John Galsworthy (1867 – 1933)
Galsworthy was born at Kingston Hill in Surrey, England into an established
wealthy family, the son of John and Blanche Bailey Galsworthy.
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 and the two future novelists became
In 1895 Galsworthy began an affair with Ada Nemesis Pearson, the wife of one of
his cousins. After her divorce the pair eventually married and stayed together
until his death in 1933.
"From the Four Winds" was Galsworthy's first published work in 1897, a
collection of short stories. 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 he was mainly appreciated at the time. Along with other writers of
the time such as 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",
the first of three trilogies of novels 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 proceeding 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 Irene's.
John Galsworthy was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1932.
He died from a brain tumour at Grove Lodge, Hampstead. He was cremated and his
ashes were scattered over the South Downs from an airplane.