Some of you may remember that when I finished my last Forsyte read, I was devastated to learn that there was an interlude or two missing from my Penguin edition of A Modern Comedy Vol 2 of the three volume set I bought specially. So I naturally turned to my kindle – the complete Forsyte Saga Chronicles – all nine books and interludes are available very cheaply on kindle – so I am afraid I jumped ship, my paperback editions sadly abandoned. My latest Forsyte fix saw me begin with the interlude ‘A Silent wooing,’ which is very short and prepares the way nicely for the main fifth novel The Silver Spoon which I loved so much I immediately went right on to the next interlude ‘Passers by’. Goodness me, I gobbled them up, these books are so compelling, I am now thoroughly caught up with these characters. Like a literary soap opera (which is what it is I suppose) I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
In that first Interlude ‘A Silent Wooing’, we meet Jon Forsyte again, living in America with his mother, he is befriended by Francis Wilmot – and through him meets his sister Anne. Jon falls in love with Anne, their future seems sure to be as happy as Jon’s father’s marriage to Irene was.
As The Silver Spoon begins, Francis Wilmot turns up at Fleur and Michael Mont’s fashionable London house, bringing with him news of Jon and his sister. Fleur enjoys the society of all sorts of fashionable, interesting people at her carefully decorated home. A new dog has taken the place of the adored little Pekinese and the décor is no longer Chinese in inspiration. Fleur and Michael’s son, Kit, often affectionately known as the eleventh Baronet is a happy little chap, the apple of everyone’s eye.
Michael has left the world of publishing since we last saw him and entered the world of politics. While trying to decide what his politics actually are, Michael hits upon Foggartism – a bizarre policy which focuses on fixing the country through the eradication of unemployment by sending young people to the colonies to work. Foggartism is in danger of making Michael into a laughing stock, but he sticks to his adopted principles, introducing a small scheme for a group of unemployed people on his father’s estate. Michael finds himself talking to Soames more and more as he tries to make sense of his concerns for the country and the possible divisions between him and his young wife.
“When you’ve lived a little longer,” he said, “you’ll know that there’s always something to fuss about if you like to fuss. There’s nothing in it really; the pound’s going up. Besides, it doesn’t matter what you tell Fleur, so long as you tell her something.”
“She’s intelligent, sir,” said Michael. Soames was taken aback. He could not deny the fact, and answered: “Well, national affairs are too remote; you can’t expect a woman to be interested in them.”
“Quite a lot of women are.”
“No, sir; they nearly all wear ‘nude.'”
“H’m! Those! As to interest in national affairs — put a tax on stockings, and see what happens!”
Michael grinned. “I’ll suggest it, sir.”
At one of Fleur’s social evenings attended by Soames and Francis Wilmot among others, Soames overhears another young social butterfly Marjorie Ferrar gossiping spitefully about Fleur whilst enjoying her hospitality. Marjorie calls Fleur a snob – accusing her of not having either the wit or personality to create the social salon she craves. Soames is incensed, calling Marjorie a traitress and insisting she leaves. The scene is set for a heck of a row – it seems these things matter to certain sections of society in 1924. Francis Wilmot is a witness to the name calling, but chooses to side with the red headed beauty who has already turned his head. Unbelievably the resulting row rumbles on for months – ending in a libel case. In the story of what must now seem like pretty tame tit for tat – Galsworthy explores the changing attitudes of the upper echelons of English society of the mid 1920’s – questions of morality are raised and explored alongside the stuffy old ideas and expectations of a previous generation.
Marjorie, the impoverished daughter of an aristocratic family is charmed by a love sick Francis, but the American has little to offer her, Marjorie needs to either inherit or marry lots of money, and there is certainly no money about to land in her lap. Sir Alexander MacGowan, wealthy MP is very keen to marry her, and Marjorie sees little option but to agree, although she doesn’t love him. Before Marjorie is finally married however, the libel case is set to intrude, a case which Soames has worked hard to ensure Fleur wins, but which has unexpected consequences for both sides.
“Left alone with the Fred Walker still unhung, Soames gazed at his pictures. He saw them with an added clarity, a more penetrating glance, a sort of ache in his heart, as if — Well! A good lot they were, better than he had thought, of late! SHE had gone in for collecting people! And now she’d lost her collection! Poor little thing! All nonsense, of course — as if there were any satisfaction in people!”
Following the libel case, Fleur decides she must go travelling, and as Michael is unable to leave until the Parliamentary recess, Soames accompanies his daughter abroad, where Michael will join them in a few months.
Passers by – the interlude before the next full length novel sees Fleur, Michael and Soames coming to the end of an American sojourn. While in Washington, Soames becomes aware of certain key figures from their past staying at the same hotel, and the poor man goes to extraordinary lengths to keep everyone apart.
It is interesting how in these Modern Comedy novels – Soames is a much more sympathetic character than he was in A Man of Property, In Chancery and To Let, in those original Forsyte novels I hated him, (brilliant though he was to read about). As we leave Soames in his Washington hotel, he is about seventy, feeling the years, and yet aware of how much younger he is, than his father and uncles were at the end of their lives, and of how much he might still have to live for. I wonder if this change in Soames, his apparent mellowing reflects Galsworthy’s changing feelings for his character, he had lived with Soames for many years by this time.
Liz has now reviewed The Silver Spoon here, and Bridget will review it soon I will link to her and Karen’s reviews when they are up. I think I am a little ahead for once.