Galsworthy, John (14 August 1867 - 31 January 1933)
John Galsworthy (14 August 1867 - 31 January 1933)
See also the Galsworthy entries in DLB 10: Modern British Dramatists, 1900–1945; DLB 34: British Novelists, 1890–1929: Traditionalists; DLB 98: Modern British Essayists, First Series; and DLB 162: British Short-Fiction Writers, 1915–1945; and DLB Documentary Series 16: The House of Scribner, 1905–1930.
BOOKS: From the Four Winds, as John Sinjohn (London: Unwin, 1897);
Jocelyn, as Sinjohn (London: Duckworth, 1898); as Galsworthy (Saint Clair Shores, Mich.: Scholarly Press, 1972);
Villa Rubein: A Novel, as Sinjohn (London: Duckworth, 1900);
A Man of Devon, as Sinjohn (Edinburgh & London: Blackwood, 1901);
The Island Pharisees (London: Heinemann, 1904);
The Man of Property (London: Heinemann, 1906; New York & London: Putnam, 1909);
The Country House (London: Heinemann, 1907; New York & London: Putnam, 1907);
A Commentary (London: Richards, 1908; New York & London: Putnam, 1908);
Fraternity (London: Heinemann, 1909; New York & London: Putnam, 1909);
Plays: The Silver Box; Joy; Strife (London: Duckworth, 1909);
A Justification of the Censorship of Plays (London: Heinemann, 1909);
Justice: A Tragedy in Four Acts (London: Duckworth, 1910; New York: Scribners, 1910);
A Motley (London: Heinemann, 1910; New York: Scribners, 1910);
The Spirit of Punishment (London: Humanitarian League, 1910);
“Gentles, Let Us Rest”: Reprinted from “The Nation” (London: National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, 1910?);
The Patrician (London: Heinemann, 1911; New York: Scribners, 1911);
The Little Dream: An Allegory in Six Scenes (London: Duckworth, 1911; New York: Scribners, 1911);
For Love of Beasts (London: Animals’ Friend Society, 1912);
The Pigeon: A Fantasy in Three Acts (London: Duckworth, 1912; New York: Scribners, 1912);
Moods, Songs, and Doggerels (New York: Scribners, 1912; London: Heinemann, 1912);
The Inn of Tranquility: Studies and Essays (New York: Scribners, 1912; London: Heinemann, 1912);
The Eldest Son: A Domestic Drama in Three Acts (London: Duckworth, 1912; New York: Scribners, 1912);
The Fugitive: A Play in Four Acts (London: Duckworth, 1913; New York: Scribners, 1914);
The Dark Flower (London: Heinemann, 1913; New York: Scribners, 1913);
The Slaughter of Animals for Food (London: Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/Council of Justice to Animals, 1913);
Treatment of Animals: Being a Speech Delivered at the Kensington Town Hall on December 15, 1913, at a Meeting Called to Protest against Cruelties to Performing Animals (London: Animals’ Friend Society, 1913);
The Mob: A Play in Four Acts (London: Duckworth, 1914; New York: Scribners, 1914);
Memories (London: Heinemann / New York: Scribners, 1914);
Some Slings and Arrows, edited by Elsie E. Morton (London: E. Mathews, 1914);
The Little Man, and Other Satires (New York: Scribners, 1915; London: Heinemann, 1915);
A Bit o’ Love: A Play in Three Acts (London: Duckworth, 1915; New York: Scribners, 1915);
The Freelands (London: Heinemann, 1915; New York: Scribners, 1915);
A Sheaf (New York: Scribners, 1916; London: Heinemann, 1916);
“Your Christmas Dinner Is Served!” (London: National Committee for Relief in Belgium, 1916);
Beyond (New York: Scribners, 1917; London: Heinemann, 1917);
The Land: A Plea (London: Allen & Unwin, 1918);
Five Tales (New York: Scribners, 1918; London: Heinemann, 1918);
Another Sheaf (London: Heinemann, 1919; New York: Scribners, 1919);
The Burning Spear: Being the Experiences of Mr. John Lavender in Time of War, as A. R. P-M (London: Chatto & Windus, 1919); as Galsworthy (New York: Scribners, 1923);
Addresses in America (New York: Scribners, 1919; London: Heinemann, 1919);
Saint’s Progress (New York: Scribners, 1919; London: Heinemann, 1919);
Tatterdemalion (London: Heinemann, 1920; New York: Scribners, 1920);
The Foundations: An Extravagant Play in Three Acts (London: Duckworth, 1920; New York: Scribners, 1920);
The Skin Game: A Tragi-comedy in Three Acts (London: Duckworth, 1920; New York: Scribners, 1923);
In Chancery (London: Heinemann, 1920; New York: Scribners, 1921);
Awakening (New York: Scribners, 1920; London: Heinemann, 1920);
The Bells of Peace (Cambridge: Heffer, 1921);
To Let (New York: Scribners, 1921; London: Heinemann, 1921);
Six Short Plays (London: Duckworth, 1921; New York: Scribners, 1921);
The Forsyte Saga (New York: Scribners, 1922; London: Heinemann, 1922);
A Family Man: In Three Acts (London: Duckworth, 1922; New York: Scribners, 1922);
Windows: A Comedy in Three Acts for Idealists and Others (London: Duckworth, 1922; New York: Scribners, 1923);
Loyalties: A Drama in Three Acts (London: Duckworth, 1922; New York: Scribners, 1923);
Captures (London: Heinemann, 1923; New York: Scribners, 1923);
International Thought (Cambridge: Heffer, 1923);
The Forest: A Drama in Four Acts (London: Duckworth, 1924; New York: Scribners, 1924);
On Expression (London: English Association, 1924);
Memorable Days (London: Privately printed, 1924);
The White Monkey (New York: Scribners, 1924; London: Heinemann, 1924);
The Little Man: A Farcical Morality in Three Scenes (London: Duckworth, 1924);
Abracadabra & Other Satires (London: Heinemann, 1924);
Old English: A Play in Three Acts (London: Duckworth, 1924; New York: Scribners, 1925);
Caravan: The Assembled Tales of John Galsworthy (London: Heinemann, 1925; New York: Scribners, 1925);
The Show: A Drama in Three Acts (London: Duckworth, 1925; New York: Scribners, 1925);
Is England Done? (London: Privately printed, 1925);
The Silver Spoon (London: Heinemann, 1926; New York: Scribners, 1926);
Escape: An Episodic Play in a Prologue and Two Parts (London: Duckworth, 1926; New York: Scribners, 1927);
Verses New and Old (London: Heinemann, 1926; New York: Scribners, 1926);
Castles in Spain & Other Screeds (London: Heinemann, 1927; New York: Scribners, 1927);
The Way to Prepare Peace (London: Whitefriars Press, 1927);
Two Forsyte Interludes: “A Silent Wooing” and “Passers By” (London: Heinemann, 1927; New York: Scribners, 1928);
Swan Song (New York: Scribners, 1928; London: Heinemann, 1928);
A Rambling Discourse (London: Mathews & Marrot, 1929);
Exiled: An Evolutionary Comedy in Three Acts (London: Duckworth, 1929; New York: Scribners, 1930);
A Modern Comedy (London: Heinemann, 1929; New York: Scribners, 1929);
The Roof: A Play in Seven Scenes (London: Duckworth, 1929; New York: Scribners, 1930);
Four Forsyte Stories (London: Heinemann / New York: Fountain Press, 1929);
On Forsyte ‘Change (London: Heinemann, 1930; New York: Scribners, 1930);
Soames and the Flag (London: Heinemann, 1930; New York: Scribners, 1930);
Two Essays on Conrad (Cincinnati: Privately printed, 1930);
The Creation of Character in Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931);
Maid in Waiting (London: Heinemann, 1931; New York: Scribners, 1931);
Worshipful Society (New York: Scribners, 1932);
Flowering Wilderness (London: Heinemann, 1932; New York: Scribners, 1932);
Candelabra: Selected Essays and Addresses (London: Heinemann, 1932; New York: Scribners, 1933);
Over the River (London: Heinemann, 1933); republished as One More River (New York: Scribners, 1933);
Author and Critic (New York: House of Books, 1933);
Ex Libris John Galsworthy, edited by Galsworthy and Ada Galsworthy (London: Heinemann, 1933);
End of the Chapter (New York: Scribners, 1934; London: Heinemann, 1935);
The Apple Tree (New York: Scribners, 1934);
The Collected Poems of John Galsworthy (New York: Scribners, 1934);
The Winter Garden: Four Dramatic Pieces (London: Duckworth, 1935);
Galsworthy in His Humour (London: Duckworth, 1935);
Forsytes, Pendyces, and Others (London: Heinemann, 1935; New York: Scribners, 1935);
Glimpses and Reflections (London & Toronto: Heinemann, 1937).
PLAY PRODUCTIONS: The Silver Box, London, Court Theatre, 25 September 1906;
Joy, London, Savoy Theatre, 24 September 1907;
Strife, London, Duke of York’s Theatre, 9 March 1909 (transferred to Haymarket Theatre);
Justice, London, Duke of York’s Theatre, 21 February 1910;
The Little Dream: An Allegory in Six Scenes, Manchester, Gaiety Theatre, 15 April 1911; London, Court Theatre, 28 October 1912;
The Pigeon, London, Royalty Theatre, 30 January 1912;
The Eldest Son, London, Kingsway Theatre, 23 November 1912;
The Fugitive, London, Court Theatre, 16 September 1913 (transferred to Prince of Wales’s Theatre);
The Mob, Manchester, Gaiety Theatre, 30 March 1914; transferred to London, Coronet Theatre, 20 April 1914;
The Little Man, Birmingham, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 15 March 1915; London, Everyman Theatre, 21 October 1920;
A Bit o’ Love, London, Kingsway Theatre, 25 May 1915;
The Foundations, London, Royalty Theatre, 26 June 1917;
Defeat, Hammersmith, Lyric Theatre, 14 March 1920;
The Skin Game, London, St. Martin’s Theatre, 21 April 1920;
The First and the Last, London, Aldwych Theatre, 30 May 1921;
A Family Man, London, Comedy Theatre, 2 June 1921;
Loyalties, London, St. Martin’s Theatre, 8 March 1922;
Windows, London, Court Theatre, 25 April 1922;
The Sun, Liverpool, Playhouse, 1 November 1922;
The Forest, London, St. Martin’s Theatre, 6 March 1924;
Punch and Go, London, Mary Ward Settlement Theatre, 15 October 1924;
Old English, London, Haymarket Theatre, 21 October 1924;
The Show, London, St. Martin’s Theatre, 1 July 1925;
Escape, London, Ambassadors’ Theatre, 12 August 1926;
Exiled, London, Wyndham’s Theatre, 19 June 1929;
The Roof, London, Vaudeville Theatre, 4 November 1929.
The major literary achievement of John Galsworthy’s life was the Forsyte Chronicles, a family epic that includes two novel trilogies as well as several short stories. The Chronicles satirize upper-middle-class and upper-class British society in the Edwardian age and the immediate post-World War I period. As a dramatist whose reputation in his lifetime was second only to that of George Bernard Shaw, Galsworthy was a compassionate reformer who campaigned against long prison terms, harsh treatment of prisoners, class discrimination at the bar of justice, anti-Semitism, the intransigence of capitalists and labor union leaders, and other evils of society. Galsworthy was also a master of the short story. A few of his well-crafted stories continue to serve as models for aspiring writers.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, Galsworthy portrayed traditional English values such as love of the countryside, fair play, integrity in business and other worldly affairs, devotion to justice, respect for women, comity between the sexes, honorable behavior, support for the underdog, and the Victorian/Edwardian code of the gentleman and lady. Modernist writers such as D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce scoffed at these values when emphasized in literature, for they were seen as unrealistic. But the reading public disagreed. Galsworthy met Lawrence in 1918 when Lawrence had already become famous (or notorious) with Sons and Lovers (1913) and The Rainbow (1915), and the two writers took an instant dislike to each other. Galsworthy felt that Lawrence’s focus on sex and the body was unworthy for a writer. Despite the fact that Woolf considered Galsworthy and other Victorian/Edwardian novelists such as H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennett mere sociologists, there was more respect among modernists for Galsworthy when it came to his vigorous satirizing of the upper middle class, with its philistinism, overpossessiveness, snobbery, jingoism, and indifference to the working class and the poor of the land.
Galsworthy, like his problematic and protean protagonist of the Forsyte Chronicles, Soames Forsyte, was born a “man of property.” At the time of his birth, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland ruled the seas and much of the landmass of the world. And his class ran the nation. London was the largest city in the world, and Great Britain was the richest nation, thanks to the Industrial Revolution. Into that confident if not smug world, John Galsworthy was born on 14 August 1867 at Parkfield, Kingston Hill, Surrey, the second child and first son of John Galsworthy, a solicitor, company director, and property owner, and Blanche Bartleet Galsworthy. Later they had another son and daughter. The infant was christened John because his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had been likewise christened. When John was still a child, the senior Galsworthy moved the family to a huge Victorian Gothic edifice he had built on a large acreage he had bought called Coombe, near the village of Maldon. He called his house Coombe Warren. Galsworthy’s childhood memories of Coombe Warren and the beautiful surrounding countryside influenced the author’s portrayal of Robin Hill, the house Soames Forsyte has built for his unhappy wife, Irene, and which is almost a character in the Forsyte novels.
The upper-middle-class Galsworthys descended from yeoman stock in Devonshire, and the family traced its paternal roots back to an Edmund Galsworthy who died in Plymouth in 1598. In 1833 the author’s paternal grandfather, a prosperous Plymstock merchant, was the first to settle in the London area. He was a skillful and prudent investor who made his fortune investing in land and houses. His son inherited considerable wealth. He too was a prudent businessman and did not marry until he was forty-five years old. Blanche Bailey Bartleet was twenty-five when she married; she came from an established Worcestershire family of a slightly higher social standing (more time on the land and less in business).
Galsworthy’s father was an intelligent, well-read, bewhiskered man who was an easygoing, fond, older parent who made time for his children, especially on weekends. The author always had a deep respect and affection for his father.
Galsworthy’s mother was a difficult person, less loving than her husband; she did not choose to spend as much time with her children as she spent in running the many-roomed house. There were usually as many as fourteen servants for her to supervise, and she was obsessed with household cleanliness. When Blanche Galsworthy paid attention to the children, it was to fuss over their clothes and hair. Her offspring did not remember her with much affection. She also seems to have been something of a hypochondriac: she was afflicted with frequent headaches, requiring her to recline on a sofa with black lace over her eyes. There were a great many relatives, and it is apparent that the extended Galsworthy clan influenced the author’s character constructs in the Forsyte Chronicles and other novels.
Despite their mother’s coldness, and mainly because of their father’s warmth, the four Galsworthy children had a happy childhood living in and around the series of three spacious houses built by their house-loving father on a twenty-four-acre estate near Epsom, a suburb of London. Galsworthy was an avid reader from childhood on. His early favorite subjects were boys’ adventures and sea stories.
Galsworthy was proud of his heritage. As an adult he invested time and money into researching his family lineage on both the paternal and maternal sides. Furthermore, he always maintained pride in being English. It energized him as it did a great many others in that heady time before the horrors of World War I. The only time Galsworthy ever took umbrage at a newspaper reference to him was when he was falsely identified as an Irishman.
When Galsworthy was nine, he was sent away to Saugeen Preparatory School at Bournemouth. The school was small and family-run. The custom at the time was for upper-middle-class and upper-class English boys to be abruptly detached from home life. John, or Jack as his family and friends called him, was a bright, well-behaved pupil more interested in cricket than reading, although the scope of his reading for pleasure had expanded beyond boys’ adventure stories into history. His nearsightedness prevented him from excelling at the English sport, but he remained an avid cricket fan all his life.
In 1881 Galsworthy’s father enrolled his first son in one of England’s premier public (private) schools, Harrow, for his secondary education. Galsworthy neglected his academic subjects for athletics that were less dependent on a keen eye than cricket, such as gymnastics, running, and football (soccer), and he was popular in his house. His headmaster liked him but could not see any promise of distinction for the amiable but unambitious young man.
For Galsworthy’s university education his father chose Oxford, making sure his firstborn son and namesake would have a far superior education to his own. Galsworthy went up to New College, Oxford, in 1886 to study jurisprudence. The senior Galsworthy, always a practical businessperson, envisioned having a barrister in the family, useful for the extensive family business interests. In the same year that Galsworthy entered Oxford, his family moved closer to London with the purchase of a house in Kensington, which became the author’s base for holidays and adventures in the capital.
Galsworthy convinced his classmates in New College that he had overstrained his heart and therefore could no longer participate in sports. Instead, he became a dandy, parading in his somewhat foppish clothes on High Street, wearing a monocle over his weak right eye. He adopted the mannerism of inserting the monocle and looking over people he was introduced to, giving the impression that he was cold, aloof, and supercilious, but in fact he was merely straining to see. All his life Galsworthy wore eyeglasses in private. His interest in clothes also continued, and he was always regarded as a stylishly dressed man. Academically, Galsworthy was satisfied with a second-class degree. He took up “studying” racehorses at Oxford, and as a result he was frequently in debt, relying on his indulgent father to bail him out with the bookmakers.
Galsworthy fell in love for the first time while he was at Oxford. Her name was Sybil Carlisle, a young woman he had met while visiting Wales. Sybil was a singing instructor who hoped for a stage career. Nothing came of the relationship. His parents felt she was not suitable for their son because her family was not wealthy. In any case, she was not in love with him, although she and Galsworthy continued to see each other as he received his law degree from Oxford University in 1889 and proceeded to London for advanced studies in jurisprudence. There, on 29 April 1890, Galsworthy was called to the bar as a member of Lincoln’s Inn.
Galsworthy, however, showed little interest in practicing law and trying cases despite the fact that his father was a senior partner in a successful firm of solicitors and thus able to bring many lucrative briefs to him. He almost tried one case, but he was talking with his father in the hall outside the courtroom when the case was called, and so one of his colleagues took over for him. He did help his father, however, by writing legal opinions and collecting rents in the slum properties that his father’s firm owned. Galsworthy’s later reformer bent and sympathy for the poor took seed at this time. The senior Galsworthy, unable to motivate the indulged young man who apparently needed some maturing, sent Galsworthy to Canada, supposedly to investigate a mining company, but really to have a change of scenery and forget his disappointment over Carlisle. The trip to Canada was one of several the senior Galsworthy sent his son on, hoping to interest him in practicing maritime law. Galsworthy even opened modest London law chambers at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple.
In 1891, at a family celebration of the marriage of Galsworthy’s cousin Arthur Galsworthy, the author met the woman who came to dominate his entire life. That woman was his cousin’s bride. Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper Galsworthy was the illegitimate daughter of Anna Pearson and the adopted daughter of an obstetrician, Emanuel Cooper of Norwich. Ada was born in 1864, but her mother concealed the actual year of her birth, claiming 1866 so the child could appear to be the legitimate offspring of the marriage between the doctor and herself. Anna Cooper shopped Ada around Europe seeking a wealthy husband for her daughter and finally found Arthur Galsworthy. The marriage was a disaster for Ada Galsworthy, who later claimed that she endured marital rape and beatings. Although Ada Galsworthy became the model for Irene, Galsworthy’s greatest heroine in the Forsyte Chronicles, her relationship with the author did not materialize until much later.
Meanwhile, the author’s sister Lilian fell in love with the artist painting a portrait of her father. Georg Sauter was a Bavarian-born artist of peasant stock, and he was a liberal. Those “defects,” along with the general bourgeois view that all artists were dissolute bohemians, made him unacceptable to the Galsworthys. But despite family objections, Lilian and Georg finally married in 1894. The happy couple remained Galsworthy’s closest family members for most of his life. Sauter was the model for the architect Philip Bosinney in The Man of Property (1906), the first volume of The Forsyte Saga.
Still unsettled in his life, Galsworthy made a trip to the South Seas and visited Australia and New Zealand in 1892. In March 1893, on his way home, Galsworthy took passage out of Adelaide on the clipper ship Torrens, whose first mate was the Polish-born Joseph Conrad. During the fifty-six-day voyage to England, Galsworthy and Conrad became friends. Conrad had already started his first novel, Almayer’s Folly (1895), and later introduced Galsworthy to critics and the editor Edward Garnett, who helped to shape Galsworthy’s early novels. Galsworthy, always generous, helped Conrad financially when the latter was in need. The two remained friends until Conrad’s death in 1924. The meeting with Conrad gave Galsworthy the idea of becoming a writer, but not the motivation. That came from Ada Galsworthy.
Ada Galsworthy, a beautiful woman, next met Galsworthy in 1893, at the annual Eton-Harrow cricket match. She had a classic profile, lovely brown eyes, and a stately, slender figure. Also, like Irene Forsyte, she played the piano exquisitely. Galsworthy was smitten. She was twenty-six years old; he was twenty-three and much less experienced in matters of love and sex than the married woman. She told him about her miserable marriage, and, full of sympathy for her, he began to share her torment. They started to meet often, usually in the company of a female relative. Then, as planned, they met alone in Paris during Easter week of 1895 and became lovers. As she was at a railway station about to begin her return to England, while Galsworthy was staying on in Paris, she turned to her lover and said: “Why don’t you write? You are just the person.” As Galsworthy was deeply in love–and really had little else to do between trysts–he took her suggestion as a command.
Her marital status in the Victorian era when marriage was truly for life, her undeniable love for Galsworthy, her beauty, and her courage in entering into an illicit relationship condemned by the society of which they were so much a part proved subject and theme for much of Galsworthy’s literary output over his lifetime. Without her, Galsworthy might never have become a great writer. She aided him throughout his career by typing manuscripts, listening to his work, shielding him from unwanted visitors, and lavishing affection on him. She managed their household and handled correspondence and appointments, thus helping Galsworthy to be a prolific writer. Most important of all, Ada Galsworthy was Galsworthy’s muse. She was a paragon of beauty in his eyes and the model for many of his heroines, especially those who had beastly first husbands.
Galsworthy and Ada Galsworthy were aware that they had done something quite daring and brave. In retrospect their long-term affair was an act of defiance against conventional morality and Victorian mores. They were in the vanguard of the sexual revolution that was a major social architectonic of the twentieth century. They had their affair, and because of their eventual marriage (in 1905), money, and literary fame, they relatively quickly were allowed–even welcomed–back into respectable society. Simultaneously, however, Ada Galsworthy, perhaps out of a frightened possessiveness, kept her lover, later her husband, on a short tether, requiring unstinting adoration from him and sympathetic attention to her real or imaginary illnesses: asthma, rheumatism, colds, and attacks of flu. His continual ministrations to her illnesses made her feel more secure.
At first only Galsworthy’s sisters and a few close friends knew of the affair between him and Ada Galsworthy. When, inevitably, the English social world learned of their relationship, they were ostracized. Galsworthy resigned his club membership and the directorships his generous father had arranged for him. Arthur Galsworthy, a reserve cavalry officer for many years, was called to active duty for two years to serve with the British Army in South Africa when the Boer War broke out in 1899. While her husband was in South Africa, Ada Galsworthy left her marital domicile and rented an apartment in London. Galsworthy had a bachelor apartment nearby. It was imperative that the senior Galsworthy not know of the liaison, for the Victorian gentleman would surely have disinherited his wayward son who had “stolen” his cousin’s wife.
Galsworthy passed the time writing. In imitation of Rudyard Kipling he wrote a short-story collection titled From the Four Winds (1897), which he published at his own expense under the name John Sinjohn. The well-known novelist and editor Ford Madox Ford and Conrad helped Galsworthy to find a publisher willing to publish his first novel. Jocelyn (1898) is the story of a man married to an invalid who is addicted to morphine; he falls in love with a beautiful woman whom he cannot have until his wife dies of an accidental overdose. Already Galsworthy was dealing in the guilt, passion, and pleasure of illicit sexual relations. The novel was dedicated to Conrad. It received some critical praise, but much later Galsworthy thought it too emotional and not well written, and he would not allow republishing when many readers wanted access to his earlier work.
Galsworthy’s next novel, Villa Rubein (1900), was shaped and promoted by Garnett. The story, based on the love affair of his sister Lilian and Sauter, depicts a sensitive young English woman who falls in love with an Austrian painter over the objections of her grandfather, whose values seem rather Galsworthian. Galsworthy’s family was not pleased with this transparent story.
The Garnett-Galsworthy collaboration was important to the development of Galsworthy as a literary and commercial artist. Their association lasted for twenty years, until Galsworthy felt more confident in his own judgment than his friend Garnett’s. Galsworthy’s next work was another collection of short stories, A Man of Devon (1901), dedicated to the senior Galsworthy. In one of the stories, “The Salvation of Swithin Forsyte,” Galsworthy introduced the fictional family with which he achieved greatness, although he did not return to the Forsytes for several years.
In 1902, when the elder Galsworthy was almost eighty-five, his wife accused him of making sexual advances to a governess of their grandchildren and left him. By 1904 old John Galsworthy was on his deathbed, and the author felt it was safe to use his own name on his books, something he had been longing to do, for he was proud of his growing literary skills. The first novel to bear his name was The Island Pharisees (1904), a satire in which a young, well-born, Oxford-educated lawyer meets a tramp who shows him the world of the hungry and poor, thus shaking up the bourgeois values of the hero. Galsworthy drew upon the impressions of slum life he had garnered while collecting rents for his father’s firm. The novel gave Galsworthy the opportunity to criticize the smugness, selfishness, and cruel indifference of middle-class England; the English are the “Island Pharisees.” The Island Pharisees received mixed reviews ranging from appreciation of its humor to criticism of its moralizing.
On 8 December 1904 old John Galsworthy died at age eighty-seven. He left each of his four children a considerable legacy and lifelong annuities. Galsworthy was now independently wealthy. At last Ada Galsworthy could obtain a divorce, and she and Galsworthy could finally marry. They went publicly to a farm in Manaton, on the edge of Dartmoor, and, as expected, Arthur Galsworthy sent a private detective to observe and report on the couple. Ada Galsworthy was then served with divorce papers, and Galsworthy was cited as corespondent. They left for the Continent shortly afterward to wait out the divorce. Arthur Galsworthy was granted it in two months. Six months later the divorce became absolute and the couple were free to marry, which they did in a private ceremony before the registrar at St. George’s, Hanover Square, London, on 23 September 1905.
The couple set up residence in a small house on Addison Road, Kensington, London. As quickly as feasible, Ada Galsworthy led her new husband back into society, for the wealthy, handsome, well-dressed man was surely the least bohemian of writers. But Ada Galsworthy never fully recovered her self-esteem and social confidence from the many slights she had endured for ten years as Galsworthy’s mistress.
The Galsworthys slept in separate rooms after their marriage. In the diary Galsworthy kept between 1910 and 1918 he cryptically recorded the times the couple made love. It was not often, and after 1912 the entries stopped. They never had children, perhaps because of Ada Galsworthy’s poor health. Instead they lavished affection on dogs. When their spaniel Chris, a favorite for twelve years, died in December 1911, Ada Galsworthy was beside herself with grief. She insisted that their “child” came back to visit her at dinnertime twelve days after he died. Galsworthy wrote a biography of Chris, Memories (1914), which remains a favorite of dog lovers.
While the couple was waiting out the divorce on the Continent, Galsworthy had been working hard on the novel that became his greatest single literary achievement as well as the foundation of the Forsyte Chronicles: The Man of Property. The novel, set in the year 1886 in London and its suburbs, is another Galsworthy narrative attacking upper-middle-class materialism, and once again he presents agonized lovers trapped by the conventions of bourgeois society and unable to fulfill their love. Galsworthy posted sections to Garnett for his appraisal. Garnett, approving of most of the developing novel, required Galsworthy to rewrite the death scene of the architect Bosinney. Actually, Garnett wanted the architect and Irene Forsyte to run off together with her jewelry, but Galsworthy insisted on the architect’s death. He was hurt by Garnett’s criticism, and their friendship cooled somewhat, although he dedicated the novel to Garnett.
The Man of Property is Galsworthy’s most hard-hitting novel. He despises Soames and many of the Forsytes. There are decent Forsytes: specifically old and young Jolyon, the father who tries hard to reestablish a relationship with his loved but estranged son, and the son once ostracized by the Forsyte clan because he fell in love with and married a mere governess. Young Jolyon, a painter, is the foil to Soames in In Chancery (1920) and will rescue Irene and appreciate her as a woman, not a beautiful object.
The public took time to warm up to the novel, and some were put off by its depiction of marital warfare, but the tragic story of the arrogant thirty-one-year-old philistine Soames Forsyte; his beautiful but unhappy wife, Irene, whom Soames eventually rapes; and her ill-fated lover Philip Bosinney, the gifted architect overseeing the construction of the suburban mansion that Soames wants to use to isolate his wife, eventually placed Galsworthy among the best-known writers of the day. Even Lawrence came to praise The Man of Property, calling it “really rather noble.”
The theater, however, is where Galsworthy’s contemporary reputation was made. The production of The Silver Box, also in 1906, a realistic courtroom drama of class injustice that allowed the author to use his legal experience, caught the attention of critics looking for playwrights who eschewed melodrama for the naturalism of Henrik Ibsen’s social dramas. Galsworthy, with his talent for dramatic situations and scenes, fit right into the emerging modern drama of the Edwardian period, and he turned out thesis plays (dramas that address and debate a social problem) for the next twenty-three years. Strife (1909) deals with labor-management conflict. Justice (1910) reveals how harsh prison punishment destroys individuals. This play helped change the penal system: Sir Winston Churchill, then home secretary in the cabinet, was deeply moved by the drama and consequently introduced sweeping prison reforms. Galsworthy had chosen the theater as the site in which he would try to raise the social consciousness of the nation.
The Eldest Son (1912) is about young men taking responsibility for the young women they make pregnant. The Fugitive (1913) discusses married women in extramarital affairs. The Mob (1914), produced as World War I commenced, is about morality and war. The Skin Game (1920) shows the conflict between old money and new money. Loyalties (1922) exposes the tribalism behind English anti-Semitism. Escape (1926) once more delineates the harshness of the penal system. Galsworthy was usually present at rehearsals and helped supervise productions.
Galsworthy also continued to write fiction and followed The Man of Property with a novel that some critics, then and now, consider his best work. It is arguably his greatest non-Forsyte story. The Country House (1907) deals with the landed gentry in the way that The Man of Property treats the moneyed bourgeoisie. It shows them naturalistically as a subculture, and it depicts the class with touches of nostalgia and cruelty. The plot centers on a love affair between a young man, George Pendyce, the elder son of Horace Pendyce, a stubborn and prejudiced squire, and an unhappily married woman, Helen Bellew, a relative who has been invited to the estate. Helen’s husband, the reprobate Captain Bellew, has made her life miserable. She and George fall in love, and they go to London together. Bellew plans to sue for divorce, and Horace is horrified that the family name will be sullied. His gentle wife, Margery, daringly goes to London to ask Helen to set her son free. The pusillanimous George has proven to be less of a man than Helen thought, so she acquiesces to Margery’s request. Margery also persuades Bellew not to start divorce proceedings. Relenting, he says to the older woman: “You are the only lady I know.” Galsworthy, who had been so eager to marry Ada Galsworthy, persisted in seeing passion and married life as incompatible. And he persisted in writing versions of his own great love affair.
In 1908 Galsworthy bought the farmhouse called Wingstone at Manaton on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon, the county of his paternal ancestors. He and his wife had stayed in it before their marriage. Galsworthy loved the place because he associated it with the happiest days of their union, as they enjoyed their passionate, illicit love affair. But Ada Galsworthy now did not like it as much as Galsworthy did, because Manaton was too far from the social whirl of London of which she was fond. Also, she did not care for its lack of indoor plumbing and its dampness. Galsworthy, however, was always able to work well there. He kept the house until 1926, although he and his wife always had a London residence as well.
Galsworthy wrote three more novels in the pre–World War I period: Fraternity (1909), the story of a liberal, middle-aged novelist who falls in love with a young woman from the London slums but cannot commit to her for fear of societal disapproval; The Patrician (1911), another tale of the landed gentry and a promising son who is in love with an unhappily married woman; and The Dark Flower (1913), in which Galsworthy follows the love life of a man from youth to middle age, when he falls in love with an eighteen-year-old girl whom he reluctantly gives up in order to stay with his faithful wife.
This time of success for the author and social acceptance of the couple should have been the happiest for the Galsworthys, but it was marred when the forty-five-year-old Galsworthy had the only known affair of his married life. In 1910, at a theater party for the production of Christoph Von Gluck’s Orpheus and Euridice,Galsworthy met a beautiful nineteen-year-old dancer named Margaret Morris, who had choreographed and danced in the show. Morris was still wearing her costume: a simple Greek tunic of cotton crepe. Initially, Galsworthy’s interests seemed professional and avuncular. He wanted to help the struggling artist. He used his influence to get her work as an actress, although she had no acting experience. He even brought her home to meet his wife. Galsworthy made no advances at first, but eventually they kissed and then met in Morris’s apartment and sat at opposite ends of the room while they conspired to become lovers. Morris naively thought that Ada Galsworthy would accept the relationship after it was consummated. But Ada Galsworthy intuitively knew that something was wrong, and sometime in 1912 she broke down. Galsworthy confessed, stating that his love for the younger woman would never supplant his love for his wife. Ada Galsworthy tried to be understanding, but her health had begun to fail again, and Galsworthy soon realized that he could not have his mid-life love affair with all its promise of renewed energy and creativity without sacrificing Ada Galsworthy’s happiness and perhaps her life.
Apparently, Galsworthy decided to break off the affair before he and Morris had made love. He sent her a letter asking her to be brave. The young woman was devastated and kept trying to see Galsworthy again, but he avoided her, although he still tried to help her. Eventually, he sent her money to open a school of dance for children, and later he gave her funds to go to Paris, where she met a painter and married him. Galsworthy never saw Morris again. He used this painful episode as the basis for The Dark Flower; apparently much of the dialogue in the novel replicates the conversations that Galsworthy had with Morris.
The Galsworthys fled to the Continent again. Ada Galsworthy quickly revived, and they departed for America, where Galsworthy’s plays were doing well in New York. If Ada Galsworthy recovered physically from the shock of the betrayal by her husband, she seems never to have recovered psychologically. She became even more dependent on her husband. Galsworthy was suffering also, as his final letters to Morris indicate. His sexual life with his wife was over by this point, and he was apparently celibate for the rest of his life.
When the Galsworthys returned to London, they gave up their house on Addison Road because of the sad memories of the Morris affair and the death of their dog, Chris. They took a flat at 12 Adelphia Terrace, where J. M. Barrie and his wife also lived. Shortly afterward the Galsworthys traveled to Egypt for a trip through the Western desert by camel. Supposedly, their trips were to improve Ada Galsworthy’s health, but they also ensured that Galsworthy would not have the opportunity for another relationship.
World War I was a terrible period for Galsworthy. The late Victorian/Edwardian world he understood and loved was destroyed in the blood of millions dead and the political and economic crises that followed after. Galsworthy was a humanitarian. He believed that people were essentially good. He fought for civil liberties and animal rights. He also wanted to aid his country, but at forty-seven he was too old, and he was opposed to violence. Besides, Ada Galsworthy required his care. He turned over his income from writing–quite a substantial sum–to the war effort during the 1914 to 1918 period. Inspiration came hard for Galsworthy during the war. Events were too distracting. Writing seemed vain or shallow when so many young men were being slaughtered. Nevertheless, Galsworthy kept up the writing discipline of his lifetime. Every morning, regardless of where he was or how he felt, he took up his pen and wrote.
Galsworthy’s last novel of social satire, The Freelands (1915), was nearly finished when the war began in August 1914. During the period he was writing the novel, his mother was terminally ill, and her suffering was another distraction. He gave his mother, who died on 6 May 1915, immortality by using her as the model for Mrs. Frances Freeland, the mother of four children, one of whom is a novelist. Galsworthy knew that his novel writing in the war period was weak, but he kept on. Beyond (1917), written in the winter of 1914–1915, is yet another story of an unhappily married woman, this one married to a Swedish violinist. The American serial rights for this monotonous novel brought in a great sum of money that Galsworthy immediately turned over to a fund for soldiers.
Galsworthy’s short-story writing at this time was superior to his novel writing. “The Apple Tree,” perhaps his best story, was included in Five Tales (1918), in which he also reintroduced the Forsyte family: “Indian Summer of a Forsyte” is an epilogue to The Man of Property. Galsworthy admired the short-story form; he liked working in limited space and with precise rising and falling structures. The subjects he chose were beauty, love, hate, injustice, and age. Galsworthy used the short story to convey his respect for the common laborer and his compassion for the poor. The weaknesses in Galsworthy’s stories include an abundance of sentimentality and the sameness of female characters, whether high-class ladies, country girls, or prostitutes, who are invariably long-suffering, loving, and selfless.
Galsworthy wrote a considerable amount of poetry, but it is little read today. He was also an ardent and effective essayist. His essays show his good will toward humanity, his lack of malice, his intelligence, and his skill as a literary and dramatic critic. He argued for the abolishment of censorship on the British stage. He battled for legislation opposing the vivisection of dogs, the abuse of horses in mines, and the use of performing animals in shows. Galsworthy advocated women’s suffrage and the transformation of the British Empire into the kind of confederation that ultimately became the British Commonwealth. He was an idealist who used his prose skills to attempt to bring about action on the part of the British people and change on the part of the British government.
Galsworthy was now the head of his extended family, and the clan decided to give the British Red Cross their mansion at 8 Cambridge Gate, London, to be used as a club for wounded soldiers. Also, they donated money to outfit it. While he was making the arrangements, an old friend suggested that the Galsworthys could join her in the hospital for French soldiers that she was administering in France. Galsworthy could learn how to be a masseur, and Ada Galsworthy could take charge of the linens. They agreed, because not only was it a way to assuage a little of the suffering in the war, but also their activities would not conflict with Galsworthy’s opposition to violence. They worked in France from 13 September 1916 to March 1917.
Galsworthy devoted much effort during the war to helping his beleaguered brother-in-law Sauter. Because Sauter was German-born, he was interned as an enemy alien, even though he had spent most of his adult life in England. Galsworthy petitioned the government for Sauter’s release, wrote many letters to people with influence, and called on cabinet ministers for help, but to no avail.
On New Year’s Eve 1917 the prime minister, Lloyd George, offered Galsworthy a knighthood. The author turned it down because he thought that award was inappropriate for a literary person. In July 1918 Galsworthy was shocked to find that he was ordered to report for an army physical. The Germans were on the offensive in France once more, and Britain was running out of cannon fodder, so that even fifty-year-olds like Galsworthy were being called for service. Given his antiviolence stance and preachments, the author really did not know if he would be willing to fight for his country. However, he was not called up.
In that same month Galsworthy made one of the most important decisions of his professional life. He conceived of, and began to implement, the idea of making The Man of Property the first volume of a trilogy that became The Forsyte Saga. “Indian Summer of a Forsyte” already existed as a bridge to the future volumes.
In September 1918 the Galsworthys moved to a new domicile: Grove Lodge in Hampstead. However, with the war over, they began their travel again. Their journeys took them twice to the United States and to Algeria, Austria, Brazil, Italy (including Sicily), Morocco, Switzerland, South Africa, and Tunisia. In 1921 Galsworthy was elected first president of PEN, the international organization of writers, and he and Ada Galsworthy attended PEN congresses in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Vienna, The Hague, Budapest, and Warsaw.
Revivifying the Forsytes (now the personifications of the diffuse Galsworthy clan), Galsworthy wrote furiously. But first he published Saint’s Progress (1919), a romance and the only Galworthy novel to deal directly with World War I. The new group of Forsyte pieces consisted of In Chancery; the second Forsyte interlude, “Awakening” (published separately as a short book in 1920); and To Let (1921). When The Man of Property, “Indian Summer of a Forsyte,” In Chancery, “Awakening,” and To Let were published in one volume under the title The Forsyte Saga in 1922, Galsworthy was astounded at the public reception. More than one million copies were sold in Britain and America within one year. The public sensed that the great family epic of their time, a three-generation work, had been produced. The social history of their parents’ generation was recorded. Furthermore, it was thought that something essentially English had been created. And to the relief and gratitude of a nation that had lost 750,000 young men in the recent war, Galsworthy skipped over the years of conflict in The Forsyte Saga.
The Forsyte Saga chronicles the life and times of three generations of a large, close-knit, upper-middle-class family, from the turn of the twentieth century to the post-World War I period. The Forsytes’ materialistic values are personified in the villain of the saga, the solicitor Soames Forsyte, who views even his beautiful wife, Irene, as his property to be used at will.
In Chancery begins in 1895 and ends in 1901 with the birth of Soames’s only child, his daughter, Fleur, by his second wife, Annette, a young French woman whose mother has a restaurant in Soho. As the novel opens, the forty-five-year-old Soames has been on his own during the twelve years since Irene left him the morning after he raped her and the distraught Bosinney was killed in a traffic accident. He decides to marry a young woman who could give him a son. But he cannot do so because he is still legally married to Irene. He has not divorced her because the scandal could have hurt his business, and he still has some hope of recovering his lost property: Irene. When he visits her to discuss a divorce, his passion flares up again, for she is still beautiful.
Irene flees to Paris, where Soames’s pursuit drives her into the arms of the compassionate young Jolyon, a widower, and he takes her to Robin Hill, the country house Soames had built for Irene but which is now
owned by Jolyon. Soames finally divorces Irene and marries Annette. He is now out of chancery. There is no love between them, but she quickly becomes pregnant. Soames is sure he will have a son, but Fleur is born. Soames now has another unsatisfactory marriage, but he is devoted to his daughter, for he can love her without reservation. Meanwhile, Jolyon and Irene marry. As the novel ends, the reader begins to feel sorry for Soames. His penance has been long and painful and is not over. A subplot of the novel concerns the next generation, as Forsyte cousins, representing the two sides in the feud between Soames and Joylon, begin to take romantic interest in each other.
“Awakening” moves the saga along to 1909. It depicts the early life of Jon Forsyte, son of Irene and young Jolyon. It is an idyll of childhood.
The trilogy ends with To Let as the story jumps to 1920. Fleur is nineteen. The entire Edwardian period as well as World War I have been passed over. Soames again engages in battle with Jolyon and Irene over the fact that his daughter and their son, Jon, have fallen in love, ignorant of the feud. The couple had met accidentally in an art gallery. Also involved is a decent young nobleman, Michael Mont, who loves Fleur and who will win her on the rebound after Jon breaks with her because the relationship is too painful to his parents. Jolyon, now past seventy, has a heart attack and dies in the same place as his father, the garden of Robin Hill. Fleur marries Michael, whom she does not love. The widowed Irene and Jon move to Canada. Robin Hill, a rich man’s creation to store his beautiful wife, an artist’s gift to the woman he loves, the happy home of Irene and young Jolyon, now bears a sign: To Let.
The triumph of The Forsyte Saga and the critical and financial success of Galsworthy’s play The Skin Game made him one of the preeminent living English writers. Honorary degrees began to accrue: St. Andrews (Scotland) in 1922, Manchester in 1927, Dublin in 1929, Cambridge and Sheffield in 1930, and Princeton and Oxford in 1931. Finally, he accepted the Order of Merit in 1929. In the years between the two world wars, famous authors were treated like great celebrities: they were addressed with deference by members of the press clamoring for interviews, and they were met at trains or dockside by throngs of fans as well as government, embassy, and consulate officials. Charities, political organizations, and causes demanded time, writing skill, and money. Among the many causes Galsworthy continued to battle for were the abolition of censorship of plays, a minimum wage, labor exchanges, women’s suffrage, divorce law reform, prison reform, animal rights, and slum clearance.
With the success of The Forsyte Saga, Galsworthy decided to expand the chronicles with another trilogy: The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1926), and Swan Song (1928). These novels continue the story of Soames Forsyte and his daughter, Fleur. The trilogy was republished in one volume as A Modern Comedy (1929). The aging Edwardian writer now not only related to contemporary society, he satirized it as well. But this second Forsyte trilogy is less successful than the first, partly because it lacks the anchor of a great work like The Man of Property. Reacting to a political shift to the left in 1920s Britain, Galsworthy changes from a critic of the upper middle class and the minor aristocracy to a supporter. Soames now seems a victim. Rather than class satire, A Modern Comedy focuses on the archetypal struggle between generations.
In The White Monkey Fleur represents the flapper generation: spoiled, selfish, and completely devoted to pleasure. Soames sees a painting of a white monkey, its eyes almost human. It is the symbol of modern man: an aging post-Darwinian primate, left only with a squeezed fruit in its outstretched paw, looking bewildered at its heritage.
Fleur cannot love her doting husband, who has come to realize that he was the runner-up. A young poet, Wilfrid Desert, tries to seduce Fleur, and although she would like the excitement and adventure of an affair, she is too middle-class to give in. The decent Michael suspects what is going on and kindly tells his wife that she must do what she needs to do. That generosity brings Fleur back to him, and she becomes pregnant. A son is born, and Fleur comments: “Isn’t he a monkey?”
Soames, meanwhile, saves a company for which he had served on the board of directors. He exposes the company manager as dishonest; but the manager flees the country, and the shareholders have no one to blame, so they attack the directors. The proud, incorruptible Soames resigns. The White Monkey is a fair picture of post-World War I Britain, weary of the privations of the four terrible war years and perplexed by the widening gulf between the younger generation and the old Edwardians.
The Silver Spoon opens in the year 1924. Michael has been nominated for a Conservative Party seat in Parliament, where he wants to support a harebrained plan for social reform called Foggartism. Galsworthy is probably satirizing Fabian Socialism, espoused by Shaw and other intellectuals. An aristocratic flapper, Marjorie Ferrar, attacks Fleur’s celebrity-chasing and Michael’s support of Foggartism. Fleur writes letters commenting on Marjorie’s immorality and is slapped with a libel suit. Soames tries to keep his daughter out of court by offering a compromise, but it is refused, and the case goes before a judge. The lawsuit is the heart of the novel. The aristocracy is now battling the upwardly mobile and less reverent upper middle class. Soames has Marjorie’s past and present investigated and comes up with enough evidence to prove immorality. Marjorie is cut to pieces in cross-examination, and Fleur wins the case; but her victory is a bitter one, for society now snubs her while Marjorie is more popular than ever.
Fleur wants to get away from England for a while, so Soames takes his daughter on a round-the-world trip. Michael cannot leave Parliament and stays behind with the son who was born with the silver spoon in his mouth. The Silver Spoon works better as a satire than The White Monkey because Galsworthy, the former barrister, is on surer ground when it comes to courtroom drama. Soames, now seventy, has acted forcefully and heroically in defense of his daughter. The older generation seems stronger and more principled than the younger.
Swan Song is set in the fateful year 1926, when Britain endured its only general strike. The British proved able to survive a test of national character with a minimum of violence. The revolution did not come, although the chasm between the working classes and the other classes remains. The strike brings all the surviving Forsytes into action. To help with the crisis, Michael convinces Fleur to open a canteen for strike-breaking volunteer railway workers. Galsworthy’s sympathies are with the government, not the workers. Meanwhile, Jon Forsyte has married in America and has brought his wife and Irene to England. Jon becomes a volunteer worker fighting the strike. When Fleur sees Jon in the canteen, she is sexually aroused and begins planning to have an affair with him. Soames suspects something is up with his daughter and is concerned. Unlike in The Man of Property, young lovers are not bravely fighting a hostile society but are dangerous violators of the moral code that upholds society.
Fleur is determined to seduce Jon, and although he has rejected her advances, eventually she contrives to bring him to Robin Hill, where she succeeds. But Fleur realizes that Jon will never love her again, and so her victory is over as soon as it is achieved. Jon goes home to confess to his wife, who first announces that she is pregnant and then states that she instinctively realized what has happened. Jon begs forgiveness and promises that he will never see Fleur again.
At home Fleur’s distraught state is obvious to Soames, but he senses that the crisis has passed. Fleur accidentally drops a lighted cigarette in Soames’s art gallery, and he soon realizes that his precious gallery is on fire. He rushes down to save his daughter, his grandson, and the servants, and then runs back to save his paintings. He rescues many by throwing them out the window. A large picture that has always reminded Soames of Fleur is left hanging on a window ledge when the choking Soames is dragged down to the lawn by the firemen. Soames sees that Fleur is standing below it. He realizes that she wants to be killed, and he darts forward to push her out of the way as the picture falls and strikes him dead. Soames dies a sacrifice for love as Bosinney did in The Man of Property. Soames is a champion in the end. As he breathes his last, Fleur, her life and soul saved, says “Yes Dad; I will be good!”
In the mid 1920s Galsworthy was working far too hard for a man of his age. On top of everything else going on in his busy life, in 1926 he and Ada Galsworthy decided to move. Galsworthy’s nephew Rudolf Sauter, an artist, and his wife, Viola, were now a part of the Galsworthy household and frequently traveling companions. Wingstone and Grove Lodge were too small for four people, Galsworthy’s writing, and Sauter’s painting. Galsworthy first seemed to want a modest country house for the two couples, but soon, to Sauter’s dismay–because it was understood that he and his wife were going to have to run the establishment–Galsworthy decided on a Tudor-style mansion: Bury House, located halfway between Pulborough and Arundel in Sussex, with a view of Bury Hill. The house had twenty-two rooms, of which fifteen were bedrooms. Grove Lodge was maintained as the London town-house for the Galsworthys and the Sauters. Galsworthy had avoided a grand style of life before, but now he seemed to believe that his literary, political, and social position required visible opulence.
Although Galsworthy had finally killed off Soames Forsyte in Swan Song, he could not quite leave the Forsyte Chronicles. More Forsyte tales appeared in Four Forsyte Stories (1929) and On Forsyte ‘Change (1930). Now Galsworthy seemed to be working against the clock. He started another trilogy, his third. This time he chose to depict an older and more distinguished clan than the Forsytes. The Charwells (pronounced “Cherrells”) are upper-class, whereas the Forsytes are upper-middle-class. While the Forsytes represent the Galsworthys, the Charwells stand for the author’s maternal ancestors: Worcestershire landed gentry.
The first Charwell novel, Maid in Waiting (1931), is set in 1928. The central figure of the trilogy is Dinny Charwell, a maid-in-waiting in the medieval sense: a woman who serves. She is Galsworthy’s ideal upper-class young woman: beautiful, charming, intelligent, plucky, and never disillusioned. She loves her family, the countryside, and her ancestral home. She rejects her suitors because at twenty-four she thinks she is too young to marry. Her brother, Captain Herbert Charwell, killed a man in self-defense and was then charged with murder. The main plot of the story is the way the enterprising Dinny saves her strangely passive brother and the Charwells from disgrace. The novel is slight, and Galsworthy is not at ease with a happy ending, but the female characterization is brilliant.
Flowering Wilderness (1932) is set in 1930. The plot is rather absurd. Dinny, now twenty-six, meets the poet Wilfrid Desert, Fleur’s would-be seducer in The White Monkey. They fall in love and within ten days are engaged. However, Wilfrid has a seemingly awful secret: in the Middle East, threatened with death, he converted to Islam. He had no belief before or afterward but thought that religion was not worth dying for. In the end the establishment ostracizes the poet for having betrayed his tradition and damaged British prestige, and he slinks away to obscurity in Siam. Dinny must slowly recover her will to live, and Galsworthy has returned to the sad ending. Flowering Wilderness was a long-outdated book at the time it was written.
On 13 August 1932, the day before his sixty-fifth birthday, Galsworthy finished Over the River, his last novel; it was published posthumously in 1933, and the trilogy was published in one volume titled End of the Chapter in 1934. Over the River is set in 1931, and the historical background is the Great Depression. Again Galsworthy focuses on a woman who is unhappily married. Dinny’s younger sister, Clare, needs to dissolve her brief marriage. Her husband, Sir Gerald Corven, seventeen years older than she, has whipped her and done other things unmentionable in the fiction of the time and place. After leaving her husband in Ceylon, Clare meets an impoverished young man, Tony Croom, on the ship bringing her home to England. He falls in love with her at first sight, but although she enjoys his attention, she holds him off, for she has had enough of what she calls “physiology.” In England her husband again demands his marital rights.
Clare and Tony continue to see each other but do not sleep together. Corven has them followed and vindictively sues for divorce, charging adultery and naming Tony as corespondent. Changing her mind, Clare seduces Tony, and they become part of the modern, urbane, sexually free smart set, living together but not marrying. The ending is cynical: the courts and society reward dishonesty and promote hypocrisy.
Meanwhile, Dinny learns that Wilfrid has drowned in Siam, and she falls desperately ill. Recovering, she accepts marriage with a conventional forty-year-old suitor named Eustace, whom she will never love. In the Charwell saga the men are weak unless they are bad, and the women must and do take charge of love and life itself. Galsworthy is mourning the breakup of the society he dissected and damned in his earlier fiction.
As Galsworthy was laboring on Over the River he was tired and depressed. He had endured radium treatments for a slightly disfiguring growth on his nose. Still enjoying horseback riding, he had experienced a few recent falls, and he had begun to suffer severe attacks of stuttering, sometimes losing the power of speech. Then Galsworthy began to drag one leg slightly, but, not wanting to distress Ada Galsworthy, he refused to see a doctor.
On 10 November 1932 an announcement arrived from Stockholm that Galsworthy had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The citation from the Swedish Academy stated that the prize was awarded “for his distinguished art of narration which takes its highest form in The Forsyte Saga.” Congratulations poured in from all over the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world. He was the second native-born English person to receive the award (Rudyard Kipling was the first, in 1907). Rallying with the news, Galsworthy worked on his acceptance speech as he and Ada Galsworthy planned the trip to Stockholm, but he was stuttering and stumbling so badly that he soon realized that the journey was out of the question and that he could not attend the awards ceremony.
Galsworthy was moved to Grove Lodge to be nearer medical attention. Now the physicians began to suspect a brain tumor. The symptoms became clearer, especially when he revealed that he had been suffering from severe headaches. The Nobel Prize medal was delivered to him at Grove Lodge. King George V asked for news. The prime minister telephoned. The press was at the door, while the world waited. Galsworthy struggled on, but on the morning of 31 January 1933 he died at the age of sixty-five. His body was privately cremated three days later.
A grand memorial service was held in Westminster Abbey. It was expected that his ashes would be placed in the Poets’ Corner, but because he was not a religious observant and had not been married in a church, the dean of Westminster Abbey refused interment of his ashes in the Abbey. But Galsworthy had requested that his ashes be scattered on the wind in the countryside, and on 25 March 1933 Sauter fulfilled that request on Bury Hill. Ada Galsworthy lived to a relatively healthy old age. On her death in 1956 she was cremated, and her ashes were also scattered on Bury Hill.
When Galsworthy died in 1933, he was at the height of his popularity. Few other British writers–certainly not any of the modernists–had the power, prestige, or the vast reading public he had. Even his friend and mentor, Conrad, had not achieved such success. King George V had made him a member of the Order of Merit, one of Britain’s most valued awards. He had been elected the first president of PEN, the most important organization of international authors, and he served in that capacity for almost twelve years. The British nation exulted in Galsworthy’s winning of the Nobel Prize. His fame was worldwide.
It is frequently the case that literary reputations free-fall shortly after the deaths of major writers. Only a few reputations rise to critical prominence later. In Galsworthy’s case, the fall was extremely rapid. On learning of Galsworthy’s death, Woolf wrote in her diary that she was glad “that stuffed shirt” had died. By 1940 Galsworthy was almost entirely ignored by British and American critics.
On 7 January 1967, one hundred years after Galsworthy was born, and thirty-three years after he died, television history was made when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) began showing episodes of one of the first literary miniseries: The Forsyte Saga. The series was based on the two trilogies and three bridging “interludes” from the Forsyte epic. The BBC was so sure of the success of the material–even though Galsworthy’s critical reputation, if not his popularity with readers, was at its nadir–that the corporation invested more money in the twenty-six-hour, black-and-white production than had ever been spent on a television show. Public reaction in Great Britain and, commencing in 1969, in the United States, was positive beyond the wildest expectations of the producers. Eventually, forty countries bought rebroadcasting rights, including the former Soviet Union. Millions of viewers have seen and loved the television epic. The success of The Forsyte Saga had a double effect: sales of Galsworthy’s novels rose to unprecedented heights, and critical opinion, which had classified Galsworthy as a “popular” middlebrow writer, began a reevaluation of Galsworthy’s literary achievement to the point that some critics offered positive views similar to those expressed prior to, and leading up to, the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932.
In April 2002 Granada Television in Great Britain remade the series in ten episodes. The new series was moderately successful in both the United Kingdom and the United States, where it was seen on PBS in October 2002. Again bookstores stocked Galsworthy’s fiction, and readers enjoyed another look at British upper-middle-class society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Autobiographical Letters of John Galsworthy: A Correspondence with Frank Harris, Hitherto Unpublished (New York: English Book Shop, 1933);
Letters from John Galsworthy, 1900–1932, edited by Edward Garnett (London: Cape, 1934; New York: Scribners, 1934);
Margaret Morris, My Galsworthy Story, Including 67 Hitherto Unpublished Letters (London: Peter Owen, 1967);
John Galsworthy’s Letters to Leon Lion, edited by Asher Boldon Wilson (The Hague: Mouton, 1968).
H. V. Marrot, A Bibliography of the Works of John Galsworthy (London: Mathews & Marrot / New York: Scribners, 1928);
Gilbert H. Fabes, John Galsworthy, His First Editions: Points and Values (London: W. & G. Foyle, 1932);
E. H. Mikhail, John Galsworthy the Dramatist: A Bibliography of Criticism (Troy, N.Y.: Whitson, 1971);
Earl E. Stevens and H. Ray Stevens, John Galsworthy: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings about Him (De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1980).
H. V. Marrot, The Life and Letters of John Galsworthy (London: Heinemann, 1935; New York: Scribners, 1936);
M. E. Reynolds, Memories of John Galsworthy by His Sister (London: Hale, 1936; New York: Stokes, 1937);
R. H. Mottram, For Some We Loved: An Intimate Portrait of John and Ada Galsworthy (London: Hutchinson, 1956);
Dudley Barker, The Man of Principle: A View of John Galsworthy (London: Heinemann, 1963; New York: Stein & Day, 1963);
Rudolf Sauter, Galsworthy the Man: An Intimate Portrait (London: Peter Owen, 1967);
Catherine Dupré, John Galsworthy: A Biography (London: Collins, 1976; New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1976);
John Fisher, The World of the Forsytes (New York: Universe, 1976; London: Secker & Warburg, 1976);
Alan Fréchet, John Galsworthy: A Reassessment, translated by Denis Mahaffey (Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble, 1982);
David Holloway, John Galsworthy (London: Morgan-Grampian, 1968);
Sheila Kaye-Smith, John Galsworthy (New York: Haskell House, 1972);
Herman Ould, John Galsworthy (London: Chapman & Hall, 1934);
Leon Schalit, John Galsworthy: A Survey (New York: Scribners, 1928; London: Heinemann, 1929);
J. Henry Smit, The Short Stories of John Galsworthy (New York: Haskell House, 1966);
Sanford Sternlicht, John Galsworthy (Boston: Twayne, 1987).
The principal collection of John Galsworthy memorabilia, portraits, letters, diaries, and manuscripts is in the Galsworthy Memorial Collection, established by Rudolf Sauter, Galsworthy’s nephew, at the University of Birmingham in 1962.