The Life and Letters of John Galsworthy by H.V. Marrot appeared at the end of 1935, not quite three years after its subject's death, and must be one of the very last examples of what was by that time a gravely endangered species. In the preface to Eminent Victorians Strachey had wittily mocked the solemn pretensions of the Victorian and Edwardian monumental biography, ponderously discreet as an old-fashioned manservant: but 17 years later Marrot found it still possible to produce a work of unblushing hagiography. To be fair, he makes no secret of his hero-worship, or of the fact that his work, in accordance with Victorian ground-rules, has been closely overseen by the great man's widow. The significant thing, though, is that Marrot's generation (his book was widely read and instantly reprinted) retained a faith in the writer not just as hero but as a kind of secular saint. Recalling the mild furore a few years ago over Robert Gittings's life of Hardy, with its intimations that the great advocate of loving-kindness could be snobbish and mean-spirited, severe with his servants and a brute to his wife, one is bound to reflect that even today the faith is not quite extinguished, and that there are readers who still expect the lives of great men to remind us, if not that we can make our own sublime, at any rate that sublimity is possible.
LRB 7 May 1987 | PDF Download