Understanding of The Good Soldier in Terms of Impressionism

The Good Soldier

In literature, Impressionism is a style that helps writers to communicate their ideas and make readers comprehend a plot and main events by appealing to emotions and building strong impressions. Current paper analyses novel The Good Soldier and explores the ways in which the author creates his impressionistic heritage. Paper focuses on textual aspects of the novel and explores the elements that define The Good Soldier as an “impressionist” novel. Features of impressionism are evaluated in the novel with a special stress on the role of a narrator and his manner of telling the story under consideration.

In order to discuss the novel and elements that characterize the style of impressionism, it is important to explain the main notion and its aspects. Impressionism is described as a style of art that is realized by elements that evoke associations. In works of impressionists, reality is an object of re-creation rather than a precise description. Here, the emotional approach is the key and the audience is asked to feel the work instead of analyzing it rationally. In literature, impressionism is based on characters, plot and authors’ techniques. Emotions reveal associations that are the language of impressionism. In his novel, Ford Madox Ford creates images that produce different feelings. Under the influence of the art movement, he adopted a style that is emotionally coherent.

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The Good Soldier describes lives of two couples that meet in Germany and form a friendship. The main characters are two men – Edward and Dowell, and two women – Florence and Leonora. Dowell is an Englishman who is married to Florence who has an affair with Edward. Edward is married to Leonora who knows about an act of infidelity while Dowell stays ignorant for a long time. Eventually, the truth is revealed in the story; however, only after the death of adulterers more details are described. On the basis of these and other events, Ford applies main techniques of impressionism.

Impressionism finds its realization in the novel via specific form of narration. Ford writes the book from the first person point of view. It is not an uncommon thing for writers to use their characters in the role of storytellers. Attention is placed on the style of narration. In The Good Soldier, the events are presented by one of the main characters, Dowell. This method allows readers to see the story and feel different incidents as a character does. It should be noted that the perception of novel’s plot developments is unrealistic. Dowell’s presentation is ambiguous. For instance, he adds an element of intrigue by being undecided about the key events of the story that he narrates. He is not able to appreciate the significance of certain moments and compose an attitude. For example, Dowell talks about his friend Edward but when he portrays features of him, “whom he clearly pities, he is ultimately unable to decide whether Edward is a true hero or an utter, contemptible failure” (Petri and Richardson 238).  Dowell is perplexed and expresses his confused thoughts as follows:

I don’t know. And there is nothing to guide us. And if everything is so nebulous about a matter so elementary as the morals of sex, what is there to guide us in the more subtle morality of all other personal contacts, associations, and activities? Or are we meant to act on impulse alone? It is all a darkness… (Ford 32)

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This approach of presenting a story makes a narrator closer to readers that are also at a loss and raises various emotions from pity and sadness to confusion. Additionally, this kind of narration makes reality a blur that is one of the prominent impressionism features– there are no clear outlines and readers have to decide for themselves what they see in a particular object or situation. Readers’ perspective may even be outside the accepted norms (for example, some readers may approve the matter of infidelity).

Another way that defines the novel as an “impressionist” work is a character of narrator. In The Good Soldier, Dowell is considered to be an “unreliable narrator”. His “unreliability” finds its particularization in the fact that the role of Dowell is not obvious. Additionally, the manner of narration is also unreliable – there is no chronological order in the depiction of events and readers have to fill the gaps that appear between certain occurrences. The method effectively conveys emotional states of characters who suffer from different unpleasant circumstances (for instance, heart disorders). In this context, unreliable narration may be followed using an example of the link that Dowell establishes between himself and the function of a nurse. The notion of a nurse appears a few times in the novel with different connotations so it is hard to measure Dowell’s care. It is important for Dowell to care about people that are close to him, like Florence. Here, the language of nursing is applied in the first chapter, talking about Florence’s affairs, he depicts himself as a man who leads the life of “a sedulous, strained nurse” (Ford 30). Later, when Dowell thinks about Florence and her relation with another man, he says that “for all that time I was just a male sick nurse” (Ford 66). It is interesting that when Dowell continues to think about his woman, the sense of care disappears and Dowell experiences more emotions, including hatred: “you cannot, you see, have acted as nurse to a person for twelve years without wishing to go on nursing them, even though you hate them with the hatred of the adder…” (Ford 67). Readers fall under different impressions that Dowell creates and find their perception of the story unreliable just as the narrator’s perspective who, in the end, wants “to cease being a nurse-attendant” (Ford 166). Ford plays with impressions and ruins the formal perceptions. It may be presumed that in the work under consideration “revisions produce a more accurate understanding; but the process of revision is continuous: the story updates all the time, impressions are replaced by new impressions, our conclusions subject to further revisions” (Weavis 72). Thus, the author applies the method of unreliable narrator in order to convey the dynamics of human emotions in relation to reality, thus, making his novel a vivid example of impressionistic work.

Ford shifts conventional representation and challenges a stereotypic base of knowledge. As it was mentioned above, Ford compels his readers to understand certain things outside the accepted norms. Impressionism is a style that makes people accept new appearances and impressions that they convey: “of course the country isn’t really green. The sun shines, the earth is blood red and purple and red and green and red” (Ford 50). According to Weavis, “the implications of such a profound variability of aspect extend far beyond an occasionally unconventional colour attribution” (Weavis 49). As a matter of fact, style of impressionism makes writers interested in “the interactions of the eye and mind” that allows them exploring the abilities of perception (Weavis 51). In this case, Ford creates a feeling of discrepancy between reality and the perception of it. By giving a different account of events and attitudes, the author appeals to impressions that can be interpreted as parallel versions of reality. This method of description is one of characteristics of impressionism that can be followed in The Good Soldier.

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The role of the unreliable narrator is to manipulate time. The author uses the effect of the time-shiftiness in order to affect readers on different levels of perception and produce stronger impressions. Apart from inventive use of flashbacks in The Good Soldier, the author “makes use of a nonchronological order of events, which are relayed to us by an unreliable narrator” (Petri and Richardson 233). It is through a disregard of chronology that Ford keeps his audience in suspense. Every detail has its meaning and “acquires significance as the plot unravels” (Petri and Richardson 234). This is a formal device used by impressionists in literature to impact the structure of the novel and  general understanding of the story.

It may be concluded that the novel The Good Soldier is an example of impressionistic literature. Ford Madox Ford incorporates a number of impressionistic features into his book. The emphasis is placed on the figure of a narrator. Ford chooses one of his characters and uses his point of view in order to help a reader to see the story and feel different emotions in a more personalized way. Impressionism finds its realization in the novel via the specific form of narration. For example, Ford applies the method of unreliable narrator to convey the dynamics of human emotions and reality. Thus, the author manages to create a discrepancy between reality and the perception of reality. Ford writes different version of events and increases the tension of readers who try to interpret versions of one reality of the The Good Soldier. The novel is considered a masterpiece and an example of “impressionist” work where impressions find their ways of manifestation.

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