John Galsworthy Galsworthy, John - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Galsworthy, John 1867-1933

(Also wrote under the pseudonym John Sinjohn) English short fiction writer, novelist, dramatist, poet, and essayist.

A prolific author who worked in many genres, Galsworthy is most widely recognized as a chronicler of English bourgeois society during the early twentieth century. His most acclaimed work, The Forsyte Saga, is a trilogy of novels and two short stories, featuring Soames Forsyte, a prosperous and materialistic solicitor. A passionate humanist, Galsworthy criticized social injustice in Victorian society and exalted nature, beauty, and love. His style was noted for its charm, delicacy, and descriptive detail.

Biographical Information

Galsworthy was born on a family estate in Kingston Hill, Surrey, near London. His mother was a descendant of provincial squires, while his father was of Devonshire yeoman stock. His father was a successful solicitor who had financial interests in mining companies in Canada and Russia, and who later served as the model for Old Jolyon Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga. At the age of nine, Galsworthy was sent to a boarding school and later to the prestigious Harrow School in London, where he excelled in athletics. In 1886 he enrolled at Oxford to study law, graduating with second degree honors in 1889. The following year he was admitted to the bar. For a short while he worked at his father's legal firm but showed little interest in the law. He left for Canada in 1891 to inspect his family's mining interests and traveled extensively thereafter. In 1893, while aboard the Torrens, he befriended the first mate, Joseph Conrad, who was working on his first novel. Conrad would later become an important source of encouragement in Galsworthy's writing career. When Galsworthy returned to London in 1894, he had his own legal chambers but heard only one case. Within a short time, he gave up his chambers and spent the next few years reading and writing assiduously. Galsworthy was interested in writing about the plight of the working class, and he spent many hours roaming the impoverished neighborhoods of London. Ada Galsworthy, a married cousin with whom he became romantically involved, encouraged him to pursue a writing career, and her unhappiness with her failed marriage inspired many of his stories. In 1905 John and Ada Galsworthy were married. In 1897 he published his first collection of short stories, From the Four Winds, under the pseudonym John Sinjohn. Shortly thereafter he wrote two novels and another book of short stories called A Man of Devon. In 1917 Galsworthy was offered a knighthood, which he declined, arguing that it was not fitting for a writer; he later accepted the Order of Merit for his literary achievements. For twelve years he served as the first president of PEN, the international writers' organization. In December 1932, just a month before his death, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Galsworthy's short fiction exhibits similar themes to those of his novels, challenging upper-class Victorian standards. Though he himself was born to a wealthy family, Galsworthy espoused a liberal philosophy, opposing rigid doctrines of morality and religion. He believed that justice depended on the individual and on faith in humanity. He wrote about social justice, poverty, and old age, as well as love, beauty, and nature. Some of his stories are passionate tales of romance, such as "A Man of Devon" and "The Apple Tree," both of which take place in the Devonshire countryside. The former features the relationship between a young girl, Paisance, and the man she falls in love with, Zachary Pearse. Tragically, Paisance, as she watches her love sail away on a voyage that she was forbidden by her grandfather to join, trips and falls from the edge of a cliff to her death. In "The Apple Tree," a man returns after twenty-six years to Devon, where he had deserted a relationship with a farm girl in order to pursue a wife of greater social status. The story focuses on the remorse that he feels about his past choice as well as the guilt that he experiences upon discovering that the farm girl had committed suicide soon after he had left many years ago. Sanford Sternlicht called "The Apple Tree" Galsworthy's "most finely crafted, most symbolic, and most poetic tale." Other stories are character portraits or mood pieces such as "Spindleberries." He created his visions in minute detail, imbuing a strong sense of atmosphere and character. In general, Galsworthy's stories tend to center more on characters and their environment rather than plot. In many of his stories, Galsworthy empathizes with characters who are unappreciated by society for their kindness and humanity. Those who are depicted as most admirable are individuals who recognize goodness and beauty in others. For instance, in The Forsyte Saga, Irene leaves her husband, Soames, for Young Jolyon because Soames considers her his property and merely lusts for her, whereas Young Jolyon loves Irene and worships her beauty. In the idyllic "Indian Summer of Forsyte," first published in Five Tales, Old Jolyon, an epicurean, dies as he sips an exquisite wine, as if from excess of delight. A Modern Comedy, on the other hand, denounces the post-World War I generation for their aimlessness and restlessness. Commentators have noted that while Galsworthy satirized the wealthy in his early works, he presented a more sympathetic view of the Forsytes in his later works, especially those collected in A Modern Comedy. Collectively, On Forsyte 'Change, The Forsyte Saga, and A Modern Comedy have been referred to as "The Forsyte Chronicles."

Critical Reception

Galsworthy's earliest work showed the influence of Conrad, though Galsworthy insisted he was influenced most by Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev and Guy de Maupassant. His writings have also been compared to those of Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, and Katherine Mansfield. Galsworthy's talents were first widely recognized in 1906 upon the publication of his novel The Man of Property and his first play, The Silver Box. The novel introduced his famous Forsyte family, through whom he satirized Victorian society. Galsworthy finally achieved international acclaim when The Man of Property was republished in 1922 as part of The Forsyte Saga, along with two of his most famous stories, "Indian Summer of a Forsyte" and Awakening. Galsworthy was widely regarded as a compassionate humanist whose work evinced sensitivity, sincerity, and charm. Many believe that he successfully captured the spirit of his age. Yet, while some consider him a critic of the upper class, others assert that he admired it, especially later in his life. Some of his contemporaries, especially experimental modernists, disdained his work. Virginia Woolf, for instance, considered him a "stuffed shirt" and found him guilty of the same behavior and attitudes to which he objected in his writing. His style was variously faulted as overly sentimental and melodramatic or too analytical and pessimistic. His plays in particular were often criticized as social propaganda lacking dramatic intensity. However, many critics agree that as his style evolved it became less rigid and more subtle. Galsworthy's earlier style showed similarities to French naturalism, shifting later to a more deliberate use of symbolism and mythology.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Short Fiction

From the Four Winds [as John Sinjohn] 1897

A Man of Devon [as John Sinjohn] 1901

A Commentary (essays and sketches) 1908

A Motley (short stories, sketches, and essays) 1910

The Little Man, and Other Satires (short stories, satires, and sketches) 1915

Five Tales 1918

*Awakening (short story) 1920

Tatterdemalion 1920

The Forsyte Saga (novels and short stories) 1922

Captures 1923

The Works of John Galsworthy. 30 vols. (novels, dramas, essays, poetry, and short stories) 1923-36

Caravan: The Assembled Tales of John Galsworthy 1925

Two Forsyte Interludes: A Silent Wooing; Passers By 1927

A Modern Comedy (novels and short stories) 1929

On Forsyte 'Change 1930

Forsytes, Pendyces, and Others 1935

Other Major Works

Jocelyn [as John Sinjohn] (novel) 1898

Villa Rubein [as John Sinjohn] (novel) 1900

The Island Pharisees (novel) 1904

*The Man of Property (novel) 1906

The Silver Box (drama) 1906

The Country House (novel) 1907

Joy (drama) 1907

Fraternity (novel) 1909

Strife (drama) 1909

Justice (drama) 1910

The Little Dream (drama) 1911

The Patrician (novel) 1911

The Eldest Son (drama) 1912

The Inn of Tranquillity: Studies and Essays (essays) 1912

Moods, Songs & Doggerels (poetry) 1912

The Pigeon (drama) 1912

The Dark Flower (novel) 1913

The Fugitive (drama) 1913

The Mob (drama) 1914

The Freelands (novel) 1915

A Sheaf (essays) 1916

Beyond (novel) 1917

Addresses in America (essays) 1919

Another Sheaf (essays) 1919

The Burning Spear (essays) 1919

Saint's Progress (novel) 1919

*In Chancery (novel) 1920

The Skin Game (drama) 1920

The Bells of Peace (poetry) 1921

*To Let (novel) 1921

Loyalties (drama) 1922

Abracadabra, and Other Satires (essays) 1924

Old English (drama) 1924

The White Monkey (novel) 1924

Escape (drama) 1926

The Silver Spoon (novel) 1926

Verses New and Old (poetry) 1926

Castles in Spain (essays) 1927

Swan Song (novel) 1928

Maid in Waiting (novel) 1931

Candelabra: Selected Essays and Addresses (essays) 1932

Flowering Wilderness (novel) 1932

Over the River (novel) 1933; also published as One More River, 1933

The Collected Poems of John Galsworthy (poetry) 1934

End of the Chapter (novels) 1934

*These works and the short story "Indian Summer of a Forsyte" from Five Tales (1918) were published as The Forsyte Saga in 1922.

†These works were published as A Modern Comedy in 1929.

‡These works were published as End of the Chapter in 1934.

Joseph Conrad (letter date 1901)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A letter to John Galsworthy in 1901, The Life and Letters of John Galsworthy, by H. V. Marrot, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936, pp. 129-30.

[Conrad was born and raised in Poland and later resided in England. A major novelist, he is considered an innovator of novel structure as well as one of the finest stylists of modern English literature. In the following letter, originally written in 1901, he critiques A Man of Devon and suggests that Galsworthy should regard his characters with more skepticism.]

11th Nov. 1901.

DEAREST JACK,—I didn't write about the book before, first because Jess had it—and she reads slowly—and then I...

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The New York Times Saturday Review (essay date 1910)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of A Motley, in The New York Times Saturday Review, Vol. XV, No. 88, September 17, 1910, pp. 505-06.

[In the following review, the critic offers a favorable assessment of A Motley.]

John Galsworthy is one of the few really significant figures in the literary world to-day. It is difficult to understand the attitude of those who dismiss him with the slightly condescending dictum, "Oh, yes—Galsworthy. He's the Socialist and propagandist, isn't he?"

Socialist he may be, but he is too much the artist to be a mere propagandist. As a man of thought and imagination he reflects the ultra-modern temper—the new humanitarianism, which...

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Sheila Kaye-Smith (essay date 1916)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: An excerpt from John Galsworthy, H. Holt and Company, 1916, pp. 86-99.

[Kaye-Smith was an English novelist, short story writer, and critic best known for her portrayals of the land, people, and history of Sussex, England. In the following excerpt, she analyzes short stories by Galsworthy, comparing them to a few of his essays and poems. ]

Villa Rubeln and four short stories under the title of A Man of Devon were published anonymously. All early efforts, they are not on a line with Galsworthy's later work, but they have about them a certain beauty and individuality which makes them worth considering. Perhaps their chief characteristic is delicacy:...

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The Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1918)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mr. Galsworthy's Tales," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 864, August 8, 1918, p. 371.

[Below, the critic lauds Five Tales.]

Mr. Galsworthy's work, on a small scale or a big, has the quality of greatness. It is largely planned and stately built. There is dignity in its substance and in its form. It is not showy; it is not brilliant; it is not even clever. It is as free from that cocksureness which is the attitude of much modern writing as it is from the tip-and-run sensation which his younger contemporaries mistake for feeling, and from the "carrying-on" which it was a fault of his predecessors to mistake for sensitiveness. You may dig deep into what he...

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Louise Maunsell Field (essay date 1920)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mr. Galsworthy in War and Peace," in The New York Times Review of Books, March 28, 1920, p. 139.

[Below, Field commends Galsworthy's attention to beauty in Tatterdemalion.]

If one were to try to sum up in a single word that for which John Galsworthy stands, both in the matter of expression and of creed, it would seem inevitable that the word should be "beauty." Beauty of expression, in the style whose exquisite finish is flowerlike in its all but flawless perfection, yet resembles a hot-house flower in that it is no untrained thing, but at once natural and carefully, skilfully cultivated. Beauty, too, as a creed, expressed in many different books, yet...

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The Nation (essay date 1920)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Beauty and the Beast," in The Nation, Vol. CX, No. 2859, April 17, 1920, p. 522.

[In the following review of Tatterdemalion, the critic declares some of Galsworthy's stories "among the best of our time, " yet notes limitations of his literary style.]

There is a moving little essay in Mr. Galsworthy's new volume which he calls "A Green Hill Far Away." It is a breath of relief and thanksgiving at the coming of peace. It was written in 1918, and as he permits an untroubled spirit to blend once more with his beloved English countryside, he says "There is Peace again and the souls of men fresh murdered are not flying into our lungs with every breath we...

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The Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1922)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Forsyte Saga, in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 1066, June 22, 1922, p. 411.

[In the following review, the critic praises Galsworthy's ability to create familiar and sympathetic characters in The Forsyte Saga.]

At various times Mr. Galsworthy has written three novels and two short stories about the same family. The last of the novels brings the chronicle down to the year 1920. It is therefore closed, at least for some time, and Mr. Galsworthy has taken the opportunity of grouping all these works within one cover. He has also, and, we cannot help thinking, unluckily, taken the opportunity of presenting all these works as if they were...

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The Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1923)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Captures, in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 1130, September 13, 1923, p. 602.

[In the following mixed review, the critic maintains that the stories comprising Captures possess the characteristic beauty of Galsworthy 's writing, but lack incisiveness and intensity.]

Mr. Galsworthy's sixteen new stories, here collected [in] Captures, are neither unworthy of him nor yet on a level with his best work. They are characteristic. But one feels that in writing them he allowed himself a certain relaxation: they are deficient not in truth but in intensity. He has always surveyed life with the cool and ironic detachment which is the...

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The New York Times Book Review (essay date 1923)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Captures, in The New York Times Book Review, September 16, 1923, p. 11.

[In the review below, the critic compares Galsworthy's stories in Captures with the game of cricket, asserting that they both contain a "code of gentility. "]

Reading another Galsworthy short stories, essays or poems book, whether a novel, plays, is like following a team, or a sportsman, in a familiar game, and seeing the supported colors come to the defeat of a gentleman. It is again Galsworthy's code of gentility, of "cricket," against a more material, coarse-fibred world that is revealed in his latest collection of short stories, Captures.


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L. P. Hartley (essay date 1925)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Caravan, in The Bookman, Vol. 68, No. 404, May, 1925, pp. 114-15.

[Author of the acclaimed novel trilogy Eustace and Hilda (1944-47), Hartley was an English novelist and short story writer whose fiction is unified by the theme of the search for individuality and meaning in the post-Christian era. A literary critic as well, Hartley contributed reviews for many years to the Saturday Review, Time and Tide, the Spectator, and other periodicals. In the following review, he describes the stories in Caravan as inventive, indignant, and at times sentimental.]

An exhausted and pitiable caravan, this of Mr. Galsworthy's,...

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P. C. Kennedy (essay date 1925)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Caravan, in The New Statesman, Vol. XXV, No. 628, May 9, 1925, p. 106.

[In the following review, Kennedy offers a generally positive review of Galsworthy 's Caravan but contends that "a golden mediocrity honeys and mitigates all his achievement. "]

But two birds haunt the heights of Parnassus—not, as some have fabled, the eagle and the dove, but the phoenix and the ibis: the phoenix, lonely in eminence:

that self-begotten bird,
In the Arabian woods imbost,
That no second knows nor third;

and the ibis, which, as everybody remembers, is safest...

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The Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1930)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of On Forsyte 'Change, No. 1497, October 9, 1930, p. 804.

[Below, the critic presents a favorable assessment of On Forsyte 'Change.]

Mr. Galsworthy gives us with unneeded apologies his volume of "apocryphal Forsyte tales," (On Forsyte 'Change), fragments that stop the remaining chinks in the history of the clan between 1821 and 1918. Time has moved on while Mr. Galsworthy has been writing these annals, and more and more his Forsytes, who began by being very much of a joke, have acquired the dignity of history; they are no longer mere individuals or a mere family, they are a whole social order and a lost one.


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Percy Hutchison (essay date 1930)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "New Tales of the Forsyte Clan," in The New York Times Book Review, October 12, 1930, p. 1.

[In the following laudatory review of On Forsyte 'Change, Hutchison commends the insightful and familiar nature of the stories in the collection.]

The nineteen stories in John Galsworthy's new volume are so many episodes, farcical, grave, satirical, as the case may be, in the lives of that Forsyte clan the history of which has for so long been the major occupation of England's distinguished novelist. No doubt there are persons who have never heard of the Forystes, but with these the present writer refuses to converse. He merely informs them that in On Forsyte...

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Percy Hutchison (essay date 1935)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fragments and Remainders of Galsworthy's Writing," in The New York Times Book Review, October 27, 1935, p. 2.

[Below, Hutchison provides a generally positive review of the stories included in Forstyes, Pendyces, and Others.]

Perhaps the striking thing about this collection of crumbs from the abundant board set by John Galsworthy is the proof of the degree to which this paramount delineator of persons and manners lived with and among the characters of his creation. Few authors, we fancy, ever dwelt with a single family for so many years as Mr. Galsworthy dwelt with the Forsyte clan.

Take only the year 1906, when Soames, who was to live in the...

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Isabel Paterson (essay date 1935)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Forsytes, Pendyces and Others, in New York Herald Tribune Books, November 3, 1935, p. 12.

[In the review below, Paterson terms the stories in Forsytes, Pendyces and Others "incisive analyses of the middle-class temperament. "]

Several of the items included in this final miscellany from the pen of John Galsworthy come under the head of unfinished business, including two plays never completed. There are also two more "dramatic pieces," one a "cut" from "Escape," the other a one-act squib. A number of short stories, all rather slight, a fantasy, a few prefaces and speeches, graceful compliments to fellow authors: and several chapters...

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P. C. Gupta (essay date 1963)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Short Stories of Galsworthy and Other Studies," in The Art of Galsworthy and Other Studies, Vidyarthi Granthagar, 1963, pp. 53-60.

[In the following excerpt, Gupta provides a thematic analysis of Galsworthy's short stories, concluding that his body of work is "truly impressive in its range and compass. "]

Galsworthy wrote a large number of short stories of various lengths, some like "A Stoic" or "Salvation of a Forsyte," almost novelettes, others mere skits like "Nightmare Child," "Strange Things," "Expectations," or "A Woman." These are an organic part of his work as a writer of fiction and "help to fill in and round out" the corners in his work. They...

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J. Henry Smit (essay date 1966)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: An excerpt from The Short Stories of John Galsworthy, Haskell House, 1966, pp. 43-6, 56-60, 143-46.

[Below, Smit explores stylistic aspects of certain stories by Galsworthy and discusses his contributions to the development of the short story genre.]

Stories belonging to the older school were more or less rounded off, had a beginning, contained dramatic action, and ended at a definite point, in a word contained plot.

With the earlier fiction we are well aware that the events narrated are over and done with. The first paragraphs rouse our curiosity, and from that moment the plot progresses with a singleness of purpose to the conclusion. The...

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Roger Ramsey (essay date 1971)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Another Way of Looking at a Blackbird," in Research Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2, June, 1971, pp. 152-54.

[In the following essay, Ramsey analyzes the role of the blackbird in "The Japanese Quince, " concluding that "the reader is left with the pathos of life missed, life here understood as dark, mysterious, dangerous, not quite proper. " ]

Laurence Perrine's brief analysis of John Galsworthy's "The Japanese Quince" seems to have begun and ended all consideration of that very short story. In Perrine's view, the two characters, Mr. Nilson and Mr. Tandram, "are clearly meant to be representative of a social class," the ordered and measured life style of the British...

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Carol Gesner (essay date 1972)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Galsworthy's Apple Tree and the Longus Tradition," in Studies in the Twentieth Century, No. 9, Spring, 1972, pp. 83-8.

[Gesner is a Panamanian-born American educator and critic. In the following essay, she determines the influence of classical Greek and Renaissance literature on Galsworthy's short story "The Apple Tree. "]

Galsworthy leaves his reader in little doubt of his intention to cast a Greek mood over his finest short story, "The Apple Tree." As the story opens, the dominant Greek chord is introduced. Ashurst, the leading character, is alone near a country roadside reading of the Cyprian (Aphrodite) in Murray's translation of the...

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Catherine Dupré (essay date 1976)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Sinjohn becomes Galsworthy," in John Galsworthy: A Biography, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1976, pp. 66-71.

[Dupré is an English novelist and biographer. In the following excerpt, she investigates the satirical nature of the short stories in The Man of Devon.]

[It is in his] collection of stories, published under the title The Man of Devon in September 1901, that Galsworthy claims to have really found the satirical vein within himself. 'I owe Swithin much, for he first released the satirist in me, and is moreover, the only one of my characters whom I killed before I gave him life, for it is in the Man of Property that Swithin Forsyte more...

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James Gindin (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "'I'm Not Such a Fool as I Seem'," in John Galsworthy's Life and Art: An Alien's Fortress, Macmillan, 1987, pp. 114-52.

[Gindin is an American educator and critic. In the following excerpt, he surveys the plots and major themes of Galsworthy's short stories.]

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Sanford Sternlicht (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Short-Story Writer," in John Galsworthy, Twayne Publishers, 1987, pp. 87-100.

[Sternlicht is an American educator, critic, and poet. In the following excerpt, he traces the development in Galsworthy's short fiction from the earlier influence of French naturalism to a greater use of symbolism and references to classical mythology. ]

John Galsworthy considered the long short story to be "one of the best of all forms of fiction; it is the magic vehicle for atmospheric drama. In this form the writer . . . comes nearest to the poet, the painter, the musician. The tale rises, swells and closes, like some movement of a symphony" [Leon Schalit, John Galsworthy:...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Stevens, Earl E., and Stevens, H. Ray. John Galsworthy: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings about Him. De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1980, 484 p.

Comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.


Barker, Dudley. The Man of Principle: A View of John Galsworthy. London: Heinemann, 1963, 240 p.

Examines the events that shaped Galsworthy's life and work.

Holloway, David. John Galsworthy. International Profiles, edited by Edward Stoner. London: Morgan-Grampian Books, 1968, 92 p.

Brief introductory biography of...

(The entire section is 433 words.)