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The Good Soldier

The Good Soldier Summary


Here you will find a The Good Soldier summary (Ford Madox Ford's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Good Soldier Summary Overview

Our tale is told by John Dowell, centered around the nine-year relationship he and his wife, Florence, had with Edward and Leonora Ashburnham. The story's narrative doesn't follow a linear timeline, rather it alternates between past occurrences and Dowell's current contemplations of those events. All four characters are introduced in the first part; while Dowell and Florence are American, Edward and Leonora are British. Both Florence and Edward suffer from heart conditions which bring the two couples together at a health spa in Nauheim. However, an affair between Florence and Edward is imminent, something Dowell is oblivious to but Leonora isn't. Despite the friendships formed, the stability is short-lived as Edward's numerous affairs come to light and the friendship disintegrates. Edward's numerous infidelities put the Ashburnhams in severe debt, leading Leonora to take over his finances. After spending eight years in India to recoup their losses, they return to Nauheim where Leonora believes she has regained control of their lives. This illusion shatters when she catches Maisie Maidan, a woman they brought from India, coming out of Edward's bedroom. In an attempt to cover up the scandal, she befriends Florence, but this only leads to Florence's affair with Edward. The first part concludes with Mrs. Maidan's death, who overhears Florence and Edward's conversation about her being a convenient mistress for Edward. This revelation is too much for Mrs. Maidan, who suffers from a real heart condition, and she dies, leaving Leonora ridden with guilt. In contrast to her adulterous lifestyle, Florence secretly longs for a life in Fordingbridge, England, the town where her ancestors were forced to live centuries ago and where Edward's estate is located. Unbeknownst to Dowell, Florence has been unfaithful numerous times, including an affair with a low-class artist named Jimmy. After nine years with Edward, Florence plans to divorce Dowell and marry Edward, but upon discovering Edward alone with his young ward, Nancy, and confronting her past indiscretions, she takes her own life. Following her death, Leonora suffers a breakdown when she realises Edward is in love with Nancy. Despite this, she manages to protect Nancy from Edward's advances, leading to her eventual mental breakdown. In the end, Edward commits suicide, Leonora remarries and has a child, while Nancy descends into madness, leaving Dowell to care for her.

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The novel begins with John Dowell's melancholic remark that "this is the saddest story I have ever heard." He then launches into recounting his and his wife, Florence's, interactions over nine years with another English couple, the Ashburnhams. Both couples are close and have spent a lot of time together, with Dowell and Florence residing in Paris and spending summers in Nauheim for Florence's health as she suffers from a heart condition. Captain Ashburnham, too, is at Nauheim with his wife Leonora for his heart problems. Dowell, who hails from Philadelphia, and Florence, originally from Connecticut, along with the Ashburnhams, come from long lineages of respected families. Dowell reveals his motivation for sharing their story is to purge his mind of the turmoil he's seen. He likens their bond to both a dance and a jail of relentless hysteria. With the ruin of their relationship, he confesses his failure to recognize the signs of decay until it was too late, leading to his loneliness. He doesn't hold Florence culpable, as he can't fathom how she ever strayed from him. He paints the Ashburnhams as a perfect couple, with Leonora once admitting to a failed attempt at infidelity which left her in tears. Dowell sees them as morally upright, particularly praising Edward Ashburnham as a trustworthy man to whom he would entrust his wife. As for himself, Dowell testifies to his clean mind and chaste lifestyle. He closes the section pondering the validity of morality, concluding that if the ethics surrounding something as fundamental as sex is vague, then "it is all a darkness."

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Dowell opens part 2, confessing his struggle to recount his tale. He visualizes himself in a cozy cottage, "with a sympathetic soul opposite." He portrays Florence as a sharp-eyed, history-loving woman who preferred speaking over listening. They were frequent travelers, yet Florence was content seeing places just once. In their marriage, Dowell's primary role was to shield Florence from distressing subjects, thus keeping her well. Florence's aunts, the Misses Hurlbird, labeled Dowell as Philadelphia's laziest man. As an affluent man, Dowell had no obligation to work. He paints a picture of Florence's family, including the Misses Hurlbird and Uncle John, as charming yet old-fashioned. After being diagnosed with a heart condition, Uncle John chose a life of leisure, touring the world and distributing oranges. Contrarily, Uncle John was misdiagnosed and dies five days before Florence. Dowell, inheriting the Hurlbird estate, has to go to Connecticut to organize trustees and manage the will. During this, Dowell gets a letter from the Ashburnhams inviting him to England. He rushes to England and is warmly welcomed by Leonora, although he senses Edward's distress. In this section, Dowell tells the tale of La Louve, the She-wolf, who rejects the advances of poet Peire Vidal. In his desperate attempts to gain her notice, her husband finally compels her to accept him, owing to the respect for great poets. Dowell concludes that among the two, "she was the more ferocious."

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In August 1904, at Nauheim where Florence was taking spa treatments, Dowell found himself frustrated by his lack of occupation. He recalls a particular morning when Florence, appearing attractive and playful, leaves him vexed, wondering why she had to put on such a show. His dull life, he believes, is the reason he remembers their stay at the hotel in such detail. Dowell first encounters the Ashburnhams during dinner at the hotel. Despite Captain Ashburnham's less-than-ideal table, Leonora, upon her arrival with Florence, insists they share a table. Dowell's initial impressions of Edward and Leonora unfold in the rest of the section. Edward struck him as remarkably handsome and always discussing the best things in life - soap, brandy, etc. Pondering Edward's appeal to women, Dowell conjectures that Edward, a true soldier, must be a romantic at heart, discussing ideals such as loyalty, bravery, and honour. Leonora's cheerfulness surprises Dowell. Despite not looking her best in evening outfits, she is friendly enough to label strangers as "nice people". Leonora's distant behavior towards Dowell gave him an impression of coldness, as though a kiss from her would freeze one's lips. Even though he declared his love for her years later, Dowell remembers feeling slightly insulted by the way she looked at him that night, as though he was the sickly one, not Florence.

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Dowell talks about the peaceful existence they shared. They were all considered "good people" with the means to satisfy their whims and desires, which included consuming wine, hosting annual gatherings, and embarking on mini trips as a unit. Looking back, Dowell admits these years were largely unproductive, as he didn't achieve anything or gain any knowledge about the Ashburnhams. He confesses to taking everything for granted. Florence is skilled at leading "archaeological expeditions" and has a penchant for showing people the window "from which someone looked down upon the murder of someone else." Despite her historical knowledge, Florence often gets frustrated as she can't outsmart Leonora, who always seems to know what Florence is about to say. Early in their friendship, Florence organizes a trip for all of them to the city of M— in Prussia, the location of Martin Luther's initial Protest, which marked the separation of his followers from the Catholic Church. During the train journey to M—, Dowell found humor in an incident where a brown cow flipped a black and white one into a narrow stream by hooking its horns under its stomach. While he feels he should have felt sorry for the animal, he didn't; he simply found it amusing. Dowell notes that no one noticed his laughter. Upon their arrival in M—, they visit Martin Luther's room and examine his Protest. Florence enthusiastically asserts that the document is why they are hardworking, sober, industrious Protestants, unlike the Irish and Italians. As she says this, she places her hand on Edward's wrist. Dowell senses a sinister undercurrent in the day. Suddenly, Leonora exits the room, dragging Dowell with her. Distressed, she claims that "that" is the reason for suffering in the world. Dowell is perplexed by her statement. When she realizes that Dowell doesn't grasp her message, Leonora regains her calm and reveals her offense to Florence's remarks as she is an Irish Catholic.

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Dowell lived in constant fear for his heart-patient wife, Florence, believing it was his life's mission to keep her safe. In Florence, he had an unconsummated marriage and an unattained mistress. He relates to Leonora, who he believes shares a similar predicament. However, he later learns Edward's heart condition was a ruse to evade his military duties and pursue a young girl, Maisie Maidan. Edward and Leonora's past is complex. Edward was once accused of making inappropriate advances to a servant girl, a scandal publicized as the Kilsyte case, which caused him great disgrace. This incident turned his interests to women of his own social status. He had a tryst with La Dolciquita in Monte Carlo, spending lavishly on her and gambling away his wealth. Upon discovering Edward's follies, Leonora took charge of their finances, cleared his debts and moved them to India to economize. There, Edward began an affair with Mrs. Basil, whose husband began to extort him. Edward then took interest in Mrs. Maidan, a timid woman whose husband was serving in the army. An embittered Leonora decided to facilitate this relationship to prevent further trouble. Before the Ashburnhams met the Dowells, Leonora found a blackmail letter from Major Basil among Edward's mail. This disrupted her belief that their financial troubles were over, causing a major argument between the couple. The sight of Mrs. Maidan leaving Edward's room afterwards pushed Leonora over the edge, leading her to physically assault Mrs. Maidan. Florence witnessed this, giving her leverage over Leonora. In an attempt to mitigate the situation, Leonora endeavoured to befriend Florence prior to their first joint dinner with Dowell and Captain Ashburnham.

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Dowell ponders his role in the unfolding drama, describing himself as a "male sick nurse" who was blissfully ignorant of his deception. When asked what it's like being a deceived husband, his response is simple: "Heavens, I do not know. It just feels nothing at all." He also considers his feelings towards Florence, confessing that he sometimes feels pity for her and wishes to console her in the afterlife. However, this is quickly overshadowed by his intense hatred for her, stating he would not "spare her an eternity of loneliness." He concludes that Florence exploited those weaker than her. He then shares Leonora's account of a conversation between her and Florence, where Florence tried to persuade Leonora to reconcile with Edward. Leonora, aware of their secret affair, refuses. When Florence mentions Maisie Maidan, Leonora reacts angrily, holding Florence accountable for Mrs. Maidan's death, a charge Florence denies. Dowell then describes the circumstances of Mrs. Maidan's death. After overhearing a discussion between Florence and Edward, Mrs. Maidan believes she was brought to Nauheim to be Edward's mistress. Horrified, she decides to leave, but suffers a heart attack while packing. She tragically dies in her trunk. On her return, Leonora discovers Maisie's letter and her body. This event leaves Leonora burdened with guilt, while Edward remains largely unaffected.

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Dowell highlights the significance of August 4 for Florence as the day of her birth, the launch of her global journey, her initial romantic engagement, wedding, first meeting with the Ashburnhams and her death. Reflecting his nuptials, he recalls ignoring warnings from Florence's aunts, the Misses Hurlbird, against marrying her. Despite their objections, Dowell was enticed by Florence's demand for a European lifestyle, knowing his wealth would grant her wish, thus making him stand out among her admirers. On August 4, they eloped and subsequently, embarked on a journey to Europe. Prior to their departure, Florence cautioned Dowell about her supposed heart condition, similar to her Uncle John, and the importance of her medication bag. After this bag was accidentally dropped by Dowell's servant, Julius, an enraged Dowell physically assaulted Julius. He later links Florence's fear of him to this incident. Shortly after boarding the ship, Florence seemingly suffered from a heart condition, prompting a doctor's advice to Dowell to abstain from intimacy with his wife, a suggestion he duly accepted. Florence manipulated Dowell into believing her illness, convincing him to adopt certain restrictions to preserve her health. Her cunning plans continued in Paris with her former lover, Jimmy, who persuaded Dowell that even a short trip across the English Channel would be too strenuous for Florence, thwarting her dream to return to her ancestral home, Fordingbridge. Dowell shares his thoughts on Florence's affairs, finding Jimmy unappealing but understanding her attraction to Edward. Had he known Edward and Florence were passionately in love, he confesses he wouldn't have intervened. He acknowledges Edward's heroic nature and popularity, especially with Nancy Rufford, a young lady nurtured by the Ashburnhams.

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Florence, embroiled in an affair with Edward, was extremely possessive. She'd immediately insist Edward join her in Paris if she believed another woman was visiting Branshaw Manor. Her expectations of Edward increased over time, demanding his affection constantly. However, she understood that even if she left Dowell, she could never become the lady of Branshaw Manor as a divorcee. However, she informs Edward of her desire to divorce Dowell and relocate to California with him. Edward declines, fearing Leonora's potential retaliation and the damage it could cause if Dowell discovered their affair. Leonora was adamant about shielding Dowell from the truth and any ensuing heartache. After recounting this, Dowell revisits the events of August 4, 1913. That evening, Nancy and Edward attended a concert at the Casino, and Florence was asked by Leonora to accompany them as a chaperone. Once they left, Leonora went to bed and Dowell remained downstairs with a man named Bagshawe. Suddenly, Florence appeared, looking extremely pale and clutching her chest. Upon spotting Bagshawe in conversation with Dowell, she swiftly retreated to her room. Bagshawe recognized her as Florence Hurlbird, with whom he had an encounter many years ago. He relayed this information to Dowell. Dowell later found his wife dead in her room, a spent vial nearby.

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Dowell begins to entertain the idea of wedding Nancy, referred to as "the Girl," after Florence's death, an idea Leonora allows him to consider. Post Edward's demise, Leonora exposes Florence's lies throughout their marriage to Dowell, leaving him shocked and oblivious to the reality that Florence had committed suicide. His reaction to Florence's death was indifference and a silent consideration of marrying Nancy. The truth behind Florence's death unfolds as Dowell puts together narratives from Leonora and Edward. Rather than heading to a casino, Nancy and Edward opted for a quiet park bench. Unbeknownst to them, Florence observed their encounter, which resulted in Edward confessing his love for Nancy under the moonlight. Nancy misunderstood this as simple praise, while Florence was deeply hurt. Dowell theorizes that the combination of seeing Bagshawe and the superstitious importance of the date, August 4, was too much for her. Her vanity, as perceived by Dowell, could not withstand Edward's love for Nancy and her secret relationship with Jimmy. Dowell shows no remorse or recollection of Florence after her death and before penning down his experiences. Freed from playing a caregiver, he doesn't spare her a thought. His focus is on the potential marriage with Nancy Rufford. To make himself more appealing to her, he leaves for the United States as soon as Florence passes.

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Leonora has a hunch about the incident that happened in the park and tries to keep Edward and Nancy apart. Despite this, Nancy is completely blameless. Dowell describes her as a fascinating girl who is sometimes attractive, sometimes hideous, and has a great sense of humor and utter honesty. Nancy's background is unusual. Her dad, Major Rufford, was an abusive man who frequently hit his wife when she got drunk and caused scenes. Nancy was put in a convent school early, and her dad was deployed to India. Leonora, a close friend of Mrs. Rufford, agreed to look after Nancy and she and Edward have been her guardians since then. Following Florence's demise, Leonora keeps a close eye on Nancy and Edward to make sure they're never alone. Edward, insistent on not giving in to his feelings for Nancy, becomes progressively weaker. His health deteriorates and his drinking increases. Leonora believes Edward can control himself. She lets them go out one night, just like old times. Later, she discovers Edward kneeling by the bed, weeping uncontrollably, clutching an image of the Blessed Virgin. Leonora feels some relief.

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Dowell gives an account of Leonora's emotional collapse. She had faith in both Edward and Nancy, which gave her a sense of ease. However, when she lowered her guard, she started to unravel. The backstory of Leonora's matrimonial bond with Edward is elucidated by Dowell. As one of seven girls in an Irish estate, she was raised in a sheltered environment. Her parents arranged her marriage to Edward Asburnham as a favor. Despite Edward's admiration for her "cleanness of mind," there was no true emotional connection from his side. Leonora, on the other hand, developed a deep affection for Edward. Their marriage faced problems due to their different views on financial management and Edward's sentimental nature. Edward's desire to construct an extravagant church was met with resistance from Leonora, leading to friction between them. Their differences widened the gap between Edward and Leonora. Edward's refusal to raise their potential sons as Catholics caused Leonora great distress. Their disagreements over religion and finances led to growing estrangement. Edward's scandalous encounter with a young girl (the Kilsyte case) surprisingly gave Leonora a chance to publicly support her husband. However, this incident left a lasting mental impact on Edward.

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Dowell outlines Edward's past, longings, and remorse. Edward embodied the finest traits and etiquette of the English elite. His existence followed the pattern of a "hard-working, sentimental and efficient professional man." His lustful desires occupied a minor part of his life, according to Dowell. Edward insisted he had never considered betraying Leonora prior to the Kilsyte affair. However, post that incident, he often found himself fantasizing about the nursemaid he met on the train. Despite the law being lenient towards his misdemeanour, Edward swore off liaisons with lower-class women. Yet, as his relationship with Leonora deteriorated, he actively sought a woman who could offer solace. A priest of Leonora's acquaintance proposed bringing Edward to Monte Carlo, hoping it would mend their strained relationship. Regrettably, the vacation took a disastrous turn. La Dolciquita, the Spanish lover of the Russian Grand Duke, became infatuated with Edward. Believing he was deeply in love with her, Edward spent a night in her embrace, ready to declare his eternal love the following day. He was shocked when she demanded payment. Despite his attempts to discuss passion, loyalty, constancy, and the respect he owed her, La Dolciquita saw only business opportunities. She swindled Edward out of more than twenty thousand pounds. He justified his actions by telling himself he loved her, but after enduring a torturous week with her in Antibes, Edward understood he had no obligations of love or honor towards her. He went back to Leonora, fearful and penitent.

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Upon Edward's return from Monte Carlo, he was met by a wife determined to mend his financial errors. His humiliation from his Monte Carlo exploits led him to surrender financial control to Leonora. In no time, she had all assets under her name and Edward's image as a generous magistrate was no more. She acted out of a mix of financial necessity and a desire to discipline her husband. Leonora efficiently managed their estate by renting out Branshaw Manor, mortgaging properties, and selling old family paintings. Edward was hurt by the loss of these heirlooms and grew resentful of Leonora's inability to understand him. He sought female empathy. Edward found the sympathy he desired in Mrs. Basil, a fellow officer's wife, he encountered in Burma. She provided the romantic connection he yearned for; something Leonora, with her practical mindset, could not offer. Edward struggled with the fact that his wife was unimpressed by his military rank and heroic actions, such as diving into the Red Sea to save a comrade. He was at a loss on how to gain her admiration. Edward's next romantic interest was Maisie Maidan, which caused him distress as he began to realize his lack of faithfulness. His concern was compounded by the fact that he still harbored feelings for Mrs. Basil. He managed to convince Leonora to bring Mrs. Maidan with them to Nauheim, although he was concerned that Leonora might try to control his love affairs as she did his finances. Despite this, he acknowledged her financial prowess, as she had managed to restore the Ashburnhams' finances in a few years. However, this didn't win him over, as he was fixated on Mrs. Maidan, further straining their marriage. Leonora was distraught and made efforts to win Edward back. She couldn't comprehend why he sought comfort in women like Mrs. Basil and Mrs. Maidan instead of her. However, she found solace in the fact that Edward and Mrs. Maidan were unlikely to have a physical relationship. Leonora hoped that once bored of Maisie, Edward would appreciate the happiness she had allowed him. Despite this, the appearance of Florence extinguished her hopes of reclaiming her husband.

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Dowell accepts his narrative has been unpredictable, following his memory's rhythm. He defends his storytelling method by asserting that it's realistic. Upon reflection, he puts more fault on Florence than in the novel's start. He accuses her of causing havoc in Edward and Leonora's marriage, eliminating any chance for them to regain harmony. He proposes that Leonora could have intervened in the affair but refrains from blaming her since Florence was the one who finally seduced Edward away with her crass behavior and arrogance. Before their M— journey, it seemed like Leonora's strategy to reclaim Edward was successful. She forgave his past affairs as a man's instinct, confessing she might have gone too far in controlling his finances. Edward reciprocated by making minor overtures towards her. This dynamic was destroyed when Florence made her move on Edward, and Leonora realized, seeing Edward's response, that he may never return to her after this "vulgar intrigue with a vulgar woman." Leonora hated Florence, who not only sabotaged Leonora's deepest wish but did it in a brash and ostentatious way. Upon their return to Branshaw Manor, Leonora reinstated her control over Edward's spending. She was incensed that Edward aimed to use his funds to aid others publicly; she was in disbelief that he would gift his potentially profitable stirrup invention to the War Office. Dowell believes that the idea of not being able to support others eventually drove Edward to suicide.

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Dowell heads back to Connecticut to tie up the loose ends of Uncle John Hurlbird and Florence's estates after their sudden deaths. Uncle John had wished for his wealth to establish a heart diseases treatment center but postmortem revelations indicate he was actually suffering from a lung condition. So, Dowell decides to divide the funds to create a bigger facility for both heart and lung patients. He then travels back to England as directed by Edward and Leonora. At Branshaw Manor, Dowell is informed about Nancy's impending departure to India to visit her father. He plans to propose to her before she leaves, but first, he has a lengthy discussion with Edward who gives him updates about what transpired in his absence. In Dowell's absence, Leonora suffered a mental breakdown, experiencing severe headaches and falling into a depression along with Edward. Despite Nancy's efforts to support her uncle and aunt, the situation remained dismal. Upon hearing about Edward's act of kindness towards a young man named Selmes, Leonora reacts with hostility instead of admiration, her resentment for Edward mounting. She's also bothered by the fact that Nancy is the only one who can bring happiness to Edward. In a desperate bid to lighten his burdens, Edward decides to send Nancy to India to spend time with her father, much to Leonora's fury. She considers Edward's decision selfish due to her fears about Nancy's father. She later visits Nancy at night, revealing to her that Edward is in love with her. Nancy admits her own feelings for Edward, but plans to move to Glasgow to look after her financially struggling mother. Leonora pleads with Nancy to be with Edward, believing their union can save him. Despite her pleas, Nancy rejects the idea, stating that neither she nor Edward deserve such a sacrifice.

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Nancy, having been raised in a devout and protected setting, was unaware of marital problems among people she knew. She was shocked when she discovered the tumultuous marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Brand, family friends, detailed in a newspaper divorce report. This revelation led her to worry that Edward and Leonora's marriage might have similar issues. When Nancy informed Leonora about the Brands, Leonora queried if Nancy wished to marry. Nancy expressed no desire to wed, stating she preferred to live with her aunt and uncle. However, if she were to marry, she would choose a man similar to Edward, causing Leonora to display visible distress. In the days following their return from Nauheim until Edward's death, Nancy wrestled with her own feelings. She became despondent upon suspecting Edward's affair. Her joy was replaced with sorrow, and she turned to alcohol for solace, only to give it up quickly due to the lustful thoughts it induced about Edward. Her aspiration was to be virtuous and to care for Leonora indefinitely. After receiving news about her homeless mother in Glasgow, Nancy decided to leave to tend to her. Just as she was preparing to depart, Leonora delivered shocking news: Edward was literally dying out of his love for Nancy.

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Nancy had an epiphany: she loved Edward and he loved her. But while Leonora might have his physical affection, Nancy believed she held Edward's heart. Planning to flee to Glasgow to protect her mother, she resolved to continue her love for Edward through letters. However, Leonora dismissed this idea, insisting that Nancy needed to wholly "belong" to Edward. Edward, upon learning of Nancy's Glasgow plans, dismissed them outright. He commanded that she should join her father in India immediately, which Nancy agreed to. Leonora attempted to persuade Nancy to enter into an extramarital affair. According to Leonora, it was Nancy's responsibility to give herself to Edward, as she had initiated the love by "making Edward love her." Being so attractive and virtuous, Nancy's punishment, as Leonora saw it, was to become an adulteress. The two women discussed this deep into the night, their whispered conversation heard by Edward.

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Dowell perceives the tragic circumstances of the three characters. Should Nancy not reciprocate Edward's feelings, his life would end. Dowell pens this segment after coming back to Branshaw, having spent eighteen months taking care of Nancy, narrating the incidents during this period. Upon learning of Edward's death, Nancy lost her sanity. Her father found her speechless in Ceylon after her voyage, her only words being her trust in an "Omnipotent Deity." Leonora opted out of fetching her, sending Dowell instead. As Dowell writes, Nancy is seated forty steps away in the hall, physically well but mentally unhinged. Once again, Dowell finds himself in the role of an unnoticed caretaker of a beautiful woman. The tragedy of the situation is compounded by the fact that none of the characters achieved what they desired. Leonora craved Edward but ended up with Rodney Bayham. Edward and Florence's lives ended, Nancy is insane, and Dowell continues to be an insignificant caretaker. According to Dowell, Edward’s dilemma stemmed from his sentimental nature and his adherence to conventional morals and values. Dowell presumes that Nancy and Leonora collaborated to emotionally torment Edward, stating, "Those two women pursued the poor devil and flayed the skin off him as if they had done it with whips." They would converse all night, present Edward with their conclusions in the morning. Edward once confessed to Leonora that he only wished for the girl miles away to love him. In retaliation, Leonora vowed to prevent this. She constantly told Nancy about Edward's failings as a husband, yet urged her to "belong to him" to save him. This method drained Nancy's affection for Edward. Eventually, Nancy succumbed to Leonora's pressure, offering herself to Edward but asserting she could never love him. Edward declined her offer and sent her away, plunging into a deeper despair, knowing Leonora had manipulated Nancy to detest him permanently.

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Dowell ponders over the incidents and the heroes and villains of his "saddest story." He is conflicted if Edward was self-centered in sending the young girl to India. Leonora considers Edward's act selfish, yet Edward argues that it wasn't selfish given the immense emotional distress it brought him. Dowell withholds judgment on this issue, leaving it for the reader to decide. On his arrival at Branshaw, after being called by Edward and Leonora, Dowell observes that everything seemed normal; the couple maintained the façade of an ideal family. Dowell once asked Leonora for permission to marry Nancy. In response, she said she couldn't think of a better spouse for Nancy, however, she suggested Nancy should see more of the world before settling into marriage. The truth was, Leonora didn't want Nancy to live close to Branshaw, where Dowell intended to settle. Dowell agreed to this, planning to let Nancy move to India and then propose to her in six months. One fateful day, before Nancy's departure, Dowell found Edward in his gun room where he confessed his undying love for Nancy Rufford, sharing his viewpoint of the situation. Shortly thereafter, Edward and Dowell saw Nancy off to India. Edward was visibly upset, but Leonora seemed victorious. She had given up on winning Edward back. In a hushed tone, Edward concedes, "Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean." A few days later, Edward, while with Dowell, receives a telegram from Nancy that reads: "safe Brindisi. Having a rattling good time. Nancy." Handing the telegram to Dowell to deliver it to Leonora, Edward bids farewell, saying he needs some rest. He then ends his life with a pen-knife. Reflecting, Dowell observes that "the normal, the virtuous, and the slightly deceitful must flourish" while the "passionate, headstrong, and too truthful are condemned to madness and suicide." He sarcastically suggests that Nancy and Edward might be the villains in this tale. Now taking care of Nancy, who occasionally murmurs "shuttlecocks," Dowell assumes it signifies the way she was tossed between Edward and Leonora. Ultimately, Dowell sympathizes most with Edward, seeing him as a reflection of himself. He ponders that, given Edward Ashburnham's courage and manliness, he might have acted similarly. He deems himself a sentimentalist, much like Edward was.

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