John Galsworthy Analysis

Other Literary Forms

There are six multivolume editions of John Galsworthy’s collected works; the most important and comprehensive is the thirty-volume Manaton edition (1922-1936). Galsworthy wrote prolifically, composing many novels, poems, stories, addresses, sketches, and essays.

Achievements

Galsworthy’s literary reputation rests soundly on his fiction, especially the novels and stories collected in The Forsyte Saga (1922). Adapted for television by the British Broadcasting Corporation, The Forsyte Saga appeared in Great Britain, Canada, the United States, and other countries during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, reviving interest in his fiction.

Several of Galsworthy’s plays gained critical and popular approval at the time of their first production or early revival in England, Europe, and the United States. They were translated into many languages, and their popularity in the 1920’s contributed to the recognition that culminated with the Nobel Prize in 1932. Galsworthy wrote realistic, often almost documentary problem plays , which focused on social problems far more impartially than was usual in contemporary social melodrama. Social issues such as labor unrest, prison reform, and anti-Semitism, all of which Galsworthy addressed dramatically, continue to be of great concern, but Galsworthy’s plays, however much they spurred reform in attitudes or legislation in their own day, are now out of date. Their topicality and their uneasy tension between didactic moralizing and melodramatic theatricality have ensured that there is little interest in reviving his plays.

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Short fiction was a minor vein for John Galsworthy, although he published many collections and is known for several fine stories. His contemporaries acclaimed his plays, whereas posterity knows him chiefly as the novelist who chronicled the family fortunes of the Forsytes in The Forsyte Saga (1922) and A Modern Comedy (1929).

Achievements

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

John Galsworthy refused a knighthood in 1917, but he did accept England’s highest literary honor, the Order of Merit. In 1921, Galsworthy became the first president of the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN). During his travels, he was awarded honorary degrees by seven leading universities in England, Scotland, and the United States. Shortly before his death, he became the fourth British writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. More important to Galsworthy than honors and prizes were the social reforms—in the penal system, the status of women, labor conditions, and the treatment of animals—that his essays and stories helped effectuate.

Other literary forms

John Galsworthy (GAWLZ-wur-thee) attempted and succeeded at writing in all major literary forms. His earlier short fiction is collected in Caravan: The Assembled Tales of John Galsworthy (1925); among the individual collections, some of the best known are A Man of Devon (1901), published under the pseudonym John Sinjohn, Five Tales (1918), Two Forsyte Interludes (1927), and On Forsyte ’Change (1930). His plays made him, along withGeorge Bernard Shaw,Sir James Barrie, andHarley Granville-Barker, a leading figure in British drama during the early decades of the twentieth century. Galsworthy’s most enduring plays include The Silver Box (pr. 1906), Justice (pr., pb. 1910), The Skin Game (pr., pb. 1920), and Loyalties (pr., pb. 1922). Collections of Galsworthy’s literary sketches and essays include A Motley (1910), The Inn of Tranquility (1912), and Tatterdemalion (1920). Galsworthy wrote poetry throughout his life, and The Collected Poems of John Galsworthy was published in 1934.

Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

John Galsworthy was a writer who reaped the rewards of literary acclaim in his own time—and suffered the pangs that attend artists who prove truer to the tastes of the public than to an inner vision of personal potential. Galsworthy won the esteem of his countryfolk with a play, The Silver Box, and a novel, The Man of Property, published in a most notable year, 1906. From that time on, he was a major figure in the British literary establishment, even winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932.

Idealist, optimist, and activist, Galsworthy was a perennial champion of the underprivileged in his works. Women (especially unhappily married ones), children, prisoners, aliens, and animals (especially horses and dogs) engaged Galsworthy’s sympathies. His literary indictments of the injustices forced on these victims by an unfeeling society helped to arouse public support for his causes and frequently resulted in elimination of the abuses. After World War I, Galsworthy’s crusading spirit was somewhat dampened, but despite the author’s disillusionment, his conscience remained sensitive to inequities of all sorts.

Although popular as a writer of fiction and influential as a spokesperson for humane, enlightened personal behavior and public policy, Galsworthy was not the sort of writer who changes the course of literature. His early works contain some powerful satire and some experiments in probing and expressing his internal conflicts. By upbringing and inclination, however, Galsworthy was too “gentlemanly” to be comfortable with self-revelation or even with introspection. Thus, while the English novel was becoming increasingly psychological because of Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, and D. H. Lawrence, Galsworthy continued in the nineteenth century tradition of Ivan Turgenev and Guy de Maupassant, carefully describing social phenomena and assessing their impact on private lives. Most of his characters are individualized representatives of particular social classes, whether the rural gentry, the aristocracy, the intelligentsia, or the London professional elite. He excelled at presenting the fashions, politics, manners, and phrases peculiar to certain milieus at certain times. In creating the Forsytes—and most notably Soames,“the man of property”—Galsworthy’s talent transcended that of the memorialist or mere novelist of manners and provided England with a quintessential expression of the shrewd, rich, upright middle class of Victorian London, a group whose qualities subsequent generations found easy to mock, possible to admire, but difficult to love.

Bibliography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Barker, Dudley. The Man of Principle. New York: Stein & Day, 1969. Combines elements of autobiography and criticism, giving an impressive picture of the Victorian age and its mores and morals. It also shows how much Galsworthy’s work was a reflection of his times, and it explores the relationship between him and his wife, Ada, as well as her influence on his work. Short bibliography and index.

Batchelor, John. The Edwardian Novelists. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982. Begins by defining “Edwardian” literature and discusses Galsworthy in terms of his surprising similarities to D. H. Lawrence. Contains an excellent...

(The entire section is 589 words.)