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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1477

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First published: 1911

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social criticism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Locale: England

Principal Characters:

Eustace Caradoc, Lord Miltoun

Mrs. Audrey Lees Noel, a woman separated from her husband

Lord Valleys, the head of the Caradoc family

Lady Valleys, his wife

Barbara Caradoc, their daughter

Lady Casterley, Lady Valleys’ mother

Mr. Courtier, a political liberal

The Story:

Lord Valleys, the head of the house, had just returned to London after spending a pleasant weekend at Monkland Court, the county seat of the Caradoc family. In London, he was required to attend a Cabinet meeting because of war threats facing the country at the moment. These scares had an added interest in the household because the eldest son, Eustace Caradoc, was making his first bid for a seat in Parliament. Family tradition demanded that he take such a step and also that he be a member of the Conservative Party and work to maintain the authority vested in society, or the English aristocracy.

Lord and Lady Valleys were concerned about young Eustace’s career because his speeches too vividly reflected his very high ideals and also because he was seeing an attractive young woman, Mrs. Audrey Noel, who was rumored to be a divorcee. Because of her concern in these matters, Lady Valleys had written to her mother, Lady Casterley, who would do everything in her power to keep her grandson from making a mistake dangerous to his career.

While Lord Valleys was motoring to London, Eustace was engaged in conversation with Mr. Courtier, the real power behind his opposition. The conversation, or informal debate, took place in Mrs. Noel’s drawing room. Mr. Courtier took his usual stand in favor of freedom and liberty for the masses, while Eustace argued that authority should be left in the hands of the aristocracy whose education and training traditionally equipped them for running the country in the best way. It was not a surprise that both of these gentlemen should be visiting Mrs. Noel. Courtier had known her since she was a child, and Eustace was rapidly falling in love with her.

A few nights later, Eustace was again visiting Mrs. Noel when word was brought to them that the villagers were “devilling” a man on the green. When they rushed to his aid, they found that Mr. Courtier had been roughly treated, although his only injury was a badly sprained knee. Following the dictates of courtesy, Eustace took him to the Caradoc home at once, where he was to stay until he recovered. Damage, however, had also been done to Eustace, for by allowing himself to be seen visiting a woman of a somewhat dubious reputation, his own reputation, and consequently his attempts to gain a seat in Parliament, also came under suspicion. His actions were duly reported by the local newspaper. The fact that Mr. Courtier ran a statement in its next issue to the effect that Mrs. Noel was the lawful wife of the Reverend Stephen Noel clarified but did not help the situation.

Because of a quick trip to London, Eustace did not learn of these developments until the day that Courtier’s statement appeared, and then only when he went to propose to Audrey Noel. He was so much in love with her that he had neglected to find out her real story; he had assumed, like everyone else, that she was divorced. She had not discouraged his attentions because she thought he already knew the truth. Matters became even worse when Mrs. Noel’s husband would not give her a divorce because of his religious beliefs, and Eustace, because of his own ideals, had to acquiesce.

Soon afterward, Eustace was duly elected to Parliament. Although they had resolved to see no more of each other, Mrs. Noel followed him to London. Eustace worked night and day trying to keep from thinking of her; the strain of work and love, however, proved too much for him, and he became ill. His younger sister Barbara had gone to see him in his room just before a fever took hold, and she decided to follow an impulse. Having heard from Mr. Courtier that Mrs. Noel was in London, she took her to Eustace so that she could nurse him back to health.

Barbara was sympathetic to the couple, partly because of her own youth and partly because of a strong temptation in her own life to break away from the traditions of family and society. Barbara had come to know Mr. Courtier during his stay at Monkland Court, and she could not help being attracted to him because of his handsome appearance and his belief in personal freedom for everyone. Beginning to feel the restraints of her position in society and dreading the prospects of marrying the man that everyone expected her to marry, Barbara was able to take Mrs. Noel to her brother with no qualms whatsoever.

Barbara did not tell her family about this step until after her brother had passed the crisis and was almost well. They then saw to it that he was moved to their family home in London. Soon after Eustace had recovered, an active love affair between him and Mrs. Noel began.

Eustace was a man of the highest ideals; when he had entered into an affair with Mrs. Noel, he felt that he was no longer fit for his seat in Parliament. He reasoned that if he thought of himself as helping to establish the authority of the land, he could not very well flaunt that authority; and so he resolved to resign his seat. His family, however, could not understand this kind of idealism and felt that he should keep his seat despite the affair or else give up the woman. Mrs. Noel also had no desire for him to give up his career; she knew that he could never be happy outside of Parliament.

At last, after Lady Casterley had gone to see Mrs. Noel in London, the young woman agreed never to see her lover again. Although depressed, Eustace continued his career; and Barbara, who also had come close to a break with tradition, married a man of her own class within the year. Mrs. Noel and Mr. Courtier, both foreign and detrimental to the tradition of the conservative, aristocratic class, quietly went away.

Critical Evaluation:

In this novel, John Galsworthy concerns himself with the traditions of English aristocracy and the possibility of a break with tradition when the individual attempts to assert himself. Although the author appears to be sympathetic to such a break, he never allows it actually to happen. He seems, rather, to be saying that people should continue in the patterns that are already set for them. It is something of a disappointment to the reader when he finishes the novel and realizes that all the lofty cries for liberty and freedom have not been heeded and that much unhappiness results from them.

The sense of loyalty between the members of a social class to the code to which they traditionally have been bound is impressively portrayed by Galsworthy in THE PATRICIAN. He also captures the narrowness of the viewpoint that cannot conceive of society as organized from within rather than held together by authority imposed from above. Galsworthy, however, drew back at some point, as if he did not dare to say as much about his characters and their caste as he might have. He seems to concern himself too much with maintaining a tone of dignity.

Although Galsworthy’s vision of this civilization is sweeping and perceptive, he writes with a rather heavy-handed style. When he attempts a “poetic” description of a scene, his images seem forced and unnatural. Galsworthy’s convention that women should be languid and elegant has dated his novel as has his concept of the upright, upper-class male with the stiff upper lip. Lady Casterley is a sharply etched, lively old lady, admirable in an unyielding manner, although not necessarily likeable. The younger women tend to be romanticized to the point of vagueness.

Lord Valleys and the rest of his family feel sure that they are “decent” individuals, but actually they are smug in their complacency. He would think it only reasonable to put many of his tenants out of work to preserve the woodcock shooting on his estate. No one could ever convince him that he was immoral, yet it is because of him and the other senior members of his family that his son Eustace and his daughter Barbara both are prevented from matches in which they could be happy. At the end of the book, the reader feels that life has been negated and the triumph has been that of a dead world. Perhaps, this is the real value of the novel and of Galsworthy’s vision.

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