Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 737

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.

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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...

(The entire section contains 737 words.)

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