My judgment was superficial, and in any case the plot and even the characters matter little. What counts, what really shines, is Ford's writing. Yep, the art of putting words together to create a narrative, a narrator, and a point of view. John Dowell, the narrator, says at some point that his psychology is irrelevant to his narrative. This is devilishly clever on the part of Ford, since the whole point of the book is to unveil, layer after layer, Dowell's psychology. This time around, I couldn't put the book down and the couple of times I did so were responses to basic needs like sleeping or earning a living. Ford's literature is simply magical, and it led to my partial reappraisal of the characters.
First, Florence: undoubtedly a harpy, a despicable deceiver and manipulator, but hey, it is also true that back in those days (and even in our time, celebrities excepted), women had to observe a much more demanding moral code than men. Her youthful escapades marked her as a #####, and the discovery of such actions would have made her forever unmarketable as a bride. She HAD to lie. Nevertheless, she is a bad woman.
Leonora: the perils of Catholicism, point.
Edward: jeez, a good guy, married to the wrong (emotionally) and right (financially) woman. An explosive combination. A man stunted in his emotional development who ends up a disgrace.
John: poor guy.
So, my appreciation of the characters is pretty much the same, but that of the writing increased tremendously. I'm looking forward to reading "Parade's End", the whole four novels. Thanks for insisting.