The Forsyte Saga is John Galsworthy's monumental chronicle of the lives of the moneyed Forsytes, a family whose values are constantly at war with its passions. The story of Soames Forsyte's marriage to the beautiful and rebellious Irene, and its effects upon the whole Forsyte clan, The Forsyte Saga is a brilliant social satire of the acquisitive ...
The Forsyte Saga is John Galsworthy's monumental chronicle of the lives of the moneyed Forsytes, a family whose values are constantly at war with its passions. The story of Soames Forsyte's marriage to the beautiful and rebellious Irene, and its effects upon the whole Forsyte clan, The Forsyte Saga is a brilliant social satire of the acquisitive sensibilities of a comfort-bound class in its final glory. Galsworthy spares none of his characters, revealing their weaknesses and shortcomings as clearly as he does the tenacity and perseverance that define the strongest members of the Forsyte family. This edition contains the three original novels -- The Man of Property, In Chancery, and To Let -- and their connecting interludes, Indian Summer of a Forsyte and Awakening.
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Many have mentioned the detail of Galsworthy's description of English manners, national character and so on, but I see this trilogy as more of a chronicle of the death of the Victorian era, written by someone who, like Edith Wharton--another famous observer of upper-middle-class manners--was not of age during what Galsworthy terms the efflorescence of the age.
The Forsytes are NOT just a family, but as one character, Young Jolyon, repeatedly observes (along with the author), they are representative of a huge class of British Victorians, specifically Late Victorians, bound by rigid morality, manners, hypocrisy and above all, a sense of property.
The older generation, only one removed from a Dorset builder of "the ugliest houses in London", is now petrified in mid-Victorian splendor, in their houses surrounding Hyde Park. The men have amassed a small fortune, their wives have kept to form and they have produced a generation of children--the Late-Victorians, Jolyon, Soames, June, Winifred, George and many others, who live off their parents' wise investments.
Only Soames, the unimaginative "Man of Property", as his uncle Jolyon cynically nicknames him, adheres to the old ways, and regards property as sacred, including his beautiful and unhappy wife, Irene. His acquisition of her, like a piece of fine china, and his bullying attempts to both force her into line while inspiring love she can never give, simmer and explode, producing a tragedy that will last roughly forty years.
Irene's beauty and Irene herself are the ?locus of a disturbance, like the center of a tornado? just out of vision, Soames? nephew, Val Dartie muses. Others here have said how well Galsworthy characterizes all the inhabitants of this world and they are right?except for Irene. She is almost never seen through her own thoughts or words, but rather, through the eyes (especially) and opinions of others.
It is tempting to despise Soames, particularly after he exercises his property rights in a quite heinous manner, but in this saga, no one is immune to weakness; no one is above hurting another to save him or herself, not even Irene, or the ever-tolerant Young Jolyon.
The three-way feud between these three carries on long after the dust has settled, alive and subterranean, like a poisonous root, and comes between the love of Soames? daughter Fleur (with his new wife, Annette) and Irene and Jolyon?s son, Jon.
Along with the renewal of the question of property and one?s rights over another human being, Galsworthy explores England?s post-war feeling that nothing matters, Labour politics, the world of avant-garde artists and a new style of marriage, which now includes openly avowing birth control, having affairs without stigma and what form love must take to make one happy. To this last question, the author wisely leaves it open, and we feel that the answer is quite different for each person.
Galsworthy?s powers of observation and description are matchless, yet his attempts at analysis sometimes fall short, which works out fine for the reader if one doesn?t take them too seriously and concentrates instead on the vivid, multifaceted and enduring picture he has given us of the flowering of a great tree, the death blow it receives and its rapid demise. My favorite character in this chronicle: the English people, at least as described with love and admiration by Galsworthy.
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