Published a couple of years after the Interlude, Indian Summer of a Forsyte – which I read straight after A Man of Property – In Chancery opens in 1899 and is set against a back drop of the still new married woman’s property act the Boer War and the death of Queen Victoria. The title refers to the Court of Chancery – where matters such as divorce were settled. This second novel is every bit as readable as the first, and Galsworthy’s characters remain deftly explored. In this novel Galsworthy concerns himself mainly with the realities for all sides of marital disharmony, the difficulties that existed in getting a divorce and the horror of upper-middle class families over the resulting taint of scandal.
It is twelve years since Irene Forsyte left her husband Soames; she now lives alone under her maiden name of Heron on the money left to her by Old Jolyon’s bequest. Soames is still bitter about the end of his marriage, having not divorced Irene at the time, he finds himself in the unsatisfactory position of being still legally married, without the necessary evidence to end it – and without the wife he still desires to possess.
With his own marital situation a constant grief to Soames, he is keen to help his sister Winifred when her husband – who had been a source of anxiety to the Forstyes for some years – steals her pearls and takes off for Buenos Aries with a dancer. Consulted as brother and lawyer Soames along with his ageing father James are eager to get Montague Dartie out of their lives – despite the scandal it will undoubtedly cause – and recommend divorce. Soames begins to rather wish he had done the same years earlier.
“How many hundred times he had walked past those trees from his father’s house in Park Lane, when he was quite a young man; or from his own house in Montpellier Square in those four years of married life! And tonight, making up his mind to free himself if he could of that long useless marriage tie, he took a fancy to walk on, in at Hyde park Corner, out at Knightsbridge Gate, just as he used to when going home to Irene in the old days. What could she be like now? – How had she passed the years since he last saw her, twelve years in all, seven already since Uncle Jolyon left her that money!”
Jolyon Forsyte (the son of Old Jolyon) still lives at Robin Hill, the house originally built for Soames and Irene. Jolyon is now a widower, his children Jolly and Holly rather more grown up than when we last saw them, Jolly is about to go up to Oxford. Jolyon’s eldest daughter by his first marriage – June – lives alone in London, known for taking on some responsibility for her various “lame ducks” of the art world – she would rather like her father to buy her a gallery so she can help her latest protégé further. Despite being related, Jolyon’s family has had nothing to do with the rest of the Forsyte family since they came to Robin Hill, until an unexpected visit by Soames. Val Dartie, Winifred’s son is due to go to Oxford at the same time as young Jolly, but when the two meet, they take against one another, although Val Dartie is almost immediately smitten with Holly, much to her brother’s disgust. With the Boer War underway, and reports coming back of casualties and losses igniting feelings of patriotism in young men – Jolly Forsyte challenges Val Dartie to join up and accompany him to South Africa and join the British troops.
Reluctantly Soames visits Jolyon who has been acting as Irene’s trustee, to ask him to discover what Irene’s current situation really is – hoping to discover in her current life evidence for divorce. What the middle aged Soames wants above everything else is a son, and he has met a lovely young French woman, who he thinks would be willing to marry him if he were free. When Soames realises that in fact Irene has lived her life entirely alone, apparently still true to the memory of Bosinney the man she had fallen in love with which led to the end of her marriage – he begins to wonder if he can’t simply win his wife back. Irene’s feelings toward Soames have not changed, a fact she makes perfectly clear to him when he turns up unexpectedly at her flat. Irene, horrified at Soames’s suggestion, leaves London for Paris. Soames, obsessed again with the idea of possessing Irene, hires a firm of seedy investigators to follow Irene. It becomes rather ludicrous when Soames himself follows his wife to Paris and finds himself featured in the investigator’s report. Although, Soames is not the first to visit Irene in her exile.
“A little private hotel over a well-known restaurant near the Gare St Lazare was Jolyon’s haunt in Paris. He hated his fellow Forsytes abroad – vapid as fish out of water in their well-trodden runs: the opera, rue de Rivoli, and Moulin Rouge. Their air of having come because they wanted to be somewhere else as soon as possible annoyed him. But no other Forsytes came near his haunt, where he had a wood fire in his bedroom and the coffee was excellent. Paris was always more attractive in winter. The acrid savour from wood-smoke and chestnut-roasting braziers, the sharpness of the wintery sunshine on bright days, the open cafes defying keen-aired winter, the self-contained brisk boulevard crowds, all informed him that in winter Paris possessed a soul which, like a migrant bird, in high summer flew away.”
Back in London, Irene spends more and more time with Jolyon Forsyte, the two of them becoming unable to deny what is happening between them, they allow Soames to site their relationship in a divorce suit.
A divorce is finally obtained for Soames, although not for Winifred whose husband has returned unexpectedly to her. Time moves on, three marriages take place, two births soon follow, as do the deaths of two Forsytes.
Awakening, the interlude at the end of In Chancery is a delightful, slightly sentimental picture of the life of the eight year old Jon Forsyte a few years later at Robin Hill. His is a happy, charmed life, he loves and is loved by his older, indulgent parents, his half-sisters who are rather more like aunts, are mysterious beings who he rather likes. His every whim and caprice is catered for and smiled indulgently over.
I am not alone in reading the nine books of the Forsyte Saga Chronicles this year – and you can read Liz’s review of In Chancery here and Bridget’s experience of listening to it on Audio book, no doubt Karen’s thoughts will follow in due course.