The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy.

The Forsyte Saga was supposed to be my big 2017 read. I'd been waiting until I finished Trollope's Palliser novels and I'd anticipated reading the Forsytes over the early months of this year. However on completing the Pallisers I began the Forsytes and I couldn't put it down: I read the first four titles in the last fortnight of 2016 and To Let on New Year's Day.

The Forsyte Saga was written by John Galsworthy and is divided into three novels and two interludes:
  • The Man of Property (1906)
  • Indian Summer of a Forsyte (interlude; 1918)
  • In Chancery (1920)
  • Awakening (interlude; 1920)
  • To Let (1921)
It was published as 'The Forsyte Saga' in 1922, and it tells the story of the Forsyte family, upper middle class but not so far removed from their working class roots: Jolyon Forsyte, who was born in 1741 and who died in 1812, was a farmer in Dorset. His eldest son Jolyon was a builder, and his eldest son, known as 'Old Jolyon' was a tea merchant, his brothers a solicitor and land agent; and here we enter the realm of the middle classes. Of this they remain very self-conscious, and their relatively new social standing is something they are very much proud of but also very aware.

Before I continue, it's hard when reviewing the trilogy as a whole to avoid spoilers. If you want to miss them, all I'll say is I very much enjoyed this trilogy both for the story itself and as a portrait of a family during the great changes the early 20th Century brought. It's fascinating, so well written, and I'm glad I have at last read it! And now, to avoid spoilers, stop reading now!

Forsyte Family Tree (click to enlarge).


The first novel, The Man of Property, is set in the Victorian age, and the title refers to Soames Forsyte, the nephew of Old Jolyon, unhappily married to Irene, herself in love with Philip Bosinney, who is engaged to June Forsyte (and is the architect of the country house Soames wishes to have built), the great niece of Soames: quite a complicated quartet there. Unsurprisingly Soames is very jealous and distrustful of Irene, who is a rather mysterious figure. She came to their marriage penniless, is ravishingly beautiful and socially able but more often then not we see her almost objectified, only really seen through the eyes of others. With the house completed Soames ends up suing Bosinney for going over the agreed estimate, and Irene refuses to move into the house: inevitably she becomes infamous, a scandalous woman, who leaves Soames after his belief in his entitlement to 'property'.

From here we go into the interlude, Indian Summer of a Forsyte, a brief forty or so pages, in which we see Irene once more: she visits Robin Hill, which is the name of the country house, and there sees June's grandfather Old Jolyon. They become friends and Old Jolyon leaves her money in his will.

Next, In Chancery, the title referring to the Court of Chancery, as Soames begins proceedings to divorce Irene his sister Winifred divorces her husband Montague Dartie, however despite Soames plans he remains obsessed with Irene, stalking her from place to place, determined that she will have his child. Irene however, who has recently inherited money from Old Jolyon, refuses; she is now in love with Young Jolyon, Old Jolyon's son. The irony is this affair would not have taken place had it not been for Soames' hounding and paranoia. Eventually the two divorce, and Irene marries Young Jolyon (together they have a son, Jon, short for Jolyon) and Soames marries Annette Lamotte (they have a daughter, Fleur).

Awakening is the second interlude of this trilogy and it focuses on the childhood of young Jon Forsyte.

To Let is the final novel of this trilogy and we see Jon and Fleur grown up. Time has indeed passed; the Victorian age is but a memory and Jon and Fleur begin to fall in love. Once aware of their relationship Soames and Irene endeavour to keep them apart, and as this plays out, Soames finds his new marriage to Annette to have troubling parallels with Irene.

John Galsworthy by Rudolf Sauter (1923). 
The Forsyte Saga is a great epic, a journey both through the late Victorian age to the early part of the 20th Century, and through the events and lives of the four generations of the Forsyte family. The plot itself is fairly simple, but the characters are on the whole very well-drawn, and we learn about them not only in the context of the 'new money' family, but also in a social context, how events in England during this period shaped in some respects their character. They are a family very much of both the past and the present in that respect. It's a very impressive work, but very enjoyable and, despite it's length, not such a challenging read. After this there is more to come: The Forsyte Saga generally refers to these three novels and two interludes, but there is a further two trilogies to come: 
  • The Forsyte Saga: A Modern Comedy
    • The White Monkey (1924)
    • The Silver Spoon (1926)
    • A Silent Wooing (interlude; 1927)
    • Passers By (interlude; 1927)
    • Swan Song (1928)
  • The Forsyte Saga: End of the Chapter
    • Maid in Waiting (1931)
    • Flowing Wilderness (1932)
    • Over the River (1933)
I'm really looking forward to these: hopefully I'll get to them later this year.

Comments

  1. I can't believe that you finished this one already!! It's high up on my TBR list but I still don't think I'll get to it this year but we'll see. Thanks for the review ...... now I have an outline to refer to! I did see the mini series years ago but I can't remember anything about it. Probably best to read the book first.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, it was a quick read! I could only have done that over the Christmas period, even with the very best of intentions that couldn't have been done any other time of year :)

      Delete
  2. i've read a couple of things by Galsworthy - i think - but not these; i'll have to see if the library still has them (they've been throwing out the good books and replacing them with modern thrillers and computers: seemingly a universal trend, unfortunately)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't get me started. My library system (which covers 26 libraries and we're close to the third largest city in Canada) didn't even have an unabridged The Count of Monte Cristo and always seems to be lacking any sort of book that might stimulate the intellect. They have purchased every DVD that I've requested but not one book. I actually have started to call them "Entertainment Centres" but don't tell anyone ..... ;-)

      Delete
    2. i don't know what kind of universal stupidity motivates current librarians for sure, but i suspect it has more to do with money than with literary integrity...

      Delete
    3. There's no decent library where I live either :) There's a travelling one, which by its nature is tiny, the nearest (which is small) is about 25 miles. The big one, which apparently is very good, is almost 50 miles from me. Which is why, in short, I own so many books!

      Delete
    4. someone sometime said every educated person needs must have their own library...

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Getting up on Cold Mornings by James Henry Leigh Hunt.

The Book Tag.

20 Books of Summer.