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John Galsworthy OM (pronounced /ˈɡɔːlz.wɜrði/)
(14 August 1867 – 31 January 1933) was an English novelist
and playwright. Notable works includeThe
Forsyte Saga (1906—1921)
and its sequels, A Modern Comedy and End
of the Chapter. He won the Nobel
Prize in Literature in 1932.
John Galsworthy was born at Kingston
Hill in Surrey, England into
an established wealthy family, the son of John and Blanche Bailey (nee
Bartleet) Galsworthy. His large Kingston
upon Thames estate is now the
site of three schools: Marymount International, Rokeby Preparatory School and
Holy Cross. He attended Harrow and New
College, Oxford, training as a barrister and
was called to the bar in 1890. However, he was not keen to begin practising
law and instead travelled abroad to look after the family's shipping business
interests. During these travels he met Joseph
Conrad, then the first mate of a sailing-ship moored in the harbour of Adelaide,
Australia, and the two future novelists became close friends. In 1895
Galsworthy began an affair with Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper (1864–1956), the
wife of Major Arthur Galsworthy, one of his cousins. After her divorce ten
years later, the pair married on the 23rd September, 1905, and stayed together
until his death in 1933. Prior to their marriage they stayed clandestinely in
a farmhouse called Wingstone in the village of Manaton on Dartmoor,
1908 he took out a long lease on part of the building and made it their
regular second home until 1923.
From the Four Winds, a collection of short stories, was Galsworthy's
first published work in 1897. These, and several subsequent works, were
published under the pen
name John Sinjohn and it would
not be until The Island
Pharisees (1904) that he would
begin publishing under his own name, probably owing to the death of his
father. His first play, The
Silver Box (1906), became a
success and he followed it up with The
Man of Property (1906), the
first in the Forsyte trilogy. Although he continued writing both plays and
novels it was as a playwright that he was mainly appreciated for at the time.
Along with those of other writers of the time, such as George
Bernard Shaw, his plays addressed the class system
and social issues, two of the best known being Strife (1909)
and The Skin Game (1920).
He is now far better known for his novels and particularly The
Forsyte Saga, his trilogy about the eponymous family and connected
lives. These books, as with many of his other works, dealt with class, and in
particular upper-middle class lives. Although sympathetic to his characters he
highlights their insular, snobbish and acquisitive attitudes and their
suffocating moral codes. He is viewed as one of the first writers of the Edwardian
era; challenging in his works some of the ideals of society depicted in
the preceding literature
of Victorian England. The
depiction of a woman in an unhappy marriage furnishes another recurring theme
in his work. The character of Irene in The
Forsyte Saga is drawn from Ada
Pearson even though her previous marriage was not as miserable as that of
His work is often less convincing when it deals with the changing face of
wider British society and how it affects people of the lower social classes.
Through his writings he campaigned for a variety of causes including prison
reform, women's rights, animal welfare and the opposition of censorship.
War I he worked in a hospital
in France as an orderly after
being passed over for military service. He was elected as the first president
of the International
PEN literary club in 1921, was
appointed to the Order
of Merit in 1929—after earlier
turning down a knighthood—and was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932. He was too
ill to attend the Nobel awards ceremony, and died six weeks later.
John Galsworthy lived for the final seven years of his life at Bury in West
Sussex. He died from a brain
tumour at his London home,
Grove Lodge, Hampstead.
In accordance with his will he was cremated at Woking with
his ashes then being scattered over the South
Downs from an aeroplane, but
there are also memorials in Highgate 'New' Cemetery and
in the cloisters of New College, Oxford (the
latter cut and placed in the cloisters by Eric Gill).
The popularity of his fiction waned quickly after his death but the hugely
successful adaptation of The
Forsyte Saga in 1967 renewed
interest in his work.
A number of John Galsworthy's letters and papers are held at the University of
Birmingham Special Collections.
In 2007, Kingston
University, London opened a new building named in recognition of his local