The Forsyte Saga. (The Forsyte Chronicles #1-3). John Galsworthy. 1922. 872 pages. [Source: Bought]
First sentence: Those privileged to be present at a family festival of the
Forsytes have seen that charming and instructive sight--an upper
middle-class family in full plumage.
First impressions: I have had The Forsyte Saga on my to-read list for almost twenty years. I saw bits and pieces (at least) of the 2002/2003 adaptation. It made me curious to read the book...at some point....though I bought a physical copy of the book around that time. It had the actors on the cover.
This review will have varying degrees of spoilers throughout. But it's a classic. I don't *think* they are the kind of spoilers that would keep you from reading this one on your own if you want.
Premise/plot: This classic novel chronicles the adventures (and misadventures) of the Forsyte family. It spans three or so generations, give or take. Though chiefly--in all honesty--it really only covers two. But before I begin summarizing--or attempting to summarize--I should probably mention this is three novels published as an omnibus. The three novels are The Man of Property, In Chancery, To Let.
Long story short, Soames Forsyte is married to the beautiful but aloof Irene. The marriage is not a happy one. Tolstoy wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." From her perspective, she despises/hates her husband. It is like she cringes every single time they are in the same room. She finds herself cringing a lot. The idea of speaking with him, being intimate with him in any way--physical, mental, emotional--disgusts her. Not annoys, disgusts. From his perspective, his wife is mysteriously aloof. Perhaps because she is so aloof, he's always trying hard to change things. It's like he's a begging, pleading dog. Please love me, please love me, please love me, why don't you love me. I'm not sure it's her he loves--maybe it is--but he loves the idea of her. He finds her fascinating, mesmerizing, bewitching. It's like he loses all reason when he thinks of her. But he doesn't know her--not really, not as a person, a human being. From his perspective, she's being unreasonable and irrational. WHY does this WOMAN behave in such a way??? From her perspective, he's a monster. Here's the thing, she acts like he's a monster way, way, way, way before he starts doing monstrous things. Like, I get that he does do monstrous things--eventually. But it's like she decides after the honeymoon, NOPE, don't like him, never will. EWWWWW gross. Don't touch me ever again. I'll never open my heart or mind up to you ever. Don't even bother trying because I'm checked out.
So feeling 100% justified because she finds her husband ewww gross, Irene has an affair with a young architect, Philip Bosinney. An architect who happens to be ENGAGED to marry Soames' cousin, June Forsyte. Also keep in mind that Irene is supposedly good friends with June. But after these two meet one another, well, June and Soames don't stand a chance. (Not that Soames ever stood a chance. Seriously. Irene hates his guts.) But June, well, it's just a matter of time before the lusty affair destroys her chance for wedded bliss. To be fair, is he worth having if he dumps you after getting a good look at your friend???? But what kind of friend--a married friend at that--has an affair with her friend's fiance??? This affair is doomed...and, well, Philip Bosinney doesn't have a happily ever after with anyone...he ends up dead.
Now, it will be pointed out that when Soames finds out about this humiliation, this affair, this transgression against him and their marriage, well, let's just say that he does act monstrous. There's no justification for his violent "passion." It would make sense if her hatred of Soames started AFTER this assault. But she hated him years before.
So the two separate--but do not divorce.
Fast forward a decade. Soames wants an heir. He has a spare woman he could marry if he wants to divorce Irene. But if there's a chance that a decade of not seeing him might have dulled her animosity towards him, well, he's willing to extend the hand of friendship. Nope. Still hates him. Perhaps even more now that he's come crawling back asking to see if she'll take him back. Irene takes comfort in another Forsyte--a cousin named Jolyon. These two marry and have a son, Jon. Meanwhile, Soames remarries, a younger woman. They have a daughter, Fleur. Fast forward twenty years this time...and Fleur and Jon meet. Fleur becomes fascinated and mesmerized by Jon. And he's besotted as well.
Will Fleur and Jon marry??? Or will their families put a great big stop to this relationship.
My thoughts: I have thoughts and opinions on this one. I don't think I'm the average reader. I think the reader is supposed to sympathize with Irene. Poor, poor Irene. It's not that I sympathize with Soames. I don't. Not really. It's just that I don't think Irene is justified in her affair. To be fair, I'm not saying she needed a scarlet "A" for her chest. But still, the book presents her as if she's an angelic saint, perfectly innocent and pure and just an absolute darling. Soames, well, he's a fool undoubtedly. There are so many things that go right over his head--like the meaning of life. If there is something positive to say about him, however, he is a constant presence in his daughter's life. He loves, loves, loves, loves her. Like undoubtedly he loves her. To be fair, he might be a little too indulgent by not disciplining her. Her character, well, let's just say she's narcissistic, manipulative, a taker. What she wants, she WANTS. She reminds me a bit of Scarlett O'Hara actually.
I think my favorite characters were Jon (Jolyon III), June (in the few scenes we get), Holly (in the few scenes we get). Now that I think about it, all three of my favorite characters are half-siblings.
I don't regret my time reading this one. But this was not a novel where I found myself liking the characters. I kept reading because a) I wanted to know what happened next (would these two end up together???) b) I am STUBBORN if nothing else.
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!
"Love has no age, no limit, and no death."
Marriage without a decent chance of relief is only a sort of slave-owning; people oughtn't to own each other. Everybody sees that now.
"You may think you're very old," he said; "but you strike me as extremely young. To rattle ahead of everything is not a proof of maturity."
"Don't be angry, Jon dear. We can't all see people in the same light, can we? You know, I believe each of us only has about one or two people who can see the best that's in us, and bring it out. For you I think it's your mother. I once saw her looking at a letter of yours; it was wonderful to see her face. I think she's the most beautiful woman I ever saw—Age doesn't seem to touch her."
Monstrous trick, that Fate had played him! Nemesis! That old unhappy marriage! And in God's name-why? How was he to know, when he wanted Irene so violently, and she consented to be his, that she would never love him? Fleur smiled bitterly. "Tell me, didn't she spoil your life too?" June looked up. "Nobody can spoil a life, my dear. That's nonsense. Things happen, but we bob up."
© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews