John Galsworthy – The Man of Property

john galsworthy
 John Galsworthy       (1867 -1933)

John Galsworthy was born in 1867. His father was a well-known London lawyer and was a wealthy man who sent his son firstly to Harrow, a famous public school, and then to Oxford University. After graduating from the university he became a lawyer, like his father.

As he inherited a large enough fortune at his father’s death he gave up the legal profession and dedicated himself to the study of English and world literature.

His first works passed unnoticed. In 1904 he published his novel The Island Pharisees which drew the attention of the public to him; then came the publication of The Man of Proprety (1906) which made him famous. After that he began to write dramas too, and for the following years Galsworthy was a most prolific writer producing, on the average, a novel and a play a year. His most notable plays are: The silver Box and Strife. The year before his death he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Galsworthy’s fame rests upon The Forsyte Saga, a trilogy consistting of three novels: The Man of PropretyIn Chancery and To Let. In the Saga Galsworthy presents an entire class contemporary with himself whose types are represented by different members of a large family: the Forsytes. This family belongs to a stabile stratum of society, the roots of which are in money. It stands for a world wich Galsworthy knew widely and intimately.

A few years after he finished the trilogy he started to write a second trilogy: A Modern Comedy which contains The White MonkeyThe silver Spoon and Swan Song.

In hs second trilogy Galsworthy depicts the same society as that of his first trilogy, but how it appeared after the First World War. The new generation of forsytes are quite different from their parents and grandparents. They have no faith in anything an no principles. They understand that their day is past and so they merely try to survive although they are not quite sure this will be easy in the new social and political circumstances in which they live. A few representatives of the older generation are not convince themselves and those around them somehow that their world is going on as it did before.

Forsyte Saga
 Forsyte family

After dealing with the Forsyte family in his first two trilogies Galsworthy embarked upon writing a third, this time dealing with the decline of aristocracy, the second important rulling class which though playing a minor part in present-day British society still holds important positions owning to tradition and the conservatism of the ruling classes in Britain.

This third trilogy is called End of the Chapter and contains the novels Maid in WaitingFlowering Wilderness and Over the River. In these novels the author deals with the decline of the Cherell family chosen as representative of the English aristocracy. The time of the action is the same period after the First World War with which Galsworthy dealt in his second trilogy and some of the characters in the Forsyte Saga will be found in End of Chapter, too.

The main character in the novel The Man of Proprety is Soames Forsyte who is a rich solicitor and in whom the possessive instinct characteristic of the English middle-class is embodied to such an exaggerated degree that he endeavours to exercise his proprietary rights to the same extent over his wife as over a very modest professor who is ten years younger than himself and who does not love him.  Not long after their marriage Irene meets Philip Bosinney, a poor architect, with whom she falls in love. Bosinney builds a countryhouse for Soames, but as he exceeds the sum he had been allowed to spend for the house, soames sues him for the difference in order to ruin him, because he understands his wife loves the architect. Irene wants to divorce Soames but he does not consent and keeps her with him by force. Bosinney becomes so desperate and distracted with grief that he is run over and killed by an omnibus in the street on a foggy evening.

forsyte saga 1

John Galsworthy vievd English society from within the world of the upper bourgeoisie.

He did not show much interest in the great world beyond and beneath his class, though in his plays he expressed a deep sense of revolt against social injustice in contemporary society. Late-Victorian and post-Victorian life is criticized in his novels by exposing not the miseries of the poor but the complacency of the acquisitive and possessive rich. He describes the social disintegration of the english bourgeois society and he exposes many of the social ills but he suggests no remedy for them.

The Forsytes of The Forsyte Saga, who belong to what seems a stabile and secure stratum of society, are a large family which stands for an entire class and Soames the typical Forsyte, is Galsworthy’s greatest creation. Beginning by detesting Soames Forsyte, Galsworthy gradually grows fond understanding of his hero who appears in the end as the last vestige of Victorian stability in a disintegratig world.



Oscar Wilde – Art for Art’s Sake

oscar wilde Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was born in Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, in 1854. At that time the whole of Ireland was part of the British Empire. His father was a physician and his mother was an appreciated Irish poetess and writer under whose influience the artistic tastes of Oscar Wilde no doubt developed.

He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and at Magdalen College, Oxford.

After finishing his studies, he travelled in France and Germany. He learned French so well that he was able to write his play Salomé in that language and to receive unanimous praise for the beautiful French, in which he wrote it.

In 1895 he was involved in a great scandal in the aristocratic world and was accused of immorality. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment and was sent to Reading jail.

Wilde never admited that he was guilty and always said that he was a victim of intrigues of his enemies.

His moral sufferings in prison inspired him to write his famous poem  The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a masterpiece of verse, expressing profound humane feelings.

After being released from prison, he immediately left England and went to France where he died only three years later, in 1900.

Oscar Wilde made himself known first as a poet, by publishing poems in various periodicals and magazines. In 1881 he published his volume of Poems which enjoyed an enormous succes, although today his poems are less highly regarded.

He made a great impression on the British public with something quite new in English literature when he published his collection of graceful fairy stories The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) which was followed by a second similar collecton A House of Pomegranates (1891).  In these stories he expresses his humanitarian sentiments and sympathy with the suffering of the poor while the stories abound in witty satiric allusions to contemporary topics.

In 1891 Wilde also published The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel which is considered to be Wilde’s most important work as in it he expresses his ideas on art which should develop, as he sees it, only under the guiding principle of  “art for art’s sake” or aesthetic isolation.

art for art's sake
 Art for Art’s Sake:   Fredric Leighton – Mother and Child (Cherries) 1865

Oscar Wilde was carried to the zenith of his career by a series of successful comedies which were produced betwen 1892 and 1895: Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, The Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. The influience of the Norwegian plawright Ibsen is felt to some extent in that each of the plays contains a “problem” which the author brings before us on the stage. However, this is very timidly done and Wilde’s criticism of the world in which he lived is not boldly enough stated, although the aristocratic world to which his characters belong is presented in a most unfavourable light.

Oscar Wilde remains in the history of English literature as one of the chief representatives of Aestheticism or the Aesthetic Movement which belived in art as a substitute for life and which flourished in England in the last decade of the 19th century.

However, the characters in his stories do not struggle in the world but that of goodness and equity. On the other hand, humane feelings are not to be found among those at the top of social scale, but only among the humble and the poor or even outside humanity (a statue, a swallow etc.)

The Happy Prince is a statue which  sees from the pedestal on it is placed the sad and miserable life of the poor of the town over which the Happy Prince ruled when he was alive. A little swallow which had remained behind, when its companions flew to Egypt in autumn, consented to become the statue’s messenger and help the suffering poor by bringing them the precious stones which were the statue’s eyes, the ruby encrusted on its sword-hilt, and the gold leaves with which it was covered. The swallow became so attached to the statue, when it became blind and bare, that it could not leave it and go to Egypt any more although it was winter. In the end it died of cold.

Both the Happy Prince and the swallow are generous and willingly sacrifice themselves for those who suffer though the latter never know who saves them and what is the price their benefactors have to pay in order to save them.

Oscar Wilde is in the first place a playwright and story-teller. He was also a poet very much appreciated in his time.

His plays, which contain elements from Victorian farce and melodrama, are not an expression of  these views on art and life which he proclaimed in his symbolical novel The Picture of Dorian Gray or in his impressive fairy tales.

However, they make a strong impression on the spectator owing to the studied wit of the dialogue all throughout the plays, which turns them into pure style and a world in wich action exists only to make possible an extremly witty conversation.

George Bernard Shaw – The Welfare and the Misery

gbs George Bernard Shaw (1856 -1950) was born in Dublin, the capital of Irland, which was then under British rule. His father was a small employee and as he had a very limited income he could not keep his son long at school. George Bernard Shaw left school at the age of fourteen and at the age of fifteen he had to become an office worker to earn his livelihood. His mother divorced her husband and went to London where – having a beautiful voice – she started giving concerts and teaching music. At the age of twenty Shaw also went to London where he lived in poverty and struggling hard to find his way in life. He lived on a very small income which his father sent him – his mother could hardly make both ends meet – and studied all day long in the library of the British Museum, which helped him get a thorough knowledge of literature and culture in general.

There he also studied Karl Marx’s Capital and the works of well-known economists. He became attached to th Socialist movement and a member of the Fabian Society which was founded in 1884 and for which he wrote the Manifesto or declaration of principles.

Very soon he succeded in revealing himself to the British public as an immensely energetic journalist, critic, publicist, novelist and reformer.

Shaw began his literatury career by writing novels.

But it was in the drama that Shaw found the congenial medium for the dissemination of his ideas. He popularized dramatic criticism with his Quintessence of Ibsenism (1891), in which he presented the Norvegian dramatist as the exponent of a new genre – the  “social plays” – and by articles in the periodical reviews. At the same time he set the example of how a play should be written writing himself such plays as  Widower’s Houses (1892) and Mrs. Warren’s Profession, which dealt with social evils.

His first three plays from a cycle which he called  “Plays Unpleasant” because they revealed unpleasant things connected with the rulling classes. In them he shows that the welfare of the respectable middle classes is based on the misery of the poor population.

Because of the great scandal his first plays caused, Shaw changed the tone of his later ones and wrote the cycle which he entitled  “The Four Pleasant Plays” (1894 – 1895).

Of these Arms and the Man and The Man of Destiny deserve special mention. In them Shaw endeavours to wipe out the romantic aura with which middle-class militarists try to surround war and historical military figures. Thus he tells us that the genius of Napoleon lies in having discovered that with the help of cannons more men can be killed than with the usual rifles and bayonets.


In Major Barbara Shaw’s criticism of the capitalist system reaches its culminating point. Undershaft, the ammunition manufacturer, is the real ruler of England and the cynicism with which he confess how he holds the government, the political people, the press and the police in his hands and at his orders is most characteristic of all unscrupulous exploiters. In power of thought and briliance of style Shaw never surpassed Major Barbara which has come to be considered as his masterpiece.

Bernard Show wrote a great number of plays from among which we may mention here The Devil’s Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra, Man and Superman, Pygmalion, Saint Joan, The Apple Cart, On the Rocks etc. He continued to write until the last years of his life enjoying the prestige of being one of the most popular dramatist in twentieth century world literature.

Fundamentally Shaw’s place is beside the notorius novelists who at the same period were attacking socil traditions.

He saw in the drama a vehicle for presenting in entertaining and provocative form his criticism of the abuses and contradictions of the social order of his time and his suggestions of the true way in which to view life and social institutions.

As a supporter of socialist ideas, he disapproved of the institutions of the society in which he lived.

He took great pleasure in ridiculing, upsetting, scandalizing his public, for his object was to satirize, not the invented characters in the plays, but the audience. In this conection he himself tells us: ” I must warn my readers that my attacks are directed against themselves, not against my stage figures,” because these readers, the audiences, the public, tolerated the state of affairs against which Shaw rose.

Shaw regarded himself as primarily an antiromantic. The romantic view, he claimed, got in the way of people’s seeing what really went on in the world, with the result that it made them accept the most appalling horrors only because the society in which they lived was educated to approve them. To “romantic morality” he opposed  “natural morality”.


Ernest Hemingway – The Man and the Society

eh Ernest Miller Hemingway (1898 – 1961), the great realist of twentieth century American fiction was born in Chicago, Illinois, on July 21, 1898. After he graduated from high school there followed a brief period when he tried his hand as a day labourer, a sparring-partener, and a reporter. At the age of nineteen he went to Italy as a honorary lieutenant in the Red Cross, with a volunteer American ambulance unit, and was severely wounded on the Italian front in 1918. After the armistice he returned to America where he worked for a while in Canada for the Toronto Star but finding himself unhappy with America, he took off to Paris as a foreign correspondent for the same Toronto Star.

Hemingway’s first book, In Our Time (1924), is a collection of stories. Nick Adams, the central figure, appears in seven of the stories and is a sort of alter ego for the young Hemingway. This honest, senzitive boy for ever been registred in the youth’s memory, shaping his future physiognomy. And as ill luck would have it, these psychic injuries are finally enchanced by a physical wound Nick gets while in the war – a fact wich culminates the former wounds he has been given as a growing boy.

It is the same crippling wound Nick’s duplicates will get (Jake in The Sun Also Rises, Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms, Cantwill in Across the River and Into the Trees) and which will make the Hemingway protagonist break with a society which has caused him suffering and, eventually, to become an expatriate.

What is important to understand at this point is the fact that Nick, though under other names and in other books, is going to be known as the  “Hemingway hero” – a consistent character who exemplifies certain principles of honour, courage, and endurance which enable him to conduct himself well in the battle of life.

Two years after the publication of his first book, Hemingway issued his first importance novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), the action of which is set in a period of post-war isolation and moral confusion.

The belif that people while trying to create their lives are caught up by events is once more present in Hemingway’s next book. A Farewell to Arms (1929), a distinguished war novel based on his service in Italy. It describes the whole panorama of civilization disjointed by war, exposing the evils of war. Another important thing the book does is to explain how the characters of The Sun Also Rises got the way they are and therefore the two novels are to be considered as complementary to each other.

the old man and the sea
 The Old Man and the Sea

Hemingway”s enthusiasm for the international brigades which were fighting a crusade for human liberty in the 1930’s induce to write his best and longest novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), built on an incident in the Spanish Civil War. The author gives the action a universal significance by showing that the loss of liberty in one place means a loss everywhere.

After the publication of this war novel Hemingway lapsed into a silence that lasted a whole decade.

The Old Man and the Sea which appeared in 1952 was unanimously acclaimed as Hemingway’s literature triumph. It is the tragic tale of an aged Cuban fisherman’s battle with a marlin which, through the the extended metaphor of a man’s struggle with the natural world, is a parable of man’s life.

After eighty-four luckless days, the solitary fisherman, Santiago – the hero of the novel – rows his skiff far out to sea, and hooks a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream. The fish tows him farther out to sea but Santiago holds on until after two days and two nights of monumental struggle he succeeds in catching the fish and lashes it to his boat. While he sails slowly to port the sharks attack his fish and eat it. When he lands there is nothing but the skeleton of the fish left for him and Santiago, half dead with exhaustion but very proud because no other fisherman had ever caught such a big fish before, staggers toward his hut.