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John Galsworthy, one of the greatest British writers, was a representative of the literary tradition, which has regarded the novel as a lawful instrument of social propaganda. He believed that it was the duty of an artist to state a problem, to throw light upon it, but not to provide a solution. Galsworthy fulfills this honorary duty of an artist in his great masterpiece, The Forsyte Saga (begun in 1906). With the brilliant combination of intelligent irony, symbolic characters and deep insight into problems the author tells a reader about four generations of the Forsyte family. One of the major problems connected with the family is that the Forsytes conduct their family lives, love, and appreciate art under the ideal of “property first”. The character of Aunt Ann, who is a beautiful and respected old lady, performs the role of symbolizing the Forsyte’s conception of family life. Through this character Galsworthy does not merely approach the concept of Forsyte’s family life with a banal “good or bad” scale. His ingenious insight goes beyond that and allows readers to detect the hidden problem with this conception. On one hand, Aunt Ann loves the Forsyte’s family and the subfamilies, which constitute the world of Forsytes. “It was her world, this family, and she knew no other, had never perhaps known any other.” But on the other hand, the author interprets her love in a surprising to a reader way. This interpretation identifies a serious problem within the Forsyte’s conception of family life. Old and kind Aunt Ann looks at the members of the family through the prism of property instinct. “All their little secrets, illnesses, engagements, and marriages, how they were getting on, and whether they were making money,” the author writes, “All this was her property.” This approach to family life is very controversial. Aunt Ann, as well as the majority of the Forsytes, do love and care about their families. But still, their love and care resemble a deep concern an owner has in highly valuable property.
In a similar manner beautiful and rebellious Irene, Soames’ wife, becomes for her husband a mere “investment”, which is highly valuable for him. But despite the attitude Soames and his close relatives demonstrate to Irene, her character is crucial for the novel. Her identity represents the concept of romantic and altruistic love, which is in conflict with the concept of love shared by the Forsytes. Of course, Soames has passion for Irene. “He’s fond of her, I know, ‘thought James. “Look at the way he’s always giving her things.” These words of James, Soames’ father, serve as a good definition of the Forsytean concept of love. But as the time goes by and Irene alienates from her husband both physically and emotionally to the extent of abhorrence, Soames looks at his past feelings in a different way. Using the change in attitudes of Soames, Galsworthy develops a more elaborate definition of the Forsytean concept of love and passion. Soames does not understand how his property, Irene, in whom he invested so much love and passion, can be confiscated from him. He fights for his property. But after Soames realizes that he lost Irene, he attempts to get rid of her, as stockbrokers get rid of defaulted bonds. Irene knows that a Forsyte’s heart will never understand her concept of love, unless she speaks in the “language of property”. That is why when James rebukes her for not being a good wife to Soames, she quietly replies, “I can’t give him something I do not have.” Again, the Galsworthy’s genius does not merely expose the concept of Forsyte’s love through analysis of the actions Soames’ love produces. The author, as a real surgeon, makes a careful cut in Soames’ heart and shows the readers the intentions and thoughts, which produce his actions. This allows readers to realize that the concept of Forsytean love is based on the property instinct as well.
The sense of property is also the obstacle, which prevents Forsytes from appreciating art for the sake of art and enjoying beauty for the sake of beauty. The defining symbol of the Forsytean conception of art and beauty is the collection of paintings, which Soames gathers throughout his life. On one hand, Soames loves his paintings and spends hours contemplating them. The visual appearance of Soames’ actions, correlated with the world of art and beauty, does not reveal his real intentions. Only the author’s insight into the motives that govern the Forsytes? attitude towards art and beauty help the reader to understand the actual concept of art appreciation, which is shared by virtually all members of the Forsyte family. After the exposure to the writer’s insight, the readers see that Soames sells the paintings, which fall in price, without any regret. And the dominant criteria for him in deciding to buy a painting is the probability that the price of the painting will increase in the future, not the beauty of this piece of art.
The art of John Galsworthy does not only have impact on the evolution of world literature in terms of giving a masterful example of thorough and original analysis of the ebbing history and culture of Britain of his epoch. In The Forsyte Saga Galsworthy implicitly recognizes the social role of an artist. He starts the worldwide relay of socially conscious artists, whose main goal is to be “the surgeons the modern soul needs”. Surgeons, who will find ?diseases? within the bodies of the contemporary societies, debunk the wrong conceptions, and appoint aesthetic values to humanity.
D.H. Lawrence on John Galsworthy, in Phoenix
Galsworthy, John. The Forsyte Saga: The Man Of Property; In Chancery; To Let, 1921, Vanilla Electronic Texts.
Osgood, Charles. The Voice of England, 2nd Ed., 1935, 1952 Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York, p. 75.
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