Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

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.

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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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