Over the River is the very last book in the Forsyte Saga Chronicles – I feel sad now to have them finished – none to look forward to. My favourites were definitely the early books – but I really did love them all. Chosen as a kind of mini reading project – the nine individual novels and associated interludes fitted nicely into a year of reading. I started reading the novels in my three volume penguin set – but the print size irritated me – and I eventually abandoned my paperbacks in favour of my kindle version – which had the added advantage of containing the one interlude missing from my paperbacks.
Over the River picks up the story about a year and a half on from the events in Flowering Wilderness. Dinny, the daughter of the Charwell/Cherrell family who was left so terribly broken hearted at the end of the previous novel has been living quietly with her family at their country home, never speaking of her lost love, though he remains in her mind.
Dinny’s sister Clare had married Sir Jerry Corven during the course of Flowering Wilderness, a man considerably older and about whom Dinny had nursed private reservations. Upon her marriage Claire had accompanied her husband to Ceylon – where she discovered her husband’s tastes run more toward the sadistic than the loving. Clare returns to England behind his back, and on the ship meets a young man Tony Croom – with whom she begins to spend a good deal of time. Although their relationship continues platonically upon their arrival in England – Tony makes it clear that he has fallen in love with Clare; although Clare makes it clear she doesn’t feel the same.
“She entered her Aunt’s house with all her passionate loyalty to her own breed roused, yet understanding better what had made Clare take Jerry Corven for husband. There WAS mesmerism about him, and a clear shameless daring which had its fascination. One could see what a power he might be among native peoples, how ruthlessly, yet smoothly, he would have his way with them; and how he might lay a spell over his associates. She could see, too, how difficult he might be to refuse physically, until he had outraged all personal pride.”
Clare’s precarious position – even at a time when divorce is a little more accepted – ensure her family speculate worriedly about her future, especially when she refuses to speak about exactly what went on between her and Jerry. It seems everyone has an opinion, some believe Clare would be best to return to her husband, shuddering at the unpleasantness which would result from a public divorce case. Clare does confide in Dinny – who is a fantastic support to her troubled sister.
The Monts; Michael and Fleur and Sir Lawrence and his wife Emily, quickly become involved as Clare stays with her aunt and uncle for a short time after her return to England. Dinny is a favourite with her aunt and uncle and appreciates their help and advice. Their home is a place she is always welcome.
“At all critical times Dinny felt more at home in Mount Street than she did at Condaford. Sir Lawrence’s mind was so much more lively than her father’s; Aunt Em’s inconsequence at once more bracing and more soothing than her mother’s quiet and sensible sympathy. When a crisis was over, or if it had not begun, Condaford was perfect, but it was too quiet for nerve storms or crucial action.”
Of course trouble soon starts when Jerry – arrives in England to try and entice his wife back to Ceylon with him. Furious that she had sneaked off behind his back, he is in no mood to be conciliatory. It isn’t long before Jerry learns of Clare’s friendship with Tony Croom – and naturally isn’t best pleased.
With Dinny’s help, Clare secures a job with Dornford a rising politician who has his own romantic eye set on Dinny. With her new rooms, a job and her friendship with Tony, Clare is making an effort to get on with her life – although she does rather dangle the carrot in poor Tony’s face. Tony, though shows himself to be endlessly patient and an all-round good egg. When Jerry has to head back to Ceylon without his wife he arranges for an enquiry agent to watch her. Evidence is gathered – evidence which manages to make wholly innocent proceedings appear particularly grubby.
Petitions are served, Tony is cited as co-respondent – and the divorce case which Clare and Dinny’s parents feared is begun. Clare’s solicitor is ‘very young’ Roger Forsyte – lovely to have another Forsyte pop up in the final instalment. In the midst of all this Dinny is still nursing a deep sadness, she has a decision to make regarding her future, Dornford is a good man – and she so wants to be a mother. Haunted by dreams of a river she is unable to cross – Dinny is struggling to let go of Wilfred who she loved and who left her.
Galsworthy always does write a court case rather well; I found Over the River to very hard to put down, each of these books has been very compelling, superb stories, great characters endlessly readable. As I think I have said before – one of my favourite characters from theses final three novels has been Sir Lawrence Mont’s wife Aunt Em – she’s simply hilarious – lovably vague this particular conversation endearingly bonkers.
“Dinny was ‘seeing to’ Aunt Em. It was no mean process. With ordinary people one had question and answer and the thing was over. But with Lady Mont words were not consecutive like that. She stood with a verbena sachet in her hand, sniffing, while Dinny unpacked for her. “This is delicious, Dinny. Clare looks rather yellow. It isn’t a baby, is it?”
“Pity! When we were in Ceylon everyone was havin’ babies. The baby elephants — so enticin’! In this room — we always played a game of feedin’ the Catholic priest with a basket from the roof. Your father used to be on the roof, and I was the priest. There was never anythin’ worth eatin’ in the basket. Your Aunt Wilmet was stationed in a tree to call ‘Cooee’ in case of Protestants.”
“‘Cooee’ was a bit premature, Aunt Em. Australia wasn’t discovered under Elizabeth.”
So my Forsyte reading is finally at an end – and as I finished this wonderful series I rather wished I had it to read all over again – and so I feel sure I will read it again one day. It will be like re-visiting old friends; Old Jolyon, young Jolyon, Soames, Irene, Fleur and Dinny – in the meantime I envy those of you who may have it still to read.
Last year was all about Dance to the Music of Time, this year Galsworthy, next year I suspect will be at least partly about Virginia Woolf – I do like a challenge to immerse myself in all year. Liz has been reading along with me and you can read her thoughts on the final book here.