A NEW HISTORICIST APPROACH TO JOHN GALSWORTY’S THE FORSYTE SAGA B. Krishnamurthy* Introduction The present paper aims at applying the New Historicist approach to the study of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga. John Galsoworthy is one of the three eminent Edwardian Novelists, the others being H.G. Wells and Arnold Bennet. They grew up when socialism was gaining ground among the elite and when the Russian writers with leftist orientation were the most dominant influence. Galsworthy’s sympathy for the underdog was transparent, in spite of his efforts to hold his sense and sensibility in balance in his dramas like The Strife (1909), Justice (1910) and The Skin Game (1920). However, better artistry in his novels and his subconscious sympathy with the Forsytes resulted in the obscurity of vision. It led to the virulent attacks by younger critics like Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence. This set a trend, his great popularity during the time of writing declined after his death. He has never been accorded the depth of study he deserved as a novelist. Even critics who admired him, appreciated him for ‘his large scale pictures of the professional and aristocratic classes and for his graceful and suave literary style’. However, his gift to make a whole class in society come to life with photographic accuracy of detail and description is not the be all and end all of his achievement. He departed from his contemporaries like Trollope and attempted through his portraiture to assess the values of his age. In the opinion of the present writer by a rigorous application of the principles of New Historicism will enable a reader to gain clear understanding of Galsworthy’s achievement. A Simple definition of New Historicism is that it is a method based on the parallel reading of literary and non-literary texts, usually of the same historical period. That is to say, New Historicism shuns privileging of the literary text as opposed to a literary ‘foreground’ and a historical ‘background’ it * Dean of Humanities and Sciences, SASTRA University, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. ** Working as Assistant Professor of English in the Department of English, School of Humanities and Sciences, SASTRA University, Thanjavur. Vol.-II 4 July-Dec. (Winter) 2010
envisages and practises a mode of study in which literary and nonliterary texts are given equal weightage and constantly inform or interrogate each other. New Historicists draw from other forms of criticism, including the psychological criticism and Marxist criticism which argue that a literary work should be considered a product of the time, place, and circumstances of its composition. In the present writer’s view The Forsyte Saga has not yet been subjected to a critical study applying the canons of Modern Literary Criticism, particularly New Historicism, a recent development. Hence the present study will establish the historicity of Galsworthy’s text by tracing the inter-textual relationship with reference to Galsworthy’s other writings, contemporary historical documents, archives, letters, diary entries, newspaper accounts, etc. Again New Historicism subsumes all the previous critical approaches of reading literature, be it Structuralist, Post-structuralist, or Marxist. Particularly a narratological input in terms of the technique of narration is of special interest. Galsworthy maintains himself as the narrative point. But repeatedly he focalizes through the various characters. So only when the two-pronged technique is looked into, a reader can understand Galsworthy’s stand on various issues. Embedded as he is in the socio-cultural matrix of the time, Galsworthy makes a different appeal to the reader with the New Historicist approach to his work. The main focus is to find out whether he is a strong champion of the dominant ideology of the period, or a pleader for reform. The technique of narration and the co-texts clarify that he is neither of the two. However, he critiques without offending the...
References: Primary Source Galsworthy, John .1986. The Forsyte Saga and A Modern Comedy, London:Hamlyn Publishing, Bridge House, London. Secondary Sources Barry, Peter. 1995. Beginning Theory : An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory , Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York. Dupre, Catherine. 1976. John Galsworthy. Very good later biography, though it assesses Galsworthy’s artistic significance more harshly than earlier critics. London. Frechet, Alec.1982. John Galsworthy: A Reassessment. A Comprehensive study of Galsworthy’s artistic achievement. Totowa, NJ. Lawrence D. H. 1928. “John Galsworthy”. In Scrutinies by Various Writers, collected by Edgell Rickword. Scathing essay on the
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Forsyte Chronicles that originally appeared in a 1928 edition of the magazine Scrutinies. London. Marrot, H.V. 1936. The Life and Letters of John Galsworthy. New York, Authorized biography. Myers, D.G. 1988. The New Historicism in Literary Study. Originally published in Academic Questions 2 (Winter 1988-1989: 2726. Web reference. Sternlicht, Sanford. 1987. John Galsworthy. Incisive, laudatory critical study of Galsworthy’s life and works. Boston. Vesser, H Aram. Ed.1989. The New Historicism. Routledge: New York. Woolf, Virginia.1988. ‘Character in Fiction - In The Essays of Virginia Woolf, vol 3, 1919-1924. Edited by Andrew McNeillie. New York, Seminal essay on modernism.
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