John Galsworthy (1867–1933), English novelist and playwright won the 1932 Nobel Prize in Literature "for his distinguished art of narration which takes its highest form in The Forsyte Saga" published between 1906 and 1921 and as a collection in 1922. The second series of novels in the Forsyte roman fleuve would be The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1926), and Swan Song (1928). Maid in Waiting (1931), Flowering Wilderness (1932), and Over the River (1933) comprised the third.
The Man of Property (1906) would be the first of the The Forsyte Saga. Chronicling three generations of the Victorian upper-class Forsyte family, it was followed by Indian Summer of a Forsyte, In Chancery, and Awakening in 1920 and To Let in 1921. The Forsyte obsession with wealth, status, and acquisition is apparent. Galsworthy satirically though not unsympathetically criticises the hollow insularity of everything from matters of property and marriage to the ideologies of the very class he was born into.
"But no Age is so new as that! Human Nature, under its changing pretensions and clothes, is and ever will be very much of a Forsyte, and might, after all, be a much worse animal."
--from the Preface to The Forsyte Saga
John Galsworthy was the eldest son of solicitor John Galsworthy (1817–1904) and Blanche Bailey (1837–1915). He was born at Parkfield, Kingston Hill, Surrey on 14 August 1867. After attending Harrow School (1881–1886) he went on to study law at New College, Oxford, from which he would be elected as an honorary fellow in 1926. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1890. Over the course of his lifetime he earned honorary degrees from the Universities St Andrews (1922), Manchester (1927), Dublin (1929), Cambridge (1930), Sheffield (1930), Oxford (1931), and Princeton (1931). Whilst travelling with the aim of studying marine law, he met Joseph Conrad on a South Seas voyage near Adelaide, Australia. They soon became life-long friends.
Writing merely for his own amusement around the age of twenty-eight, Galsworthy first published a collection of his short stories, From the Four Winds (1897) and the novel Jocelyn (1898) at his own expense and under the pseudonym John Sinjohn. After realising that the practice of law was not for him, he published his first novel The Island Pharisees (1904) under his own name, and which in his opinion remained his most important work. His father died the same year, leaving him a legacy of financial independence. After an extended affair with Ada Pearson (1866–1956), who was previously married to Galsworthy's cousin Arthur, John married her in September of 1905. They would have no children. Arthur and Ada's unhappy marriage would be the basis for The Man of Property.
The Silver Box first opened at the Court Theatre in 1906 and was the first of many noteworthy plays of the politically aware and liberal Galsworthy, many of them with social implications such as Justice (1910) which raised awareness of the then prison system and caused reform in the use of solitary confinement. Other novels published around this time were The Country House (1907), The Patrician (1911), The Freelands (1915), and his collection of short stories Five Tales (1918). Escape (1926) was another prison-based play, highly acclaimed. Galsworthy refused knighthood in 1919 from Prime Minister Lloyd George on principle, saying that writing was in itself its own reward. He did however accept the Belgian Palmes d'Or the same year, and was awarded the Order of Merit in 1929.
Galsworthy was the subject of numerous works of art including portraits, bronze busts, and photographs. He was a distinguished gentleman, handsomely dressed, and while not a gregarious man, close personal friends with many of the literati of his time. He did have his critics however, including D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. He was intensely dedicated to a number of causes in his lifetime including social and penal reform, censorship, and the protection of wildlife. In 1924 he co-founded the international writer's organization PEN.
John Galsworthy died of a stroke at his home in London, "Grove Lodge", The Grove, Holly Bush Hill, Hampstead, London, England on 31 January 1933. He was cremated at Woking and his ashes were scattered by airplane over the South Downs on 3 February 1933. There is a bronze memorial plaque in his honour at New College, Oxford, England. In 1967 the British Broadcasting Corporation produced an immensely popular television series based on his Forsyte Saga.
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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