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own sexual reticence: ˜˜I am slow thinking and full of interior rules that
act as brakes on my desires.™™²² Nick™s automotive metaphor re¬‚ects his
own ambivalence towards the dangerously reckless drivers, including
Gatsby, who people the world of his narrative. While both bachelor
narrators claim to have distinctly muted sexual appetites, the intensity of
their retrospective recounting of the sexual adventures of their other
men surely complicates, though it may not utterly refute, these claims.
Both The Good Soldier and The Great Gatsby pivot on multiple, inter-
woven plots of transgressive sexual desire, plots that veer wildly from the
idealized image of marital domesticity which is operant, if compro-
mised, in these early twentieth-century novels. In both novels, the titular
heroes are propelled by adulterous desires which teeter between the
profound and the banal. Both heroes are imagined or imagine them-
selves as martyrs for love, yet their violent deaths verge on the pathetic,
even the grotesque: the ˜˜good soldier™™ slits his own throat; the ˜˜great
Gatsby™™ is shot in a case of mistaken identity. Just as violent death
disrupts the lives, not to mention the marriages, of these novels™ epony-
mous heroes, their improperly regulated sexual desires threaten to
disrupt the idealized manhood they are enlisted to represent. The very
adulterous desires and actions that threaten to undermine their heroic
standing also, paradoxically, reinforce that standing. Gatsby™s and
Dowell™s desires and actions may break the law, but they also potentially
de¬ne these male ¬gures as beyond the law, or perhaps more accurately
as bound to a higher law.
The paradoxical e¬ects of adulterous desire upon the status of these
men results from the novels™ bachelor narrators™ reliance upon compet-
ing models of manhood “ civilized manliness and primitive masculinity
“ to understand their heroes. The narrators construe the transgressive
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
desires of their other men both as unmanning violations of bourgeois
morality and also as remasculinizing expressions of uncontainable sex-
ual or romantic nature. The incompatibility of these interpretations,
and of the competing models of manhood upon which they are based,
produces the incoherence of these narrators™ celebrations and condem-
nations of their other men. Dowell and Nick are ¬nally subject to an
irreconcilable set of desires and judgments, ˜˜simultaneously enchanted
and repelled™™ (GG, p. °) by what they see in the men whose stories they
are driven to retell.
On one level, Dowell attempts to distance himself in his narrative
from the sexual rapacity of his other man. He does so by aligning his
own sexual ˜˜faintness™™ with the idealized manhood of the courtly love
tradition “ ˜˜[Florence] would wish me goodnight as if she were a cinque
cento Italian lady saying good-bye to her lover™™ (GS, p. ) “ and of the
somewhat later tradition of chivalric romance: ˜˜I hardly believe that I
cared for her in the way of love after a year or two of it. She became for
me a rare and fragile object . . . as it were, the subject of a bet “ the
trophy of an athlete™s . . . soberness, his abstentions, and of his in¬‚exible
will™™ (GS, p. ±). Both traditions involve elaborate and stylized codes of
male conduct intended to bring glory to the man™s objects of desire and
identi¬cation, positions shared by the lady and by the king. This is an
erotics that is always already triangulated, with further mediations
supplied when the knight is a ˜˜bachelor knight™™ who serves under the
aegis of a more senior knight. Both traditions, moreover, valorize male
chastity.²³
Dowell™s rhetorical attempts to stand in the shoes of chaste courtly
lovers and bachelor knights are not entirely becoming to him. His
retrospective portrayal of his own ˜˜soberness™™ and ˜˜will™™ reveals the
debased, even parodic, nature of his performance of the part of the
chaste poet or champion. In his enactment of this role, Dowell exposes
what one critic has called ˜˜the masochistic underside of the medieval
archetype of passionate love,™™ an archetype which idealizes the pain of
love. If masochism has a place within the idealized manhood of the
courtly lover and bachelor knight, then Dowell™s unful¬lled desires, not
to mention his self-¬‚agellating narrative account of his abjection, have
paradoxical e¬ects.²⁴ They simultaneously emasculate and remasculin-
ize him. Like Ralph Touchett™s consumption, an alternative carriere `
which marks his distance from and his proximity to normative man-
hood, Dowell™s ˜˜profession . . . of keeping heart patients alive™™ (GS, p. ·)
serves a comparably paradoxical function.²µ His nursing career begins
±
Melancholy, manhood, and modernist narrative
with his wife, Florence, who is a¬„icted with a factitious though meta-
phorically apt bad heart: ˜˜For in Florence I had at once a wife and an
unattained mistress “ that is what it comes to “ and in the retaining of
her in this world I had my occupation, my career, my ambition™™ (GS,
p. ). And it culminates in his devotion to the insane Nancy Ru¬ord:
˜˜So here I am very much where I started thirteen years ago. I am the
attendant, not the husband, of a beautiful girl, who pays no attention to
me™™ (GS, p. ). ˜˜The attendant, not the husband™™ is both an emas-
culated male sick-nurse and a remanned bachelor knight.
If on one level Dowell™s compulsory chastity distinguishes him from
Edward and his sexual excesses, on another level Dowell™s chastity also
proves to be a point of similarity between the two men. Edward operates
according to his own version of ideal male chastity which Dowell sums
up as ˜˜his intense optimistic belief that the woman he was making love
to at the moment was the one he was destined, at last, to be eternally
constant to™™ (GS, p. ·). Dowell identi¬es ˜˜constancy™™ as a key word in
Edward™s vocabulary of masculine integrity: ˜˜the big words “ ˜courage,™
˜loyalty,™ ˜honor,™ ˜constancy™ . . . he would say that constancy was the
¬nest of the virtues. He said it very sti¬„y, of course, but still as if the
statement admitted of no doubt™™ (GS, p. ·). Edward™s contingent code
of masculine conduct, which I would call serial monogamous chastity,
coincides with his chaste treatment of his wife, for which Dowell supplies
this justi¬cation: ˜˜you may not believe it, but he really had such a sort of
respect for the chastity of Leonora™s imagination that he hated “ he was
positively revolted “ at the thought that she should know the sort of
thing he did existed in the world™™ (GS, p. µ·). Edward tries to ˜˜preserve
the virginity of his wife™s thoughts,™™ because, according to Dowell, ˜˜he
had not wished to sully her mind with the idea that there was such a
thing as a brother o¬cer who could be a blackmailer “ and he had
wanted to protect the credit of his old light of love™™ (GS, p. ). When
Edward defends the reputation of the lady who is his former mistress, he
also champions the honor of an o¬cer and a gentleman, and also a
blackmailer, thus burnishing the apparent integrity of his identity by
virtue of his a¬liation with his ˜˜brother o¬cer.™™²⁶
Clearly, Edward™s practical application of this chaste masculine ideal
is as debased in its own way as Dowell™s version of masculine chastity.
Edward™s self-righteous endorsement of chaste masculinity is certainly
hypocritical, either a consciously deceitful or an unconsciously self-
deluding attempt to mask his own failure to live up to this ideal. The
discrepancy between Edward™s avowed code of honor and the way he
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
actually comports himself can be understood in terms of a con¬‚ict
between the more sexually expressive and aggressive style of primitive
masculinity ascendant in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centu-
ries, and the more restrained style of civilized manliness of the early to
mid-Victorian period. The sexually performative stallion was coming to
seem a more manly man than the self-regulating gentleman who, as
Dowell worries, was starting to look distinctly emasculated: ˜˜Am I no
better than a eunuch or is the proper man “ the man with the right to
existence “ a raging stallion forever neighing after his neighbor™s
womenkind?™™ (GS, p. ±). The stallion was a problematic model of the
proper man, however, since he violated laws of propriety which re-
mained intact in Edwardian society.
Edward™s divided self-constitution need not be understood as re¬‚ect-
ing a timeless or ahistorical clash between passion and convention.²·
Rather, the division within Edward, like the con¬‚ict between him and
Dowell, reveals a clash between historically based discourses of mascu-
linity. The uneven development of new norms of manhood is visible, for
example, in the neochivalrism practiced by the mid nineteenth-century
˜˜Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,™™ to which Ford himself was a¬liated
through his mother, the daughter of Pre-Raphaelite painter, Ford
Madox Brown. But neochivalrism really hit its stride in the Edwardian
period, a period of which Edward Ashburnham may be considered a
representative man.²⁸ Edward™s violations of his chaste ideal dramatize
the con¬‚ict between an outmoded standard and modern contingency.
The compromise formation of Edward™s serial monogamous chastity
creates a double standard that lets him play two kinds of ˜˜proper man™™
(GS, p. ±) at once, but at the considerable cost of being two-faced.
The two faces of Edward pose an epistemological challenge to
Dowell, whose categories of interpretation are not quite up to the task of
interpreting Edward™s character:

It is impossible of me to think of Edward Ashburnham as anything but straight,
upright, and honourable. That, I mean, is, in spite of everything, my perma-
nent view of him. I try at times by dwelling on some of the things that he did to
push that image away, as you might try to push aside a large pendulum. But it
always comes back “ the memory of his innumerable acts of kindness, of his
e¬ciency, of his unspiteful tongue. He was such a ¬ne fellow.
So I feel myself forced to attempt to excuse him in this as in so many other
things. It is, I have no doubt, a most monstrous thing to attempt to corrupt a
young girl just out of a convent. But I think Edward had no idea at all of
corrupting her. (GS, p. ±±)
±µ
Melancholy, manhood, and modernist narrative
The pendulum of the other man, oscillating between comrade and
enemy, ally and rival, hero and villain, inexorably impinges upon the
bachelor narrator™s memory. The ¬gure of the pendulum neatly evokes
the ambivalence of Dowell™s response to Edward, as much as it evokes
the bifurcated extremes of Edward™s own masculine self-fashioning. The
two incompatible versions of manhood “ the monstrous libertine and
the ¬ne fellow “ divide the masculine subject (Dowell) as well as the
masculine object (Edward) that Dowell attempts, but is ¬nally unable, to
know. Defense and accusation are ways in which Dowell attempts to
reconcile Edward™s standards with his actions. Together they are mu-
tually contradictory yet neither one alone su¬ciently accounts for
Edward or for Dowell™s relationship to him.
Faced with the enigma of Edward, Dowell acknowledges the di¬-
culty, even the impossibility, of knowing a man™s character at all:
For who in this world can give anyone a character? Who in this world knows
anything of any other heart “ or his own? I don™t mean to say one cannot form
an average estimate of the way a person will behave. But one cannot be certain
of the way any man will behave in every case “ and until one can do that a
˜˜character™™ is of no use to anyone. (GS, pp. ±µµ“)
Dowell™s plaintive lament makes visible the di¬erence between Victor-
ian and modernist conceptions of character, a distinction that is di¬er-
ent from, though conceivably related to, the Victorian and modern
models of manhood discussed above. Michael Levenson compellingly
argues that
Dowell™s disillusionment follows the arc of modernism. He begins with presup-
positions typical of much Victorian characterization: the individual condi-
tioned by circumstance, composed of intelligible motives, susceptible to moral
analysis “ the justi¬ed self. Then, confronted with the singularity of desire, his
˜˜generalizations™™ totter and fall. He moves to a conception of character that
will become predominant in modernist narrative: the self estranged from
circumstance and no longer comprehensible in its terms, confounding familiar
motives, beyond the reach of social explanation.²⁹
Thus Levenson contrasts the Victorian conception of character as
integrated, representable by a compendium of traits, with the frag-
mented modernist character whose enumerated traits do not add up to a
unitary whole. He also points to the identi¬cation of types “ ˜˜the
reassuring impersonalities of cultural generalizations™™ “ as a method of
characterization used by the characters in this novel, but which proves
insu¬cient for justifying themselves or their actions.³°
± Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
The insu¬ciency of social typing as a way of knowing individuals is
one of Dowell™s own preoccupations, one that is closely related to his
¬xation upon Edward: ˜˜After forty-¬ve years of mixing with one™s kind,
one ought to have acquired the habit of being able to know something
about one™s fellow beings. But one doesn™t. I think the modern civilized
habit “ the modern English habit “ of taking everyone for granted is a
good deal to blame for this™™ (GS, p. ). ˜˜Taking everyone for granted™™
is the primary mode of typing that occurs in the novel, the primary way
of distinguishing between ˜˜good people™™ and ˜˜those who won™t do™™:

And the odd, queer thing is that the whole collection of rules applies to anybody
“ to the anybodies that you meet in hotels, in railway trains, to a less degree,
perhaps, in steamers, but even in the end, upon steamers. You meet a man or a
woman and, from tiny and intimate sounds, from the slightest of movements,
you know at once whether you are concerned with good people or with those
who won™t do. You know, that is to say, whether they will go rigidly through
with the whole programme from the underdone beef to the Anglicanism. It
won™t matter whether they be short or tall; whether the voice squeak like a
marionette or rumble like a town bull™s; it won™t matter whether they are
Germans, Austrians, French, Spanish, or even Brazilians “ they will be the
Germans or Brazilians who take a cold bath every morning and who move,
roughly speaking, in diplomatic circles.
But the inconvenient “ well, hang it all, I will say it “ the damnable nuisance
of the whole thing is, that with all the taking for granted, you never really get an
inch deeper than the things I have catalogued. (GS, p. ·)

(Shades of Marlow™s frustration with the insu¬ciency of ˜˜the right kind
of looks™™ for determining who quali¬es as ˜˜one of us™™!) Here, ˜˜good
people™™ apparently means people of a certain social class, although in
this democratized new world, high birth is not an absolute requirement
for proper English gentlemanliness. Apparently, one does not even have
to be English to be a proper English gentleman, since Germans and
Brazilians are eligible, or even have to be a man, since high-voiced
puppets and low-voiced animals can also qualify. Yet this way of
knowing, or classing, people does not su¬ciently account for character.
It fails to bring character to account not simply because of the super¬-
ciality of the method that Dowell bemoans here, but also because
character is a category that has been emptied of meaning.
The emptying-out of meaning that troubles the concept of character
in this novel is generated, in part, by the incongruities among several
di¬erent meanings or interpretations of ˜˜character™™: character as per-
sonality; character as a ¬gure in a work of literary ¬ction; character as
±·
Melancholy, manhood, and modernist narrative
moral rectitude; and character as a symbol, a sign, a cipher. In his
attempts to give Edward a character, Dowell tries to reconcile the ¬rst
three meanings and ends up with the cipher:
Have I conveyed to you the splendid fellow that he was “ the ¬ne soldier, the
excellent landlord, the extraordinarily kind, careful, and industrious magis-
trate, the upright, honest, fair-dealing, fair-thinking public character? . . . I can
remember a thousand little acts of kindliness, of thoughtfulness for his inferiors,
even on the Continent . . . But, although I liked him so intensely, I was rather
apt to take these things for granted. They made me feel comfortable with him,
good towards him; they made me trust him. But I guess I thought it was part of
the character of any English gentleman . . . I thought it was only the duty of his
rank and station. (GS, pp. “)
Dowell™s catalogue of nouns “ soldier, landlord, magistrate “ and of
adjectives “ upright, honest, fair-dealing, fair-thinking “ do not add up,
any more than do Edward™s ˜˜thousand little acts of kindliness,™™ in
accounting for ˜˜the character of any English gentleman.™™³¹ Edward is
inexplicable as a moral character and unjusti¬able as a literary charac-
ter “ he is a cipher, in fact the cipher, of Dowell™s narrative. The proper
English gentleman is both a standard for character in the novel and
an emblem of the meaninglessness, or the con¬‚icted meanings, of
character.
I note here, in passing, that in The Great Gatsby, a novel written ten
years after The Good Soldier and on the other side of the Atlantic, the
proper English gentleman also stands as an archetype of ideal man-
hood.³² Oddly enough, Gatsby™s recipe for self-made American man-
hood includes such ingredients as alluding to his Oxford days, calling
people ˜˜old sport,™™ and inhabiting a vague approximation of an ances-
tral English country house, described as a ˜˜factual imitation of some
Hotel de Ville in Normandy™™ (GG, p. ), although the ˜˜high Gothic
ˆ
library, panelled with carved English oak, and probably transported

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