The quintessential bleeding heart liberal, the kind of perverse sensibility guided by blinders and unwilling and ineffective in bringing about meaningful change. The establishment liberal , who according to Joseph Conrad, was a “moralist who betrayed rather than revealed the very truth of things.” Ineffectual compassion mixed with a strong desire to maintain the status- quo and reinforce exiting social circumstances. It was a body of work satirizing the foibles of the privileged classes while partaking in its very pleasures and one of the early examples that showed the profitability and interest in criticizing mass society without attacking the consumerist root at the heart of invidious comparison among individuals. Since Galsworthy, we haven’t progressed too much….
…Galsworthy had eventually felt able to marry Ada in 1905, very soon after the death of his father and the safe accession of his inheritance. But five years later, forty-three years old and very famous, at least as a dramatist, he met in the Savoy Theatre, London, a nineteen year old artist dancer, Margaret Morris. A pupil of Isadora Duncan’s brother Raymond, she had designed the sets and costumes, and trained the actors in “Greek positions”, for a production of Gluck’s Orfeo, one of Galsworthy’s favorite operas. She was asked to lunch with the Galsworthy’s, and what at first seemed to her an idyllic relationship developed between the three of them. She was helped to start a school of movement and given a part in a new Galsworthy play.
This led to an affair of which Ada knew; eventually the affair was worked out of his system through writing The Dark Flower. Ada was a hypochondriac par-excellence requiring constant attention along with becoming increasingly possessive and self-centered.He was unhappy. Paralyzed. The WWI hit.At forty-seven, he specualted miserably over whether, had he been younger, he would have enlisted or been a conscientious objector, coming to the conclusion that he probably would not have joined up but would have been ashamed of himself in consequence.
Galsworthy did voluntary hospital work in France, but for the most part he became what Ada rightly called an “appeals writer par excellence.” It was an easy task for a campaigning reformer. The list of good causes Galsworthy championed is long and various running from divorce law, minimum wages, theatre censorship, help for prostitutes, the modification of solitary confinement and so on.
But there were limits. Galsworthy would not, for example, join an appeal for the abolition of capital punishment. He himself was always perfectly well aware of what later came as an unpleasant surprise to many of his radical admirers: though he wished to make the world a better place, he did not wish to make it a different one. He had acquired in some quarters , he noted, ” the reputation of a revolutionary- a quaint conceit,” adding that “the constant endeavor of his pen has merely been to show Society that it has had luck; and, if those who have had luck behave as if they knew it, the chances of revolution would sink to zero.” In any event, he disavowed his works were social critiques, instead placing them under the loop of “spiritual examination.”
As with the world at large, so with his own world, which was the world of the Forsytes. When carrying the story onto the postwar world, with much interpolated sermonizing, he inevitably looked back to a more stable universe. He was able, when he came to write about the 1920′s , to describe without bitterness or self-righteousness, the younger Forsyte’s mobility within marriage, so different from the rigid social bonds that had controlled his own life and Ada’s.
As he lived majestically on, honors were showered upon him; degrees and doctorates fell as thick as autumn leaves, t
rder of Merit was followed by the Nobel prize. His acceptance speech was composed on his deathbed: “…I regret more than anything that I am barred – by temperament, habits of life, possessions- from the complete flow of sympathy…” ” I have made a sort of world with my pen, but has it any resemblance to the world we live in, either in England or anywhere else?…”
Though Virginia Woolf said of him that he “writes of unimportant things…spend immense skill and immense industry making the trivial and the transitory appear the true and enduring,” skewring him along with Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells, all good Fabian Society members.
Galsworthy understood that Forsyte “instinct for possession” and balanced it perhaps with an instinct to be possessed. He came to know that in the postwar world there was little place for the Forsytes. In our own time there is almost none- the tribal Forsytes have been displaced by the non-hereditary organization men and women of the managerial revolution, who must make do with luxury in place of immense property. There was something Roman about those bleak yet vital Victorians of Galsworthy’s. If he needed a modest epitaph-well, he was the noblest Forsyte of them all.
Many believe that he successfully captured the spirit of his age. Yet, while some consider him a critic of the upper class, others assert that he admired it, especially later in his life. Some of his contemporaries, especially experimental modernists, disdained his work. Virginia Woolf, for instance, considered him a “stuffed shirt” and found him guilty of the same behavior and attitudes to which he objected in his writing. His style was variously faulted as overly sentimental and melodramatic or too analytical and pessimistic. His plays in particular were often criticized as social propaganda lacking dramatic intensity. However, many critics agree that as his style evolved it became less rigid and more subtle. Galsworthy’s earlier style showed similarities to French naturalism, shifting later to a more deliberate use of symbolism and mythology. Read More:http://www.enotes.com/john-galsworthy-criticism/galsworthy-john
Hubble:The Forsyte Saga is clearly part of this longer tradition and nowhere is this more foregrounded than in the passage above, which aligns its main protagonist with a perspective of gently comic humanism, as a subject for universal identification. In the sentences immediately preceding the passage, the tank is described as both a ‘great primeval monster’ and a ‘huge, fantastic tortoise’ (II: 585); while Soames goes on to imagine: ‘Father and mother and baby tanks –- like –- like a family of mastodons, m – m?’ (II: 585). Here, the entry into the realm of the fantastic is more than just a comic technique to reduce the threat of the military by associating it with animals: it is also an attempt to symbolically remove weaponry from the realm of the modern, which is thereby maintained as a suitable environment for a peaceful, modernised middle class.
The mastodons, reminiscent of devices employed by Woolf in Mrs Dalloway, contribute to the Saga’s generation of temporal uncertainty, which in itself serves to undermine the political certainties of its present. As radical interventions go, this might not quite match up to the bombast of Benjamin’s notion of using a past filled with the presence of the now to blast open the continuum of history (see Benjamin 1992, 252-4), but it is still an effective manner of refusing to get ensnared in the ephemeral politics of the current order while implicitly suggesting the possibility that things can be different. Indeed, reminiscent of Woolf again, Galsworthy actually does go on to make that latter point explicitly, as Soames experiences a moment of being:
He took up a rose and sniffed at it deeply. So many different kinds now –- he had lost track … And at this reminder of the mutability of flowers and the ingenuity of human beings, Soames felt slightly exhausted. There was no end to things! (II: 646-7) Read More:http://www.literarylondon.org/london-journal/hubble.html