The Forsyte Saga: Novel by John Galsworthy - Summary

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      John Galsworthy's most outstanding work is The Forsyte Saga which was published in an omnibus volume in 1922. This Saga is divided into two trilogies. In the first trilogy is included The Man of Property (1906), In Chancery (1920) and To Let (1921). It was followed by a second trilogy of the Forsyte chronicles and contained three novels - The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1926) and Swan-Song (1928). These last three novels were published together in one volume called A Modern Comedy.

      It traces the fortunes of three generations of the Forsyte family, beginning in the prosperous upper middle class of Victorian London during the 1880s and ending in the early 1920s. Soames Forsyte, a successful solicitor, buys land at Robin Hill on which to build a house for his wife Irene and future family Irene falls in love with its architect, Bosinney Soames vindictively sues the latter for exceeding the estimates and Irene deserts him to live with her lover. Bosinney is run over and killed, and Irene is forced to return to her husband. The second novel, In Chancery, follows her love affair with Soames’s cousin, Jolyon. She divorces her husband and they marry. Soames himself marries Annette Lamotte, who gives birth to a daughter, Fleur. Irene and Jolyon produce a son, Jon.

      In this big novel consisting of nearly ten volumes Galsworthy presents a vivid and clear picture of the Victorian society particularly of the upper middle classes - the Forsytes and their love of property, social dignity, parental authority, materialism, and above all their love for possession. Soames considered his wife Irene as his property. Irene symbolises beauty and art and falls in love with Philip Bosinney, the architect. Soames sues Philip for breach of contract. Soames wins the suit, Philip is killed in a traffic accident and Irene leaves Soames. Seeking divorce from Irene, Soames forces her and young Jolyon together. After a divorce scandal, Irene and young Jolyon marry to have a son Jon, and Soames secures an heir, Fleur through a second wife.

John Galsworthy's most outstanding work is The Forsyte Saga
The Forsyte Saga

      To Let describes how Jon and Fleur, now both 19 years old fall in love. However, when Jolyon informs his son of the past feud the latter finally decides that he cannot marry Fleur. Instead, he travels to America. Fleur now throws herself at a long-standing admirer, Michael Mont, a fashionable baronet's son, and the two are married. After Jolyon's death, Irene joins Jon in America. Soames learns that Annette has been unfaithful to him and is left desolately contemplating the sale of Robin Hill. The Forsyte family begins to disintegrate when Timothy Forsyte, the last of the old generation dies at the age of 100.

      Galsworthy himself states his theme as the disturbance of beauty in the lives of men, but this is true only of the first volume (The Man of Property). Pervasive is the condemnation of the upper middle class for its narrow mind and for its consuming passion for wealth. For Forsytes what cannot be bought does not exist; art and the things of the spirit are objects to be collected, but not for their own sake, rather as manifestations of their success in life. But this world of the Forsytes is not able to live for long. Impact of the resurgent forces of the new age brings a disturbing influence in the world of old values tenaciously upheld by the Forsytes, and in the second trilogy we find the earth slipping away from underneath their world. The powers of beauty and art are recognised by the descendants of the Forsytes. Old Soames himself, legal ownership personified dies a martyr to the beauty created by Carot, Manet and Gauguin.

      Galsworthy's handling of the novel is the flower of the central traditional manner. He aimed at a well-proportioned combination of story and characterisation; gave his main characters a background both of minor characters and physical setting and atmosphere and he kept himself as unobtrusive as possible. Thus their reader becomes the privileged onlooker at a scene so varied and natural as to give the illusion of the fullness of life within the broad limit of Forsyte society.

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