John Galsworthy : Novelist and Dramatist

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      John Galsworthy (1867-1933), the son of a wealthy lawyer, was born in Surrey and was educated at Harrow and Oxford. He travelled abroad for a year before being called to the Bar in 1890. He was, however, far from happy in his profession, though he had a reat interest in the law and had all the lawyer's impartiality and fairness. Always, though living in cultured ease, he was troubled by the social problems of the day, the inequalities and injustices of the social system, which became the main theme, of his writing.

      In 1919 he refused the offer of a knighthood, but his work, was ultimately recognized by the award of the Order of Merit in 1929 and the Nobel Prize for Literature four years later.

John Galsworthy began his literary career as a novelist, and, after publishing some half-dozen works of little note, including the novelette Jocelyn (1898) and The Island Pharisees (1904), he wrote his first great successful novel, The Man of Property (1906), which was to become the first part of the immense family novel, The Forsyte Saga (published in an omnibus volume (1922).
John Galsworthy

      John Galsworthy began his literary career as a novelist, and, after publishing some half-dozen works of little note, including the novelette Jocelyn (1898) and The Island Pharisees (1904), he wrote his first great successful novel, The Man of Property (1906), which was to become the first part of the immense family novel, The Forsyte Saga (published in an omnibus volume (1922). The other books which complete the work are In Chancery (1920), To Let (1921), and the interludes which link the three major sections, Indian Summer of a Forsyte (1917) and Awakening (1920). These last four are not as good as the first part, but nevertheless The Forsyte Saga as a whole is one of the striking achievements in modern fiction. It is a cool, controlled, ironical dissection of the Forsytes, a typical City family, and this series of stories handles a vast canvas of figures with firmness and skill.

      The family chronicle covers thirty-four years to the death of Queen Victoria, and gives an admirable picture of the upper-middle classes in the changing society of the end of the nineteenth century. Behind their common love of property the members of the Forsyte family are cleverly differentiated, and Soames Forsyte, his wife Irene, and old Jolyon are masterpieces of characterization. The fortunes of the family, as seen in its post - 1918 generation, are' described in The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1926), and Swan Song (1928), which, with two more inter ludes, A Silent Wooing (1927) and Passers By (1927), were collected together as A Modern Comedy (1929). This series is conceived on a smaller scale, and has not the high quality of its predecessor, but, none the less, is a work of considerable merit. While the novels of these two series were being written, Galsworthy produced a number of works which add little to his stature. Nearly all show the same interest in sociological problems which underlies The Forsyte Saga and A Modern Comedy. They include The Country House (1907), Fraternity (1909), The Patrician (1911), The Dark Flower (1913), The Freelands (1915), Beyond (1917), Saint's Progress (1919), and then, later, come Maid in Waiting (1931) and Flowering Wilderness (1932).

      As a novelist Galsworthy reflects the contemporary interest in sociological problems. His most important works give an objective, ironical portrait of the upper-middle class to which he himself belonged. They are earnest and sincere analyses of its weakness and inadequacies, and, like his plays, show him to be primarily a social critic. Class rather than character is his concern, and even his best characters are to a considerable extent types: motive and impulse are of secondary importance to him. He is a realist with a keen and accurate observation, and handles his material with a restraint, delicacy, and impartiality which at once prompt the description 'gentlemanly'. His chief weapon is irony, and his satire is kept well in hand. His dialogue has the naturalness that we expect of the. author of the plays, and his style has the polished ease and urbanity which are ideal for his type of fiction, but it can, and does, reflect deep feelings.

       As a dramatist Galsworthy belongs to the realist tradition of Jones and Pinero. He says himself in a magazine article "Some Platitudes concerning Drama" (Fortnightly Review, December 1909): "Every grouping of life and character has its inherent moral; and the business of the dramatist is so to pose the group as to bring that moral poignantly to the light of day," and his plays are all didactic in purpose. Galsworthy was a social reformer, objectively and impartially posing a problem, showing always both sides of the question, and leaving his audience to think out the answer. His chief protagonists are usually social, forces in conflict with each other, and the human concern in his drama, though real enough and very true to ordinary life, are studied more as products of these forces than as individuals who are of interest for their own sake. To this extent they are types.

      But, in spite of his apparent detachment, Galsworthy obviously feels a warm sympathy for the victims of social injustice, and especially for the poor and downtrodden, and the underlying warmth of his drama is one of the qualities which distinguishes him most clearly from Granville-Barker. Where the latter is almost exclusively intellectual in appeal, Galsworthy calls into play the feelings as well as the mind of his audience. His characters are well studied and his psychological insight is particularly well seen in his studies of internal conflict. In the construction of his plays he shows a fine sense of form, and the best of them are excellent stage pieces. His dialogue and situations are natural, and he never lapses into sentimentality or melodramatic distortion. His legal training shows itself in his frequent studies of social problems arising from the injustices of the law, in the excellent trial scenes found in his plays, and, perhaps above all, in the clarity of vision with which he followed his deliberately chosen path in the drama. His ideas on the drama are to be found in his collection of essays The Inn of Tranguillity (1912).

      Of his best-known plays The Silver Box (1906) deals with the inequality of justice; Strife (1909) with the struggle between Capital and Labour; Justice (1910) with the cruelty of solitary confinement; The Skin Game (1920) with the different values of the old aristocracy and the newly rich businessman; Loyalties (1922) with class loyalties and prejudices; and Escape (1926) with the inadequacy of the administration of justice and the attitude of different types of peonle toward an escaped prisoner.

      In addition to his novels and plays, Galsworthy published some verse in Moods, Songs, and Doggerels (1912), The Bells of Peace (1921), Verses New and Old (1926), and several collections of essay and stories, among them A Commentary (1908), A Motley (1910) The Inn of Tranquillty (1912), A Sheaf (1916), Five Tales (1918), Another Sheaf (1919), Caravan (1925), Castles in Spain (1927), On Forsyte Change (1930). and prejudices; and Escape (1926) with the inadequacy of the administration of justice and the attitude of different types of peonle toward an escaped prisoner.

      In addition to his novels and plays, Galsworthy published some verse in Moods, Songs, and Doggerels (1912), The Bells of Peace (1921), Verses New and Old (1926), and several collections of essay and stories, among them A Commentary (1908), A Motley (1910) The Inn of Tranquillty (1912), A Sheaf (1916), Five Tales (1918), Another Sheaf (1919), Caravan (1925), Castles in Spain (1927), On Forsyte Change (1930).

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