Writers Lost and Found: John Galsworthy

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iUniverse continues with its presentation of writers who, despite falling from popularity, still offer great rewards for readers. Today we will discuss the literature of John Galsworthy, a British writer from the early 1900s who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932.

PIC-Galsworthy-150John Galsworthy was born in the middle of the Victorian Period, though he began writing towards the period’s end. He is one of the few novelists to have written during the Edwardian Period (1901-1910), an era of general prosperity in England before the shattering trauma of World War I.



Galsworthy’s most recognised work is The Forsyte Saga, which depicts an upper-middle-class family during the early 1900s. Again, Galsworthy is unique in that he chooses a socioeconomic level that is not covered by many other novelists – Dickens tends to choose the working class or successful merchants, Jane Austen depicts the rural gentry, and Thomas Hardy focuses on countryside laborers. The Forsyte Saga comprises three short novels – The Man of Property, In Chancery, and To Let. In each, the Forsyte family is shown dealing with the themes of social class and moral dilemmas. As nouveaux riche, i.e. “new money”, they are in a position of being “above” the middle classes but not belonging to the old, aristocratic and established wealthy families.

One moral dilemma that is portrayed in the novels is that of how to deal with an unhappy marriage. While divorce in England was legal, it was still highly disapproved of socially, and for a woman it could mean complete ostracism from her community.  In Chancery also features an interesting depiction of British sentiments at the time of the Boer War, as dramatized through two young male characters.

The writing style in Galsworthy’s novels is elegant but not nearly as formal as that of Victorian novelists. There is a great deal of attention to the psychological aspects of his characters, particularly the main character, Soames Forsyte. Galsworthy’s delineations of his characters’ thoughts pre-dates the stream-of-consciousness technique that was employed by James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

Galsworthy also wrote two more trilogies continuing the story of the Forsytes, as well as plays, short stories, and poems. His work has fallen from popularity partly because it is so tightly related to its period, but also due to the whims of university academics. Curiously, Galsworthy’s works were some of the few available in China in the late 1990s, as their portrayal of an unhappy bourgeoisie corresponded with the teachings of Communist ideology!

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