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by Bamber Gascoigne

John Galsworthy (1867-1933) - pseudonym "John Sinjohn"


English novelist and playwright, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932. John Galsworthy became known for his portrayal - often with a satiric tone - of the British upper-middle class. His most famous novel is The Forsyte Saga (1906-1921), an English parallel to Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks (1901). A representative of the literary tradition, which has regarded the novel as an instrument of social debate, Galsworthy believed that it was the duty of an artist to examine a problem, but not to provide a solution. Before starting his career, Galsworthy read widely the works of Kipling, Zola, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Flaubert.

"When a Forsyte was engaged, married, or born, the Forsytes were present; when a Forsyte died – but no Forsyte has as yet died; they did not die; death being contrary to their principles, they took precautions against it, the instinctive precautions of highly vitalized persons who resent encroachments on their property." (from The Forsyte Saga)

John Galsworthy was born in Kingston Hill, Surrey, into a upper-middle-class family. His father, also named John Galsworthy, was a lawyer and director of several companies. "My father really predominated in me from the start, and ruled my life," Galsworthy confessed in 'A Note on My Mother' (written in 1919). "I was so truly and deeply found of him that I seemed not to have a fair share of love left to give my mother." (John Galsworthy's Life and Art: An Alien's Fortress by James Gindin, p. 16) Galsworthy's mother, the former Blanche Bartleet, was the daughter of a Midlands manufacturer. Blanche was twenty years younger than John. In 1903 she left her husband, accusing him, then eighty-five years old, of an attachment to his grandson Rudo's governess.

Galsworthy studied law Harrow and New Collage, Oxford. During this period he gained fame as a cricket and football player, but not with his literary talents. Once he planned to write a study of warm-blooded horses. Galsworthy's favorite authors were Thackeray, Dickens, and Melville, his favorite composer was Beethoven. In 1890 he was called to the bar. However, he never settled into practice, but chose to travel, after an unlucky love affair.

In 1893 Galsworty met the writer Joseph Conrad while on a South Sea voyage, which he made in part to study maritime law. His father had sent him on the trip, hoping that his son would finish his studies upon returning. In a letter to his sister Lillia Galsworthy noted: "The first mate is a Pole called Conrad, and is a capital chap though queer to look at; he is a man of travel and experience in many parts of the world, and has a fund of yarns on which I draw freely." (Joseph Conrad: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers, 2001, p. 112) This meeting convinced Galsworthy to give up law and devote himself entirely to literature. Years later Galsworthy helped Conrad financially.

It was Lillian, who suggested to her brother, "why not write a book?" Galsworthy's first four books were published at his own expense under the pseudonym John Sinjohn, the first being a collection of short stories, From the Four Winds (1897). After reading Maupassant and Turgenev, with whom he felt a deep kinship, Galsworthy wrote Villa Rubein (1900). These early efforts he later labelled as heavy and exaggerated; he had not yet found his own voice. 

"Mr. Galsworthy is an unusually sensitive member of his class," said J.B. Priestley. "Had he been more callous, perhaps he would never have written novel nor play, poem nor essay, but would have sat comfortably in home or office listening to the heavy tread of the policeman on his beat." ('Modern English Novelists: John Galsworthy' by J.B. Priestley, in The English Journal, Vol. 14, No. 5, May, 1925) With the death of his father, Galsworthy became financially independent. It was high time to put his own name on the cover of his new book, The Island Pharisees (1904). Originally Galsworthy wrote the novel in the first person, then in the third, and revised it again. Its final version was not finished until 1908.

In 1905 Galsworthy married Ada Pearson (1864-1956) in a registry office; her divorce made the couple persons non grata in London society. Galsworthy had lived in secret with her from 1896; he knew that his father would not approve the relationship. They had began the affair while Ada's husband, Arthur Galsworthy, served in the Boer war. It was an unhappy marriage.

According to some biographers Galsworthy, a "decent chap" of his times, was dominated by the atrocious and hypochondriac Ada (her middle name was Nemesis). She inspired many of his female characters. Her previous unhappy marriage with Galsworthy's cousin formed the basis for the novel The Man of Property (1906), which began the novel sequence to be known as The Forsyte Saga and established Galsworthy's reputation as a major British writer.

The first appearance of the Forsyte family was in one of stories in Man of Devon  (1901). The saga follows the lives of three generations of the British middle-class before 1914. Soames Forsyte was modelled after Major Arthur Galsworthy, the writer's cousin. Soames, a collector of paintings, is married to beautiful and rebellious Irene, who is his most valuable possession. Irene begins an affair with Jolyon Forsyte, Soames's cousin. The incident, when Soames rapes his wife, was supposedly based on Ada Galsworthy's experience with her former husband Arthur. His second wife, Wilhelmine, said that "the stories that Ada put about to her intimates of her unhappy married life were the exaggerated imaginings of a somewhat neurotic woman who found that she was bored with the man she had married and was seeking to justify, to herself as well as to her closest friends, her resentment of the fact that he was equally bored with her." (The Man of Principle: A View of John Galsworthy, 1963, pp. 52-53) Galsworthy himself connected "A with I" in a letter buried in a copy of The Life and Letters of John Galsworthy by H.V. Marrot (1935). ('Young Galsworthy: The Forging of a Satirist' by Drew B. Pallette,  Modern Philology, Volume 56, Number 3, Feb., 1959)

In the second volume, In Changery  (1920), Irene and Soames divorce, she marries Jolyon, and bears a son, Jon. Soames and his second wife, Annette Lamotte, have a daughter, Fleur. In the third volume, To Let (1921), Fleur and Jon fall in love, but Jon refuses to marry her. The second part of Forsyte chronicles, containig The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1926), Swan Song (1928), starts on an October afternoon of 1922 and closes in 1926. 'A Silent Wooing' and 'Passers By,' the two interludes, came out in 1927.

Galsworthy returned again to the world of the Forsytes in 1930 with a further collection of stories, On Forsyte Change. Romain Rolland, the writer of Jean-Christophe (1904-1912), coined a special term, the roman-fleuve, to descibe this kind of series of novels, which can be read separately, but which form a coherent narrative. Another example of the genre from the interwar years is Martin du Gard's Les Thibaults (1922-1940).

Although Galsworthy chronicled changes in the middle-class family in England, he said in the preface of The White Monkey, that the English character had changed very little since the Victorianism of Soames and his generation. "He emerged still thinking about the English. Well! They were now one of the plainest and most distorted races of the world; and yet was there any race to compare with them for good temper and for 'guts'? And they needed those in their smoky towns, and their climate - remarkable instance of adaptation to environment, the modern English character! 'I could pick out an Englishman anywhere,' he thought, 'and yet, physically, there's no general type now!' Astounding people!"

Galsworthy also gained recognition as a dramatist with his plays, that dealt directly with the unequal division of wealth and the unfair treatment of poor people. The Silver Box (1906) stated that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, Strife (prod. in 1909), depicted a mining strike, and Justice (prod. in 1910) encouraged the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, in his program for prison reform. Later plays include The Skin Game (1920), adapted to screen by Alfred Hitchcock in 1931, Loyalties (1922), dealing with the theme of anti-Semitism, and Escape (1926). Its second sceen version from 1948, produced by the 20th Century-Fox, was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring Rex Harrison. In the story a law-abiding man meets a prostitute and accidentally kills a police in defending her. He escapes from prison, and meets different people before giving himself up.

GIRL. You don't like women, that's clear.
MATT. Not too much.
GIRL. (smiling) You speak your mind, anyway.
MATT. If you ask me, they've got such a lot vice about 'em compared with horses.
GIRL. And who puts vice into them?
MATT. I know - you all say men, but d'you believe it?
GIRL. (with laugh) Well, I don't know. Don't men put vice into horses?

(from Escape)

During World War I Galsworthy tried to enlist in the army, but he was rejected due to his shortsightedness. He actively supported the war effort, raising funds, working in France for the Red Cross, and helping refugees in Belgium. When the United States entered the war, Galsworthy thought that it had given England its "first hope". In 1917 Galsworthy refused knighthood, in the belief that "no artist of Letters ought to dally with titles and rewards of that nature. He should keep quite clear and independent." (John Galsworthy's Life and Art: An Alien's Fortress by James Gindin, 1987, p. 393) Upon reading news about overthrowing the Czar in Russia in March 1917, he prophesied that "Revolution in a vast country like Russia is taking the lid off a cauldron with a vengeance. Russia is in for years, perhaps a generation of dishevelment and chaos." (Ibid., p. 396)

At least half of his income, Galsworthy gave away to humanitarian causes. With Catherine Dawson Scott, Galsworthy founded PEN, the international organization of writers, in 1924. Its trust fund was financed by his Nobel Prize money. The organization was named PEN when someone pointed out at the first meeting that the initial letters on poet, essayist and novelist were the same in most European languages.

John Galsworthy died on January 31, 1933. He produced 20 novels, 27 plays, 3 collections of poetry, 173 short stories, 5 collections of essays, 700 letters, and many sketches and miscellaneous works. After his death, his reputation declined.

Galsworthy's socially committed work was attacked by D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, who said in her essay 'Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown' (1924), that the Edwardian writers (Wells, Bennett, and Galsworthy) "developed a technique of novel-writing which suits their purposes; they have made tools and established conventions which do their business. But those tools are not our tools, and that business is not our business." (Collected Essays: Volume 1 by Virginia Woolf, 1966, p. 330) The younger generation of writers accused Galsworthy of being a representative of the values of society he is criticizing. Galsworthy's influence is seen in the works of Thomas Mann, and he was widely read in France and in Russia. The Forsyte Saga gained a huge popular success as a BBC television series in 1967.

For further reading: The Life and Letters of John Galsworthy by H.V. Marrot (1935); John Galsworthy by V. Dupont (1942); John Galsworthy by R.H. Mottram (1953); The Man of Principal by D. Baker (1963); John Galsworthy by N. Croman (1970); John Galsworthy by C. Dupré (1976); John Galsworthy as Dramatic Artist by R.H. Cotes (1978); John Galsworthy by A. Frechet (1982); The Language and Style of John Galsworthy by F.A. Mooty (1982); John Galsworthy's Life and Art by J. Gindin (1987); John Galsworthy by S.V. Sternlicht (1987); Faith of a Novelist: Religion in John Galsworthy's Work by M.W. Knoester (dissertation, 2006); John Galsworthy and Disabled Soldiers of the Great War: With an Illustrated Selection of his Writings by Jeffrey S. Reznick (2010); 'Lost property: John Galsworthy and the search for "that stuffed shirt"' by Simon Barker, in The Boundaries of the Literary Archive: Reclamation and Representation, edited by Carrie Smith and Lisa Stead (2013); 'John Galsworthy "The Forsyte Saga"', in Great Authors & Their Famous Novels by Bernard Manning (2016) - Suom.: Galsworthylta on myös julkaistu suomeksi teos Omenapuu (1926 ) V.A. Koskenniemen kääntämänä

Selected works:

  • From the Four Winds, 1897 (as John Sinjohn)
  • Jocelyn, 1898 (as John Sinjohn)
  • Villa Rubein: A Novel, 1900 (as John Sinjohn)
    - Punainen huvila (suom. Aune Brotherus, 1942)
  • A Man of Devon, 1901 (as John Sinjohn)
  • The Island Pharisees, 1904 (rev.ed., 1908)
  • The Silver Box 1906
    - film: The Silver Box (1939), starring Leon M. Lion, Louise Hampton, Gibb McLaughlin, Ruth Taylor
  • The Forsyte Saga, 1906-21 (The Man of Property , 1906; In Chancery, 1920; Awakening, 1920; To Let, 1921)  
    - Forsytein taru (suom. Tyyni Haapanen-Tallgren, 1929-30)  
    - film: That Forsyte Woman (1949), dir. by Compton Bennett; The Forsyte Saga (BBC TV series in 26 parts, 1967), dir. by James Cellan Jones, David Giles, starring Eric Porter, Nyree Dawn Porter, Kenneth More, Susan Hampshire, Joseph O'Conor, adaptor Lennox Philips and others; The Forsyte Saga (Granada TV drama, in 13 parts, 2002), dir. by Christopher Menaul, starring Gina McKee, Damian Lewis, Rupert Graves, Colin Redgrave
  • The Country House, 1907
    - Herraskartano (suom. Eino Kaila, 1920)
  • A Commentary, 1908
  • Fraternity, 1909
    - Veljeys (suom. Helka Varho, 1948)
  • A Justification of the Censorship of Plays, 1909
  • Strife, 1909
    - Taistelu (suom. Eemil Elo, 1912) 
    - films: Strife (TV film, 1975), in BBC Play of the Month, dir. by Michael Darlow, starring Colin Blakely, Trevor Cooper and Angela Down; Strife (TV film, 1988), in Theatre Night, dir. Michael Darlow
  • Joy, 1909
    - film: Angliyskiy vals (1982), dir. by Gitis Luksas, starring Audinga Aukstikalnite, Vaiva Mainelytë, Eugenia Pleskite, Genrikas Kurauskas
  • Plays: The Silver Box; Joy; Strife, 1909
  • Horses in Mines, 1910
  • Justice: A Tragedy in Four Acts, 1910
    - film:  Justice (1917), dir. by Maurice Elvey, starring Gerald du Maurier, Hilda Moore, Lilian Braithwaite, James Carew
  • A Motley, 1910
  • The Spirit of Punishmen, 1910
  • The Patrician, 1911
    - Ylimys: romaani (suom. Huvi Vuorinen, 1921)
  • The Little Dream: An Allegory in Six Scenes, 1911
  • The Pigeon: A Fantasy in Three Acts, 1912
  • The Eldest Son: A Domestic Drama in Three Acts, 1912
  • Moods, Songs, and Doggerels, 1912
  • For Love of Beasts, 1912
  • The Inn of Tranquillity, 1912
  • The Dark Flower, 1913
    - Tumma kukka: romaani (suom. Ilma Pahlama, 1932)
  • Plays. Second Series: The Eldest Son, The Little Dream, Justice, 1913
  • The Fugitive, 1913
  • The Slaughter of Animals for Food, 1913
  • The Mob: A Play in Four Acts, 1914
  • Plays. Third Series: The Fugitive, The Pigeon, The Mob, 1914
  • Some Slings and Arrows from John Galsworthy, 1914 (selected by Elsie E. Morton)
  • The Freelands 1915
  • The Little Man, and Other Satires, 1915
  • The Full Moon: A Play in Three Acts, 1915
  • A Bit o’ Love: A Play in Three Acts, 1915
  • A Sheaf, 1916
  • Beyond, 1917
  • Pitiful, 1917
  • Five Tales, 1918 (The First and Last; 1914, A Stoic, The Apple Tree, 1916; The Juryman, Indian Summer of a Forsyte, 1918)
    - Omenapuu (suom. Vieno ja Veikko Antero Koskenniemi, 1926)
    - films: The Stranger (1924), dir. Joseph Henabery; 21 Days (1940), dir. Basil Dean, starring Vivien Leigh, Leslie Banks, Laurence Olivier; The Apple Tree (TV film, 1950), in Actor's Studio, starring Marc Connelly, John Merivale and Pat Kirkland; The First and the Last (TV film, 1955), in Climax!, dir. John Frankenheimer; Die Ersten und die Letzten (TV film, 1966), dir. Falk Harnack; A Summer Story (1988), dir. Piers Haggard, starring Imogen Stubbs, James Wilby and Susannah York 
  • The Land: A Plea, 1918
  • Saint's Progress 1919
    - Pyhimys (suom. Aune Brotherus, 1939)
  • Addresses in America, 1919, 1919
  • Another Sheaf, 1919
  • The Foundations (An Extravagant Play), 1920
  • In Chancery, 1920 (The Forsyte Saga)
  • Awakening, 1920 (The Forsyte Saga; illustrated by R. H. Sauter)
  • The Skin Game (A Tragi-Comedy), 1920 
    - film: The Skin Game (1931), adapted and dir. by Alfred Hitchcock, starring VC France, Helen Haye, Jill Esmond, Edmund Gwenn, John Longden. "This movie now seems little more than a curio, despite the themes of class warfare and land rights still being as relevant as ever. It just seems very clear that Hitchcock was terminally bored while making this film, and it's a great shame that his audience ends up equally bored for most of the time, too." (Paul Condon and Jim Sangster in The Complete Hitchcock, 1999); The Skin Game  (TV film, 1974), in BBC Play of the Month, dir. William Slater, starring Paul Rogers, Barbara Jefford, Bernard Lee
  • To Let, 1920 (The Forsyte Saga)
  • Plays. Fourth Series: A Bit o’ Love, The Foundations, The Skin Game, 1920
  • Tatterdemalion, 1920
  • The Bells of Peace, 1921
  • Six Short Plays, 1921
  • The Works of John Galsworthy, 1921-25 (18 vols.)
  • A Family Man: In Three Acts, 1922
  • Loyalties: A Drama in Three Acts, 1922
    - film: Loyalties (1933), dir. by Basil Dean, Thorold Dickinson, starring Basil Rathbone, Heather Thatcher, and Miles Mander; Loyalties (TV film, 1976), in BBV Play of the Month, dir. Rudolph Cartier, starring Edward Fox John Carson, Charles Kay
  • Windows: A Comedy in Three Acts for Idealists and Others, 1922 
  • Captures, 1923
  • The Burning Spear; Being the Experiences of Mr. John Lavender in Time of War, 1923
  • International Thought, 1923
  • Plays. Fifth Series: A Family Man, Loyalties, Windows, 1923
  • Abracadabra & Other Satires, 1924
  • A Modern Comedy, 1924-1928 (The White Monkey 1924; The Silver Spoon, 1926; Swan Song, 1928 )
    - Nykyaikainen komedia: 1: Valkoinen apina; 2: Hopealusikka; 3 : Joutsenlaulu (suom. Tyyni Haapanen-Tallgren, 1933)
    - film: The White Monkey (1925), dir. by Phil Rosen, starring Barbara La Marr, Thomas Holding, Henry Victor
  • The Forest: A Drama in Four Acts, 1924
  • The Inn of Tranquillity; Studies and Essays, 1924
  • Old English: A Play in Three Acts, 1924
    - film: Old English (1930), dir. by Alfred E. Green, starring George Arliss, Doris Lloyd, Harrington Reynolds
  • On Expression, 1924
  • Representative Plays by John Galsworthy, 1924 (with an introduction by George P. Baker)
  • The Show: A Drama in Three Acts, 1925
  • Caravan: The Assembled Tales of John Galsworthy, 1925
  • The Silver Spoon, 1926 (A Modern Comedy)
  • Escape: An Episodic Play in a Prologue and Two Parts, 1926
    - films: Escape (1930), dir. by Basil Dean, starring Gerald du Maurier, Edna Best, Gordon Harker; Escape (1948), dir. by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring Rex Harrison, Peggy Cummings, William Hartnell, screenplay by Philip Dunne; Die Flucht (TV film, 1962), dir. Volker von Collade, starring Alexander Kerst, Hanne Wieder, Harald Maresch
  • Verses New and Old, 1926
  • Plays. Sixth Series: The Forest, Old English, The Show, 1926
  • A Talk on Playing the Game with Animals and Birds, 1926
  • Castles in Spain & Other Screeds, 1927
  • Satires, 1927
  • Two Forsyte Interludes: A Silent Wooing. Passengers by, 1927
  • Swan Song, 1928 (A Modern Comedy)
  • Mr. Galsworthy’s Appeal for the Miners, 1928
  • The Plight of the Miners, a National Danger; Mr. Galsworthy’s Suggestions, 1928
  • Plays, 1928
  • Exiled: An Evolutionary Comedy in Three Acts, 1929
  • The Roof: A Play in Seven Scenes, 1929
  • A Rambling Discourse, 1929
  • On Forsyte 'Change, 1930
  • Plays: Seventh Series: Escape, Exiled, The Roof, 1930
  • Two Essays on Conrad, 1930 (with The Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Richard Curle)
  • Soames and the Flag, 1930
  • The Creation of Character in Literature, 1931 (the Romanes lecture delivered in the Sheldonian theatre, 21 May 1931)
  • "Literature and Life," 1931 (a lecture delivered April 13, 1931, at Princeton University)
  • Maid in Waiting, 1931
    - Tyttö odottaa: romaani (suom. Aune Brotherus, 1933)
  • Forty Poem, 1932
  • Flowering Wilderness, 1932
    - Kukkiva erämaa: romaani (suom. Aune Brotherus, 1936)
  • Candelabra, Selected Essays and Addresses, 1932
  • Author and Critic, 1933
  • Over the River, 1933
    - Yli virran: romaani (suom. Aune Brotherus, 1936)
    - film: One More River (1934), dir. by James Whale , starring Diana Wynyard, Frank Lawton, Mrs. Patrick Campbell
  • Autobiographical Letters of Galsworthy: A Correspondence with Frank Harris, 1933
  • The Collected Poems of John Galsworthy, 1934
  • End of the Chapter, 1934 (trilogy)
  • Letters from John Galsworthy, 1900-1932, 1934 (edited and with introduction by Edward Garnett)
  • Punch and Go, 1935
  • The Life and Letters, 1935
  • The Winter Garden: Four Dramatic Pieces. 1935 (with a foreword by Mrs. Galsworthy)
  • Forsytes, Pendyces and Others, 1935
  • End of the Chapter 1935
  • Selected Short Stories, 1935
  • Selected Works. Glimpses and Reflections, 1937
  • Ten Famous Plays by John Galsworthy, 1941
  • The Galsworthy Reader, 1967 (edited by Anthony West)
  • Galsworthy's Letters to Leon Lion, 1968
  • The Forsyte Saga, 1968 (2 vols., general introduction by Ivor Brown, original illustrations by Christopher W. Bradbury)
  • The Forsyte Saga, 1995 (edited with an introduction by Geoffrey Harvey)
  • The Forsyte Saga, 2006 (introduction by James Najarian)
  • The Forsyte Saga, 2018 (Dover thrift edition)
  • The Island Pharisees, 2010 (foreword by Anthony Gardner)
  • The Pigeon, 2020 (edited and introduction by William-Alan Landes)

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