John Galsworthy Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

John Galsworthy was born August 14, 1867, at Kingston Hill, Surrey, to John Galsworthy, a kind, charming, and prosperous London lawyer and company director whom his son idolized, and Blanche Bartleet, an unimaginative, fussy, and religious woman to whom Galsworthy was never close. The Galsworthys were a newly rich, upper-middle-class family; their wealth came from house and shop rentals and from speculations and investments in real estate that were begun by Galsworthy’s grandfather, a merchant who came from Devon to settle in London.

Because of the family’s wealth, Galsworthy enjoyed a childhood of privilege and luxury; his family could afford the kind of education his father had not had, so Galsworthy was privately tutored before being sent at age nine to a preparatory school at Bournemouth. He went on to Harrow, where he distinguished himself as an athlete, and then entered New College, Oxford, where he seemed more interested in behaving like a gentleman of leisure, dressing well, and gambling on the horses than in studying. He was graduated in 1889 with a second-class degree in jurisprudence and continued to study law until 1894 at Lincoln’s Inn in London; apparently, he wanted to please his father by following in his footsteps. He found the study and work boring and completed only one law case; he preferred hunting, shooting, and the company of a young singing teacher. His father disapproved of the infatuation and sent Galsworthy on several trips abroad to cure him of it. Sailing home from the South Pacific islands and Australia in 1893, Galsworthy met Joseph Conrad , then second mate on the Torrens; Conrad afterward became Galsworthy’s lifelong friend. Galsworthy had undertaken the trip partly in the hope of meeting Robert Louis Stevenson, whose fiction he admired, but he showed no serious interest in becoming a writer himself for two more years.

In 1895, Galsworthy’s acquaintance with his cousin Arthur’s wife, Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper Galsworthy, turned into an adulterous affair. Ada, the illegitimate daughter of Anna Pearson of Norwich, had been adopted by a Norwich physician, Emanuel Cooper, who provided for her and her brother in his will. Ada married unwisely; her escape from the unhappy marriage to Arthur had a profound emotional effect on her and on John Galsworthy, who transformed the episode into fiction...

(The entire section is 965 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born into a rich middle-class family, John Galsworthy followed the usual path of privileged youth. He was graduated from Harrow and Oxford, was called to the Bar, and traveled widely in Canada and Australia. Back in England, he put himself beyond the pale by becoming lover and all-but-husband to his cousin’s wife Ada in 1895. Excluded from polite society until 1905, when they were able to marry, the Galsworthys set what was to be the pattern of their life together: Utterly devoted to each other, they traveled abroad or perched at some English location, John writing and ministering to his delicate wife, Ada assisting “her writer.” Ada was the model for her husband’s most memorable fictional creation, Irene, in The Forsyte Saga. In 1906, the success of a novel (The Man of Property) and the production of a play (The Silver Box) won Galsworthy the esteem of his compatriots, and from then on he was a public figure, a respected writer, and social reformer. Having been found unfit for active duty in World War I, Galsworthy served as a masseur for the wounded, wrote patriotic pieces, and gave at least half his income to the war effort. His crusading optimism was a casualty of the European conflict; in the 1920’s he turned to writing the nostalgic novels that gained him his greatest popularity. Galsworthy died in January, 1933.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

John Galsworthy, son and namesake of a solicitor, company director, and descendant of the Devonshire yeomanry, was born on August 14, 1867, into the rich Victorian middle class he so accurately describes in The Forsyte Saga. His early years followed the prescribed pattern of that class. Having spent his childhood at a series of large, grand, ugly country houses outside London, Galsworthy graduated from Harrow School and New College, Oxford. Called to the bar in 1890, he commenced a languid practice of maritime law and traveled widely—to Canada, Australia, and the Far East. On returning to England, he committed an unpardonable breach of middle-class manners and morals: He openly became the lover, or more accurately husband manqué, of Ada, the unhappy wife of his cousin, Major Galsworthy.

Having placed themselves beyond the pale, the lovers traveled abroad and in England and, with Ada’s encouragement and assistance, Galsworthy began his literary career by writing books under the pen name John Sinjohn. In 1905, after Ada’s divorce, the Galsworthys were able to regularize their relationship, and, in 1906, public acclamation of The Man of Property and The Silver Box gave Galsworthy a secure place in the British literary establishment. Substantial resources permitted the Galsworthys to maintain London and country residences and to continue what was to be their lifelong habit of extensive traveling.

A kindly, courtly, almost...

(The entire section is 604 words.)