The August 4 Hullabaloo

When I first started researching this book for a paper I was writing, I read through eight articles before I found out what all the controversy was about. I understood that August 4 is deeply important in the book and is symbolically significant of something. A majority of turning points and escalations within the narrative occur on various August 4ths, and the date takes on superstitious importance to characters in the novel. However, the source of the literary criticism angst is that August 4, 1914 was the date on which England entered World War I.

The debate over whether Ford meant to reference this major historical event is apparently still simmering. Ford claimed to have finished the manuscript in June, 1914. Arthur Mizener, one of his biographers, sets the date at July. The book was published in March, 1915. Theoretically, if Ford had wanted to make a connection to the war, he could have changed his ms. However, there is no evidence that he ever did so. In fact, a sentence in which John Dowell complains about the Belgian government's regulation of the trains (in the first chapter of The Good Soldier) was changed after the ms was submitted, due to a surge in sympathy for Belgium (see Mizener). Ford always claimed that his choice of date was a coincidence.

I then found a different reading in an article by James B. Scott: ''Coincidence or Irony? Ford’s use of August 4th in The Good Soldier.'' In this article, Scott refers to an article by T.A. Hanzo, 1966 in the Sewanee Review. Hanzo links the date to the reading for August 4th in the Catholic missal; Timothy II, Chapter 4.

I found the connection compelling upon reading the epistle, especially chapters two and four. Ford was nominally a Catholic, certainly well read, and would have been familiar with 2 Timothy 4. His secondary choice of title reflects this text, and his prompt supply of it suggests that the phrase ''the good soldier'' was linked to the novel in his mind. Although it should not be given much weight, it is also true that the recurrent quality of August 4th as a date of significance in the novel works well with the perennial nature of the epistle reading.

Chapter 4 – I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. … - From St. Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy:

Chapters two and three are interesting as well, especially as the former is the origin of the phrase ''the good soldier.''

My paper discusses that the narrator as Dowell is presented, not as a character within the body of his tale but who he is revealed to be by his telling of it, becomes the central character of the work. The novel is then a present commentary on the past, and his diversions and asides are all evidence of his presence and are preserved for the reader in the act of being performed. The performance of the narrative, and thus the narrator, is dynamic and in direct contrast with his role within the story.

Dowell’s writing can be seen as an effort to create a new world view which makes sense of his recent past. The words ''As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry'' strike a chord with Dowell’s role as the originator of the text. He has been steady, he has suffered, and he consciously conveys his story and its interpretation beyond himself, not just for self-exploration but to influence his readers.

You may well ask why I write. And yet my reasons are quite many. For it is not unusual in human beings who have witnessed the sack of a city or the falling to pieces of a people to desire to set down what they have witnessed for the benefit of unknown heirs or of generations infinitely remote; or, if you please, just to get the sight out of their heads. -The Good Soldier

The tone of this also echoes the epistle as it places a private, internal conflict within the context of epic public upheaval. This, of course, resonates with England's entry into the war. A war reference is certainly appropriate and does not contradict the workings of the narrative. However, considered as the sole intended reference, I find that it is insubstantial and unsatisfying in comparison to an allusion to 2 Timothy 4.

My research took me elsewhere and I remain convinced that the confluence of dates was a coincidence. However, I would be very interested to see evidence to the contrary.

For the text of The Good Soldier on the web, try

Scott, James B. ''Coincidence or irony? Ford’s use of August 4th in The Good Soldier.'' English Language Notes 30, no.4 1993 June: 53-58.
Mizener, Arthur The Saddest Story: A Biography of Ford Madox Ford.World Pub. Co., 1971.
May, Herbert G. and Bruce M. Metzger, eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Edition, Oxford University Press, NY, 1973, 1977; 1446-9.