Sitting down to write reviews of these Galsworthy books is always hard. I have to remember that many – possibly most – people reading this review (assuming anyone bothers) won’t be that familiar with the previous novels. As a reader these books have been a great joy for me this year – Flowering Wilderness the eighth of the nine total Forsyte Chronicles. However as a blogger, I wonder how relevant these reviews are for other people. Oh well, apologies to those of who don’t know what I’m talking about.
Incidentally, though – if any of you are looking for an achievable reading challenge for next year – these nine books and connected interludes are perfect for a yearlong challenge.
Flowering Wilderness is the second book in the third volume titled The End of Chapter. This novel continues the story of the Cherrell/Charwell family who are related by marriage to Fleur Mont (nee Forsyte, daughter of Galsworthy’s great creation Soames Forsyte). As the novel opens three figures each stand and contemplate a statue – they start out as strangers – yet they are in actual fact loosely connected.
“In 1930, shortly after the appearance of the Budget, the eighth wonder of the world might have been observed in the neighbourhood of Victoria Station — three English people, of wholly different type, engaged in contemplating simultaneously a London statue. They had come separately, and stood a little apart from each other in the south-west corner of the open space clear of the trees, where the drifting late afternoon light of spring was not in their eyes. One of these three was a young woman of about twenty-six, one a youngish man of perhaps thirty-four, and one a man of between fifty and sixty.”
Dinny who we first met in Maid in Waiting, the daughter of General Conway Cherrell meets Wilfred Dessert – who we last encountered in The White Monkey. Then, early into the marriage of Fleur and Michael, Wilfred had developed a rather hopeless passion for his best friend’s wife. Following that Wilfred had taken himself out of England, and for several years has been travelling in the East. Now he is back in England, and he meets Dinny, who remembers him from Fleur’s wedding, despite having been only sixteen at the time. Ten years on the impression Wilfred created then, remains, and Dinny quickly falls in love with Wilfred and Wilfred is equally smitten. Wilfred tells Dinny of a difficult situation he got into while abroad. A tale she must then impart to her family. Wilfred – a man with absolutely no faith himself – he sees organised religion as being rather ridiculous – converted to Islam – while under great threat to his life. Here Galsworthy does what he does best; that is to show how British people of a certain class can make a whole lot of fuss about not very much.
Wilfred is a poet, and has written a poem about his experiences, this poem is the title poem and the first one to be included in a new collection due to be published. Naturally the story of Wilfred’s conversion is soon known by all – and despite his explanations – it is considered a dreadful, shameful thing. Strangely it would appear that the world would forgive him (as pass him off as a mere eccentric) if his conversion had been a matter of conscience. However as it was at a pistol point – he is considered a coward – his actions contrary to the behaviour expected of an Englishman abroad.
Dinny is fabulously and valiantly supportive, and is desperate to lessen the scandal that is being unleashed around her and Wilfred. She enlists the help of her beloved uncles, Lawrence and Adrian in particular work hard to find a solution, while struggling themselves a little with the knowledge of what Wilfred did. Everyone in the family has an opinion, most generally seeming to believe that Wilfred’s actions will be, once known, a terrible shame – and will only end by dragging Dinny down. Fleur is rather more sensible, but she does appear to be a small lone voice crying out for good sense to be resumed as the madness around Dinny and Wilfred gathers pace.
“Fleur smiled. “True to type. Would it surprise you, as they say in the courts, if I told you that there isn’t one in twenty people about town who’d do otherwise than yawn if you asked them to condemn Wilfrid for what he did? And there isn’t one in forty who won’t forget all about it in a fortnight.”
“I don’t believe you,” said Jean flatly.
“You don’t know modern Society, my dear.””
It is of course poor Dinny who is shown to suffer most in the resulting fuss, she is aided by Wilfred’s faithful old family retainer Stack the two of them desperate to reach out to the young man made miserable by the furore. Wilfred is a complex, damaged young man, of that generation particularly harmed, changed and embittered by the Great War. The reader does fear for the happiness of these two – indeed their story is a rather emotionally compelling one. Although as time went on, I sympathised more with Dinny and could happily have throttled Wilfred despite his utter misery.
How time does fly – and here we are at the end of November and I have only one of these Forsyte books left to read. I am very much looking forward to seeing where Galsworthy takes me and his characters next.