Joseph Conrad characterized John Galsworthy as a moralist, someone who tended to betray instead of revealing ” the very truth of things.” In part, the sterling example of an ineffectual empathy, a sterile compassion that was reluctant to transform an almost maudlin sentimentality toward the destitute into effective progressive reform and a reinvigorating of social values. Essentially, an establishment liberal with a refined sense of social injustice mated with an inability to do simply more than sympathize.The question to be posed, since Galsworthy is the epitome of the brand name liberal, is whether the whole exercise is a sham, a charade, an elaborate mask for a sense of superiority and a general ill disposition to society and large amidst a fervent desire to maintain social status. The entire John Stuart Mill inculcated set of values which reinforce and aggravate existing problems; the built in blind spots of liberal sensitivity which are characterized by puzzling timidity, confusion and an inability to find and defend a social faith. Galsworthy is an early example of the style known as the critique of mass society.
….But now, at last John Galsworthy’s father died. His inheritance safe, he went off publicly with Ada to the Dartmoor farm that became one of their homes and in effect challenged cousin Arthur Galsworthy to get a divorce, which he did. Meanwhile, Galsworthy, who by this time and for the rest of his life never failed to write steadily for several hours a day, had resigned from his club and embarked upon The Man of Property.
In this novel’s brilliant opening chapter, one could almost say “scene,” so dramatically is it composed- the rich, overstuffed Forsyte family is spread before us at a party given to celebrate young June’s engagement to the architect Philip Bosinney- an engagement to be brought to nothing by his entanglement with the equivocal Irene, Soame Forsyte’s wife. And Soames is the man of property: businesses, buildings, paintings, wife- all, to him, are a matter of possession. This is his strength- as it was the strength of Victorian England; and it is his weakness- as it was the weakness of Victorian England. For he could not, in all sincerity, understand any of the warmer human feelings, just as England was pained and puzzled by the aspirations of its subject races. First in The Man of Property, then in succeeding volumes of the Saga, we watch ironclad loneliness being undermined until a sort of frosty tranquility is reached.
The gestation of The Man of Property was followed by fearful birth pains. Galsworthy was always eager for other people’s advice, agitated when he got it, but usually willing in the end to act upon it. It was Edward Garnett who caused the trouble here- he once said Galsworthy would never be an artist, but would always see life from the windows of a club- because in the original manuscript Bosinney was made to commit suicide when he learned that Soames had forcibly asserted his marital rights upon Irene.
Garnett said this was absurd; Galsworthy asked Garnett to come to Italy at the author’s expense; Garnett replied that he’d rather not visit them until John and Ada were married. Galsworthy fretted and in the end compromised by leaving us in the dark as to whether Bosinney stepped under the bus on purpose or not. With the publishing of this book in 1906, Galsworthy made his mark, though it initially sold only about five thousand copies.
His real reputation was made by a success in the theater. In the same year The Silver Box, sharply pointing up the fact that there is one law for the rich and another for the economically inferior, was produced. After this double success, there was no stopping Galsworthy.
Novels satirizing the upper classes, plays exposing social evils, poured out st
ly, though Galsworthy was not to return to the Forsytes until after WWI. But one novel, The Dark Flower of 1913, was notably out of key with the rest of his torrential output; it was a burningly personal tale, with no social or humanitarian content, about a man sadly torn between the onset of passion for one woman and the giving of pain to another. ….
Joseph Heath:For years they’ve been dominated by books that are deeply critical of consumerism: No Logo, Culture Jam, Luxury Fever and Fast Food Nation. You can now buy Adbusters at your neighbourhood music or clothing store. Two of the most popular and critically successful films in recent memory were Fight Club and American Beauty, which offer almost identical indictments of modern consumer society.
What can we conclude from all this? For one thing, the market obviously does an extremely good job at responding to consumer demand for anti-consumerist products and literature. But isn’t that a contradiction? Doesn’t it suggest that we are in the grip of some massive, society-wide, bipolar disorder? How can we all denounce consumerism, and yet still find ourselves living in a consumer society?
The answer is simple. What we see in films like American Beauty and Fight Club is not actually a critique of consumerism; it’s merely a restatement of the “critique of mass society” that has been around since the 1950s. The two are not the same. In fact, the critique of mass society has been one of the most powerful forces driving consumerism for more than 40 years.
That last sentence is worth reading again. The idea is so foreign, so completely the opposite of what we are used to being told, that many people simply can’t get their head around it. It is a position that Thomas Frank, editor of The Baffler, has been trying to communicate for years. Strangely, all the authors of anti-consumerism books have read Frank—most even cite him approvingly—and yet not one of them seems to get the point. So here is Frank’s claim, simply put: books like No Logo, magazines like Adbusters, and movies like American Beauty do not undermine consumerism; they reinforce it. Read More:http://this.org/magazine/2002/11/01/the-rebel-sell/