Having thoroughly enjoyed The Skin Game at Richmond, I thought I’d read a bit more Galsworthy.
The Foundations is a play staged in 1917, but set in an imagined post-war London. Not the land fit for heroes of official propaganda, but what reads like a farcical caricature of the actual twenties – a country riven by class war.
The play begins in the wine cellar of Lord William Dromondy, M.P.’s Park Lane mansion. A bomb is discovered, and revolutionary crowds are massing in Hyde Park. Lord William and his family, however, are committed Liberals of the most caring kind, and are preparing to host a meeting denouncing sweatshops. Galsworthy plays with class ironies amusingly – the aristocrats indulge in their good works and fine feelings while their servants deal with life’s practicalities.
There is not much plot. The play meanders from one amusingly observed conversation to another, with all parties indulgently caricatured. I especially liked one character – a reporter called simply “The Press” who interviews everybody else, and converts everything they say into newspaper cliché.
After the revolution is defused, he sums upthe atmosphere with “And far up in the clear summer air the larks were singing.” That birdsong was recognised as a cliché long before Sebastian Faulks got his hands on it.
The whole play is farcical and jolly, but Galsworthy gets in a message about the social effects of war. Lemmy, a revolutionary gasfitter, explains (in Cockney phonetically rendered, after the fashion of the times ):
Yer thought the Englishman could be taught ter shed blood wiv syfety. Not ‘im. Once yer git ‘im inter an ‘abit, yer cawn’t git ‘im out of it agyne.’E’ll go on shedding blood mechanical – Conservative by nyture.
I suppose the play is too much of a period piece to be restaged even at Richmond, but I enjoyed reading it. It’s full of little social observations. One that struck me was about politically correct beverages:
Funny thing that, about cocoa – how it still runs through the Liberal Party. It’s virtuous, I suppose. Wine, beer, tea, coffee – all of ’em vices. But cocoa- you might drink a gallon a day and annoy no one but yourself!
Which is no longer so. The modern equivalents of Galsworthy’s socially concerned aristocrats have launched a campaign to make children feel guilty while they eat their Easter eggs. Ah well.