Bye-bye, Poldark! & Reading The Forsyte Saga

Bye-bye, Poldark!

Bye-bye, Poldark!

I turned off the TV after 20 minutes of Poldark. Sorry, I am done. I didn’t even watch Aidan Turner take off his shirt.  (Hubba hubba?  Somehow not very Poldarkian.)  Debbie Horsfield’s adaptation has turned Winston Graham’s intelligent novels into a bodice-ripper historical romance.  The dialogue is flat, the scenes are abbreviated, and there is too much brooding on cliffs.

Anyway, on to John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, which I am rereading And, by the way, if you like PBS, both the 1967 TV series and the 2002 series are excellent.

forsyte-saga-john-galsworthy-paperback-cover-artThis year two bloggers, Karen of Kaggsysbookishramblings and Ali of Heavenali, are readingThe Forsyte Saga, which consists of nine novels in three trilogies, The Forsyte Saga, A Modern Comedy, and The End of the Chapter.

I rarely participate in readalongs, because I have my own books to read.

But I love The Forsyte Saga!


The first trilogy is in print in the U.S. in editions by Oxford and Wordsworth, but the other two trilogies are not.  (Sometimes the e-book versions do have all nine novels, but check the table of contents before you buy.)  Headline Book Publishing has reissued all nine books in separate paperback editions (also available as e-books).  So if you don’t want used books, that is the way to go with the last six.

Fortunately, I still have my old Literary Guild book club editions.

I just finished the third novel, To Let.

I have this set, only with the third trilogy included, The End of the Chapter.

I have this set, with the The End of the Chapter included.

To Let is fascinating and tragic. The Nobel Prize-winning Galsworthy’s style is solid, straightforward and fast-paced, and he is a master of plot and characterization. This is a story of a doomed love affair, that relfects the events of the first two books.  Our new heroine, Fleur Forsyte, Soames’s daughter, falls in love with Jon Forsyte, the son of Irene (Soames’ ex-wife) and Jolyon (Soames’ cousin).  Fleur is determined to overcome parental objections, but does not understand the past.  Neither Fleur nor Jon has been  about Soames’ and Irene’s previous marriage.  The scandal of divorce was too nightmarish.

Forsyte Saga Penguin NewAnd it is a sad story.  Many years ago, Irene was pushed into the marriage with Soames, an older man who loved her beauty (art was property to him). She was poor and in despair.  She was sexually repulsed by him during their marriage  She falls in love with an architect (and Soames rapes her).  Soames’ determination to possess Irene drives her away.  Jolyon, an artist, protects her from his private detectives, and they fall in love.

Jon’s half-sister, June, who owns an art gallery, tries to intercede on behalf of Fleur and Jon.  She thinks her father and Irene are being old-fashioned.

Jolyon says,

Neither I nor Jon, if I know him, would mind a love-past.  It’s the brutality of a union without love.  This girl is the daughter of the man who once owned Jon’s mother as a negro-slave was owned.  You can’t lay that ghost; don’t try to, June!  It’s asking us to see Jon joined to the flesh and blood of the man who possessed Jon’s mother against her will.


Jon wants to be a farmer:  he does not think about money, though his father has plenty of it.  And he does not think of Fleur in terms of a possession.  He loves her passionately.  Fleur, however, schemes to get him, even after her mother’s lover tells her about Soames and Irene.  She feels sick about it, but doesn’t quite understand, and tries to hide it from Jon.

It ends tragically.

I had a big bike ride planned today, and  since I didn’t want to bring my huge book in my pannier, I wasted time trying to find a free edition of the fourhthe  novel, The White Monkey, and when that failed, the second trilogy, A Modern Comedy. for the e-reader.

I went to Project Gutenberg,, and Internet Archive. The Forsyte Saga was free:  why not the rest?

Because it was published after 1922!

So I can spend $1.99, which I admit is nothing, for an e-book that has all nine novels.

But I decided to read something else on the bike trip and have a $1.99  ice cream instead.

I am looking forward to The White Monkey!

Galsworthy’s The Man of Property (The Forsyte Saga, Volume 1)

Forsyte Saga Penguin NewKaren at Kaggsysbookishramblings has embarked on a year-long reading of Nobel Prize winner John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga with Heavenali and some other bloggers.

I very much approve, because I am a Galsworthy fanatic.  And so I am “reposting” my thoughts about The Man of Property from my old blog in 2012.

John Galsworthy’s work has pretty much died out except for The Forsyte Saga, a series of three trilogies, The Forsyte Saga, A Modern Comedy, and The End of the Chapter.  There was a wonderful BBC series of The Forsyte Saga in the late ’60s, and another very good Granada series in 2002.

John-Galsworthy-The-Man-of-Property-The-Forsyte-Chronicles-1_1Each time I read The Man of Property, I consider it from different points of view.

Galsworthy’s Forsytes are an upper-middle-class family who are smug about their success as lawyers, real estate agents, and merchants.  They do what is expected of them–they eat mutton for dinner, chat about their money, and don’t get divorced.

Galsworthy writes,

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.  But whosoever of these favoured persons has possessed the gift of psychological analysis (a talent without monetary value and properly ignored by the Forsytes), has witnessed a spectacle, not only delightful in itself, but illustrative of an obscure human problem.  In plainer words, he has gleaned from a gathering of this family–no branch of which had a liking for the other, between no three members of whom existed anything worthy of the name of sympathy–evidence of that mysterious concrete tenacity which renders a family so formidable a unit of society, so clear a reproduction of society in miniature.

At the center of The Man of Property is the triangle of Soames Forsyte, his wife Irene, and the architect Bosinney.  Soames is the quintessential Forsyte, a lawyer with a strong sense of property who collects art, and that includes his wife Irene.  She does not love him; she asked when they get married that he free her if it didn’t work out.  He pretends not to remember this. He believes she will eventually love him.  And after he hires Bosinney, the fiance of his cousin June, to design a house for him in the country, he pretends not to notice the growing friendship between Irene and Bosinney.
The scandal burgeons.  The other Forsytes notice.  But they keep the scandal in the family.  They will not admit that a marriage can fail.

Another Forsyte marriage has failed.  Young Jolyon, an artist, the son of Old Jolyon Forsyte, a tea merchant, left his wife and daughter June 15 years ago to live with the governess, and eventually married her.  The Forsytes have ostracized him for 15 years.  Old Jolyon has raised June.

After June’s engaggement to Bosinney, Old Jolyon makes peace with Young Jolyon.  And he rages against the Forsytes for keeping him and his son apart for 15 years.

I love Old Jolyon.

The first time I read this, I was completely bowled over by the relationship of Irene and Bosinney.  They deserved to be together, and the obstacles are tragic.

June Forsyte

June (June Barry) & Bosinney (John Bennett) in the Granads “Forsyte Saga.”

But as time goes on I think more of June, the young woman who helps “lame ducks,” and is drawn to Bosinney because of his talent and poverty.  June is so much in love with him that she tries to help him by suggesting at a dinner that the Forsytes hire him to build country houses. It backfires.

Then the engagement breaks off, without anyone’s saying anything definite, and much suffering on June’s part, after Bosinney falls in love with Irene. June is devastated, because Irene was her best friend.

One of the saddest things in the novel is when she sees Bosinney in the street and he doffs his hat without saying anything to her.

June flourishes in later Forsyte novels, but her life was partly wrecked by the wrecked romance.

She is a more interesting character than the beautiful, mysterious Irene, but perhaps only to women…  Galsworthy has his own point of view, and had an affair with his cousin’s wife, Ada; after her divorce, she and Galsworthy married and stayed together till his death.

eric porter as soames-in-overcoat

Eric Porter as Soames.

It is impossible to like Soames, but one feels sympathy for him.  He loves art and literature, but if it’s not worth money, he doesn’t know what to do with it. There is a missing link in him.

This is a very, very sad novel in many ways.

Love is hard, often heart-rending, and Galsworthy knows it.