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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1951

First published: 1909

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social criticism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Locale: London

Principal Characters:

Hilary Dallison, a wealthy writer

Bianca, his wife and an artist

Stephen, his brother

Cecilia, Stephen’s wife and Bianca’s sister

Thyme , daughter of...

(The entire section contains 1951 words.)

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First published: 1909

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social criticism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Locale: London

Principal Characters:

Hilary Dallison, a wealthy writer

Bianca, his wife and an artist

Stephen, his brother

Cecilia, Stephen’s wife and Bianca’s sister

Thyme, daughter of Stephen and Cecilia

Mr. Stone, father of Bianca and Cecilia

Ivy Barton, a model

Mrs. Hughs, a seamstress

Mr. Hughs, her husband

The Story:

Bianca Dallison had begun the chain of events by asking her writer husband to find a model for her painting “The Shadow.” Through a friendly artist, Hilary had located a girl from the country who suited his wife. The girl, Ivy Barton, was very attractive, and after she had finished posing for Bianca, the Dallisons tried to help her find work. They had also found her a place to live with the Dallisons’ seamstress, Mrs. Hughs.

Ivy Barton, through no fault of her own, began to create trouble in the Hughs household when Mr. Hughs became enamored of her and Mrs. Hughs became extremely jealous. One day, Mrs. Hughs told Cecilia Dallison her troubles at home. Cecilia told Mrs. Hughs’s story to the rest of the family. The Dallisons, all very much interested in social problems, wished to help the girl and the Hughs family; but the situation was a delicate one. Their interest was heightened by the comment of Mr. Stone that in the lower classes each of them had a counterpart, a shadow, and that everyone was bound together by the bonds of fraternity in the brotherhood of man. Mr. Stone was writing a book on that very subject.

Hilary Dallison found that the girl’s work as a model was not regular and that she was finding it necessary to pose in the nude. He found her steady employment as a copyist for his father-in-law, Mr. Stone, who in his old age had embarked upon his strange philosophical work on the brotherhood of man. Bianca Dallison did not like the idea, for Mr. Stone lived with her and her husband. She began to be extremely jealous of the little model, although it had been years since she and her husband had lived as man and wife.

In spite of his wife’s jealousy, it was Hilary who first investigated the trouble at the Hughs’s home. He found only Mr. Hughs there. The visit only made the situation worse, for Hughs became convinced that Hilary was having an affair with Ivy. Hughs began to loiter about the Dallison house and to follow the model home when she finished her work with Mr. Stone. When Cecilia also learned that Hughs was beating his wife, the family decided that the situation was dangerous for the model and for Hilary. Cecilia tried to convince Hilary that the girl should be sent away and that he should stop trying to help Mr. and Mrs. Hughs. He only smiled at her suggestions.

Sometime later, Hilary followed Hughs when he saw him trailing Ivy home. Hilary was somewhat dismayed to discover that Hughs followed only to prevent the girl from meeting anyone else, including Hilary. Nevertheless, Hilary met the girl in a park after she had shaken her follower. Ivy let Hilary notice that her clothing was very shabby; feeling sorry for her, he took her into a shop and purchased a complete outfit for her. His deed won her complete devotion; she was in love with Hilary Dallison.

After leaving Ivy at the store where they had purchased her outfit, Hilary went to spend the evening at his club; he knew that his wife would not mind his absence from her. When he got home, however, he found her in his room. They kissed and for a moment forgot they had agreed not to live as man and wife. Then the moment passed, and Bianca fled to her room. Needing someone to talk to, Hilary went down to Mr. Stone’s room and had a cup of cocoa.

The daughter of Stephen and Cecilia Dallison, Thyme, also tried to help the Hughs family. Her interest was the Hughs’s tiny baby. She also noted that Ivy had new clothes and guessed that her uncle had bought them for the girl. The word quickly ran through the family, and Stephen, trying to make Hilary see how the others looked at the situation, told him that Bianca was bound to be jealous, even though they did not live as man and wife. Hilary felt that the celibacy she imposed on him had taken away any grounds for jealousy she might have.

That same afternoon, Hughs went to the Dallison home and tried to tell Bianca about her husband’s affair with Ivy. Although she refused to listen, the incident roused her emotions and suspicions. At least, her pride was hurt. That evening, Hilary and Bianca tried to talk over the matter, but all they succeeded in doing was hurting each other. Bianca refused to believe that her husband was innocent of any intentions toward the model and had simply bought the girl some clothing because he felt sorry for her.

With his sister-in-law’s help, Hilary found another room for Ivy. Hoping to solve the problem of Bianca’s jealousy, he also told her not to come to his house to copy for Mr. Stone. When Hughs returned home that night and learned that Ivy had left his house, he beat his wife and wounded her with a bayonet. As a result, he was put into prison for several weeks. During the time he was in prison, the Hughs’s baby died; Mrs. Hughs had been too upset to nurse him.

At the same time, old Mr. Stone became very ill and unhappy. He missed the company of the model as well as the copying she had done for him. In an effort to help her father, Bianca sought out Ivy and had her return to be with the old man part of every day. Because of his child’s death and the girl’s return to work at Hilary’s house, it seemed as if the problem would still be unsolved when Hughs returned from prison.

To avoid a repetition of the whole distasteful situation, Hilary resolved to go to Europe. Although Ivy was in love with him and wished to go along, he made up his mind that he would go alone. His wife, because of her conscience, resolved to help the girl in Hilary’s absence. When she went to the girl’s room, however, she found her belongings packed. It dawned on her that in spite of his resolve her husband was taking the model with him. Bianca left the house in a fury just as her husband arrived. Her jealousy and anger, however, were wasted; after she left, when Ivy kissed him, Hilary realized that he could never live for long with a girl from the lower classes. Flinging all the money he had with him on the bed, he left alone. He took a room in London and then sent a letter to Bianca through his brother Stephen. He told her of his decision to stop seeing Ivy and his further decision not to return to an unsatisfying marriage.

Critical Evaluation:

In both his novels and his plays, John Galsworthy reflected the social problems of his age. His conscience was bothered by the lack of understanding shown by the members of his own class, the intellectual and moneyed upper-middle class. In this novel, as in the others, his social satire is expressed by a delineation of the complacency of the upper classes rather than by an analysis of the lower classes and their situation. Here also, as in other works, his diagnosis is not profound, nor does he attempt to offer any remedy for the problems he shows. Some readers may feel that this volume shows how Galsworthy’s efforts to understand his age and his indignation at what he finds lead to no satisfactory solution in the end. FRATERNITY, however, is generally regarded as one of Galsworthy’s best works of fiction, aside from that series of upper-middle class novels upon which his fame rests, THE FORSYTE SAGA.

FRATERNITY, the third of a four-volume series satirizing affluent society—in the words of the author, “my long four volume image of England’s upper crust”—deals with the subject of cultured aesthetic intellectuals of London. They are filled with idealism, but their self-consciousness and complacency prevent them from acting in any substantial manner.

The novel’s earlier, rejected title, “Shadows,” and the later title that became affixed to it are both appropriate, for Galsworthy presents two levels of society, the artistic intellectuals and the wretched slum dwellers, each of which are “shadows” of the other, as revealed throughout the novel by the shifting point of view. At the same time, the upper-class Dallison family is going through the superficial motions of conceptualizing a “fraternity” of all men, much like the supposed vision in Mr. Stone’s apocalyptic “Book of Universal Brotherhood.”

All the Dallisons’ altruistic notions remain in the abstract, however, for the family represents “a section of society...who speculated on ideas,” and their self-consciousness and fidelity to convention paralyze them from taking any affirmative action. While most of the family flatter themselves by simply thinking about equality in society yet shrinking in fear from the thought that it might ever happen, three characters make a move forward but suffer for their transgression.

Hilary Dallison’s attraction to and sympathy for Ivy Barton overtly manifests itself as a gesture to lift her out of her poor existence. Beyond this, however, Hilary is also paradoxically attracted by her sexuality while repulsed with fear at the risk to his own status in actually bringing about any union of the two levels of society. In response to this dilemma, he relies upon the expediency of a monetary gift to her and flees from the impending necessity to make a decision and commit himself to action. Fear motivates Hilary’s behavior and defeats Thyme’s attempt at unification with the lower strata of society. When she goes among them, she feels the strength and security of her station drain off and flow into them, and she fears the transformation that creates the “unreality of her intruding presence.” As for the elder Mr. Stone, finally, fear was not his defeat as it was for the other two; rather, his overzealous commitment to the idea of a universal brotherhood and his agonized efforts to put into concrete terms the essence and elements of that concept drove him to defeat in madness, perhaps because readers are meant to feel that the consummation of his plan is an impossibility.

While FRATERNITY most clearly exposes the moral paralysis among the cultured upper classes, the slum dwellers are also paralyzed by their immersion in dreams, never to be fulfilled, and resignation to a poverty-stricken existence. Joshua Creed typifies the character of the slum dweller; while he ekes out a living selling newspapers in the slum, his thoughts are directed to the far-off, attractive Mayfair. His one expectation is death, and his only ambition is to be “respectable,” both during and at the end of his life.

Galsworthy supplies no answers or solutions to the dilemma he has presented in FRATERNITY. Through the Dallisons’ frustrations, complacency, sensitivity, and self-consciousness, his main purpose was to show how the intellectual segment of the country had been paralyzed by too many years of money and ease; they are unable to act in any decisive manner for the real benefit of anyone or even to resolve their own moral questions and dilemmas.

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