John Galsworthy (14 Aug. 1867 – 31 Jan. 1933) is known nowadays for his trilogy ‘The Forsyte Saga’, which is on my bookshelf, sadly unread. I recently came across one of Galsworthy’s other novels ‘The Dark Flower’ and I am happy that I picked this up.
‘The Dark Flower’ spans a period of nearly thirty years in the life of Mark Lennan, a sculptor from an upper-middle class family. The novel is divided in three parts, ‘Spring’, ‘Summer’ and ‘Autumn’. In these parts, Mark is roughly 18, 26 and 46 years old. In each of these parts Mark comes under the influence of the dark flower of passion. In several places Galsworthy makes clear that Englishmen do not show, even to themselves, that they have passions. Mark, as an artist, is able to acknowledge, to himself at least, that he is under the influence of passion.
This novel was published in 1913, yet I found there were some strong Romantic influences in it. Nature plays a large role and is often contrasted with human struggles or sentiments:
If only one were like a flower, that just sprang up and lived its life all to itself, and died.
Every time Mark is distressed and in a horrible state of mind, he goes out into nature, during the night of course, lies on the forest-floor or gets wet trough and through in the rain. This way, he finds himself again and is able to deal with the agonies aroused by the passion that lives within him
This craving and roving was as much part of him as his eyes and hands, as overwhelming and natural a longing as his hunger for work, or his need of the peace that Sylvia gave, and alone could give him. That was the tragedy – it was all sunk and rooted in the very nature of a man.
The strong point of this novel is its structure. The way the first part is mirrored in the third, but now with reversed roles, is truly admirable. Personally, I was very much under the charm of Colonel Ercott, who plays a part in the second part of the novel. He perceives that his niece, a married woman, is unhappy in her marriage and falls in love with Mark Lennan. Although this is against social convention, the colonel feels in his heart that this is not a black-and-white case of good and bad behaviour. His love for his niece induces a compassion that he had not known he would have in such a situation and that I found very touching. Galsworthy contrasts this quite brilliantly with Mrs Ercott’s reaction. She shares the Colonel’s take on the matter, but her views are founded in different motives. Overall, I was most impressed by the last part, ‘Autumn’. I loved the way Mark Lennan came to his conclusion and final decision. I thought that was very well done indeed.
This was by no means a very challenging read, yet it had plenty of elements that made me think. On top of that, I found the writing very beautiful. My copy of the book was one of the reprints by Capuchin Classics and I love the overall look and feel of their books. I purchased my copy second-hand, but I will definitely take a closer look at their catalogue. I am very happy I picked up ‘The Dark Flower’ and look forward to more.