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“We have to hate our immediate predecessors”: Lawrence and Galsworthy

Keith Cushman
p. 75-96

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1Who am I?

2I was a prolific 20th century English writer of fiction, plays, and poetry. My affair with a married woman and our subsequent marriage were the pivotal events of both my life and my artistic career. Ford Madox Hueffer gave me excellent advice about my second novel. After my death and many years after Hueffer had changed his name to Ford Madox Ford, he wrote a chapter about me in Portraits from Life. The publisher’s reader and man of letters Edward Garnett was my invaluable literary mentor and introduced me to a wider circle of authors. I broke with Garnett when I disagreed with his criticisms of one of my early novels; he believed that I was moving in a wrong direction.

3I published both fiction and poetry in The English Review. My family chronicle, grounded in various stories of love and marriage, offers a perspective on social change in England over a broad span of time. I wrote a play about an industrial dispute in which labor and management are locked in an impasse. My best-known novel is about an adulterous romantic triangle that includes a socially inappropriate male. Flowers are the major symbol in the novel I published in 1913. My novel with important scenes set in the Tyrol features a sculptor who creates small animals and birds. I traveled widely, venturing as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Majorca, and of course the United States.

4Who am I? Do I really need to ask? I am John Galsworthy....

5As I have just demonstrated, it is possible with a little academic sleight-of-hand to line up John Galsworthy and D. H. Lawrence in a way that makes them seem as if they had much in common. But those superficial similarities conceal the immense differences between the two writers. Galsworthy, born in 1867, was part of the generation that preceded Lawrence’s. Although he died in 1933, just three years after Lawrence, he is remembered as an Edwardian rather than a modernist. As members of the mythical republic of letters, Galsworthy was the quintessential establishment insider while Lawrence was the outsider and ultimately a self-exile. Galsworthy was a social and literary conservative, described in 1939 by David Daiches as the “last of the Victorian novelists” (Daiches 44). In contrast Lawrence was a social critic and nay-sayer and, in his greatest novels, a literary revolutionary.

6Galsworthy, the son of a wealthy solicitor and director of companies, was a rather indifferent student who received his education at Harrow and Oxford. Lawrence, the son of a collier, was a gifted student who was a scholarship boy at Nottingham High School and a student at Nottingham University College. Galsworthy’s inheritance from his father made him a rich man even before he began enjoying great popular and commercial success as a novelist and playwright. At the time of Galsworthy’s death in 1933, no “living English writer, not D. H. Lawrence, nor H. G. Wells, nor E. M. Forster, nor Virginia Woolf, had the prestige, the power, and the public he had” (Sternlicht 1). In the last decade of his life Lawrence was able to eke out a decent living while publishing prolifically and living simply. At the end of his life, Lady Chatterley’s Lover made him comfortable financially at the same time it sealed his reputation as the author of a notorious dirty book. Galsworthy was essentially a middle-brow author writing for a middle-brow audience, but for a time he came to be regarded as the great English novelist of his age. That reputation was one of the reasons Lawrence disliked Galsworthy so intensely. John Galsworthy returned the favor.

7Lawrence and Galsworthy met only once. That meeting took place over lunch at the Arts Club on 16 November 1917 with J.B. Pinker, the agent for both writers, also present. Lawrence and Pinker hoped—faintly—that Galsworthy would lend his support to a scheme to publish Women in Love by subscription. After the lunch both writers left brief, telling accounts of the meeting. “I lunched with John Galsworthy yesterday,” Lawrence wrote Lady Cynthia Asquith. “Sawdust bore” (3L 183). Galsworthy wrote in his journal that he “lunched with Pinker to meet D. H. Lawrence, that provincial genius. Interesting, but a type I could not get on with. Obsessed with self. Dead eyes, and a red beard, long narrow pale face. A strange bird” (Nehls 447). As Lawrence returned to revising his masterpiece, he thought of “poor John Galsworthy’s sufferings as he reads it” (3L 185). Galsworthy was obviously a “type” that Lawrence “could not get on with.”

8The most prominent intersection between Lawrence and Galsworthy is Lawrence’s late, little-known essay “John Galsworthy,” published in 1928 in the rather oddly named Scrutinies by Various Writers, edited by Edgell Rickword. (The book is more like scrutinies of various writers). Lawrence had contributed regularly to the Calendar of Modern Letters, also edited by Rickword, during its three-year run, which ended in July 1927. The Calendar featured a series of critical essays titled “Scrutinies” in which younger writers examined “the reputations of certain writers who are the object of somewhat indiscriminate admiration.” Lawrence produced his Galsworthy essay too late for inclusion in the journal, but Rickword had already “conceived a plan to collect and extend the series in a separate volume” (STH li).

9The luncheon meeting in 1917 and Lawrence’s Galsworthy essay are but two of the occasions in which these writers were on each other’s minds. In this essay I will chart Lawrence’s responses to John Galsworthy over the course of his career, and, as counterpoint, Galsworthy’s (possible) early concern for the struggling Lawrence and then his harsh criticism of both Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow. I will consider Lawrence’s early and late responses to The Man of Property (1906), Galsworthy’s best and best-known novel, before moving on to a discussion of Lawrence the budding playwright’s interest in Galsworthy’s plays, especially Strife (1909). No one has ever noticed the significant use Lawrence made of Strife in Touch and Go (1920), the play Lawrence wrote for Douglas Goldring’s People’s Theatre. I will then focus on Lawrence’s Galsworthy essay before concluding with a brief analysis of the causes of the enduring animosity between the two writers.

The Man of Property

10John Galsworthy is remembered today as the author of the Forsyte Chronicles, two trilogies (The Forsyte Saga [1906-21] and A Modern Comedy [1922-26]) that trace the fortunes of an upper-middle class business family from the mid-1880s to the mid-1920s. He published The Man of Property in 1906, long before he had the idea of making the novel the first book in a trilogy. In some ways this novel was Galsworthy’s most personal book.

11In 1895 Galsworthy had fallen in love with Ada Cooper Galsworthy, the unhappily married wife of his cousin Arthur. Galsworthy and Ada conducted a clandestine affair for ten years. Because the couple wished to avoid a public scandal,

12Ada waited until the death of Galsworthy’s father in 1904 to obtain a divorce. She and Galsworthy were married the next year.

13Ada’s marriage and her affair with Galsworthy presented the novelist with a plot that he felt strongly about: a beautiful woman, trapped in a loveless marriage, leaves her husband for the man she loves in violation of the strict Victorian code of morality. This is the situation of The Man of Property, which is set in 1886. The main character in the Forsyte novels is the wealthy solicitor Soames Forsyte, the most successful and powerful figure in the second generation of the family. The rigid, humorless Soames has a passion for acquiring money and property, including paintings and his beautiful wife Irene. Irene falls in love with Philip Bosinney, a romantic young architect, and leaves her husband. But the affair ends abruptly when Bosinney is run over by a bus. Irene must return to the slavery of her marriage to Soames.

14The Man of Property with its satirical attack on Victorianism spoke to the new generation of Edwardian readers, as Samuel Butler’s posthumous The Way of All Flesh had done three years earlier. Among the enthusiasts—in 1909, three years after the novel’s publication —was D. H. Lawrence. On 1 November 1909 he asked Blanche Jennings, “Have you read Arnold Bennet’s Old Wives’ Tale [...]? – Have you read John Galsworthy’s Man of Property [...]? Get them if you have not” (1L 142).

15In his essay on Galsworthy, written eighteen years later as part of a series debunking the established writers of the day, Lawrence still admires The Man of Property, asserting that the book “has the elements of a very great novel, a very great satire. It sets out to reveal the social being in all his strength and inferiority.” Lawrence perceived “greatness” in the book’s new and sincere and amazingly profound satire: “ It is the ultimate satire on modern humanity, and done from the inside, with real consummate skill and sincere creative passion, something quite new” (STH 212).

16Lawrence had read “Galsworthy again—or most of him, for all is too much” (STH 210) before writing his essay. Surely he remembered his youthful admiration of the novel, but his opinion in “John Galsworthy” is the considered opinion of his maturity. Of course, Lawrence’s opinion of the novel is far from unmixed, as I will explain in my discussion of the Galsworthy essay below: Galsworthy lacked the “courage to carry it through” (STH 212). Lawrence’s observation that The Man of Property was “done from the inside” suggests that he was aware of the novel’s autobiographical source. But most strikingly, his comment that Galsworthy wrote the novel not only with “real consummate skill” but also “sincere creative passion” sounds like Lawrence’s very highest praise.

Playwrights at Work: Strife and Touch and Go

17In 1906, the year of the publication of The Man of Property, Galsworthy “emerged as a widely discussed dramatist with the production of his first completed play, The Silver Box” (Sternlicht 15). The Silver Box is a courtroom drama that indicts the criminal justice system. Two drunken men—one rich, one poor—have stolen property. The wealthy, respectable man escapes punishment while the poor man goes to jail, leaving his wife and children in total destitution. Galsworthy also wrote thesis plays dramatizing such topics as young men taking responsibility for the women they have made pregnant, the politics and morality of war, old money vs. new, anti-Semitism, and the struggle between labor and management (Sternlicht 15). Until the completion of The Forsyte Saga trilogy in 1921 Galsworthy was more highly regarded as a playwright than as a novelist.

18In November 1911, Lawrence recommended Galsworthy’s allegorical play A Little Dream to his fiancée Louie Burrows, calling it “rather good” though “a bit mechanical” (1L 326). His fellow schoolmaster A. W. McLeod had given him a copy of the play as a birthday present. But Strife was the Galsworthy play that Lawrence was most interested in. One reviewer of the original production in 1909 called the play “one of the most strenuous and remarkable dramas of modern times.” Another exclaimed that “it is such drama that we want, such drama that will lift our stage as well as our national reputation” (Wilson 183, 184). Lawrence was much less impressed, but Galsworthy’s industrial drama nevertheless provided the basic structure for Lawrence’s Touch and Go.

19Strife depicts a lengthy, bitter strike at a tin-plate factory in Cornwall. The charismatic union leader David Roberts and John Anthony, the stubborn old chairman of the board, are angry and intransigent; both refuse to compromise. In the end after three acts of labor-management contentiousness Roberts’s wife dies of hunger and cold. The two sides at last achieve compromise—on the exact terms that had been drawn up before the strike began. The careful parallelism and balance of the play’s plot makes it clear that both leaders, though acting from principle, have caused a great deal of damage. The play communicates the need for conciliation, reason, and good will—good liberal values—to prevail in industrial relations.

20Lawrence’s interest in Galsworthy’s Strife was partly professional, for by late 1909 he had begun writing his own plays. Jessie Chambers recorded that she and Lawrence saw a performance of Strife, staged by a London company at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, in September 1909 (Chambers 172). Between late 1909 and early 1913 Lawrence wrote six of his eight plays. He had written A Collier’s Friday Night by November 1909, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd by November 1910, and The Merry-go-Round by November 1910/January 1911. He had written The Married Man by April 1912, he wrote The Fight for Barbara in October 1912, and he had written The Daughter-in-Law by mid-January 1913.

21Early in 1913 when his literary advisor Edward Garnett returned three of the plays Lawrence had sent him, Lawrence responded with a spirited defense of his plays, arguing that they would find an audience if only there were a producer willing to stage them. After all “we are sick of the rather bony, bloodless drama we get nowadays – it is time for a reaction against Shaw and Galsworthy and Barker and Irishy (except Synge) people – the rule and measure mathematical folk”:

[...] I don’t want to write like Galsworthy nor Ibsen, nor Strindberg nor any of them, not even if I could. We have to hate our immediate predecessors, to get free from their authority. (1L 509)

22Shades of Harold Bloom!

23Strife was the Galsworthy play that Lawrence knew best. The characters of Strife seem manufactured —“rather bony, bloodless drama”—and the neatly balanced plot is arguably organized by “rule and measure.” The play is also melodramatic and sentimental, as Lawrence asserts in his preface to Touch and Go, his own industrial play. Complaining that no one has effectively dramatized the “Strike situation,” he observes that the situation “is a sort of Medusa head, which turns us, not to stone, but to sloppy treacle. Mr Galsworthy had a peep, and sank down towards bathos” (Plays 365). Lawrence wrote Touch and Go in October 1918 while he was living in Middleton-by-Wirksworth in his home country, hearing about “the tensions in the mining industry,” seeing his old socialist friend Willie Hopkin, and “showing a greatly increased interest in politics and politicians” (Plays xlvi). Touch and Go became the second play in Douglas Goldring’s People’s Theatre series although it was hardly a good fit for Goldring’s “scheme for an ‘all-red theatre’” (Plays xlix). Lawrence was enthusiastic about this play: “I have written a play out of my deep and earnest self, fired up my last sparks of hope in the world” (3L 293).

24But Touch and Go is actually one of Lawrence’s weakest plays. Its stage premiere took place in 1973. Keith Sagar devotes little more than a page to it in his classic 28-page essay, “D. H. Lawrence: Dramatist.” It doesn’t help that Lawrence lifted most of the characters and some of the situations from his still-unpublished Women in Love. The mine owner Gerald Barlow is an angrier, more vicious version of Gerald Crich, while Oliver Turton and Anabel Wrath stand in for Birkin and Gudrun. The play, a Lawrentian curiosity, could be subtitled “Further Adventures of Gerald, Rupert, and Gudrun Operating Under Assumed Names.”

25Touch and Go is also a rewrite of Galsworthy’s Strife. The balanced structure of Touch and Go is the same as that of Strife, for in both plays neither management nor the strikers are in the right. The colliers are planning to go out in support of the thirty striking office clerks. They have delivered an ultimatum, and the ruthless, cold-hearted Gerald (who has “revolutionized the collieries—and the whole company,” making everything “so modern” [Plays 380]) insists that “it’s just over trifles that one must make war” (Plays 387). Lawrence raises the stakes, for the final showdown between Gerald and Job Arthur Freer, the leader of the miners, culminates in violence.

26Job Arthur seems to represent patience and the desire for compromise, but when Gerald angrily throws him down and starts kicking him, he becomes as angry and defiant as the union leader David Roberts in Strife. The miners become a bestial, howling, violent mob, and they spread-eagle Gerald on the floor, face down. The female principle of good sense and sympathy is embodied in the characters of Madge Thomas in Strife and Annabel Wrath in Touch and Go. In Strife the workman George Rous becomes a proponent of compromise because he is influenced by the practical Madge, who tells him, “Don’t think to have my company till you’ve made an end of all this trouble” (Strife 201). In Touch and Go Annabel, who is looking for “something more dignified, more religious if you like—anyhow, something positive” (Plays 391) in her own life, criticizes both Gerald and the miners.

27Galsworthy concludes Strife not only with a resolution but also a riveting climax.

28The strike has been settled after much suffering and even loss of life; the men are going back to work. The two rejected leaders gaze at one another “fixedly and “bend their heads in token of respect” (Strife 262) before they exit. “A woman dead; and the two best men both broken!” (Strife 262, 263), exclaims a union official before the curtain falls.

29In contrast Touch and Go concludes with no resolution whatsoever. Oliver Turton recommends reconciliation between labor and management in a speech filled with vague good intentions:

Can’t you see that it takes two to make a quarrel?—And as long as each party struggles to get full hold of the stick, the quarrel will continue? It will continue till you’ve killed one another. [...] We’re all human beings after all. And why can’t we try really to leave off haggling against one another, and set up a new state of things? (Plays 429)

30He tells Job Arthur that if he wants “what is natural and good, I’m sure the owners would agree with you.” Touch and Go trails off lamely with Gerald insisting that he’s “never going to be bullied” (Plays 430, 431). Galsworthy has the surer sense of drama, and although Strife can safely be categorized as an Edwardian period piece, it is much more stageworthy than Touch and Go. Strife is also clearly visible as the starting-point for Lawrence’s play.

“The body’s never worth while”: Galsworthy’s Response to Lawrence

31Ford Madox Ford, never the most reliable of memoirists, remembered incorrectly that Lawrence was “pronounced tubercular” while teaching in Croydon. Ford also remembered that “Galsworthy and [C. F. G.] Masterman and even the solid, stolid [Arthur] Marwood—and of course several ladies—went about some time with worried faces because Lawrence was writing masterpieces and teaching in a fetid atmosphere” (Ford 86). Frankly, it is difficult to imagine Galsworthy with a “worried face” over D. H. Lawrence. If there’s any truth to Ford’s recollection of Galsworthy’s concern, it would have been because Ford had shared with Galsworthy his own conviction that the young, penurious Lawrence had a bright literary future.

32Galsworthy wrote two detailed letters about Lawrence’s novels before the luncheon to discuss Women in Love described above. On 13 April 1914, he sent Edward Garnett his opinion about Sons and Lovers. Sometime in late autumn 1915, he communicated his response to The Rainbow to J. B. Pinker, who was trying to rallysupport for The Rainbow, which had been suppressed early on 3 November. Both letters are pompous and superior in tone. Both fixate on the sexual content of the novels in terms that now seem mildly hysterical. Both letters are disdainful, and the letter about The Rainbow is totally dismissive.

33Garnett had either sent Sons and Lovers to his friend Galsworthy or simply recommended it. Garnett was proud of the novel that he had edited down to its final form, cutting 10% of Lawrence’s manuscript. And Galsworthy had “nothing but praise for all the part that deals with the mother, the father and the sons.” But he had “a lot besides praise for the love part”:

[...] that kind of revelling in the shades of sex emotions seems to me anaemic. Contrasted with Maupassant’s – a frank sensualist’s – dealing with such emotions, it has a queer indecency; it doesn’t see the essentials; it revels in the unessentials. It’s not good enough to spend time and ink in describing the penultimate sensations and physical movements of people getting into a state of rut [...]. There’s genius in the book, but not in that part of the book. (Galsworthy, Letters 218)

34Galsworthy, continuing to sound like Mrs. Grundy, concludes smugly that “the body’s never worth while, and the sooner Lawrence recognizes that, the better.” The great writers “only use the body, and that sparingly, to reveal the soul” (Galsworthy, Letters 218).

35Galsworthy’s letter about Sons and Lovers seems gentle and kind in comparison to his letter to Pinker about The Rainbow. Galsworthy lays it on especially thick because Pinker was seeking prestigious support for a novel that the government hadsuppressed. But Galsworthy finds the The Rainbow is “aesthetically detestable,” and its “perfervid futuristic style revolts” him. Again Galsworthy laments the absence of “soul” in Lawrence’s characters: “There is a spurious creativeness about it all, as of countless bodies made with tremendous gusto, and not an ounce of soul within them.[...]” (Sagar Art 69).

Even worse, Lawrence forgets—as no great artist does—that by dwelling on the sexual side of life so lovingly he falsifies all the values of his work—for this reason if for no other: the sexual instinct is so strong in all of us that any emphasis upon it drags the whole being of the reader away from seeing life steadily, truly, & whole. [. . .] (Sagar, Art 69)

36The Arnoldian commonplace only underscores the perception that Galsworthy seems like a strikingly smug Victorian born after his time. But this Victorian claims to “prefer a frankly pornographic book to one like this.” Galsworthy concludes his letter by describing himself as a “pagan” and the novel as “not paganism” but “fever” (Sagar, Art 69). As a pagan, Galsworthy does a wonderful imitation of a stuffed shirt.

37In “The Bad Side of Books,” the introduction to Edward McDonald’s Bibliography of the Writings of D. H. Lawrence (1925), Lawrence reports that Galsworthy told him “very calmly and ex cathedra, he thought [The Rainbow] a failure as a work of art.” Galsworthy must have communicated this opinion during the ill-starred luncheon of 16 November 1917. Lawrence’s elegant riposte in the introduction is that “impromptu opinions by elderly authors are apt to damage him who gives as much as him who takes” (IR 77).

38Still, whatever one thinks of the relative merits of Galsworthy and Lawrence as novelists, it is clear that Galsworthy could not understand Lawrence’s radically innovative novel. In fairness it should be added that it was difficult for even sophisticated readers—including Lawrence’s literary advisor Edward Garnett—to understand The Rainbow in 1915.

The “John Galsworthy” essay

39On 28 February 1927, Lawrence sent Nancy Pearn, his contact in the office of his agent Curtis Brown, the “scribbled MS” of his John Galsworthy essay, asking her to have it typed:

I’m afraid it is not very nice to Galsworthy—but really, reading one novel after another just nauseated me up to the nose. Probably you like him, though. But I can’t help it – either I must say what I say, or put the whole thing in the fire. (5L 649)

40Lawrence must have appreciated the chance to have his say about a writer who seemed almost like his nemesis, but the job he had taken on wasn’t easy. He had to read all those novels that “nauseated [him] up to the nose.” And notice his apologetic tone to Pearn for not being “very nice” to the popular, elderly writer whose novels she might well have admired.

41“John Galsworthy” begins with Lawrence’s brief but important exposition of his beliefs concerning literary criticism and the characteristics of a good critic. The “touch-stone” of criticism is “emotion, not reason”; “we judge a work of art by its sincere and vital emotion, and nothing else.” The critic must “be able to feel the impact of a work of art in all its complexity and its force.” To do that, he must be “emotionally educated.” Criticism “can never be a science” (STH 209). The good critic is able to evaluate a work according to the complex logic of emotion.

42Although he doesn’t say so in so many words, the novels of John Galsworthy—with the exception of The Man of Property, which is “done from the inside, with [. . .] sincere creative passion” (STH 212)—fail to communicate “sincere and vital emotion.”

43Lawrence organizes his analysis around the distinction between “a social being as distinct from a human being” (STH 210). Social beings lack a living, individual identity. Galsworthy’s novels contain only social beings, “those who fear life because they are not alive, and who cannot die because they cannot live” (STH 214).

44Lawrence argues that Galsworthy’s novels contain “nothing but Forsyte [...]: Forsyte positive, or Foryte negative: Forsyte successful, or Forsyte manqué.” Galsworthy’s characters are “all absolutely determined by money, and not an individual soul among them. They are all fallen, all social beings, a castrated lot.” As David Ellis explains, “Even those [characters] who rebel against a world in which money is the controlling principle are only confirming that principle through contradiction” (Ellis 337). Lawrence launches into the colorful, derisive prose characteristic of Studies in Classic American Literature: “[. . .] he came back with Irene and Bostinney and offered us that. Here! He seems to say. Here is the anti-Forsyte! Here! Here you have it! Love! Pa-assion! PASSION.” But it all amounts to “nothing but [...] a sort of anti-Forsytism.” (STH 214).

45Lawrence is responding to passages like this from The Dark Flower (1913), a novel about the “emotional life of a man like himself, an artist who has had few affairs of the heart but each of great significance in his life” (Sternlicht 42). In the middle section Mark Lennan is passionately in love with an unhappily married woman:

And, when she was gone, he sat in the chair where she had sat. That clasp of her, the kiss he had begged her to forget—to forget!—nothing could take that from him. He had done wrong; had startled her, had fallen short of chivalry. And yet—a smile of utter happiness would cling about his lips. His fastidiousness, his imagination, almost made him think that this was all he wanted. (Galsworthy, Dark Flower 172)

46Lawrence mentions The Dark Flower in his Galsworthy essay. It is easy to understand why he felt “nauseated up to [his] nose.”

47One suspects that sometime during that luncheon in November 1917, Galsworthy shared his opinion of the sexuality of Lawrence’s novels. Lawrence returns the favor—and in print for all to see—in “John Galsworthy”:

It is when he comes to sex, that Mr Galsworthy collapses finally. He becomes nastily sentimental. He wants to make sex important, and only makes it repulsive. Sentimentalism is the working off on yourself of feelings you haven’t really got [...]. Very few people really feel love, sex passion, or kindliness, or anything else that goes at all deep. So the mass just fake these feelings inside themselves. Faked feelings! (STH 215)

48Galworthy’s representation of love and “PASSION” is actually “nothing but a doggish amorousness and a sort of anti-Forsytism”: “Runaway dogs of these Forsytes, running in the back garden and furtively and ignominiously copulating—this is the effect, on me, of Mr Galsworthy’s grand love affairs.” The lovers are “like dogs copulating in the street, and looking round to see if the Forsytes are watching” (STH 215). Even The Man of Property “fizzles out” because of sentimentality: “[. . .] in the love-affair of Irene and Bosinney, and in the sentimentalizing of old Jolyon Forsyte, the thing is fatally blemished” (STH 212-13).

49In the manuscript of “Pornography and Obscenity” Lawrence asserts that “the minority public knows well that the books of Sir James Barrie and Mr. Galsworthy, not to mention the mass of lesser fry, are far more pornographical than the liveliest story in the Decameron because they tickle and excite to private masturbation [...]” (7L 503). But

50Lawrence deleted Barrie and Galsworthy from this sentence per Faber & Faber’s wishes. Turnabout would have been fair play: Lawrence the notorious pornographer calling the Great Panjandrum of English literature a pornographer.

51Rickword must have been pleased with Lawrence’s demolition job on Galsworthy, for he asked Lawrence if he would write a scrutiny of Bernard Shaw.

52Lawrence was also the biggest name among the contributors. But Lawrence declined: “I don’t really want to do Shaw: slaying my elders only interests me in spasms” (6L 67).

Conclusion: “dear old out-of-date Galsworthy”

53In later life Frieda’s daughter Barbie remembered that as soon as her mother met Lawrence,

she said to friends of ours in Nottingham, a lace-manufacturer who was my god-father, he’d lent her some Galsworthy, and she had only just met Lawrence who was then, of course, quite unknown and she said to him: “I’ve met somebody who’s going to be much more than Galsworthy” to this man. (Worthen 388)

54Frieda’s prophecy didn’t come to pass until well after the deaths of both writers.

55The Forsyte Saga made Galsworthy’s reputation as the great English novelist of the 1920s. He didn’t publish In Chancery, the second volume of The Forsyte Saga, until 1920—14 years after the publication of The Man of Property. In Chancery concludes in 1901 with the birth of Soames Forsyte’s daughter Fleur. The action in To Let, the third volume in the trilogy (1921), takes place in 1920. Galsworthy passes over the catastrophe of World War I, obviously the defining event in English history during Galsworthy’s lifetime. Apparently he didn’t want to engage with the raw emotions and intense suffering of the Home Front during the war.

56As early as In Chancery Soames is transformed from villain to sympathetic character, the embodiment of probity, honor, stability, and endurance. He has a jaundiced attitude toward the “democratic England” that has emerged after the war: “dishevelled, hurried, noisy, and seemingly without an apex.” “You saw no quality of any sort” (Galsworthy, To Let 6), Soames thinks to himself as he strolls around Hyde Park. The Forsyte Saga with its complacency, its embrace of conservative values, and its suspicion of social change was comforting to English readers struggling to recover from the severe wounds of the war. The large cast of characters with Soames at the center and the novel’s accessible style also helped make The Forsyte Saga a popular best-seller.

57On 2 February 1933 Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary:

And Galsworthy died two days ago, it suddenly struck me, walking just now by the Serpentine [...] Galsworthy’s dead: & A. Bennett told me he simply couldn’t stick Galsworthy. Had to praise Jack’s books to Mrs G. But I could say what I liked against Galsworthy. That stark man lies dead. (Woolf Diary 146-47)

58It is as if Woolf were realizing that the death of “that stark man” John Galsworthy marked the passing of a literary era.

59Woolf had already said what she liked against Galsworthy (along with Wells and Bennett) in two famous essays: “Modern Fiction” (1919) and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” (1924). She accused the three novelists of being “materialists.” If their characters “were to come to life they would find themselves dressed down to the last button of their coats in the fashion of the hour” (Woolf “Modern Fiction” 104, 106). Furthermore, the “outmoded Edwardian conventions” used by the three novelists “no longer provide[d] the appropriate tools” to “create character or catch life” (Rosenthal 253). By the time of his death in 1933 Galsworthy had become a back number.

60Woolf’s attack against Wells, Bennett, and Galsworthy in “Modern Fiction” and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” was part of her effort to clear the way for the new literary avant garde, including herself. Lawrence agreed with Woolf that Galsworthy was totally retrograde. A week after he met Galsworthy he was referring to him as “dear old out-of-date Galsworthy” (3L 184). Referring to Wells, Bennett, Galsworthy, Compton Mackenzie, and Gilbert Cannan in October 1917, he announced that “they all bore me, both in print and in the flesh. By this time, they are such vieux jeu that all the game’s gone out of it” (3L 166). The pre-eminence of Wells, Bennett, and Galsworthy was frustrating to Woolf and Lawrence. They believed that the popularity of the older generation prevented younger, more innovative novelists from making headway.

61Lawrence had said in 1913 that “we have to hate our immediate predecessors, to get free from their authority” (1L 509). But in this remark Lawrence was linking Galsworthy to Ibsen and Strindberg as serious playwrights. Galsworthy was never his predecessor as a novelist. Some irony is perceivable in the fact that the playwright

62Galsworthy’s Strife is clearly a predecessor of the playwright Lawrence’s Touch and Go.

63Lawrence had ample reason to dislike John Galsworthy. The stuffy, serenely confident establishment writer made it clear that he considered Lawrence a provincial and a collier’s son. He told Lawrence that The Rainbow was a failure, and he refused to lend his support to the publication of Women in Love. He is likely to have told Lawrence what he thought of his treatment of sexuality. He had done all this condescendingly and pompously. In the bargain it was supremely irritating to Lawrence that this middle-brow novelist enjoyed huge commercial success and was taken seriously as an artist. Lawrence’s “John Galsworthy” essay seems to me to be on-target. Surely it was also an exercise in payback.


64Who am I? In 1932 I was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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Keith Cushman, « “We have to hate our immediate predecessors”: Lawrence and Galsworthy »Études Lawrenciennes, 42 | 2011, 75-96.

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Keith Cushman, « “We have to hate our immediate predecessors”: Lawrence and Galsworthy »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 42 | 2011, mis en ligne le 17 janvier 2014, consulté le 22 janvier 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Keith Cushman

University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA

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