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John Galsworthy Biography

(1867–1933), From the Four Winds, Man of Devon, Jocelyn, Villa Rubein, The Man of Property

British novelist and playwright, born in Coombe, Surrey, the son of a wealthy solicitor; he studied jurisprudence at New College, Oxford. From 1890 to 1895, when he became a full-time writer, he practised as a barrister and travelled extensively; in the course of a voyage in 1892, he began a lasting friendship with Joseph Conrad. His early works, all published under the pseudonym ‘John Sinjohn’, include the short stories of From the Four Winds (1897) and Man of Devon (1901) and the novels Jocelyn (1898) and Villa Rubein (1900); the last-named clearly displays the influence of Turgenev's humane realism, establishing the essential mode of Galsworthy's later work. Although respected in literary circles for his virtuosity in matters of form and style, he did not command a wider audience until 1906; in that year he published The Man of Property, the first of his novels to trace the fortunes of the Forsyte family, and enjoyed his first stage success with The Silver Box, which introduced the contrast between poor and privileged families as a recurrent feature of his dramatic writings. The astutely objective but penetrating projection of the values and manners of his own social class begun in The Man of Property was sustained with the continuing treatment of the Forsytes in In Chancery (1920) and To Let (1921); the books were collected with two additional lyrical ‘interludes’ as The Forsyte Saga in 1922. A television serialization of the work made in 1967 was broadcast in over forty countries. A Modern Comedy (1929), consisting of The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1926), and Swan Song (1928), registers the impact of the First World War on the society of the Forsytes in following a younger generation of the family to maturity. Other works centring on the lives and times of the Forsytes include Soames and Flag (1930), and the stories On Forsyte Change (1930). Maid in Waiting (1931), Flowering Wilderness (1932), and Over the River (1933), which present the history of the Charwells, rural cousins of the Forsytes, were collected as End of the Chapter (1934). Notable among Galsworthy's numerous other novels are The Dark Flower (1913), the most passionately lyrical expression of his erotic and romantic intuitions, and Fraternity (1909), to which the theme of the hypocrisy inherent in social conventions is central. The reservation of explicit moral judgement which characterized his novels is also a feature of his work for the stage, in which, however, his humanitarian concern with social justice is more conspicuously apparent. Strife (1909) dealt with the sufferings of workers and their families during a strike. Galsworthy's participation in campaigns for penal reform was reflected in Justice (1910), which was instrumental in swaying opinion against the widespread use of solitary confinement. The Skin Game (1920), exposing the aristocracy's jealous sensitivity to change, Loyalties (1922), attacking anti-Semitism, and Escape (1926), an experimentally episodic treatment of a prisoner's flight across Dartmoor, may also be mentioned out of the total of over thirty plays which gained him eminence among the dramatists of the day. In a career of prolific authorship, his other works include numerous volumes of essays, short stories, poetry, and some criticism, notably Two Essays on Conrad (1930). The Order of Merit was conferred on him in 1929, and he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932. Although his novels have retained a substantial popular readership, adverse commentary by D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, who thought his work superficial, was a factor in the decline of his reputation among literary critics. His Collected Works appeared in twenty-six volumes between 1927 and 1934. Catherine Dupré's biography of Galsworthy was published in 1976.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Richard Furness Biography to Robert Murray Gilchrist Biography