Group Read: The Forsyte Saga
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The "Saga" is the first three books in the series and two interludes.
The Man of Property (1906)
"Indian Summer of a Forsyte" (1918)
In Chancery (1920)
To Let (1921)
Some volumes exclude the interludes. There are more novels in the series and more interludes as well. The entire collection is known as The Forsyte Chronicles. For our purposes we will focus on the Saga novels, but if anyone is planning to tackle the entire collection, then Welcome!
The Saga is included in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.
My copy has the three books and two interludes although I'm planning on spreading it out to one book per month - though that might not work out considering how much I'm enjoying it.
I know some people think Soames got what he deserved, but I've always felt sorry for him. To me, it was Irene's behaviour that was unforgivable. I'd be interested in hearing how others feel.
This is actually a reread but after decades I remember almost nothing about the story.
>6 hailelib: As I've said it's a re-read for me too but I find I'm enjoying it even more because as I am reading any particular storyline I'm also remembering future related events.
>4 VivienneR: Thanks for rereading and joining us. I've not read the books, but I had almost the same feeling with the BBC miniseries. I know it was very heavily skewed to Irene, more than the books as I understand, but it did not make me more sympathetic to her. It will be interesting to read the books and compare.
>5 DeltaQueen50: Thanks for joining us Judy. We can check this one off our 1001 books list this year. ;-)
>6 hailelib: Thanks for mentioning the family tree. I found a copy online and posted it up top.
>7 VivienneR: My pleasure and again, I'm glad you are joining us.
>8 Yells: Welcome. I've posted the family tree in post #1. Hope it helps some.
I found myself definitely on Soames' side and thought Irene came across as more of a gold-digger (marrying Soames for his money) and needed to grow up. As far as I remember she does become more mature but I still think she is very self-centred. Maybe women needed to be in those days.
I find Soames and Irene both to blame for their failed marriage. She should have held to her initial refusal but since she didn't Irene should have made a better job of making the marriage work and she definitely should have stayed away from Bosinney. On the other hand, Soames pressured Irene instead of taking no for an answer and then just assumed that Irene would automatically become the wife he wanted. He doesn't seem to have made any real effort to understand her.
Also I think the reader's age and experience have a lot to do with how we perceive various characters and actions. I remember thinking Catherine and Heathcliffe were the most romantic couple when I first read Wutherine Heights as a teenager. On a re-read many years later, I found them both sulky, whining teenagers that I wanted to spank more than admire!
I'll get my thread up in Feb - already a month behind this year!
Somehow I managed to miss why Philip Bosinney (the architect) is referred to as "The Buccaneer". Is anyone able to enlighten me on that point?
I will now take a break to do some other ROOT/CAT/KIT/Bingo reading and will probably pick this up again in March.
>31 lkernagh: The Forsytes liked nicknames. It's understandable that the Buccaneer's origin would escape your memory. It was ascribed very early at June's engagement when the reader is still trying to remember all members of the family:
“...a story was undoubtedly told that he had paid his duty call to Aunts Ann, Juley, and Hester, in a soft grey hat - a soft grey hat, not even a new one - a dusty thing with a shapeless crown. "So, extraordinary, my dear - so odd," Aunt Hester, passing through the little, dark hall (she was rather short-sighted), had tried to 'shoo' it off a chair, taking it for a strange, disreputable cat - Tommy had such disgraceful friends! She was disturbed when it did not move.
Like an artist for ever seeking to discover the significant trifle which embodies the whole character of a scene, or place, or person, so those unconscious artists - the Forsytes had fastened by intuition on this hat; it was their significant trifle, the detail in which was embedded the meaning of the whole matter; for each had asked himself: "Come, now, should I have paid that visit in that hat?" and each had answered "No!" and some, with more imagination than others, had added: "It would never have come into my head!"
George, on hearing the story, grinned. The hat had obviously been worn as a practical joke! He himself was a connoisseur of such. "Very haughty!" he said, "the wild Buccaneer."
And this mot, the 'Buccaneer,' was bandied from mouth to mouth, till it became the favourite mode of alluding to Bosinney.”
Just for the enjoyment factor, I had to give this one a half-star lower rating than the five stars I gave to the first book, even though this book concentrates on Old Jolyon's family who were mostly the characters I liked best. It is shocking to read of the divorce laws and realize a married woman was regarded as "owned". Soames doesn't come out well here, but I still don't care much for Irene. The younger generation play a bigger part of the story with the passing of the old generation being portrayed by Queen Victoria's funeral.
Oddly enough, by the very end of book three, he started to grow on me.
As I've mentioned before, this is a re-read for me. But already I'm looking forward to the next part of the saga that I'll read in March - if I can wait that long.
>36 VivienneR: Did she really know what she was getting into? I never got the sense that she did (or didn't for that matter) and that is what I struggled with. I will admit, I was married before and it was a rather loveless marriage (I still can't understand why we did it) so that has definitely coloured my view on this book. I see a lot of myself in the Irene character - I am not sure if that makes me more sensitive to things in the novel or makes me blind to her faults.
Although Soames is still showing his cold side, somehow he manages to elicit sympathy. It is 1920 and with the death of Timothy, the older generation is gone and the new one is introduced.
My favourite line is from Fleur's wedding ceremony:
“The hymn was over, the prelate had begun to deliver his discourse. He told them of the dangerous times they lived in, and the awful conduct of the House of Lords in connection with divorce. They were all soldiers--he said--in the trenches under the poisonous gas of the Prince of Darkness, and must be manful. The purpose of marriage was children, not mere sinful happiness.”
I hope it is OK to continue the thread to the end of the Forsyte Chronicles. Although I realize I might be on my own.
The fourth book of the Forsyte Chronicles (and the first of the trilogy A Modern Comedy) takes the reader to the Twenties, when life has changed a great deal for Soames and for everyone. For all his faults he is upright and honest and I still can't help liking him. It is ironic that his daughter's love life has some similarities to his own: just as he wanted Irene and couldn't have her, Fleur wanted Jon and couldn't have him. But Fleur is much more fortunate than her father because of her marriage to Michael Mont who is devoted to her. Galsworthy has again captured the essence of class and culture in the disillusionment following The Great War, comparing the dire poverty of many without jobs to the shallow frivolity of the wealthy. The title is taken from a painting of a white monkey that Soames gave the Monts for Fleur's Chinese room, a fitting portrayal of the era: a monkey who eats the fruit, discards the peel, without giving a thought to the meaning of life, while staring out at its audience daring them to disagree.
In the interlude, A Silent Wooing, Jon meets Anne Wilmot. The beginning of a new thread in the story.
This month I will be reading "The Awakening", the last interlude, and then I plan to finish the last book of The Forsyte Sage in June.
I'm not sure I'm going to want to pick up another big book immediately. I have an edition with the first 3 stories bound together. Borrowed from the library, I assume they'll want it back at some point...
Out of his other property, out of all the things he had collected, his silver, his pictures, his houses, his investments, he got a secret and intimate feeling; out of her he got none. In this house of his there was writing on every wall. His business-like temperament protested against a mysterious warning that she was not made for him. He had married this woman, conquered her, made her his own, and it seemed to him contrary to the most fundamental of all laws, the law of possession, that he could do no more than own her body - if indeed he could do that, which he was beginning to doubt. If any one had asked him if he wanted to own her soul, the question would have seemed to him both ridiculous and sentimental. But he did so want, and the writing said he never would.
I'll get to Irene later.
I bit off more than I could chew this month and thought I might not be able to get to a Galsworthy. I'm glad I was able to fit in this one because I'm really enjoying the series. I think this is about as far as I got the first time I read the Forsytes many years ago. I'm eager to continue.
Currently reading the introduction.
And first, in the security bred of many harmless marriages, it had been forgotten that Love is no hot-house flower, but a wild plant, born of a wet night, born of an hour of sunshine; sprung from wild seed, blown along the road by a wild wind. A wild plant that, when it blooms by chance within the hedge of our gardens, we call a flower; and when it blooms outside we call a weed; but, flower or weed, whose scent and colour are always, wild! And further - the facts and figures of their own lives being against the perception of this truth - it was not generally recognized by Forsytes that, where, this wild plant springs, men and women are but moths around the pale, flame-like blossom.
To shut up a lion or tiger in confinement was surely a horrible barbarity. But no cultivated person would admit this. The idea of its being barbarous to confine wild animals had probably never even occurred to his father for instance; he belonged to the old school, who considered it at once humanizing and educational to confine baboons and panthers, holding the view, no doubt, that in course of time they might induce these creatures not so unreasonably to die of misery and heart-sickness against the bars of their cages, and put the society to the expense of getting others! In his eyes, as in the eyes of all the Forstyes, the pleasure of seeing these beautiful creatures in a state of captivity far outweighed the inconvenience of imprisonment to beast whom God had so improvidently placed in a state of freedom!
Going to read a couple of others things then get back to the next book next month.
Slumber had removed his doubts, but the morning brought them again. One thought comforted him: No one would know - it was not the sort of thing that she would speak about.
And indeed, when the vehicle of his daily business life, which needed so imperatively the grease of clear and practical thought, started rolling once more with the reading of his letters, those nightmare like doubts began to assume less extravagant importance at the back of his mind. The incident was really not of great moment; women made a fuss about it in books; but in the cool judgement of right-thinking men, of men of the world, of such as he recollected often received praise in Divorce Court, he had but done his best to sustain the sanctity of marriage, to prevent her from abandoning her duty, possibly, if she were still seeing Bosinney, from...
No, he did not regret it.
Now that the first step towards reconciliation had been taken, the rest would be comparatively - comparatively...
Soames had my complete sympathy up until then.
Struck me that June had a lucky escape too, but I thought her too young to realise it. She was, it seemed to me, quite prepared to buy Bosinney, thus repeating Irene's mistake. June may be temporarily unhappy, but that seems to be better than comfortable but unhappy in the long term.
Unfortunately that old series was never re-run because it was done in black and white, already outdated at the time. I only saw a few clips of the more recent series and detested Soames.
What strikes me about Irene being unlikable is that she is so narrowly written. I think if we had been given a better glimpse inside her head, we might have more sympathy for her. I don't know. Most of the men are written as complex or you at least get a better understanding of them than the women. Even if they are jerks like Dartie you are privy to some inner thoughts. The women, not so much. It's very superficial. June is the only woman written as more than two-dimensional and even so, I would have loved Galsworthy to delve deeper.
Ah well, the first book is indeed better than the most recent series. I'll continue to post thoughts as I read further.
Swan Song by John Galsworthy
Written in 1928, this is the sixth book of the Forsyte Chronicles, the third, and probably the best, of A Modern Comedy trilogy. An appealing feature of this series is that Soames often remembers the old family members so that they are not forgotten, their influence, if not their presence, is still part of the story. Experiencing the passage of time has always been one of the most captivating parts of the saga. Now in 1926 the General Strike has almost brought the country to a standstill. This gives Fleur, one of the generation known as the Bright Young Things, a chance to shine in a new capacity by running a canteen for volunteer workers. This is where she spots Jon and the old yearnings are reborn in her. Jon proves to be weak as water and I have no sympathy for him. We have always known that Fleur is spoiled but she shows her true colours in this one with devastating results. Of course, Soames knows his daughter well and although he tries hard, he is helpless to change the course of events. The dramatic ending was very moving.
On to In Chancery. I have ~ 6 hours on a train over the next 2 days (in this heat, I must be mad) so I should make some good progress.
Maid in Waiting by John Galsworthy
In this, the first book of the trilogy End of the Chapter, the main characters are members of Fleur's husband, Michael Mont’s’s family. Initially I found the writing style less polished than the books that went before, and thought it might have been an early piece reworked. However, when I started to read Simonson's The Summer Before the War alongside, it proved that less than perfect writing by Galsworthy is still a cut above. So, although the beginning was less engaging than some of the previous books in the Forsyte Chronicles, its merit held up when compared to the contemporary work.
There are repercussions following an expedition when Hubert Cherrell, Mont’s cousin, killed a Bolivian muleteer in a violent altercation. His sister Dinny tries to solve his predicament through negotiations and receives a couple of marriage proposals along the way. The other storyline was about the mental health issues of the husband of a family friend. Galsworthy’s characters are vivid, he is insightful about his era and brings it to life. While not up to the high drama of the Forsytes, this is well worth reading.
I was also surprised about Old Jolyon's warming up; I didn't quite know what to make of Young Jolyon's wife's crying about that.
I'll try to make some more progress with the saga over the next month.
This is the second book in End of the Chapter, the final trilogy of the Forsyte Chronicles. The story centres on Dinny Cherrell and her engagement to Wilfred Desert who was once Fleur's admirer. Demonstrating how the social order has changed, Dinny is a strong woman, self-assertive and determined, unlike the simpering Irene. She is one of my favourite characters of the entire saga.
This one finished with a cliffhanger of sorts making me want to start the remaining volume right away.
I've been reading one per month this year and now will be sorry to say goodbye to the Forsytes and their extended family. Galsworthy continues the story that involves divorce laws as they were in the 1930s. Different, but not much, from those that Soames and Irene experienced in the 1890s. An excellent ending to the series.
Not much of a review, I know, but I'm still recovering from that hospital stay last week.
I started back on the Forsyte Saga. I'm currently reading In Chancery. Those Forsytes and their possessions! That Nicholas Forsyte, "He had of course, never really forgiven the Married Woman's Property Act, which would so have interfered with him if he had not married before it was passed."
Glad you have gone back to the Forsytes. Galsworthy gave us a good portrayal of social conditions of the times, especially as they affected women. But as Nicholas (and others) made clear, old ideas are hard to relinquish. I was glad Soames softened although he was always the typical Victorian.
Finished Part II and only about 20 pages left of Part III. Found this quote to be pretty depressing towards the end of Part II, when Dartie came back to Winifred:
As a family they had so guarded themselves from the expression of all unfashionable emotion that it was impossible to go up and give her daughter a good hug.
Just wrapped up The Forsyte Saga. Very well done and overall I really liked it. I must admit that in parts of In Chancery and To Let I skipped ahead to see what was going to happen - but then I went back and read every bit that I skipped. I'm not sure what that says about me, but I just felt more comfortable knowing the ending and was able to then leisurely enjoy the descriptive writing. I don't do that with every book, but felt the need here.
Lots of unlovable characters. My vote for the worst still goes to Irene -
I'm not quite ready to continue with more of The Forsyte Chronicles, but it's on the list now!
I plan to continue but not anytime soon. Feel free to star the thread and report back when you've read.
I also am disappointed that she jumped right into marriage with Michael Mont. Very unfair to him.
I look forward to continuing with the rest of the Forsyte Chronicles. I'm going to dip in and out of them after I finish up The Palliser novels by Anthony Trollope.
I will post here as I continue on with the rest of the books. I hope Lisa and others join and do the same. Thank you Vivienne for posting about the other books! I wasn't really interested in them, until I started the Saga and realized what an exceptional writer Galsworthy is. Your thoughts on the other novels have interested me in wanting to continue.
Thank you to all who participated in our year long read.
Indeed! I think that is what makes this series so special. How boring if everyone loved or hated this book. It does get different reactions and I think that is why it is one of the reasons it is included in the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. That and the gorgeous writing of course.