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Ticket-Of-Leave Man

Max Beerbohm (1872—1956) caricaturist and writer

 

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A: John Galsworthy. Pf: 1910, London Pb: 1910 G: Trag. in 4 acts S: A lawyer's office, a law court, and a prison, 1900s C: 17m, 1f, extrasWilliam Falder is a diligent and honest clerk in the legal firm of the How Brothers. His record is impeccable until he becomes involved with Ruth Honeywill, a young mother and the victim of a violent husband. Desperate to help her, he forges a cheque, and his crime is soon discovered. Although his office manager Cokeson tries to save him, and despite a very able legal defence, William is sent to prison. Spending three years in solitary confinement and refused any outside visits, William suffers a breakdown. When, a shadow of his former self, he is finally released after two years, he seeks employment with his former boss. The latter will only give William his job back if William promises to abandon the fallen woman Ruth. He refuses, and, driven by his need to get a job, he forges a reference. When this forgery too is discovered, William cannot face the prospect of prison again and commits suicide by throwing himself down stone steps.

A: John Galsworthy. Pf: 1910, London Pb: 1910 G: Trag. in 4 acts S: A lawyer's office, a law court, and a prison, 1900s C: 17m, 1f, extras

Clearly this piece with its ironic title owes much to Tom Taylor's The Ticket-of-Leave Man, although in the earlier play the hero was totally innocent of his ‘crime’. By having his hero commit forgery twice, Galsworthy introduces welcome complexity into the theme of the released prisoner. We recognize that William acts foolishly; yet he maintains our sympathy, because we see that he acts from the highest motives. His fate is tragic, because there is no honourable way out for him, whereas Taylor's melodrama could provide a conveniently happy end. The impact of the play in 1910 was so great that it led Home Secretary Winston Churchill to reform the penal code.

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards) — Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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John Galsworthy (1867—1933) novelist and playwright


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