About the Author

Portrait of John Galsworthy

English novelist and playwright, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932. Galsworthy became known for his portrayal of the British upper middle class and for his social satire. His most famous work was The Forsyte Saga. Galsworthy was a representative of the literary tradition which has regarded the novel as a lawful instrument of social propaganda. He believed that it was the duty of an artist to state a problem, to throw light upon it, but not to provide a solution. Before starting his career as a writer Galsworthy read widely the works of Kipling, Zola, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Flaubert.

"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!" (from A Modern Comedy: The White Monkey, 1924)

John Galsworthy was born in Kingston Hill, Surrey, into a upper-middle-class family. His father, John Galsworthy, was a lawyer and director of several companies, and mother, the former Blanche Bartleet, daughter of a Midlands manufacturer. Galsworthy studied law Harrow and New Collage, Oxford. During this period he had gained fame as a cricket and football player, but not with his writings. Once he planned to write a study of warm-blooded horses. Galsworthy's favorite authors were Thackeray, Dickens, and Melville, and favorite composer was Beethoven. In 1890 he was called to the bar. However, he never settled into practice, but chose to travel - partly to forget an unlucky love affair. In 1893 he met the writer Joseph Conrad while on a South Sea voyage. In a letter written while travelling home 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." This meeting convinced him to give up law and become a writer instead. Later Galsworthy helped Conrad financially. Galsworthy's first four books were published at his own expense under the pseudonym John Sinjohn. The author later considered these early efforts heavy and exaggerated, written under the influence of Kipling. After reading Maupassant and Turgenev he wrote Villa Rubein (1900) in which he started to find his own voice. The Island Pharisees (1904) was the first book published under his own name. Galsworthy wrote it originally in the first person, then in the third, and revised it again before it was published, but its final version was not finished until 1908.

With the death of his father in 1904, Galsworthy became financially independent. He married Ada Person Cooper in 1905. Galsworhy had lived in secret with her for ten years, because he did not want to cause distress to his father, who would not approve the relationship. She became the inspiration for many of Galsworthy's 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 (1906-28).

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. Central characters are Soames Forsyte, who was modelled after Arthur Galsworthy, the writer's cousin, Soames is married to beautiful and rebellious Irene, and Jolyon Forsyte, Soames's cousin. The incident, when Soames rapes his wife Irene, was supposedly based on Ada Galsworthy's experience with her former husband Arthur. In the second part, 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 book, 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), and the two interludes 'A Silent Wooing' and 'Passers By' was published as A Modern Comedy in 1929. In 1931 Galsworthy followed the immense success of the Forsyte books with a further collection of stories, On Forsyte Change.

The Man of Property established Galsworthy's reputation as an important writer. He 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 Winston Churchill in his program for prison reform. Later plays include The Skin Game (1920), filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1932, Loyalties (1922), dealing with the theme of anti-Semitism, later produced for television, and Escape (1926), filmed second time in 1948 by 20th. Century-Fox, 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. In France he worked for the Red Cross, and helped refugees in Belgium. Galsworthy refused knighthood in 1917 in the belief that writers should not accept titles. He also gave away at least half of his income to humanitarian causes. In 1924 Galsworthy founded with Catherine Dawson Scott PEN, an international organization of writers. The 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.

Galsworthy died on January 31, 1933. During his career Galsworthy 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, and his works were heavily attacked by D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. The younger generation of writers accused Galsworthy of being thoroughly embodied the values he was supposed to be criticizing. According to some biographers Galsworthy, a "decent chap" of his times, was dominated by his wife who was atrocious and hypochondriac. On the other hand, his influence is seen in the works of Thomas Mann, and he was widely read in France and in Russia.

Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.