P.N. Furbank

  • John Galsworthy: A Reassessment by Alec Fréchet, translated by Denis Mahaffey
    Macmillan, 229 pp, £20.00, January 1983, ISBN 0 333 31535 9

The Edwardians, it is well known, were great worriers. If it was not the national physique or the Teuton menace they were worrying about, it was the ‘warped vitality’ of Bank Holiday crowds, or it was bicycling. I have always been rather struck by the warning against bicycling issued by the Liberal historian R.C.K. Ensor: ‘The nervous craving of modern people for soulless and thoughtless exhilaration sufficiently explains its deplorable vogue, which will last until the stronger natures set a saner example.’ Galsworthy was supremely such a worrier. Alec Fréchet, in his new study of Galsworthy, writes of how ‘his uneasy temperament forced on him a moral obligation to write, as pressing a motive as poverty, the driving force behind so many men of letters.’ He seems to have believed that simply by worrying you did good. It was well said of him by Samuel Hynes, in The Edwardian Turn of Mind, that ‘when he brought injustice into a story, he did so in a way that was neither objective nor didactic but simply emotional; and his motive in doing so was not the alleviation of injustice but the alleviation of emotion.’ Another remark of Hynes’s, also to the point, was prompted by Galsworthy’s Commentary, a collection of essays: it displayed ‘certain attitudes which one must assume were Liberal – a removed superiority of attitude and an inability to reach conclusions.’

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