Torn Between Aristocracy and Humanity – The Patrician by John Galsworthy

John Galsworthy was an English novelist and playwright and one of the most popular writers of the early 20th century. His work revolved around social history and themes, and often incorporated into them, the nuances of values, classes, and hierarchy; especially that of the Edwardian era. The Patrician by John Galsworthy, a novel first published in 1911, narrated the story of young Lord Miltoun and his life torn between the need to be in a position of power and the desire for true love.

The Author

John Galsworthy was born in 1867, in Surrey, studied at Harrow and New College, Oxford, and later got admitted to the bar in 1890. However, he discontinued his profession in law and took to writing full time, after the release of his first novel, Jocelyn. He then went on to publish many famous novels and plays, including the Forsyte series: Indian Summer of a Forsyte, In Chancery, Awakening, and To Let. Galsworthy was awarded the Order of Merit in 1929 and the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932. He breathed his last at Hampstead in 1933.

The Plot

Lord Miltoun, the eldest son of the Lord and Lady Valleys at the Caradocs, is a charismatic young leader who believes that the power to lead his fellow men is the greatest good. His eyes are set on London and his family sees in him, the power to be the next Prime Minister of England. Things take a turn when Miltoun falls in love with Audrey Noel, a sensitive yet beautiful young lady rumored to be a divorcee. Audrey, on the other hand leads a joyless life thanks to her husband, a bigoted clergyman, who refuses to divorce her. She reciprocates in full, the love that Miltoun has for her. With this relationship builds a conflict in the young patrician’s mind. He understands the need to remain immaculate in order to continue in a post of power and the doom an illicit relationship could bring to his leadership. In the meanwhile, another love affair blossoms in the background, between Barbara, the younger sister of Miltoun, and Charles Courtier, an altruistic friend of Mrs. Noel. Courtier also happens to be an idealist and an opponent of Miltoun. In spite of the love affair with Audrey, Miltoun wins the elections by a margin and occupies his seat of power. In London, he falls seriously ill and is nursed back to health by his lady love. Sensing impending danger, Lady Valleys summons her son and Barbara to their Uncle, Lord Dennis’ seaside residence, where Miltoun recovers fully. The turmoil still high, he writes back to Audrey thanking her and during his return to London, meets Courtier, who pleads with him not to disown her. However, Miltoun realizes his true need for leadership and Mrs. Noel helps him by sacrificing her feelings for him and goes away. Barbara and Courtier too weave hopes of marriage, but the latter’s pride stand in their way and she gets married to Lord Harbinger.

The Patrician, like other novels by John Galsworthy, received much critical acclaim for its deep characterization and portrayal of the ‘drying’ effect of aristocracy.