In the month of my father’s birth, April 1909, John Galsworthy was in the midst of writing a play titled The Eldest Son, which was, however, not performed until 1912. Galsworthy was one of the proportionately many winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature on whom the conferral of the prize did not also confer literary immortality, or even much in the way of longevity.

Galsworthy is now generally regarded, I think, as irredeemably middlebrow. Virginia Woolf reprehended him because (according to her) he dealt only with the externals of life, presumably by contrast with life’s internals. Galsworthy was, so to speak, dermatologist to Woolf’s gastroenterologist.

Shakespeare weaves the personal and the political into a perfectly...


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