John Galsworthy by Hermon Ould (1935)

One of the subjects of this month’s reading group was John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga. I have ploughed through the first three novels, and must post a review! But not today, as I must finish a conference paper. In the meantime, here is George’s thoughts on one of the books about Galsworthy that was published immediately after his death. Not, perhaps, a very interesting book, but I think it right to put an account of it here, as I’ll bet there is no other trace to be found of it!

Review by George Simmers:

This tribute to Galsworthy was written shortly after his death. The author, Hermon Ould, was a minor playwright and translator who worked with Galsworthy in establishing  P.E.N, the international association of writers.

Ould is a fan who writes with affection; there are some personal anecdotes, but they are not very revealing. We get little sense of Galsworthy the private man, except that he was a polite and considerate host.

There is interesting stuff on the early years of P.E.N. Galsworthy sensed that the only way to ensure the future of the association was to make it non-political. This was in itself a political decision, and caused controversy, especially in Germany. Galsworthy met with a group of radical German writers, including the young Bertolt Brecht, to discuss the issue.  Ould tells us that it was ‘in retrospect, an amusing occasion’, since the participants could not speak each other’s language, but by the end, ‘ill-will was dissipated’. (87)

Ould writes admiringly about Galsworthy’s attitudes and his compassion, but a lot of the commentary is platitudinous. The liveliest section of the book is the chapter on ‘Sex’, where Ould gives a forceful answer  to D.H.Lawrence’s scathingly negative 1928 essay on Galsworthy.

This book (and the fact that sold well enough to be reprinted in a cheaper edition within a year) gives an idea of Galsworthy’s high reputation at the time of his death, as novelist and playwright, and as a spokesman for the literary profession.

Anyone seriously researching Galsworthy will find useful material in this book, I think (especially as  critical writing on him is not plentiful); the general reader who wants to discover what made Galsworthy tick, though, will put the book down as I did, though – disappointed.

When we wonder why Galsworthy’s literary reputation shrivelled after his death, maybe part of the blame lies with  friends like Hermon Ould, who convinces us that he was a decent and thoughtful man – but finally makes him sound rather dull.

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