshaw Teleragh

Branshaw Good Soldier, TheTeleragh. Edward Ashburnham’s English country estate. The physical manifestation of the glory of the English gentry, the upper class of England, has been, for centuries, the country house surrounded by acres of woods and working farm land. In the lush countryside of Hampshire, southeast of London, John Dowell lives in the dream house of his deceased wife, Florence. She never lived there, not because the couple were not wealthy enough, but because she had been living a life of lies, and adding to them, until eventually she thought that suicide was her only way out. For both of them the great country house represents the finest example of civilized living. However, the magnificent house becomes, as Dowell says, a prison. His wife is dead, and the man he most admired, Edward Ashburnham, the former owner, has committed suicide, finding himself in various ways constantly betraying the obligations of the ideal English gentleman that Dowell thought he was, and which he often was when his wife allowed him to practice his duty as a benevolent landlord.


*Nauheim (now-HIM). Health resort in western Germany, usually called Bad Nauhiem, that was popular with the wealthy for rest, recreation, and often as an elegant refuge for the ill and the aged to soothe and sometimes heal their illnesses, serious or trivial. The Ashburnhams and the Dowells meet here on a regular basis over several years to cosset the heart problems of Edward Ashburnham and Florence Dowell, although both parties, for different reasons, are only pretending to be ill. Only the “best” people can afford to spend time there, in expensive hotels, enjoying the international company, and the occasional naughty dalliance. Nauheim is not so much a symbol of upper-class extravagance as it is the real thing–a place where Dowell’s wife and the English gentleman whom Dowell admires and would seek to emulate, carry on an affair that eventually results in one fatal heart attack, two suicides, one mental breakdown, and misery for the two most innocent characters.


*Europe. When not at Nauheim, the Dowells have a permanent home in Paris, and spend the winters in smart hotels on the south coast of France. The irony of all this fine living is the fact that their lives are spent in places other than the one they yearned for. Florence would not live in America, and it was a condition of their marriage that Dowell take her to live permanently in Europe. However, the European continent, where they first land, is the end of the line for Florence. Because she does not want her husband to touch her sexually, she fakes a heart attack on their honeymoon voyage to France, bribing a doctor to confirm this illness; the doctor eager to please, forbids any further sea voyages as likely to kill her. England is only a comparatively short ferry ride from France; however, there is no other way to reach the island country from France, so Dowell, a conscientious husband, refuses to take his seemingly fragile wife across the English Channel to her ideal home. She, somewhat comically, terrified of what he might do, does not dare to tell him the truth. She may roam the fleshpots of Europe, but she is forever punished for her wayward conduct by her own lie. She is an exile from the dream that could be so easily fulfilled if she could tell the truth.


*Philadelphia. Pennsylvania city that is one of the great urban centers of eastern United States, where John Dowell’s family is one of the oldest, richest families. Neither the family’s nor the city’s stature is, however, sufficiently august to satisfy the ambitions of Dowell, who is an educated, cultured gentleman of substance, but in a typically American way is in awe of European culture. This innocence of the American abroad contributes to the marital disasters of the novel. Dowell yearns for the longer history, the deeper traditions and the acquisition of the country house in the “place” where such civilized living occurs, and as he sees them in the Ashburnham family history.


*Waterbury. One of the older small cities of Connecticut, a New England state rich in the history of the founding of the American nation. Waterbury is the home of Florence Hurlbird, who, even more intensely than her future husband, John Dowell, sees her home as a poor copy of the real gentility of England. The Ashburnham holding lies in the very part of England from which Florence’s family emigrated, and she is determined to escape the prison, as she sees it, of Waterbury for the glory of an English country home.

BibliographyHoffmann, Charles G. Ford Madox Ford. Boston: Twayne, 1967. Short, concise, for students, with sensible analysis of The Good Soldier.Lid, R. W. Ford Madox Ford: The Essence of His Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964. Definitive study, with emphasis placed on technique.MacShane, Frank, ed. Ford Madox Ford: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972. Collection of essays by several Ford scholars on several topics, including The Good Soldier.Mizener, Arthur. The Saddest Story: A Biography of Ford Madox Ford. New York: World Publishing, 1971. There is a close relationship between Ford’s personal life and the themes in his novels, and this is the best critical biography. There is substantial discussion of The Good Soldier.Stang, Sondra J. Ford Madox Ford. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1977. One of Ford’s best critics discusses the novel in terms of method of construction, point of view, and experimentation.
Categories: Places