As devotees of Downton Abbey know, the upstairs and downstairs worlds of Lord Grantham’s estate have not been spared the horrors of World War I: the grand house has been pressed into service as a triage hospital for grievously injured officers. The Great War impacted all strata of British society and the country moved to aid in the rehabilitation of a devastating number of maimed young men. One of the more unusual fundraising items during the war, and its immediate aftermath, was the commemorative gift book. Gift books, or annuals, were originally aimed at adolescents who enjoyed reading. Often lavishly illustrated, these anthologies featured original work by writers and poets and were must-haves for diehard fans; these special publications were ideal Christmas presents. However, even this niche area of publishing was repurposed for the war effort.
Among the many rare treasures of our Galsworthy book collection (Collection 1596) are fine examples of philanthropic literary keepsakes produced for adult and juvenile audiences. The gift books within this collection are all tomes to which Galsworthy, and other prominent authors, contributed an original work no doubt stoking greater public interest. The proceeds from three of the gift books pictured here were conceived to assist with the care and rehabilitation of Britain’s scores of wounded veterans. Especially poignant are the photographs in The Blinded Sailors and Soldiers Gift Book of patients in vocational training even as they adapt to their post-war physical challenges. Galsworthy also lent his name and pen to a fourth volume sponsored by the English Committee on behalf of the Belgian Princess Marie-José’s children’s charity for the nurture and care of Flemish youngsters. Written in English, this particular keepsake contains “sixteen color plates and a profusion of black and white illustrations,” was calculated to enthrall and delight the young who, like the Crawley clan, were not immune to the vagaries of the 20th Century’s first great tragedy.
John Galsworthy (1867-1933) was an astonishingly prolific, pre-eminent English author and dramatist of the early 20th century. He is perhaps best known for The Forsyte Saga, his multi-part chronicle of Edwardian upper-class social mores, a theme that will resonate with Downton Abbey aficionados. In addition to crafting bestsellers (and a potentially endless source for future Masterpiece Classics?) the industrious Galsworthy was a socially active citizen-artist who leveraged his name and passion on behalf of humanitarian causes. His novels, and especially his plays, explore class bias, women’s rights, the plight of workers, and the struggle for democracy. Much like his American contemporary Theodore Dreiser, Galsworthy was tireless in his devotion to social justice. He donated his 1932 Nobel award money to Pen International, an institution that he helped found.
By Lauren Buisson, Technical Services Division