Conrad writing to John Galsworthy about the Forsyte Saga says: “It is a great performance my dear Jack–so great that without for a moment stepping out of the scheme it escapes from the particular into the universal by the sheer force of its inner life.” (1 Nov. 1921) Hardy tells him: “The story seems to me more of an artistic organism of natural development than almost any of the others.” (24 Oct. 1921) Sassoon informs Mrs. Galsworthy: “I take off my hat to him and all his Forsytes; that family is becoming a part of the national consciousness.” (31 Dec. 1921) Gilbert Murray conveys his appreciation: “It is a wonderful achievement of yours to have created this Saga.” (24 June 1922) After ending the Forsyte story Grenville Barker has a lump in the throat. The publication of the novel was a turning point as pointed out by Marrot, in the life of Galsworthy. The majesty and intimate achievement of the Saga brought for him the appreciation and gratitude of two continents. Sales passed the six figure mark on both sides of the Atlantic. Galsworthy became a “best-seller” and his fame international.


Modern Reaction


After a century can we still inhale fragrance in this bouquet of appreciation? Galsworthy is not the grand cham of novelists that he was. The Man of Property is the only one that is vital and fresh today out of the three trilogies that constitute the Forsyte Saga. Galsworthy is said to be a pusillanimous writer and his Ironic. Muse wears hob-nailed boots when he is compared Marcel Proust or Thomas Mann. He is the typical Gentleman in Literature and we find the strengths and weaknesses of a gentleman writer. At best he is a period novelist. In short his Forsyte Saga is a museum piece, not a living work of art. Galsworthy does not create; he recreates with amazing richness and fidelity, say, Old Jolyon’s mahagony furniture or Swithin’s Italian marble to radiate culture. This weakness is noted by Edwin Muir in The Structure of the Novel: To Mr. Wells and Mr. Galsworthy society is essentially an abstract conception, not an imaginative reality;  they do not recreate society, therefore, in their novels; they merely illustrate it, or rather their ideas about it...To them society is there full grown as an idea at the beginning; it is not created by the characters, rather it creates them; but at the same time it is always beyond them, exists as a thing itself and cannot be adumbrated completely except by employing the arts of exposition. The other danger to which a novelist deeply interested in the ways of society is exposed is illustrated in the novels of Thackeray. We have to ponder carefully why D. H. Lawrence rasped out angrily: Bosinney and Irene are more dishonest and indecent than Soames and Winifred. This is perhaps part of my anti-Victorianism. Today there is a reaction against this. The Victorian Age undergoes a rehabilitation; it is said to be richer than the Elizabethan Age even. One who regards the Victorian Age as hypocrisy and humbug is oneself guilty of crtical hypocrisy and humbug.


The Forsythe Saga


In spite of these deductions Galsworthy is not less than an archangel ruined. His Chronicle consisting of three trilogies (or nine novels):


The Forsyte Saga

A Modern Comedy

End of the Chapter and four Interludes


Is the most magnificent social history in Fiction; it is not an estate agent’s ledger but a new morality in which divorce is a deliverance, not a damnation. These chronicles overtop his earlier ‘Wingstone’ and ‘Addison Road’ novels. They consumed twelve years of the author’s life. They span roughly a period of 70 years–from the mid-Victorian Period through the Edwardian to the post-war world, a quarter of a mile of the Forsytes. They register a change from unselfconsciousness to self consciousness, from the 1880 Grey beards to the 1920 Irresponsibles, from self-assurance to self-questioning, from satire to philosophy, from anger to tolerance. The surprising peripety is security to Galasworthy becomes the person he hates; he accepts Soames, admires him and becomes ‘oned’ with him. Galsworthy is a Forsyte himself. The ironic gloom of the artist who created out of his imagination the awful structure of the Man of Property has been dissipated by the mellow glow of a more mature and hopeful philosopher. What is, he has learned to accept with the tranquillity of a melancholy stoicism. (Natalie Groman, p. 50) He changes from whatever is, is wrong to whatever is, is right; ‘the silly tenth’ is gone out of him.


The gentleman in Galsworthy destroys the artist in him just as the thinker in Huxley destroys the creator in Huxley. But age has not withered the freshness of the Man of Property nor its point of view: disturbing beauty impinging on a possessive world. Possession is not only nine-tenths of law to the Forsytes; it is the very law of life too. They ignore Beauty, Freedom, Instinct, Impulse, the Irrational in life. Their system is all-comprehensive and all-conquering in their opinion; they believe in Walpole’s. Every man has his price; even death can be purchased.


A great satirist is one who runs with the hares and hunts with the hounds. He has to say with Meredith: Willoughby is me. Galsworthy has to say: Soames is me. We are all Forsytes. “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.” (The Preface) The Forsyte Saga is unperishing not because it is a scientific study of a period but because it is an intimate incarnation of the disturbance that Beauty effects in the lives of men. The attitude of the reading public has unfortunately been to underline the social historian, the chronicler of the Forsytes in Galsworthy rather than the artist in him, the creator of Soames. The author has specifically warned us not to expect the birth of the cinema and the invention of the bicycle, the arrival of the cheap press and the decay of the country–in his long tale. What is more relevant to us is the pastness of the Present and the presentness of the Past.


Of course it is difficult to graph precisely the changes. Travelyan points out in his Social History that one of the difficulties of on attempt to write the social as distinct from the political history of a nation is the absence of determining events and positive dates by which the course of things can be charted. The social customs of men and women and their economic circumstances, particularly in modern times, are always in movement, but they never change  completely or all at once. The old overlaps the new so much that it is often a question whether to ascribe some tendency in thought or practice to one generation or the next (English Social History, Pp.1l9 and p. 551).


The first trilogy The Forsyte Saga consisting of


The Man of Property

In Chancery

To Let–is roughly the story of 


Irone giving so little and enduring so much.


The second trilogy A Modern Comedy consisting of


The White Monkey

The Silver Spoon

Swan Song-is the story of Fleur


giving nothing and taking a great deal.


The third trilogy End of the Chapter consisting of


Maid in Waiting

Flowering Wilderness

Over the River–is the story of


Dinny giving so much and taking so little.


The four Interludes are The Indian Summer



A Silent Wooing



Over this immense landscape the imagination of Galsworthy like the lanthorn of Cethro the watchman appointed by the Prince of Felicitas sheds its flame and discovers for us “the skull and fair face, the burdock and the tiger lily, the butterfly and toad” (A Novelist’s Allegory).


Galsworthy’s Eminence


Galsworthy is not merely the creator of Soames but the advocate of Falder, a President of the P.E.N., a champion of social service, so humane that he is a humaniac. He is the advocate of the fox against the hounds, of the prisoner against the gaoler, of the rabbit against the sportsman, of the prostitute against the policeman. His Justice is a 20th century re-telling of Measure for measure. It made such a profound impact on the public that Churchill invited him for consultations regarding prison reform. Whoever says that poets and playwrights are not legislators of the world?


The creator of Soames and Irene lives in unfading freshness; the advocate of Falder is still a box office hit; the shaper of the P.E.N. is a contemporary; the Gentleman who exhorts every HUMAN BEING “to do his little bit aNd be kind” cannot be set aside; the humble philosopher who said “Good God, give me to understand” is a perpetual reminder of what is needed by us every minute of our lives. If surviving after a century is one of the criteria of a classic, then Galsworthy is a classic. If it be true that universal history can be contained on a small scale, in the true chronicles of one family, says an admirer, then here we have it–incomplete like itself, for the Forsytes are still going on, outside the book, marrying and breeding and educating their children and adjusting their prejudices. The Forsyte, like the Feudal Noble, the Elizabethan Courtier and the Regency Aristocrat, is a never-dying addition to the craft of letters. “If the upper middle class, with other classes, is destined to move on into amorphism, here, pickled in these pages, it lies under glass for strollers in the wide and ill-arranged museum of letters to gaze at. Here it rests preserved in its own juice: The Sense of Property.” As for human interest though the story deals with frock coats and furbelows it is as heroic as the old Eddas and its argument is:


Not less but more heroic than the wrath

Of stern Achilles on his foe pursued

Thrice fugitive about Troy wall; or rage

Of Tumus for Lavinia disespoused.




“A man does not change religion as he changes his garments. He takes it with him beyond the grave. Nor does a man profess his religion to oblige others. He professes a religion because he cannot do otherwise.”