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Dowell considers marrying Nancy, "the Girl." Until Florence was dead, he never before thought about it, but on the night Florence dies, Leonora allows him the privilege of considering it. Months later, after Edward's death, Leonora tells Dowell all she knows. She reveals the deception that his wife has practiced on him for the entire duration of their marriage. At the time of Florence's death, Dowell is not even aware that she has committed suicide. He claims that when he saw Florence dead, he "thought nothing," "felt no sorrow," "no desire for action," nothing whatsoever. All he thought was that now he could marry the girl.
Dowell pieces together the stories he has received from Leonora and Edward to determine the truth of what happened on the night that Florence died. Instead of going to the casino, Nancy and Edward went to sit on a bench in a dimly-lit park. Florence followed them into the park and quietly watched the events that unfolded. Edward swears he had never thought of Nancy in a romantic way until he saw her that evening sitting in the moonlight. Overwhelmed with love, he tells her that she is the woman he cares for more than anyone else in the world. Nancy, who thought Edward was entirely faithful to Leonora, merely thought this was a type of praise aimed at a good child. But Florence, hidden in the bushes, was deeply hurt and ran back into the hotel. Dowell surmises that the sight of Bagshawe and the fact that the date was August 4 overwhelmed her superstitious mind. If Florence was fueled by vanity, as Dowell believes, then she had been dealt two hard blows in one evening; she could not bear that Edward did not love her and that her husband should know about her degrading relationship with Jimmy.
Dowell claims that after Florence's death and before writing this tale, he did not think of her at all. It was a relief for him not to be a nurse-maid any longer, and he did not give her so much as a sigh. She didn't matter to him. All that he thought about was the possibility of marrying Nancy Rufford. That is why, as soon as Florence was gone, Dowell set off for the United States, to regain some of his masculinity and make himself more appealing to the girl.
Leonora guesses what has taken place that night in the park, and she endeavors to separate Edward from Nancy as much as possible. But Nancy is entirely innocent. Dowell describes her as quite an interesting girl, at times beautiful and other times grotesque. She has an incredible sense of fun and of complete honesty at once.
Nancy's story is unique. Her father, Major Rufford, was a violent man who often beat his wife after she would provoke him with her outbursts or her drunkenness. Nancy was sent to convent school at a young age, and her father went off to serve in India. Leonora, who had been Mrs. Rufford's best friend, agreed to care for Nancy, and she and Edward have been Nancy's guardians ever since.
After Florence's death, Leonora becomes vigilant to ensure that Nancy and Edward are never alone together. Edward, who is doggedly determined never to act on his passion for the girl, grows weaker and weaker with each day. His health fails and he drinks increasingly more. Leonora recognizes that Edward can be trusted. She allows them to go out together one night, like they have always done in the past. Later that night, she finds Edward on his knees at the foot of the bed sobbing uncontrollably, an image of the Blessed Virgin in his hands. Leonora feels she can finally relax.
Dowell describes Leonora's breakdown. Because she knew that she could trust Edward and that Nancy was absolutely trustworthy, Leonora finally felt that she could relax her vigilance, and it was then, when her defenses began to weaken, that she fell apart.
Dowell explains the history of Leonora's marriage to Edward. She was one of seven daughters born to Colonel and Mrs. Powys, the owners of an Irish manor house. She was extremely sheltered, going first to convent school, and then remaining cloistered in her parents' home. Her marriage to Edward was arranged by her parents who asked the Ashburnhams for a favor. They wanted to have their son marry one of the Powys daughters. From the start, Edward admired Leonora, her "cleanness of mind," her truth, her efficiency, but she never held any true spark for him. Leonora's admiration for Edward, however, soon grew into love. She loved him intensely and desired love in return. Problems arose in their marriage when Leonora's desire for economic efficiency clashed with Edward's tendencies toward generosity and extravagance. Edward, always a sentimentalist, desired to build an expensive and elaborate Catholic church on the property as a homage to his wife. But Leonora argued that such a suggestion was ostentatious and unnecessary; he was hurt by her lack of sentiment. He began to fear that where his traditions were entirely collective, his wife was a "sheer individualist."
Edward and Leonora drifted further and further apart. Edward, an Anglican, refused to allow any future sons to be raised Catholic. Leonora agonized over this; she believed that any child of hers raised Anglican would have mortal sin on his soul. They fought about religion and they argued about money; they grew increasingly estranged. Edward's brief encounter with a young girl in the back of a railway carriage (the Kilsyte case) actually came as a relief to Leonora. It allowed her to stand faithfully and publicly behind her husband. But mentally, Edward was scarred by the drama and publicity.
For the English novel of adultery, 1910–1914 were crucial transitional years, a period where the novel walked the line between utter condemnation of and sympathy for the adulteress. The change in authorial judgment of the adulteress in the years immediately preceding the Great War significantly affected the depiction of female adultery and the form of the English novel. In The Good Soldier, Ford is able to suspend his own judgment of the adulteress by inserting the thoughts and feelings of John Dowell. Dowell may dismiss or condemn Florence's actions as he wishes, while Ford remains beyond reproach for his portrayal of marital deception.
In English literature, the adulteress has always held a very unique place. She represents instability, a challenge to the order and morality of society. In Victorian novels, characters who committed such acts were deemed "fallen women," those who suffer or are destroyed for their transgressions. Such punishment serves as a lesson for the reader, that disobeying the sacred rules of marriage has harsh consequences. In Ford's novel, Florence is destroyed not by fate, but by her own hand. The Good Soldier signals a new kind of adultery novel, one in which the woman maintains great control over her affairs and her fate.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Good Soldier!