John Galsworthy (1867 – 1933)
“The Island of Pharisees” (1904)
“The Silver Box”; “The Man of Property”
“The Apple Tree” (1916)
“The Chancery” (1920)
“To Let” (1921)
“The White Monkey” (1924)
“Escape”; “The Silver Spoon” (1926)
“Swan Song” (1928)
“Mail in Waiting” (1931)
“Flowering Wilderness” (1932)
“Over the River” (1933)
Galsworthy is an aristocrat by background & inclination. He shows none of the preoccupations with poverty & degradation that was so much a characteristic of the naturalism. But he was a naturalist to an extent, because he was so much interested in the social aspect of life. We can treat his “Forsyte Saga” as an illustration of decline of the bourgeois family from the period of 1886 to the beginning of the 20th century. Galsworthy was an educated man. He read a lot in Turgenev & French realists. From Tolstoy & Turgenev he learned compassion. He was a writer of a great fame in his day; he had an international reputation. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. His books are not rude as he always managed to keep balance between satire & objective description. He loves Beauty but without extravagance. He loves tradition without idolatry. He loves nature as a setting & arts as a grace & justification of wealth. He never forgot the poor. He understands that every of us is a Forsyte because the proprietal instinct plays a great role in our life. Human life very much depends upon the “take”& much less upon “give”. That’s what makes Galsworthy upset.
The Forsytes are spiritual descendants of Thackeray’s Osbornes. This spiritual inheritance makes us see the way of the Forsytes to the top of the world. They live entirely in terms of property. Money takes place of family’s affection, but it’s the link that binds all Forsytes. The sense of property is as powerful as it has distorted their feelings & produced in them sclerosis of imagination.
They are incased in property & sometimes they look lamentable without realizing it. If we consider “The Man of Property” this side of Forsytes is done very well, but Galsworthy had some other intentions – he wanted to show the sclerosis of imagination against the background of Beauty to give it volume & make it more vivid. He did not manage to do that. Representatives of beauty (Irene & Bossini) are depicted as “parasites upon parasites”.
He’s the man of property. He buys everything as he bought his wife. He’s all against committing adultery. He’s blamed for that.
Later Forsytes are depicted as human beings, not as a class.
Galsworthy becomes not another Tolstoy. Sometimes his “Man of Property” is compared to “Anna Karenina”. It’s derived from “Anna Karenina” but the comparison is damaging.
Galsworthy’s symbolism is too vivid. Dialect is incredible. There’re many ways in which his work is enjoyable. Soames & the rest are recognized as typical Englishmen.
Soames is “not an easy man to know, but one felt. – something gave way in Grand man & he spoke: “Ah! I knew him for a little – took him to his first school – taught him to draw a lease – never knew him to do a shady thing, very reserved man, Mr. Soames, but no better judge of an investment, except his uncle Nickolas. He had his troubles, but he never did anything of them; good son to his father – good brother to his sisters – good father to his child, as you know, young man”
Galsworthy’s later work is more & more taking the inside point of view. As it comes to the Forsyte novel following the Saga proper, the novels are grouped together as a modern comedy. Soames Forsyte reminds you very much Galsworthy himself. The “Forsyte Saga” was completed in 1922. A modern comedy & new novels are linked by 2 short stories that followed in 1923. in his novels Galsworthy did not present the whole of England, but the limits suited to his genes.
“Galsworthy was born biographer of “the man of the property”. The style of Galsworthy matches his model of the world. It’s a civilized style, quite natural & assured without tricks of fuss.” (Lawrence)
The Forsytes are very English as their creator. Both would prefer understatement to overstatement. Galsworthy didn’t have to make any conclusions to modernism. He had his own style & approach to life & he managed to keep it till the end of his days. Galsworthy is not a pessimist. His sense of humor is very English. As far as the human comedy goes “The Forsyte Saga adds one more page to the description of it.
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