John Galsworthy

A Commentary

(London: Grant Richards, 1908)

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A Commentary

Publisher’s advertisement

Grant Richards recognized the talent and marketability of John Galsworthy after reading the first novel of the popular Forsyte Saga, A Man of Property (1906). Galsworthy published most of his work through Heinemann, but Richards managed to secure a series of sketches which were published as A Commentary and advertised in Joyce’s Dubliners.

A Commentary captures Galsworthy's attempts to chronicle the plight of the lower classes in London. In recounting his dealings with Galsworthy and the story of how this volume entered his office, Richards remarks on the

Galsworthy had a heart. I think it was his pre-eminent quality. Knowing he was publishing his books with Heinemann and with Duckworth, who had published his first essays in fiction, I do not think I should have suggested his giving me a book, but he himself brought me A Commentary. No doubt he was influenced by the fact that after a reverse I was building up a fresh list. It was not one of his best books but it was characteristic. A book of sketches rather than of short stories, it was full of the sense of pity that informs all his work. (Richards, Author Hunting 233)

Although Joyce cannot be said to share Galsworthy’s moderation in life and art, similar forms of social critique can be found throughout Dubliners, but without the direct, and at times naive, sincerity that Galsworthy gives his prose. In "A Little Cloud," for instance, Joyce writes of the poverty on the streets of Dublin that Little Chandler encounters but does not notice:

He emerged from under the feudal arch of the King's Inn, a neat modest figure, and walked swiftly down Henrietta Street. The golden sunset was waning and the air had grown sharp. A horde of grimy children populated the street. They stood or ran in the roadway or crawled up the steps before the gaping doors of squatted like mice upon the thresholds. Little Chandler gave them no thought. He picked his way deftly through all that minute vermin-like life and under the shadow of the gaunt spectral mansions in which the old nobility of Dublin had roistered. No memory of the past touched him, for his mind was full of a present joy. (D 71-2)

In Richards’s calculation, Galsworthy was a much better literary bet for a struggling publisher than the unknown Joyce. In fact, a 1929 poll by the Manchester Guardian voted Galsworthy to be the most likely contemporary author to be read in 2029. Joyce got fewer than ten votes (“Novelists Who May be Read in A.D. 2029” 16).