John Galsworthy was born into a wealthy family. His father was a lawyer and director of many companies. The elder Galsworthy provided the model for the elder Jolyon Forsyte in The Man of Property and “Indian Summer of a Forsyte.” Galsworthy attended Harrow, where he excelled at sports but not academics. He then studied law at Oxford. He was to practice little. At neither place did John show any literary talents or ambitions. His wealth allowed him to travel extensively as a young man.
The turning point in his life occurred when he met Ada Galsworthy, the wife of a cousin. It is not known why Ada married her first husband, but it was a loveless marriage. Learning her plight, John fell in love with Ada, who came to reciprocate his feelings. They carried on a relationship for several years until the death of John’s father. After they lived together openly in Dartmoor, Ada’s husband finally sued for divorce. Eventually, John and Ada married and remained together until his death. She provided the model for Irene Heron in The Forsyte Saga. At the heart of The Forsyte Saga is the plight of women as the property of men. The situation of the woman who became his wife made him sensitive to the second-class status of women in his society. Some critics have even argued that Galsworthy’s prowoman bias is excessive.
Before meeting Ada, Galsworthy made some attempts at writing. With her encouragement, he became more earnest and prolific, writing books and plays for nearly forty years. His best book is perhaps The Man of Property, a superb characterization of the new, prosperous class that arose from industrialization. The many characters are drawn from people in his family and others he knew.