Producer: Peter Eckersley
Director: Kevin Billington
THE GOOD SOLDIER/Intro by Alistair Cooke
Good evening, I'm Alistair Cooke.
Tonight we have a two-hour special, a dramatization of the best known and probably the best of the thirty-odd novels of Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier. And I think it has to be seen at a stretch because of Ford's extraordinary and original way of telling a story. But we'll come to that in a moment. To begin with, Ford Madox Ford was the son of a German music critic named Hueffer and he was christened Ford Hermann Hueffer. But on his mother's side he was the grandson of the pre-Raphaelite painter Ford Madox Brown and after the First War he changed his name to Ford Madox Ford. He was born in 1873 and published his first work at the age of eighteen and from then on he was a writing manic--everything from fairy tales, novels, essays, biographies, poetry, to travel--and he was also not a good magazine editor, but a great one. And he did very much for England what H. L. Mencken did for America, namely to spot and nurse talent on both sides of the Atlantic that other people might think too young or too raw to publish. Ford was the first to publish James Joyce, e.e. cummings, and Ernest Hemingway.
Now as a human being he was an extraordinary bundle of contradictions. He was very large, very wheezy. Robert Lowell said that he was a British version of the Republican elephant. But more significantly he was chameleon. Half-German, half-English he pretended for quite a part of his life, quite falsely, that he was a German citizen. And then that he was essentially a French writer. Then that he was a spiritual American, then he decided that he was best as an English country gentleman. Now these pretenses could have gotten him into trouble if he'd been a politician, or a certified public accountant. His love of women got him into trouble, and landed him in jail once for alienation of affections. But this mixture of fancy and fact in his make-up actually nurtured his unique talent, and he decided that if--I suppose to himself--if he didn't know who he was, he suspected that other people were not what they appeared to be at first sight. And so in this story more than any other he developed a technique that rejected both the French and English Victorian tradition where characters come at you fully-grown and then you see them under the stresses and strains of the plot.
This story is told in a series of not so much flashbacks as time shifts. The narrator is an American and he's also part of the story. And he goes back and forth in time, isolating a memory and telling you what he remembers, how it looked to him, and then you see what the other characters thought it looked like at the time.
Our view of these two husbands and two wives changes and develops all the time. It was in the beginning of the First World War, 1915, that Ford had the idea of writing The Good Soldier. It's a novel about the destructive effect on the lives of four people of the conflict between their religious and their sexual impulses and the social code they tried to live by. He wanted to call it The Saddest Story but the publisher said, Well, in time of war that is not a selling title. So as a glib, rather bitter joke, Ford said Well, in wartime why not call it ‘The Good Soldier?' And the publisher liked it and it stuck. And so the title itself is an ironical comment on the type of Edwardian English soldier that the story is all about.
And so for the next two hours, Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier.
The Archive Database | Program History | Poster Gallery | Awards
Home | About The Series | The American Collection | The Archive
Schedule & Season | Feature Library | eNewsletter | Book Club
Learning Resources | Forum | Search | Shop | Feedback
Masterpiece is sponsored by: