John Galsworthy: Radical Edwardian or Proto-Modernist?


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The aim of this thesis is to re-evaluate the literary work and reputation of the novelist and dramatist, John Galsworthy. It concentrates mainly on the social novels that were written between 1904 and 1915, and presents a critical analysis of these major works. In particular, it examines Galsworthy's technique and his engagement with contemporary problematic social issues, drawing comparisons with the work of other major Modernist and Edwardian writers. It observes that Galsworthy's reputation has never recovered from the partisan attacks and general disparagement of his work by writers of the early phase of literary Modernism such as D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. It argues that these negative evaluations of Galsworthy are not only motivated by the interests of the self-appointed literary elite, but also a poor and misleading account of his work on both aesthetic and ideological grounds. This thesis attempts an intervention into literary history that will by establish a fairer evaluation of Galsworthy's work by analysing the self-serving Modernist construction of Edwardian culture as stylistically and politically retrograde, a phase of post-Victorian stagnation, and fundamentally a prelude to Modernist experimentation. The apparent need for Galsworthy to epitomise this situation has resulted in an enduring distortion of his narrative style, and especially his socially progressive ideals; the narrative of Galsworthy as retrograde Edwardian was perpetuated throughout the subsequent twentieth century by the influence of Leavis. In attempting to redress this legacy of misreading the thesis develops a working distinction between the terms ËśModernism', as both affiliation and critical idea, and Ëśmodernising' as a more judicious evaluation of Galsworthy's achievement.
Date of Award17 Oct 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorMICHAEL BRADSHAW (Director of Studies), ROBERT SPENCE (Supervisor) & MINNA VUOHELAINEN (Supervisor)


  • social issues
  • Modernist writers
  • Edwardian writers

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