Quality by John Galsworthy
About the author ….John Galsworthy (1867–1933), the celebrated English novelist and playwright will remain evergreen in the minds of readers for his campaign against class divide, the malaise of materialistic pursuits of the affluent class, and the appalling conditions in prisons during his time. He wrote The Forsyte Saga to vent his indignation against the Victorian values that divided the society on the basis of wealth and affluence. Although he came from a very well-to-do family of businessmen, he rebelled against the mad pursuit to amass wealth, denial of equal status to women, and indifference to the basic human rights of prisoners, and many such other human rights issues. He won the 1932 Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932. But he was too ill to receive it in person. John Glossworthy will be remembered for his novels The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1926), Swan Song (1928). Maid in Waiting (1931), Flowering Wilderness (1932), and Over the River (1933).
About this story .. ‘Quality’ is a short story about a master shoe-maker who was fanatically fastidious about the shoes he made with his own hand. He had some loyal customers, but not many as he lathed advertising, sales promotion, and all such means of modern-day business. In commercial acumen, he was a naïve, but in dedication to his work, he was second to none. Sadly, he died because, lost in shoe-making, he forgot to feed himself. Lack of food, coupled with punishing involvement in his work did him in.
The story ..
Two brothers, both ace shoe-makers, lived and worked in a nondescript shop in an alley in the fashionable West End area of London. The author’s acquaintance with the duo went back many years to his adolescent years. His father used to patronize the shoe-making shop for getting his bespoke shoes made.
The shop had no flashy signage, no bright light, except a dull-looking name board that read Gessler Brothers. The name seemed German, so did the accent of the two artisans. In the window, the two brothers had kept a pair of shoes, perhaps to announce to the public that it was but a tiny shoe-making unit. There was a reason behind such modesty, because the two brothers made only customized footwear. They didn’t make standard-sized shoes in large numbers for the market.
The shoe maker made shoes with his own hands, with delicacy and care, so that they fitted the wearer’s feet perfectly. He also made very fashionable light, dancing shoes using the finest leather. In the more rugged variety, he made tall brown riding shoes that seemed almost new after long years of use. Exquisite artisanship was the hallmark of the shoes coming out of the hands of this shoe-maker.
In his youthful young days, the author seldom thought about the uniqueness of the shop. By the age of fourteen, the author began to realize that it was no ordinary cobbler’s shop, but the workplace of two splendid craftsmen. The place seemed so intriguingly wonderful.
On one occasion, the author walked up to the shoe-maker to say that the pair of walking-boots supplied by him had creaked.
The complaint left Gessler flummoxed for a while. He perhaps couldn’t believe the shoes made by him could ever fray like this. With incredulous eyes, he asked the author if the tearing of the leather had occurred before the shoes were worn. The author denied it.
Gessler seemed lost in thought. He was perhaps trying to recollect when and how he had made the pair of shoes. Then, quite unhesitatingly, he asked the author to bring the shoes, so that he could examine them. The seriousness with which Gessler took the complaint made the author uneasy.
Gessler said that some boots made by him had defects from the beginning. Quite sportingly, he offered to refund the cost of the shoes, if they were really bad. The refund offer came after the author had worn them for long!
On another occasion, the author went in to order a new pair of shoes. He was wearing a pair of shoes procured from some other shop. While taking the order Gessler had noticed that his customer wore shoes made by someone else. He eyed the author’s footwear with incisive keenness. With a mixture of hurt pride and subtle disapproval, he commented that the pair of shoes in the author’s feet were not his products. By a feel of his finger, he could ascertain where the shoe hurt the wearer.
The author’s readymade pair of shoes had struck a raw chord in Gessler’s heart. He began a monologue deriding the large shoe making companies who mass-produced the items without adequate attention to the comforts of their customers. Quite clearly, Gessler was annoyed at the commercial approach of the big firms. He railed against their advertising, sales promotion, and everything else they did to entice the buyer at the cost of quality. Their ultimate aim is to maximize their profits. Such derisive comments seldom came to Gessler. Displeasure and annoyance were palpable in his face, wrinkled by years of toil in his trade.
The author was moved by the commitment and dedication of Gessler to his trade. He felt bad that he had some time back complained about the boot he had bought from this master artisan. To make amends for any feelings of hurt he might have caused to the embittered artisan, the author ordered quite a few pairs of shoes on him. The shoes were so well made that they lasted for ages, almost driving the author to the point of boredom. For two years, the author couldn’t think of buying any more shoes.
When he went there after the lapse of two years, the author was surprised to see that one of the two windows of the old shop bore a signboard. It brazenly claimed patronage of the royal household. It was a brutal and shocking makeover. It became clear that another business had started operating from the premises.
It soon emerged that Gessler had rented out a part of the shop to curtail cost.
The author came back gain to order more shoes. He ordered three pairs instead of two.
The author had developed a sentimental bonding with Gessler’s shop that made him return there again and again.
The visit had some unpleasant surprises for the author. He learnt that the elder of the duo had died. The author was indeed quite sorry to know of this. Worries borne out of slack business and the resulting difficulties had forced the two brothers to give up one shop. The loss apparently drove the elder brother to death.
The author ordered a few more pairs of shoes. This time, the supplies came late. The author wore them to great delight. Soon, he left for abroad. He returned to London after a year.
He went to see his favourite shoe-maker, but the encounter was not very pleasant. Gessler had battled poor business, loss of his brother, and despondency. The continuing distress had taken a toll of his physical and mental condition. He looked so haggard, and broken. He had aged fifteen years in just one year of dull business. At first, he failed to recognize the author.
The author started his conversation by heaping praise on the boots he bought from the old shoe maker.
Quite characteristically for Gessler, his attention fell on the author’s shoes. He felt it by his own hands and lovingly remembered that he had put in a good deal of effort to make it.
The shoemaker had practically. So, he was glad to take the author’s orders for fresh pairs of shoes. He felt the author’s feet and toes with the utmost care to determine how he was going to get a perfect fit.
The four pairs of shoes arrived at the author’s place one evening. The author tried them one by one. In fit, finish and workmanship, these were perfect. Strangely, although a long time had elapsed, the shoe man had charged the same old rate. The author paid off the amount.
A week later, the author went to Gessler’s place to talk about the excellent shoes he had made. But, what he discovered devastated him. Gessler’s name board had vanished, although other items were still there. With heart pounding, the author stepped in. A completely different man met him, not Gessler. He started soliciting order in the usual salesmanship ways.
When the author demanded to know where Gessler was, the man disclosed that he was dead. It sent a chill down his spine.
To add to the author’s horror, the man disclosed that Gessler had starved himself to death. Towards his final days, orders came few and far between. Gessler found the going hard. When any order came, Gessler worked very hard without rest or food to supply the orders in time. His body couldn’t cope with the punishing schedule. Despite his failing strength, he poured his heart out to the shoes he made. He was a shoemaker par excellence, but was poorly equipped to stand up to the commercial monster farms that dominate the trade. With the demise of the man, the fine art of shoe-making was lost forever from the face of the earth.
The curtains had come down on the life of a shoe maker of astounding dexterity and dedication. The passing away of this remarkable man left a wound in the heart of the author because he adored the humble shoe maker so much.
a. Write an Analysis of the story.
Quality by John Glassworthy — an Analysis
John Glassworthy, was a humanist, a liberal, and to a great measure, an anti-establishment rebel. In a class dominated consumerist society, he was ill at odds. In many ways, he was a socialist who railed against crash consumerism, and the market-driven approach to all spheres of creative human activity. This story ‘Quality’ reflects has everything that Glassworthy stood for – modesty, egalitarianism, honesty, loftiness of human labour, and striving towards perfection.
Gessler was a German, and he imbibed the German love for quality and perfection. In the midst of West End, the citadel of consumerism, and profit-making, Gessler’s tiny workshop stood defiantly as an outpost of brutal honesty, extreme dedication to quality, and total abhorrence towards profit-making through deceptive advertising. The signboard in Gessler’s shop was dull, and almost un-recognizable. Proclaiming his identity as a shoemaker, there stood under the signboard a real boot.
Glassworthy’s contempt for the artificialness of the contemporary society that separates people on the basis of their wealth comes out loud and clear from this story ‘Quality’. Gessler, is an anti-hero, and an inept businessman who honoured his guarantee for his shoes with no time bar. Such brutal honesty is never taught in modern day business schools, and the idea of making shoes by hand will certainly attract derision and disapproval in today’s society. John Glasworthy treated such Tolstoy-like simplicity with great reverence, and created his role model – the crazy master craftsman ‘Gessler’.
Gessler died in harness, due to over work, and perhaps impoverishment resulting from diminishing profits. He died un-recognized, un-honoured, un-sung, but, in Glassworthy’s view, he left the world poorer. England lost a son whom she could be very proud of, but that was not to be. Gessler’s demise didn’t make headlines, and no one wrote his obituary. John Glassworthy did—by writing this story ‘Quality’ as Gessler as the hero.
b. Write the character sketch of Gessler listing his strengths and failings.