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.