The Dark Flower

Though undoubtedly Galsworthy owes his position as an artist and as a
thinking force to his plays, he still carries considerable weight as
both in his novels. That his novels have not the value, whether social
or literary, of his plays—that indeed his position as a novelist is
largely due to his fame as a playwright—does not make away with the fact
that he has given us some half-dozen novels of standing, which are worth
consideration in themselves, apart from anything their author may have
done in other fields.

His lack of complete success as a novelist is partly due to those
characteristics which have made him so successful as a playwright. The
drama is a lawful means of propaganda, the novel is not—Galsworthy’s
plays gain enormously from the social or moral problems at their base,
while the same problems have a tendency to constrict or impede the
development of his novels. A play is dependent mainly on its craft, for
this is a point which lies solely with the author, in which no actor,
however skilful, can help him; on the other hand, a novel depends
chiefly on its human interest, and this the author must supply himself,
since he has no intermediaries to make good where he fails. There is
little doubt that abstract ideas do not help the human interest of a
novel. It is remarkable how small a part the abstract plays in the lives
of even the most thoughtful of us, and anything in the nature of a
problem or an idea, of anything belonging to the brain rather than to
the heart, has a tendency to destroy the illusion of real life which it
is the chief object of a novelist to create.

Another reason why Galsworthy is more successful in his plays than in
his novels is that most good plays are founded on a situation, most good
novels on the development of a situation, and development is not a
characteristic of Galsworthy’s art. He likes to take a situation,
examine it from characteristic and conflicting points of view, and show
the effect it has on different lives, but he never attempts to develop
it, to start a chain of events from it, mould characters by it.
Practically every character in a Galsworthy novel, with the possible
exception of _The Dark Flower_, is the same at the end as at the
beginning. This means that in his novels he is still a playwright as far
as both situation and character are concerned. He develops neither, he
never goes forward, he goes round. The result is that his novels are
mostly plays in novel form, and they suffer in consequence.

In fact all the drawbacks of the novels may be said to arise from
defects in the human interest so essential to a novelist. It is not that
Galsworthy does not feel, and most passionately, for his characters,
neither is it that they are not flesh and blood, nor that their stories
are not real and moving. It is rather because they are types, not
individuals, and types chosen to fit some particular situation which has
been already selected. They are never mere pegs or mere puppets, but
somehow there is nothing creative about them; they lack the individual
touch which the actor can impart to a character in a play, but which the
author alone can give in a novel. Also they repeat themselves, there is
not enough diversity; the same groups arrange themselves in different
novels. Of course there are exceptions—Lord Miltoun in _The Patrician_,
Mr Stone in _Fraternity_—but these, on examination, prove to be only a
fining down of the type till it is almost an individual; there is no
definite creation.

However, against this defect, which is due to the intrusion of the
playwright into the novelist’s sphere, we must set a wonderful and
seldom-failing craft, which goes far to justify that intrusion. There
are few novelists with a finer sense of form than Galsworthy, few with a
finer sense of style—the conciseness of the dramatist teaches him the
need of arrangement and the full value to be wrung out of a word. In one
point only does the dramatist fail the novelist, and that, strange to
say, is in dialogue. Again and again the dialogue in the novels falls
flat, or is stilted, or irrelevant—and it is curious, when we remember
how strong the plays are in this respect.

There is a certain inequality about the seven novels: _The Island
Pharisees_, _The Man of Property_, _The Country House_, _Fraternity_,
_The Patrician_, _The Dark Flower_, and _The Freelands_. In every way
the first is the weakest, but, on the other hand, the last is not the
most successful. The finest are _The Man of Property_ and _Fraternity_.
Undoubtedly Galsworthy is at his best when his technique is at its
highest pitch of excellence, and weakest when his sense of form most
fails him. Form is never used by him to cover defects of interest,
beauty, or reality. _Fraternity_, which is very nearly his masterpiece,
almost reaches technical perfection, while _The Island Pharisees_—which
is as near as he can go to writing a thoroughly bad novel—is also the
most faultily constructed.

_The Island Pharisees_ shows perhaps more than any of the novels the raw
edges of his art. He is burning with indignation at the
self-righteousness of the British middle classes, and his power as a
novelist is as yet too undeveloped to cope with his zeal as a reformer.
He lacks too that subtlety of warfare which in the plays and later
novels makes his propaganda so effective and at the same time is one of
his truest safeguards as an artist—the exposure of a cause out of the
mouth of its own champions. He attacks crudely—through a series of
events which are not always above the suspicion of pre-arrangement,
through dialogue which is often manœuvred and artificial. None of his
characters, except Ferrand, the vagabond, has much of the breath of
life, and over the whole hangs a fog of bitterness which is scarcely
ever dispelled by those illuminating phrases and flashes of insight into
his opponents’ cause, which elsewhere make him so appealing.

There is little doubt that if _The Island Pharisees_ were Galsworthy’s
average instead of his low-water mark, his position as a novelist would
be negligible. But his other novels, without exception, are so superior
in technique, in human interest, in beauty, and in force, that we cannot
consider _The Island Pharisees_ as anything but the first uncertain step
of one who is feeling his way. In _The Man of Property_ we have the same
idea—the satire of a class—but it is brought before us so differently
that comparison is impossible.

The Forsyte family are representatives of that section of the middle
class whose chief aim is Possession. The Forsytes possess many
things—they possess money, they possess artistic treasures, houses,
wives, and children, they even possess talents; but with them the verb
“I have” is of more importance than its object. “This interests me, not
in itself, but because it is mine”—is their motto. In many ways they are
less heartless, less hypocritical than the country Pharisees; the
consciousness of possession brings a certain stamina, a worth and
solidarity, which compel admiration. Also Galsworthy has been far more
tolerant in their portrayal. The Forsytes are human, they are not like
the Dennants; they are undoubtedly types, even their differentiations
are typical, but they are types of flesh and blood, not merely of points
of view. There is something in the grouping of them too which is
impressive. These six old brothers whose god is property have a certain
greatness; though they and their lust of possession are satirised in
many telling episodes, we feel that nevertheless the nation would do
badly without them.

The chief representative of Forsytism belongs, however, to one of the
younger branches of the family. Soames Forsyte is essentially the Man of
Property, because we see the lust of possession working in him not only
through the splendid house he is building, but through his wife Irene.
It is in his attitude towards Irene that he declares himself most
definitely the Man of Property. He is not unkind to her, he is not
untrue to her, but she is his in the sense that the Robin Hill house is
his, and it is this realisation which fills her with bitterness and
loathing.

Irene belongs to the contrasting group which Galsworthy uses in his
novels as in his plays. She and her lover Bosinney stand for all that is
antagonistic to the Forsytes. In many ways Irene is one of Galsworthy’s
most vivid creations. She is a type we meet elsewhere in the novels, yet
she has about her certain elements of originality. Something individual
creeps into the magnetic softness, the passion-haunted quietness, which
are characteristic of so many Galsworthy women. She is human, and she is
in revolt—but not strenuously or effectively. Galsworthy has little
sympathy for the strong successful woman, who either defeats
circumstances or handles them with capable cunning. In his delineation
of June Forsyte, who belongs to this class, he is sometimes reluctantly
admiring, but never sympathetic.

June Forsyte, with her decided chin and managing ways, is the antithesis
of Irene, strong only in her softness. It is easy to understand how this
very contrast would have switched Bosinney’s love from one to the other,
but the change itself is not very convincingly brought about. Perhaps
this is partly due to the fact that Bosinney himself is not a success.
He is the representative of the contrast group; property to him is
nothing, he spends his time and talent—in the end risking his career—on
the house which is Soames Forsyte’s. On the other hand, it is his sudden
knowledge that another also owns the woman of whom he had thought
himself the sole possessor that drives him to madness and suicide.
Property makes its appeal even to him.

There is throughout the book a depth of gloom, as if the shadows of
great possessions lay over it. None of the characters is really
attractive, except, perhaps, old Jolyon Forsyte; there is something
subtly caddish about them all, and the author’s lack of sympathy sours
the whole. Studied in the light especially of his novels, it is a
strange error to call Galsworthy “detached.” The side he takes is always
apparent, in spite of what he says on the other, and his lack of
sympathy with the human representatives of the opposite point of view is
often so great as to put them out of drawing. Fine as the Forsytes are,
they would have been much finer if the author had penetrated in some
degree beneath their outer skin, shown sympathy with the springs of
their nature as well as understanding of their mental attitude. His
sympathies in _The Man of Property_ are undoubtedly with Irene Forsyte
and with Bosinney—though it would seem that this character sometimes
repelled and baffled even his creator.

On the whole there is something haunting about the book—something in the
gloom of its ending which makes us shudder after it is closed. Property
triumphs. Bosinney is beaten and killed by the Man of Property, and
Irene is brought back to the slavery from which she revolted.

“Huddled in her grey fur against the sofa-cushions, she had a strange
resemblance to a captive owl, bunched in its soft feathers against the
wires of a cage. The supple erectness of her figure was gone, as
though she had been broken by cruel exercise; as though there were no
longer any reason for being beautiful, and supple, and erect.”

Thus the curtain rings down on Irene Forsyte, crushed under the heel of
prosperity, robbed of her love by a sudden awakening of the sense of
property in the heart of the man she had thought clean of it….

_The Country House_ also deals with a class, and it is the country
equivalent of the Forsytes. The Pendyces are big country proprietors,
but the property is to them a good deal more than material possession.
It is their Position in the county that they think of, their Standing;
Dignity is with them almost as important as Land, and more important
than Money. Also they are not quite so much a type as the Forsytes—in
certain broad characteristics they may be found in dozens of country
manors, but in others they are unique. They do everything with the
greatest amount of unnecessary trouble to themselves and other people.
“Pendyce,” says Paramor to Vigil, when discussing the threatened
divorce, “he’d give his eyes for the case not to come on, but you’ll see
he’ll rub everything up the wrong way, and it’ll be a miracle if we
succeed. That’s ’Pendycitis’!”

Even George, who in some ways breaks free from the family tradition, is
afflicted by it. It is largely owing to Pendycitis that he loses Helen
Bellew. He tires her with that dogged quality of his, which spares
neither himself nor her, but sends him plodding and muddling on in the
face of impossible circumstances. He cannot yield, and he is not really
strong—he is a Pendyce; and it is with luxurious relief that she finds
herself free of him at last.

Helen Bellew is only lightly sketched in, her presence is almost always
merely physical. She has many of the outward essentials of the
Galsworthy heroine, that particular dower of ripe, seductive, yet
delicate, beauty which we find in Irene Forsyte, Audrey Noel, and Olive
Cramier. But she is heartless—which those others are not—and hence we
seem to find a certain reluctance on the author’s part to probe into
her. What is heartless cannot be truly beautiful, according to his
creed, and he wants us to realise how beautiful Helen Bellew was, so
that she became a force, a moulding-stamp, to the hard, unimpressionable
George Pendyce.

The real heroine of _The Country House_ is George’s mother, Margery
Pendyce, and she is, practically without exception, the most charming
character in Galsworthy’s novels. She is the Mother—not the Mother in
her elemental form, but the Mother as civilisation and education and
pain have made her; not very different from the primitive type, perhaps,
but dainty with a score of sweet refinements. Quieted by her long
subjection in the school of Pendyce, she yet has the invincible courage
of gentleness; accustomed for years to yield where her own comfort and
happiness only are concerned, she takes an impregnable stand at last
when her children’s welfare is at stake. There is something heroic in
this gentle, soft-gowned, lavender-scented figure, moving so peacefully
among her roses, caring so dutifully for her household and her husband,
and then suddenly putting them all from her, to take her place beside
her outcast son.

“I have gone up to London to be with George” (she writes simply to
Pendyce), “you will remember what I said last night. Perhaps you did
not quite realise that I meant it. Take care of poor old Roy, and
don’t let them give him too much meat this hot weather. Jackman knows
better than Ellis how to manage the roses. Please do not worry about
me. Good-bye, dear Horace; I am sorry if I grieve you.”

Margery Pendyce is the chief of the contrast group in this novel; with
her is Gregory Vigil, the idealist, who looks at the sky when it would
be better if he looked at the street and saw where he was going.
Unselfishness, quietness, and idealism are the contrasts of Pendycitis.
The Reverend Hussell Barter, who is a kind of clerical Pendyce, is one
of Galsworthy’s most successful attempts at humour. He is drawn with
many a memorable satiric flick, and doubtless this is a reason why he
succeeds, for Galsworthy’s humour without irony is apt to be trivial.

Another striking character is the Spaniel John—here Galsworthy has
succeeded in giving a dog a very definite personality. John is not only
a dog, he is a spaniel—the distinct psychology of the spaniel works in
him, and we could never think of him as a terrier or a collie. Indeed
the author has taken as much trouble over the Spaniel John as over any
character in the book, and been as successful.

One can say without much fear of contradiction that after _The Man of
Property_ the finest of Galsworthy’s novels is _Fraternity_. Indeed it
comes as near being a perfect work of art as any novel ever written.
There have been many novels with a stronger appeal, a wider
comprehension, a greater depth and force, but few of which it can be
said that they fulfil more completely the canons of novel-writing. And
this is to be understood not only of the letter but of the
spirit—_Fraternity_ is no mere triumph of technique, it is a moving,
human and beautiful story, about people who are real, if drawn in pale
colours, and situations which are Life, in spite of their elusiveness.

In its perfection of balance, _Fraternity_ reminds one of the plays.
There is a central situation, flanked by two contrasting groups. It is
not of mere industrial or moral significance, nor is it the satirisation
of any particular class; it is a problem which has always occupied human
minds, and will do so till the end of time—the problem of the rich and
the poor. It is embodied in old Mr Stone, with his great unfinished—and,
we suspect, ever to be unfinished—work on Brotherhood. “Each one of us
has a shadow in those places—in those streets.” Mr Stone is one of
Galsworthy’s finest achievements. In him the author shows what few have
even attempted to show, the infinite pathos of moral greatness. There is
no denying the greatness of Mr Stone, in spite of his mental kink, and
his pathos is as evident. He is alone, it is his own doing; he cannot,
if he would, bind himself up with others. He writes of Fraternity, but
in life he never touches a brother’s hand—he does nothing to unite those
two brothers whose embrace he writes of, and his own life is equally
remote from either. They come near him, they put out tentative,
appealing hands—and with a wistful sigh he turns to his book.

The Classes are represented by the two Dallison families, the Masses by
the Hughes, Creed, and the little model. It is remarkable how tightly
the whole fabric is drawn together—Hilary and Stephen Dallison have
married two sisters, Bianca and Cecilia, and their Shadows live together
under the same roof. We know what would be, with an average novelist,
the result of such an effort at concentration, but nothing could be more
natural, more inevitable, than the knitting up of these groups.

The little model is not a common Galsworthy type; in fact, she stands
almost alone in his novels. Quiet and soft she undoubtedly is, like most
of his women, but the meek vulgarity of her little mind is something
new. She is drawn with a wonderful sympathy, as indeed are all the
characters in the book; for in _Fraternity_, Galsworthy does not seem to
have been so much struck by the irony of his theme as by its pathos.
There is one beautiful account of her, leaving Hilary’s house, which
sheds a tender light like a spring sunset over her figure, making it at
once terribly pathetic and terribly young.

“She kept turning her face back as she went down the path, as though
to show her gratitude. And presently, looking up from his manuscript,
he saw her face still at the railings, peering through a lilac bush.
Suddenly she skipped, like a child let out of school. Hilary got up,
perturbed. The sight of that skipping was like the rays of a lantern
turned on the dark street of another human being’s life. It revealed,
as in a flash, the loneliness of this child, without money and without
friends, in the midst of this great town.”

The Hughes group is in its units to be found in many of Galsworthy’s
works: the bullying husband, gross, selfish, an animal—but an animal
broken—the meek wife who complains and nags, but has at the bottom of
her heart an unreasoning dog-like quality which will let her make no
effective efforts for freedom; the poor old man, fallen on evil days,
yet with a philosophy, and a self-respect which is almost pride.
Galsworthy never sees the poor and outcast in an aureole of false
idealism. If he sadly confesses that the classes do not know how to help
the masses, he also confesses that the masses do not know how to help
themselves. If the Dallisons are timid and inefficient, Hughes is an
undeserving brute, and Mrs Hughes a scold who is largely responsible for
her own ills. The little model is forlorn, but she is also designing.
The result is that an atmosphere of deep depression hangs over
_Fraternity_. One might say that its moral was “For rich is rich and
poor is poor, and never the twain shall meet”—except in the unfinished
book of a cranky idealist.

“Like flies caught among the impalpable and smoky threads of cobwebs,
so men struggle in the webs of their own natures, giving here a start,
there a pitiful small jerking, long sustained, and falling into
stillness. Enmeshed they were born, enmeshed they die, fighting
according to their strength to the end; to fight in the hope of
freedom, their joy; to die, not knowing they are beaten, their
reward.”

_The Patrician_ is scarcely equal to _Fraternity_. In it the bitterness,
which seemed to have slumbered for a while, awakes, and helps to distort
the picture. Also in no novel, I think, is more obvious Galsworthy’s
lack of sympathy with certain of his characters. The book suffers in
having for its central figure a man whom the author admires but does not
really understand. Lord Miltoun is a noble conception, but Galsworthy
does not get to the bottom of his struggle. One feels all the way
through that he admires him, but cannot sympathise with him, and the
result is that the real grounds of Miltoun’s actions are seldom
displayed. We never penetrate beneath the surface of this character,
whose inner mind we nevertheless would know rather than many whose
workings are shown us.

There is also a group, the Valleys group, whom Galsworthy is
passionately wanting to treat fairly, but for whom he cannot conceal a
bitterness not unflavoured with contempt. Lord Valleys, his wife, his
sons, his daughters, are drawn with a painstaking effort to hide his
real feeling towards them, but the effort often breaks down; even
Barbara, splendid and brave, has a repelling hardness in which stick one
or two ironic arrows of her creator. Courtier, who represents the Other
Point of View, is sometimes rather vaguely drawn, and suffers in the
opposite way to Miltoun, for Galsworthy, while apparently sympathising
with his attitude, does not seem to have the same admiration for his
character.

The only person in the book who is both admired and understood is Mrs
Noel. Here we have a very appealing figure, tragic yet quiet, courageous
yet soft, made for love, vibrant with passion, full of an infinite
delicacy and self-respect. Self-respect is an unfailing characteristic
of Galsworthy’s good women; he has no sympathy with the woman who in
times of stress loses her personal dignity, and forgets all those little
trivial refinements of body which are part of her greatness. Audrey Noel
“incorrigibly loved to look as charming as she could; and even if no one
were going to see her, she never felt that she looked charming enough.”
He realises that for a woman who respects herself it is not enough to be
merely clean and tidy, she must be as beautiful as circumstances will
allow—it is not vanity but her dignity which demands it. Mrs Noel
appeals because her courage is so infinite, and because it is so
essentially a woman’s courage, a thing of gentleness and soft endurance,
not of the stiff but of the smiling lip.

There is a certain unsatisfactoriness in the tragedy of her relations
with Miltoun. He falls from his ideal, but only half-way, so to
speak—the rest of his difficulty is solved by her abnegation. One is
given the impression, in spite of much talking between the characters,
that the vital heart of the matter has never been reached. “If the
lark’s song means nothing—if that sky is a morass of our invention—if we
are pettily creeping on, furthering nothing—persuade me of it, and I’ll
bless you.” That desperate cry of Miltoun seems to give more of the
essence of his struggle than any arguments about Religion and Authority.
One feels that both were only names on lips—it was not merely a respect
for authority that made Miltoun first deny himself Audrey, and then when
he had taken her, believe himself bound to throw aside his public life.
The appeal of Authority is not made convincing enough, the appeal to
Religion not spiritual enough, for a man of Miltoun’s type—one sees him
acting, generally at least, according to the dead letter of both; one
knows there must have been a quickening spirit behind to drive such a
man, but one is not shown it.

_The Dark Flower_ is in some ways a departure from his usual methods. It
lacks the central problem, with its balanced and contrasted groups. It
is not a study of a situation nor of a class; it is a study of passion.
There has always been plenty of passion in Galsworthy’s books; he is not
a cold writer, and though his central idea is often social or
intellectual, in his treatment of it he never loses sight of the fact
that human emotions are stronger than human intellects, and play a more
important part in all situations, no matter how purely technical and
general these may appear. But in _The Dark Flower_, passion is not an
incident or a moulding force, it is the central theme. We are shown its
growth in three different stages—its first kindling in the heart of a
boy, its consummation in the young man and woman, its last flicker in
the man who sees old age approaching and to whom youth calls.

To carry out his idea Galsworthy is forced to put aside much of that
compactness which is so effective in his other novels. Indeed _The Dark
Flower_ is really three separate stories, of which the hero, Mark
Lennan, is the connecting link. A really fine character might have held
these three episodes together, but Lennan is vaguely drawn. He is most
convincing as boy and middle-aged man; in the central part he is swamped
in the vehemence of his own love. Indeed the passion of Lennan and Olive
Cramier is far the greatest thing about them—taken apart from it they
are both a little colourless. Olive is much less life-like than Audrey
Noel, Irene Forsyte, and others of her kind; she is vague and shadowy
beside the heroines of the two other episodes, Anne Stormer and Nell
Dromore.

These women are in many ways the best-drawn characters in the book. Anne
Stormer, caught on the fringe of middle age by the gust of her passion
for a boy of eighteen, swept by it, rocked by it, but conscious all the
time of its hopelessness with regard to herself, its cruelty with regard
to him, in the end gives him up to the little girl of his own age, with
whom he climbs trees, and in whose presence he forgets the dark flower
whose scent in her bosom had given him his first staggering draught of
life. She is a character fine through her pathos, through the
inevitableness of her renunciation, which is not made from any high
spirit of courage or self-sacrifice, but simply because she must.

Very different is Nell Dromore, who sends the mocking cry of youth after
Lennan when, having passed through the storm of his love for Olive
Cramier, and married his boyhood’s playfellow, Sylvia Doone, he sees old
age creeping towards him, passionless and adventureless. She is an
extraordinary study of mingled abandonment and innocence. She leads him
on by methods which would not disgrace a courtesan if they had not about
them all the delicious shamelessness of a child. In the end he has the
strength to wrench himself from her, knowing that she brings him but a
false hope, for which his wife’s broken heart must pay. Sylvia, though
winning and sweet in the first episode, is rather shadowy here, where
she has such an important part. No doubt her ineffectiveness is to a
certain extent deliberate, but for all that it should not be unreal, or
we lose sight of it as a force in Lennan’s struggle.

On the whole it must be said that Galsworthy is at his best when most
characteristic, and here, where he turns to the methods of the more
ordinary novelist, he loses some of his strength. There are, however,
some impressive scenes in the book, and he has again shown his peculiar
successfulness in dealing with youth and young love. There are
delightful pictures of the boy Mark, in which his growing,
half-understood infatuation is never allowed to drown the frankness of
his youth; and the scenes between him and Sylvia remind us of similar
scenes in _Joy_.

In _The Freelands_, Galsworthy reverts to the more characteristic mood;
indeed the book is reminiscent—in a stimulating, legitimate way. Its
structure reminds one of _The Man of Property_, and its environment of
_The Country House_. As in the first of these the web was spun over the
framework of the six brothers Forsyte, so here we have the four brothers
Freeland to serve as pegs—and they live in circumstances that recall the
Pendyces and their problems. Not that they are all four country
people—Felix is a successful author and lives at Hampstead, and John is
in the Home Office; but the family meets at Becket, where Stanley who
has made a fortune by exporting ploughs, has an estate, and Tod, the
eccentric and revolutionary, lives the simple life, freehold.

Then there is the old mother, one of those tender, sturdy, odd
patricians whom the author can draw so clearly, and there is the young
generation as represented by Nedda, Felix’s inquiring daughter, and
Tod’s anarchistic Derek and Sheila—also the wives of three Freelands,
especially Tod’s Kirsteen.

These characters are not considered so much in relation to each other as
in relation to the central problem, which is The Land—and The Land with
Galsworthy is, of course, not the good earth but the slaves that toil on
it. He studies the labouring man in connection with his employers, the
petty tyrannies of Manor, Parsonage, and Farm. Bob Tryst is evicted
because his marriage with his deceased wife’s sister displeases the
Squiress, Lady Malloring, and the poor Gaunts are hounded from pillar to
post because the daughter has “got into trouble.” Galsworthy pillories
Feudalism, which he sees rampant over English rusticity, and parts of
_The Freelands_ read like a Gladstone League pamphlet.

However, to any one who loathes “the People,” whether of fields or
streets, the central interest of _The Freelands_ is Galsworthy’s study
of a modern English family. He is rather fond of this especial study—we
have it in _The Man of Property_, _The Country House_, and _The
Patrician_; we see it hovering near _Fraternity_. The combinations and
permutations of blood relationship seem to interest him enormously—the
modern push and individualism, half attacking, half combining with
old-fashioned ideas of kinship and unity. He shows how the family Idea
survives, in spite of actual disruptions, and can outlive even an utter
lack of common life, interest, or sympathy—so that the unloved brother
must come somehow before the loved stranger, simply because he is One of
the Family. It is probably a lurking of the primitive clan instinct, and
one would like to see it treated of even more thoroughly than Galsworthy
has done. It is interesting to watch him with these Freelands, linked by
their family tie, and also, in this case, by the wise, kindly, foolish
old mother of them all—who is, however, Tod’s in particular.

In other matters _The Freelands_ makes its predecessor, _The Dark
Flower_, stand out even more as an exception or parenthesis. In his
latest novel we have all his early, usual traits: all his old defects of
too general a characterisation, too careful a balance, too deliberate a
sacrifice of the artist to the moralist, but at the same time the
virtues of these defects—restraint, craft, and purpose, and, besides,
those intrinsic qualities which are the real building-stuff of his work.

The characters of these four brothers, their wives and children and
associates, are drawn with a firm touch lightened by much satire of the
kinder sort. There is that sense and grasp of beauty which we find so
inevitably in Galsworthy’s treatment of even the stuffiest theme. We
have, too, a sense of aloofness which, if it is sometimes irritating, is
occasionally majestic, and lit by warm, sudden flashes of penetration
into characters one would have thought, by other signs, to be beyond his
sphere of understanding. The book may not be so good as _Fraternity_, it
is certainly not so great as _The Man of Property_, but it is,
nevertheless, among the best he has given us, which is encouraging,
since it is, though only temporarily, one hopes, the last.

THE SKETCHES

_Villa Rubein_ and four short stories under the title of _A Man of
Devon_ were published anonymously. All early efforts, they are not on a
line with Galsworthy’s later work, but they have about them a certain
beauty and individuality which makes them worth considering. Perhaps
their chief characteristic is delicacy: they are water-colours, in many
ways exquisitely conceived and shaded, but perhaps a trifle pale and
washed out, a trifle—it must be owned—uninteresting.

_Villa Rubein_, describing with much sensitive charm the life of a
half-Austrian household, is full of tenderness, but lacking somehow in
grip. The characters are more attractive than most of Galsworthy’s—in
fact, in no work of his do we meet such a uniformly charming group of
people. They are sketched, even the less pleasing, with an entire
absence of bitterness, and the heroine, Christian, and her little
half-German sister are delightful in their freshness and grave
sweetness. Miss Naylor and old Nic Treffry are also drawn with a loving
and convincing hand. The book seems to have been written in a mellow
mood which passed with it. Yet we pay for any absence of bitterness,
propaganda or pessimism, by a corresponding lack of force. It must be
confessed that Galsworthy is most effective when he is most gloomy, most
penetrating when he is most bitter, most humorous when he is most
satirical.

The short stories call for no special comment except _The Salvation of a
Forsyte_, where we meet for the first time Swithin Forsyte, later to
figure in _The Man of Property_. We are introduced to an early adventure
of his, which is treated with some technical skill and an impressive
irony. The tale has grip, and is not far off French excellence of craft.
The other stories are too long for their themes, which, if not actually
thin in themselves, are dragged out in the telling.

Of very different stuff are the four volumes of sketches—_A Commentary_,
_A Motley_, _The Inn of Tranquillity_, and _The Little Man_. In these,
except, perhaps, in the last, we have some of Galsworthy’s best work,
much of it equal, in its different way, to the finest of the plays and
novels.

_A Commentary_ deals chiefly with the life of the very poor, showing the
intimacy of the author’s knowledge, and the depths of his sympathy. Some
of the sketches are indictments of the social order which favours those
who have money and tramples those who have none. _Justice_, for
instance, is a fresh exposure of the oft-exposed inequality of the
divorce laws where rich and poor are concerned. _A Mother_ is a piteous
revelation of those depths of horror and humiliation which form the
daily life of many. Continually, in the plays and in the novels,
Galsworthy reveals the utter brutishness of some of these submerged
ones. He never attempts to enforce his social ethics by glorification of
those he champions. Such men as Hughes, in _Fraternity_, or the husband,
in _A Mother_, are absolutely of the lowest stuff and, it would seem,
unworthy of a hand to help them out of the mud in which they roll. But
here lies the subtlety of the reproach—it is the social system with its
cruelties and stupidities which is responsible for this. There is
something more forceful than all the sufferings of the deserving in this
grim picture of utter degradation, the depths of bestialism into which
mismanaged civilisation can grind divine souls.

In other of the sketches we are shown the opposite side of the
picture—the selfishness of the prosperous, their lack of ideals and
imagination. Now Galsworthy becomes bitter; with a steely hardness he
describes the comfortable life of the upper middle classes, of the
fashionable and wealthy. The bias of _A Commentary_ is obvious
throughout, and throughout propaganda takes the first place. The
fragments are held together by the central idea, which is the
exposure—ironic, indignant, embittered, infinitely pitying—of the
inequalities between the poor and the rich. True, there is atmosphere,
style, a sense of character; but in _A Commentary_ the artist takes
second place.

_A Motley_ is, as the title implies, a collection linked up by no
central view-point. Character sketches, episodes of the streets and of
the fields, reflections on life, art, manners, anything, and all widely
different in style and length, crowd together between the covers,
without any definite scheme. They show extraordinary powers of
observation and intuition, and at the same time a certain lack of grip,
which is always the first of Galsworthy’s weaknesses to come to light in
a failing situation. Some of the sketches are too slight, over-fined. On
the other hand, some have true poetry and true pathos in their
conception. The style is more polished, the pleading less special, the
knowledge less embittered than in _A Commentary_. Particularly
successful is _A Fisher of Men_, in which Galsworthy is at his best,
giving us a sympathetic and tragic picture of a type with which we know
he has little sympathy—there is no bitterness here, just pathos. _Once
More_ is a study of lower-class life slightly recalling _A Mother_, but
here again is far more tenderness, due partly, no doubt, to the
wistfulness of youth that creeps into the story. Then there are sketches
of life and the furtive love of the London parks; no one has realised
more poignantly than Galsworthy all the tragedy of hidden meetings and
hidden partings with which our public places are filled.

_The Inn of Tranquillity_ is also a mixed collection, and in it we see
far more of Galsworthy the poet and the artist than of Galsworthy the
social reformer. There are in the book fragments of sheer beauty which
would be hard to beat anywhere in modern prose. Take, for instance, the
painting of dawn in _Wind in the Rocks_:

“That god came slowly, stalking across far over our heads from top to
top; then, of a sudden, his flame-white form was seen standing in a
gap of the valley walls; the trees flung themselves along the ground
before him, and censers of pine gum began swinging in the dark aisles,
releasing their perfumed steam. Throughout these happy ravines where
no man lives, he shows himself naked and unashamed, the colour of pale
honey; on his golden hair such shining as one has not elsewhere seen;
his eyes like old wine on fire. And already he had swept his hand
across the invisible strings, for there had arisen the music of
uncurling leaves and flitting things.”

Take also just this sentence from _A Novelist’s Allegory_: “those pallid
gleams … remain suspended like a handful of daffodils held up against
the black stuffs of secrecy.”

Galsworthy allows himself to play with words, blend them, contrast them,
savour their sweet sound and the roll and suck of them under the tongue
… he becomes a poet in prose. But it is not only words that make his
poetry. He seizes aspects of beauty and gives them to us palpitating,
fresh from their capture, a poet’s prey. Such is _Riding in Mist_, a
consummate study of the misty moor, damp, sweet, and dangerous. There
is, too, a wonderful sense of locality in _That Old-Time Place_—it
throbs with atmosphere.

But we have many studies besides of words and place. There is
_Memories_, in which Galsworthy uses his real understanding of
dog-nature, faithful and true. There is _The Grand Jury_, in which he
shows the fullness of his sympathy for the human dog, the bottom dog, so
generally and necessarily ignored by laws which are inevitably made for
the upper layer of humanity. We have, too, some illuminating comments on
the world of letters. In _About Censorship_ there is fine irony, and in
_Some Platitudes Concerning the Drama_ plenty of illumination. Indeed,
in this article we are given a plain enough statement of the rules which
evidently govern Galsworthy’s own work. For instance: “A good plot is
that sure edifice which slowly rises out of the interplay of
circumstance on temperament and temperament on circumstance, within the
enclosing atmosphere of an idea.” There could be no clearer definition
of the plan governing _Strife_ and _The Silver Box_. The pronouncement
on dramatic dialogue, too, applies admirably to much of Galsworthy’s own
achievement:

“The art of writing true dramatic dialogue is an austere art, denying
itself all license, grudging every sentence devoted to the mere
machinery of the play, suppressing all jokes and epigrams severed from
character, relying for fun and pathos on the fun and tears of life.
From start to finish good dialogue is hand-made, like good lace;
clear, of fine texture, furthering with each thread the harmony and
strength of a design to which all must be subordinated.”

In his last book of sketches—_The Little Man and other
Satires_—Galsworthy has made a deliberate sacrifice of beauty. He has
left the luminous Italian backgrounds of _The Inn of Tranquillity_, the
rustling English twilights of _A Motley_, for the midnight lamp on his
study table. This is why, perhaps, _The Little Man_ depresses me.
Galsworthy has not stood the test—he has grown bitter. His satire is
more akin to that of Swift than Samuel Butler, but without Swift’s
redeeming largeness, his tumbling restlessness. Galsworthy’s bitterness
is the well-bred bitterness of the pessimist at afternoon tea; Swift is
the pessimist in the tavern, raging round and breaking pots.

However, an author’s point of view is not a fair subject for criticism,
any more than the shape of his head; he probably cannot help it. But it
may be deplored.

The most striking thing about the book itself is the subdivision titled
_Studies in Extravagance_. Here we have some remorseless, if only
partial, truth—the fierce glow of the searchlight, more concentrated
though more limited than the wide shining of the sun. We have _The
Writer_, _The Housewife_, _The Plain Man_, etc., all pierced through to
their most startling worst. Galsworthy will make no concessions—he will
not show us a single motherly redeeming virtue in that woman of schemes
and covert horribleness whom he presents as a possible variety of
British matron. So too with his Writer—those flickers of amiable naivety
which occasionally humanise the writers most of us know are shut out
from this portrait of an ape playing with the ABC. It is clever, fierce,
vindictive, and partly true.

There are some gentler sketches in the book—for instance, the
name-piece, in which we have a really witty and typical picture of an
American, with his God’s own gift of admiring good deeds he will not do
himself. There is also _Abracadabra_, in which the satire is
fundamentally tender, and with little significant bitterness—though in
time one comes to resent Galsworthy’s inalienable idea that every woman
is ill-used in marriage. There is also such genuine wit, terseness, and
point in _Hall Marked_ that one can afford to skip the humours of the
parson’s trousers. _Ultima Thule_ is more in _The Motley_ and
_Commentary_ vein. We are glad to meet the old man who could tame cats
and bullfinches. But why sigh over him so much? He was happy and to be
envied, even though he lived in a back room on a few farthings. This
misplaced pity is becoming irritating in Galsworthy. His earlier
works—_Strife_, _The Man of Property_—are innocent of it, but lately it
has grown to be a habit with him. He cannot resist the temptation to
weep over everyone whose clothes are not quite as good as his own.

It is scarcely surprising that a writer with Galsworthy’s sense of words
and atmosphere should have written a book of verse—the only surprise is
that his solitary experiment in poetry should not have been more
successful. When we remember the exquisite prose of his plays, novels
and sketches, the admirable description, the sense of atmosphere, not
forgetting also the genuine poetry of much of _The Little Dream_, we are
surprised not to find in _Moods, Songs and Doggerels_, anything of
permanent quality, or worthy to stand beside his other work. There are
some delightful songs of the country, of Devon, one or two little
fragrant snatches, like puffs of breeze. But the more ambitious pieces,
the _Moods_, are for the most part wanting in inspiration. They are just
prose, and not nearly such fine prose as we have a right to expect from
Galsworthy. One or two stand out as poetry, and these are mostly studies
in atmosphere, such as _Street Lamps_:

“Lamps, lamps! Lamps ev’rywhere!
You wistful, gay, and burning eyes,
You stars low-driven from the skies
Down on the rainy air.

You merchant eyes, that never tire
Of spying out our little ways;
Of summing up our little days
In ledgerings of fire—

Inscrutable your nightly glance,
Your lighting and your snuffing out,
Your flicker through the windy rout,
Guiding this mazy dance.

O watchful, troubled gaze of gold,
Protecting us upon our beats—
You piteous glamour of the streets,
Youthless, and never old!”

GALSWORTHY THE ARTIST

Galsworthy is an artist before he is a social reformer. It is a mistake
to consider him chiefly from the second point of view; for he is not so
much a thinker spreading his propaganda by artistic methods as an artist
whose excellence is grounded in ideas. _Strife_, for instance, was not
written to expose the evils of our present industrial system so much as
from the impulse to create, grounding itself in an economic
problem—which the artist displays and analyses, just as others, and he
at other times, would display and analyse any problem of love, manners,
life, or human nature, in the name of “plot.”

For this reason his propaganda interferes very little with his art.
Moreover, it is a general propaganda, which lends itself more directly
to artistic purposes than a particular one. It would be far more
difficult, for instance, to write a human and artistic novel on the
evils of leaded glaze than it would be to write one on the selfish
stupidity of which leaded glaze is the result. Galsworthy does not
attack, at least in force, any definite abuses, he attacks those cruel
and stupid powers which are at the bottom of them all—the love of
property for property’s sake, the false respectability of the
unassailed, the lack of comprehension of one class for another,
Pharisaism, materialism, selfishness, and cowardice. He is the champion
of the bottom dog, whether human or animal. He pleads passionately for
sympathy with the abused and downtrodden and outcast. His throbbing pity
vitalises his propaganda, so that it not only ceases to constrict his
art, but positively enriches it.

When he is at his best we find a perfect blending of art and idea. The
second is bound up in the first, an essential part of it. As he himself
says in _Some Platitudes concerning Drama_: “A drama must be shaped so
as to have a spire of meaning. Every grouping of life and character has
its inherent moral; and the business of the dramatist is so to pose the
group as to bring that moral poignantly to the light of day.”

This ideal is completely fulfilled in _Strife_ and _The Silver Box_,
also in _Fraternity_, _The Man of Property_, and some of the
sketches—hence it is in these that we must look for his best work. Now
and then the idea carries away the artist, warping his vision, and we
have instances of special pleading, such as _Justice_, _The Fugitive_,
and _The Island Pharisees_.

In a sense Galsworthy’s propaganda is a part of his technical equipment.
He uses it chiefly in laying his bases; the solidity and centralisation
of his work is due largely to the economic and social ideas on which he
rears the structure of human passion and frailty. He does not make
Shaw’s mistake of using dialogue, rather than situation, as a means of
propaganda, neither does he rely much on character. His moral is
inherent in his situations, and he fails only when he lets it stray from
the basic idea into the super-structure of character and dialogue.

As an artist pure and simple his chief assets are a sense of situation,
a sense of atmosphere, and the power of presenting both beautifully. His
sense of character is not particularly wide or profound. He deals with
types rather than individuals, and the same types repeat themselves a
trifle monotonously. Though he has great gifts of intuition, and
occasional penetrating flashes, he does not work much below the surface.
It is astonishing, when one considers the force and passion of so much
of his work, to realise that it is all got from surface-workings—not
that he ever suggests the shallow or superficial, it is simply a
reluctance to dig.

Take, for example, Miltoun, in _The Patrician_; here he has attempted to
draw a character whose actions spring from the inmost recesses of his
being, and the result is a certain unconvincingness marring a fine
achievement, for Galsworthy can penetrate only in swift spasms of
intuition, and the delineation of a character like Miltoun’s requires no
spasmodic descent, but a perpetual working in the buried and profound.
Galsworthy is a psychological analyst of some skill; he is sensitive to
psychological variations, but he catches these only in their exterior
manifestations, and the result is not so much a lack of profundity as a
lack of grip. For this reason his characters, charming as they sometimes
are, interesting as they always are, never succeed in being absolutely
Life—we never come to know them really intimately, they are more
acquaintances than friends.

This surface-working in character is liable to impair situation, since
the two are interdependent. Galsworthy is a master of situation, but
occasionally, when the depths ought to be sounded, we are put off with a
consummate skill of arrangement, a perfection of combination and
interplay. This is so splendidly done that it is generally not till
afterwards that we realise the lack, and this only because Galsworthy’s
work so often leaves an after-taste of aloofness, that, as every lover
of Galsworthy knows he is not aloof, one sees that something must be
wrong with the art which gives such an impression.

Critics speak of Galsworthy’s detachment, but the true lover knows this
is not so. The sense of aloofness is due partly to his scrupulous
fairness in examining every point of view, partly to an exaggerated
restraint, and a shrinking from analyses which are not purely
intellectual. One often wishes that he would give himself rein. It is
not from lack of power that he holds himself in, it seems to be rather
from a certain shyness, a fastidious shrinking from troubling the depths
or breaking the gates. On the rare occasions he gives himself freedom,
we are struck by the force and vitality of it all. Strange as it may
seem in one who has been so often accused of coldness, he is masterly in
conveying the charged atmosphere of passion. It is true that he writes
with restraint, with almost too much restraint, but he has a wonderful
power of suggesting the heavy sweetness of passion, its joys, its
languors, its delicacies rather than its ferocities.

Take, for example, the scene in _The Man of Property_, when Irene
returns to her husband, after having for the first time met Bosinney as
a lover:

“He hardly recognised her. She seemed on fire, so deep and rich the
colour of her cheeks, her eyes, her lips, and of the unusual blouse
she wore. She was breathing fast and deep, as though she had been
running, and with every breath perfume seemed to come from her hair,
and from her body, like perfume from an opening flower…. He lifted
his finger towards her breast, but she dashed his hand aside. ‘Don’t
touch me!’ she cried. He caught her wrist; she wrenched it away. ‘And
where have you been?’ he asked. ‘In heaven—out of this house!’ With
those words she fled upstairs…. And Soames stood motionless. What
prevented him from following her? Was it that, with the eyes of faith,
he saw Bosinney looking down from that high window in Sloane Street,
straining his eyes for yet another glimpse of Irene’s vanished figure,
cooling his flushed face, dreaming of the moment when she flung
herself on his breast—the scent of her still in the air around and the
sound of her laugh that was like a sob?”

Next to a sense of situation Galsworthy must be granted a sense of
atmosphere. This is due to the extraordinary sensitiveness he brings
into his work, as distinct from penetration.

“Strong sunlight was falling on that little London garden, disclosing
its native shadowiness; streaks and smudges such as Life smears over
the faces of those who live too consciously. The late perfume of the
lilac came stealing forth into the air faintly smeethed with
chimney-smoke. There was brightness but no glory, in that little
garden; scent, but no strong air blown across golden lakes of
buttercups, from seas of springing clover, or the wind-silver of young
wheat; music, but no full choir of sound, no hum.”

This passage from _Fraternity_ shows Galsworthy’s peculiar grasp of
subtleties, those pseudo-expressions of emotion in Nature, which only
the sensitive can find in their less obvious aspects. For the more
obvious aspects, he has not so much attention. He deals little with
storms and furies, with nature as a power. Nature to him is rather an
influence, a thing of crafty workings; and he loves above all others
hours of pale sunlight, faint dawn, or, more still, twilight languid and
hushed, full of troubled perfumes:

“All things waited. The creatures of night were slow to come forth
after that long bright summer’s day, watching for the shades of the
trees to sink deeper and deeper into the now chalk-white water;
watching for the chalk-white face of the sky to be masked with velvet.
The very black plumed trees themselves seemed to wait in suspense for
the grape-bloom of night. All things stared, wan in that hour of
passing day—all things had eyes wistful and unblessed.”

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