John Galsworthy and "The Forsyte Saga"

John Galsworthy was one of the last representatives of Critical Realism in English literature. He was a novelist, dramatist, short story writer and essayist taken together. His works give the most complete and critical picture of English bourgeois society at the beginning of the 20th century.
The author deals with contemporary social problems. He is critical of injustice, tyranny and all the evils of life, but his criticism is not destructive: he himself was too much a member of the privileged classes to wish to rebuild the world he lived in. His characters are mostly of the upper middle class and the aristocracy with which he was wholly familiar Galsworthy tried to revive the realistic traditions of his predecessors -"the brilliant school of English novelists".
His mastery as a writer lies in his keen criticism of national prejudices, his exciting pints and a realistic observation of life and characters.
The writer was born at Coombe, Surrey, on August 14, 1867. He came from a well-to-do bourgeois family. His father was a rich lawyer, and he wanted his son to follow the career John studied law at Oxford, but he was more interested in literature than in law. Probably due to this fact he gave up his practice a year after graduation and went travelling all over the world.
In 1891 Galsworthy came to the Crimea. His stay in Russia, short as it was, produced a deep impression upon the future writer and awakened his interest in the country, its people and literature.
Though the profession of a lawyer was considered to be more honourable and more profitable than that of a writer, Galsworthy gave up law for literature. His cherished desire was to expose all the evils of society and to reveal the truth of life, and he hoped that the profession of a writer would help him to realize his lifelong dream.
Galsworthy enjoyed popularity in his lifetime. Much of his energy was devoted to the Pen-club, an association of writers of which he was president until his death in 1933

His Literary Work
Galsworthy was no longer young when he started writing. His first notable work was "The Island Pharisees" (1904) in which he attacked the stagnation of thought in the English privileged classes, with their avoidance of any emotion, and their preference for a dull settled way of living. The five works that followed ( "The Country House" (1907), "Fraternity" (1909),"The Patrician (1911), "The Dark Flower"(1913) and "The Freelands"(1915) reveal a similar philosophy. The author criticizes country squires, the aristocracy and artists, and shows his deep sympathy for strong passions, sincerity, true love Galsworthy's masterpiece is, however, the trilogy entitled "The Forsyte Saga". It consists of three novels and two interludes, as the author calls them:
"The Man of Property" (1906)
"In Chancery"(1920)
"To Let"(1921)
"Awakening "(interlude)
"Indian Summer of a Forsyte" (interlude)
"The Forsyte Saga" is followed by "A Modern Comedy", also a trilogy, consisting of
three novels and two interludes:
"The White Monkey" (1924)
"The Silver Spoon"(1926)
"The Swan Song" (1928)
"A Silent Wooing" (interlude)
"Passers-By"( interlude).
The trilogy called "End of the Chapter" was written at a later period. It consists of the
following novels:
"Maid in Waiting"
"Flowering Wilderness"
"Over the River".
In the first trilogy, which was written in the most mature period of his literary activity, Galsworthy mercilessly attacks the commercial world of the Forsytes, and in particular, the main character, Soames Forsyte, "the man of property".
In his later works, "A Modern Comedy" and The End of the Chapter", written after World War I Galsworthy's criticism becomes less sharp. The old generation of the Forsytes does not seem so bad to the author as compared to the new one. During his progress through six novels and four interludes Soames becomes almost a positive character, in spite of the author's critical attitude towards him at the beginning of the Saga.
Galsworthy is also known as a playwright. His plays deal with burning problems of contemporary life. The author describes the hard life of workers ("Strife"), attacks cruel regime in English prisons ("Justice"), expresses his indignation towards wars ("The Mob"), rejects the colonial policy of British imperialism ("The Forest"), and presents some other aspects of capitalist evils and injustice. Galsworthy's plays were very popular, but it is thanks to "The Forsyte Saga" he became one of the greatest figures in the world literature.

"The Forsyte Saga"
"The Forsyte Saga" is a history of three generations of the the Forsyte family from the eighties of the 19th century up to the twenties of the 20th century. "The Man of Property" shows two successive generations of a rich upper middle class family at the end of the 19th century. It is a social novel: the author shows the Forsyte family as a small unit of English upper middle class society of his own time. The Forsytes possess all the features typical of their class as a whole, and they have to obey the laws which govern it. He who dares to disobey these laws is ostracized by society.
Characteristic features of the Forsytes are: extreme individualism, egoism, an ability never to give themselves away, contempt for everything foreign, a strong sense of property, money worship, tenacity, snobbery, practicality.
The collision between the sense of property and money worship on the one hand, and true love and a keen sense of beauty on the other hand, motivates the plot of the novel Soames Forsyte- the man of property- is the main character of the novel. He is an embodiment of the spirit of society where the cult of property rules the world. He is sure that everything in the world can be bought with money. He regards not only his pictures, houses and investments as his property but even his wife.
Soames is unable to comprehend that all his property, large as it is, cannot make Irene love him. The other members of the family are unable to understand it either. In their opinion the very fact that Irene has no fortune of her own is enough to make it her duty to love and obey her rich husband. That is the Forsytes' conception of love and marriage.
Only when Irene left him and he realized that she was penniless, that she had taken nothing that he or his people had given her, he came to understand how deeply she hated him In Galsworthy's opinion property is "an empty shell". Soames' fate confirms this idea: rich as he was, he was not happy.

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