John Galsworthy, a novelist, a dramatist and a short-story writer, was one of the representatives of critical realism in English literature.
He came of an upper middle-class family and was educated at Harrow School and Oxford University. His father was a well known lawyer in London and John Galsworthy began to practice law after graduating from Oxford in 1890. But in a year the young lawyer left his work and spent some years in travelling over the world. He visited Russia in 1891, before he had begun to write. The trip made a great impression on him. John Galsworthy turned to Russian literature and read all the books he could get in English translation. In his later years he named Turgenev, Chekhov and Tolstoy among his teachers, when he spoke of the beginning of his literary career.
Returning to London John Galsworthy began his literary work. His first two novels, "Jocelyn" (1898) and "Villa Rubein" (1900), were not a success.
His works give the most complete and critical picture of English bourgeois society at the beginning of the 20th century.
The author deals with contemporary social problems. He is critical of injustice, tyranny and all the evils of life but his criticism is not destructive: he himself was too much a member of the privileged classes to wish to rebuild the world he lived in. He had no conscious desire to change existing society fundamentally. His characters are mostly of the upper middle class and the aristocracy with which he was wholey familiar. The proletarians in his works are not really true to life and serve merely to convey the ideas of the author.
"The Island Pharisees" (1904) was his first important social novel in which he attacked the English upper classes and their dull, settled way of life. His next novels - "The Man of Property" (1906), "The Country House" (1907) and some others placed him in literature as a representative of critical realism in the 20th century English novel.
Galsworthy's most famous work is the trilogy "The Forsyte Saga" (1906-1921). It includes "The Man of Property" (1906), "In Chancery" (1920) and "To Let" (1921). The following three novels "The White Monkey" (1924), "The Silver Spoon" (1926) and "The Swan Song" (1928) are from another trilogy - "A Modern Comedy". During the last years of his life Galsworthy finished a third trilogy - "End of the Chapter", which includes three novels. The nine novels make a family chronicle. Galsworthy first told the story of the older generation, that lived in the 19th century and in the 20th century before World War I, then of the younger members of the Forsyte family during the war and after it. The story of the Forsytes is at the same time the history of English bourgeois society during fifty years.
Galsworthy was a bourgeois and a Conservative himself and this fact limited his criticism. He was afraid of the decay of British imperialism and the growing influence of socialism and democracy. In his last novel Galsworthy began to idealise the bourgeoisie.