In popular fiction of the early twenties, I’ve found plenty of examples of stories based on a contrast between the ex-soldier and the alien (often Jewish) profiteer. Sapper’s Black Gang and Burrage’s Captain Dorry took it on themselves to deliver punishment where they thought it appropriate, and Dornford Yates’s heroes were forever dishing out humiliation to the undeserving.
Galsworthy’s play, Loyalties (1922) handles the question in a very different manner. De Levis is a wealthy Jew whose wealth has brought him social connections, but not popularity. Dancy is an ex-soldier (“a gallant fellow with a fine record as a soldier” who is so impoverished that he gives away a horse to De Levis because he cannot afford its keep. The horse turns out not to be such a “weed” as Dancy had thought, and De Levis sells it for £1000.
This £1000 is stolen from De Levis while he is staying with the Winsor family, and it soon becomes apparent that Dancy is the thief, though the Winsors and their friends refuse to acknowledge the fact. De Levis proceeds with his accusations despite social ostracism, until Dancy realises that he must either sue for defamation or admit his guilt.
Galsworthy anatomises the social processes that help the insider and exclude the outsider, until it becomes impossible for the truth to remain hidden. It all ends messily.
What interested me most was the presentation of Dancy – the ex-soldier as risk-taker. One of the characters describes him:
There are people who simply can’t live without danger. I’m rather like that myself. They’re all right when they’re getting the D.S.O. or shooting man-eaters; but if there’s no excitement going, they’ll make it – out of sheer craving. I’ve seen Ronny Dancy do the maddest things for no mortal reason except the risk.
To commit the robbery, Dancy had to risk a dangerous leap in the dark, from one balcony to another. In wartime this type of courage had been invaluable. In peace it brings destruction not only to Dancy, but to all connected with him.
Thriller-writers invited readers to indulge in the fantasy of dealing out rough justice to the alien rich. Galsworthy shows the probable results of such a course of action.