Posts Tagged ‘The Forsyte Saga Chronicles’


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 riverOver 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?”
“No, dear.”
“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.

john galsworthy

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flowering wilderness

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.

theforsytesaga3Flowering 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.

john galsworthy

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maid in waiting

Maid in Waiting is the first novel in the third and final volume of the Forsyte Saga Chronicles, the seventh of the nine novels.

Following the quite climatic ending to the previous volume, we put the Forsytes to one side and concentrate instead on the Cherrell family, cousins of the Mont’s; the family Fleur Forsyte married into. Fleur and her husband Michael having now been married for about eight years, remain just peripheral characters in this novel.

Hubert Cherrell, son of Sir Conway Cherrell, on sick leave from the R.A.F, joined an expedition to Bolivia, where he got into a whole heap of trouble involving some Bolivian men who Hubert flogged for animal cruelty – one man was shot – and the expedition failed. Now Hubert has had his name linked to the failure of the expedition in the newspapers, by Hallorsen – the American who led the expedition and has had hard words to say about Hubert since. Soon it appears that Hubert may even have to face extradition to Bolivia to answer for the shooting, which Hubert claims was self-defence. Cue, lots of upper class white men saying rather unpleasant things about the trustworthiness of mere Bolivians – we know what to expect I suppose with things written at this time. There are moments however when this all gets a bit wearisome. I wondered however whether Galsworthy wasn’t deliberately highlighting the typical English, white upper class attitude here – and decided he possibly was – as ever he concerns himself with portraying various sections of society – certainly there is a prevalent arrogant attitude toward the non-English.

Hubert’s sister Dinny – one of the best characters in this novel – shows her unswerving support for her brother while at a country house party hosted by Sir Lawrence Mont and his wife –the glorious Lady Emily. Knowing that Lord Saxenden – with his influence in military matters – and Professor Hallosen are to be present Dinny contrives to join the party and go into bat for her beloved brother. Dinny also does a little match making for her brother – which is astoundingly successful. While in Bolivia, Hubert had kept a diary which Dinny reads in order to fully understand her brother’s experiences.

“And so on through a tale of struggle to the end. Dinny laid down the dim and yellowed record and leaned her elbow on the sill. The silence and the coldness of the light out there had chilled her spirit. She no longer felt in fighting mood. Hubert was right. Why show one’s naked soul, one’s sore finger, to the public? No! Better anything than that. Private strings — yes, they should be pulled; and she would pull them for all she was worth.”

Meanwhile one of Dinny’s uncles the rather lovely Adrian is in love with Diana, a woman whose husband is incarcerated voluntarily in a psychiatric hospital – she has spent four years alone with her children. During this time her friendship with Adrian has been entirely appropriate but it is obvious the two are very fond of each other.

“Of the old school in thought and manner, and trained to a coherent view of human history, Adrian accepted life with half-humorous fatalism. He was not of the reforming type, and the position of his lady love did not inspire him with a desire for the scalp of marriage. He wanted her to be happy, but did not see how in the existing circumstances he could make her so. She had at least peace and the sufficient income of him who had been smitten by Fate.”

One day however, her husband Captain Ferse walks out of the home and turns up at the house he once shared with his wife. The servants immediately put locks on their doors, and all of Diana’s friends are very worried for Diana alone with her husband – who at first at least does appear perfectly fine. Dinny proves herself a great friend to Diana, moving in to the house with Diana as a guest, just as Captain Ferse’s behaviour begins to cause concern again. Dinny is a wonderfully brave, resourceful character, she a very different character to Fleur, possibly not quite as vividly brilliant as Fleur, she is much nicer. Lady Emily, Fleur’s mother-law is a rather lovely character, she’s endearing and seems just a little unconventional – a bit distracted she greets her neice in her drawing room with a parakeet on her shoulder.

“Emily, Lady Mont, was standing in her panelled drawing-room flicking a feather brush over a bit of Famille Verte, with her parakeet perched on her shoulder. She lowered the brush, advanced with a far-away look in her eyes, said “Mind, Polly,” and kissed her niece. The parakeet transferred itself to Dinny’s shoulder and bent its head round enquiringly to look in her face. “He’s such a dear,” said Lady Mont; “you won’t mind if he tweaks your ear? I’m so glad you came, Dinny; I’ve been so thinking of funerals. Do tell me your idea about the hereafter.”
“Is there one, Auntie?”
“Dinny! That’s so depressing.”

Hubert finds himself in court – his possible extradition still to be decided, he is remanded in custody meanwhile much to the disgust of his friends and family.

There is naturally enough a dramatic end to the story of Diana and her husband, with Adrian and his brother Hilary (who we met briefly in Swan song) making a desperate dash in pursuit of the poor man.

John Galsworthy writes such stories brilliantly, troubled romances, court cases and scandals set among the English upper classes are familiar territory. Here is great storytelling, and like the novels which preceded it Maid in Waiting is endlessly readable, I actually really enjoyed getting to know a new set of characters. While this doesn’t have quite the same brilliance of some of the earlier Forsyte novels, it is still very enjoyable, and I am looking forward to the last two books in the series.

john galsworthy

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swan song

Swan Song the sixth book of the Forsyte Saga Chronicles is the third book in the second trilogy: A Modern Comedy – and I find it amazing that already I am two thirds of the way through the series. I will be taking a break from the Forsytes during August but nevertheless I am eagerly anticipating the third and final trilogy, in which we shall meet people only distantly related to the Forsytes – a whole new collection of characters. If the first two books of A Modern Comedy lack a little of the brilliance of the first and most famous Forsyte trilogy (I still thoroughly enjoyed them) then Swan Song is at least a return to great storytelling.

Galsworthy is still concerned here with the social issues of the day – the gulf between the working classes and the upper and middle classes, the living and working conditions for the majority of the population, but in Swan Song we have a fantastic conclusion to a story that has been building slowly through the last three books.

Events in the first two books of A Modern comedy; The White Monkey and The Silver Spoon were always leading to the inevitable coming together again of Fleur Mont and Jon Forsyte. The reader knows I think that no earthly good can come of this.

general strikeIt is 1926 and the general strike is in danger of bringing the country to a standstill. The breech is famously filled by members of the middle classes – who suddenly found themselves working long hours driving engines, buses and keeping essential services going. As the novel opens Fleur is occupying herself beautifully by volunteering at a works canteen, supplying food to men (who bless their hearts) have never worked so hard. Fleur has now put the drama of the libel case behind her, and having spent several months touring with Soames and her husband Michael has returned to England and instead of collecting the darlings of society around her has found an interest in colonial students.

As the strike begins Jon Forsyte returns to England from America, leaving his wife and mother in Europe. With his half-sister Holly and Val Dartie, Jon is soon installed at Winifred’s house while volunteering on the railway, stoking engines. With Jon stoking engines and Fleur volunteering at a canteen, the inevitable meeting is not long in coming.

“When, looking down the row of faces at her canteen table, Fleur saw Jon Forsyte’s, it was within her heart as if, in winter, she had met with honeysuckle. Recovering from that faint intoxication, she noted his appearance from further off. He was sitting seemingly indifferent to food; and on his face, which was smudged with coal-dust and sweat, was such a smile as men wear after going up a mountain or at the end of a long run — tired, charming, and as if they have been through something worth while.”

Once Fleur has caught sight of Jon – she can think of nothing else – and in a sense she becomes once more, recognisably the spoiled daughter we first met in To Let. Fleur is older now – six years older – but possibly no wiser, and although she is now a wife, and mother to Kit – she allows herself to become completely obsessed. Fleur uses all her cunning to throw herself into the way of Jon, even once his lovely young American wife joins him, Fleur sees her as nothing more than a slight irritation to her plans. For Fleur sees Jon as her destiny – and pursuing him her absolute right. Watching the coming storm from the side-lines – all very quick to see the danger signs are; June Forsyte (Jon’s much older half-sister) Soames and later Michael, who has been made aware of his wife’s first love. Michael is also aware that his wife’s feelings for him are more muted than he might like, and sadly accepts the fact. Fleur wastes little time in letting Jon know that her feelings for him have never changed, Jon is torn between his wife Ann who he genuinely loves and Fleur who he finds himself unable to completely leave behind. Fleur knows what she wants and she goes all out to get it. As she plays the good loyal wife, a gracious hostess who spends her days setting up a rest house for disadvantaged young working class women Fleur plans committing adultery.

“To-morrow at this hour she would claim her own. The knowledge that there must be two parties to any contact did not trouble her. She had the faith of a pretty woman in love. What she willed would be accomplished, but none should know of it! And, handing her cups, she smiled, pitying the ignorance of these wise old men.”

Jon Forsyte is disappointingly weak and a bit pathetic – and I lost all respect for him – maybe that’s just me, I have little time for men of his sort. I never did like Fleur – however she is a brilliant character, in her Galsworthy has created a character readers might not like very much, but can’t help but be fascinated by. She is the epitome of spoiled brat – and poor Soames can‘t stop spoiling her – he can see the danger his treatment of her has created but she is the great love of his life – the one he replaced Irene with.

Meanwhile Michael Mont, still in parliament, has put the humiliation of Foggartism behind him and instead begins to consider the question of slums and the dire need of improving the living conditions of the people living in them. With his uncle Hilary – a clergyman, and other notable figures Michael forms a committee to tackle the problem.

There is great drama at the end of this novel, the consequences of Fleur’s selfishness, more devastating than she could ever have anticipated – I won’t say any more as my fellow Forsyte readers may not have read it yet. By the end of A Modern Comedy Soames – the man we loathed so much in A Man of Property is a character the reader is fully sympathetic with – he is mellower and more humane – I have found myself liking him more with each book. The last few lines of the book – perfectly lovely and rather poignant.

You can read Liz’s thoughts on Swan Song here, and I know Bridget will be reviewing soon too.

john galsworthy

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the silver spoon

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.”

1920'sAt 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.

john galsworthy

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the white monkey
It is always really difficult to review books that are a part of a series; I am never sure how interesting they are for others. Still this blog is driven entirely by what I read and what I like. Reviews aside, I am so glad that I embarked upon this reading challenge; it is hugely readable and ever so slightly addictive. The first three books of The Forsyte Saga are I suppose the best known, they are the books that have been televised – twice – and so often, as I can attest, the only volume some people read – (I originally read it and forget there were two other volumes). Galsworthy wrote the second and third volumes of his Forsyte chronicles a number of years after the first volume, with the three books of the third volume not published until the 1930’s. The Forsyte Saga earned John Galsworthy the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932.

Forsytesaga2The White Monkey is the first novel in John Galsworthy’s second Forsyte trilogy, entitled A Modern Comedy and is the fourth book out of the total nine that I plan to read this year. I am devastated (that is no understatement) to discover that this second trilogy should contain two interludes (like in the first volume) and my copy doesn’t. I may have to go in search of e-book copies of them.

The year is 1922; the Labour party are in the ascendency, The Great War still a bitter memory. Fleur has been married to Michael Mont for almost two years, despite not being even twenty one yet. Their marriage is a little one sided, for Fleur has never quite forgotten Jon Forsyte – the great love from whom she was separated two years earlier. One can’t help but make comparisons with Fleur’s hasty marriage and Soame’s ill-fated union with Irene.

“The house in South Square, Westminster, to which the young Monts had come after their Spanish honeymoon two years before, might have been called ‘emancipated.’ It was the work of an architect whose dream was a new house perfectly old, and an old house perfectly new.”

Now Fleur contents herself with collecting people, the fashionable and the fascinating – she seems at times to be like a society hostess of far greater age. One of Fleur’s particular conquests is poet, Wilfred Desert, Michael’s best friend, who has fallen rather hopelessly in love with Fleur. Michael is part of a publishing company, and both Michael and Fleur enjoy being part of a world of artists and writers. Michael is still smitten by Fleur, but not blind to her faults, his faith in her is shaken a little, and he fears for the security of their marriage, and their future. Bumping into June Forsyte one day, poor Michael learns of the existence of Jon Forsyte now out of sight at least in America.

“Light-heartedness always made Soames suspicious – there was generally some reason for it.”

Soames is a board member of an assurance company from which he has enjoyed a good income, but is now destined to give him the kind of trouble he could live without. One of his co-members is Sir Lawrence Mont, Michael’s father, and the two men are necessarily thrown together a good deal. Sir Lawrence (Bart as Michael calls him) is a more relaxed and humorous man than Soames, who is an older slightly mellower man than he was, but traditional and buttoned up still. Soames spends a lot of time with his beloved daughter, often choosing to stay over at her house, with its Chinese decorations and resident Pekinese; Ting-a-ling –Fleur’s spoiled little dog who rather rules the house. Now Soames will need his wits about him to avoid being ruined by a financial scandal, and proves himself to be very much a Forsyte of the old school.

“That tendency…to lie awake between the hours of two and four, when the chrysalis of faint misgiving becomes so readily the butterfly of panic.”

It is through Michael that we meet The Bicket’s another young married couple, although of a different economic class entirely. Bicket, sacked by Michael’s senior partners for theft, is reduced to selling balloons out of a tray, his young wife ; recently recovered from pneumonia, seeks a way to earn the money they require to fulfil their dream to go to Australia. I really enjoyed this parallel storyline, although I did wonder where it was going at first, it provides an interesting contrast to the story of Michael and Fleur. This storyline seems to be an attempt by Galsworthy to tell a story of another part of society, an acknowledgement of a changing world. True there are not many actual Forsytes in this novel, they are becoming a rare breed indeed – part of course of just how the old world is changing forever.

The White Monkey may not have the drama of the three novels of the previous volume but it is still for me hugely engaging and readable and I am looking forward to what comes next.

I am not alone in reading the Forsytes this year and you can read Liz’s review of The White Monkey here and no doubt Karen will read and review it in due course, and you can now also read Bridget’s review of listening to it on audio book.

john galsworthy

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to let

To Let the third book of The Forsyte Saga opens several years after we last saw the Forsyte family, it is now 1920, and Fleur, Soames’ daughter and Jon, Jolyon and Irene’s son are almost nineteen, and so far have never met. Since the scandal which resulted in Irene marrying her ex-husband Soames’ cousin Jolyon Forsyte, the two sides of the family have not met. Fleur and Jon have so far heard no whiff of the events of twenty years earlier; their parents have shielded them from the past, each of them have existed comfortably in the world created for them by their adoring parents. When Jon and Fleur first catch sight of each other at an exhibition, he in the company of his mother, she with her father, it is instantly clear to both young people that there are things they don’t know. The world of the Forsytes is shrinking, and the only one of the old Forsytes who is left is old Timothy, now past a hundred, he is cared for with diligence and affection by servants who kept the First World War from him, and take great pride in the old man’s appetite.

“There are houses whose souls have passed into the limbo of Time, leaving their bodies in the limbo of London. Such was not quite the condition of ‘Timothy’s’ on the Bayswater Road, for Timothy’s soul still had one foot in Timothy Forsyte’s body, and Smither kept the atmosphere unchanging, of camphor and port wine and house whose windows are only opened to air it twice a day.”

Soames, who was once so keen to possess Irene at all costs, has, since his daughter’s birth poured all his devotion into her. Fleur is irrepressible and spoiled she enjoys her position at the centre of her father’s world. Soames’ relationship with his second wife Annette is predictably cool, he has never reached a true level of understanding with her, nor does it seem that he ever tried to. Jon on the other hand, living with his devoted parents at Robin Hill, is a lovely, good natured young man, thoughtful and close to both his parents. The twenty years that Jolyon and Irene have been married have been very happy, with Jolyon’s daughter Holly married to Val Dartie and living in South Africa and June the middle aged daughter of his first marriage living in London, they have enjoyed a largely quiet life.

Change is everywhere in the air, with the Great War over and a greater freedom for young people, it is inevitable that as Fleur and Jon begin to go out into the world, that they may discover the truth behind the old family feud. Val and Holly are back in England, and are warned that Jon knows nothing of the past, when it is arranged for Jon to spend time learning farming from his half-sister’s husband. Val Dartie’s mother of course is Soames’ sister, and so there is the inevitable meeting of Jon and Fleur at the Dartie home, much to Holly’s discomfort. Fleur and Jon, are instantly attracted to each other, they work hard to hide their growing infatuation with each other from the family, while trying to figure out what exactly the old family feud is all about.

Fleur and Jon manage to meet a number of times without anyone being aware just how close they have grown or how often they have met. When the true nature of their relationship is revealed, both sides of the family are horrified at the thought of Jon and Fleur marrying – their children the grandchildren of both Soames and Irene – a prospect Irene in particular cannot bear. While his wife spends increasing amounts of time with a rather odd Frenchman, the point of whom I was never sure of – Soames tries hard to convince Fleur to give Jon up. Fleur has attracted the attentions of another young man, the son of a baronet, who Soames isn’t sure of – but prefers to Jon. Jolyon is over seventy, his health is starting to break down, but he feels the one thing he must do is to separate Jon from Fleur as kindly as he can. Irene won’t ask Jon to do anything just for her, and ultimately leaves it up to him to decide. Fleur however is very much her father’s daughter.

“End it forsooth! She would soon show them all that she was only just beginning. And she smiled to herself on the top of the bus which carried her back to Mayfair. But the smile died, squeezed out by spasms of anticipation and anxiety. Would she be able to manage Jon? She had taken the bit between her teeth, but could she make him take it too?”

I found this instalment to be just as readable as the previous two volumes. There is a lovely sense of the world changing, things moving forward – and those who were once the younger generation of Forsytes are now the old guard.
You can also read about Liz and Bridget’s experience with To Let and I think Karen will be reading it soon.

john galsworthy

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Published a couple of years after the Interlude, Indian Summer of a Forsyte – which I read straight after A Man of PropertyIn 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.

john galsworthy

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theman of property

My first read of 2015, was also the first book in one of my year-long reading challenges. The Man of Property is the first book in The Forsyte Saga. I have read the first volume of The Forsyte Saga before, a very long time ago, but so many years and so many books have flowed under the bridge since then, that I had little memory of it. I was quite glad to be coming to it almost fresh, and I am now firmly hooked, and eagerly anticipating the next instalment. As Liz and Karen are reading this too, either at the moment or soon, and others may want to join us I am going to try and not include spoilers.

“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 a society in miniature.”

The Man of Property of the title is Soames Forstye, a member of an enormous family, Soames the son of one of the ten children of a self-made man, a builder, whose interest in property has transferred to his descendants. The Forsytes are the epitome of a type of upper-middle class family in the 1880’s when this novel is set, indeed Old Jolyon sees the Forsytes as being indicative of a particular section of society. Despite their present glitter the Forsytes are originally of yeoman stock, a fact many of the family choose to forget. Old Jolyon is one of those ten children, the older generation of Forsytes, he is in his eighties, his sister Aunt Ann is the eldest of these ageing siblings, his brother James one of a pair of twins the father of Soames. There is a particular philosophy, a mind-set perhaps that unites the Forsytes, they are men of business or law, they acquire property, they relish the money they have made and will leave to their children. Old Jolyon is a widower; he is regrettably estranged from his only son, following a scandal involving his married son and another woman. Old Jolyon had found himself obliged to follow society’s lead and cast his son out, and as this novel opens, he hasn’t seen Young Jolyon (Jo) in fifteen years, despite knowing Jo’s address and London club. Old Jolyon’s granddaughter June Forsyte (Jo’s daughter) lives with her grandfather is the apple of his eye and has become engaged as the novel opens to an almost penniless architect Philip Bosinney.

“She was ever silent, passive, gracefully averse; as though terrified lest by word, motion or sign she might lead him to believe that she was fond of him; and he asked himself: Must I always go on like this?”

Soames Forsyte is a man who wants desperately to possess things, he sets great store by such ownership. His wife Irene is a beautiful, enigmatic young woman, the two haven’t been married more than a few years, though they haven’t had children, and Irene is already aware that the marriage has not been a success. She remembers a time, before they were married when she had made Soames promise to give her, her freedom if the marriage didn’t succeed, a conversation he now denies. For, what Soames wishes to possess more than anything is his wife. He is jealous of her friendships, even her friendship with June, and wishing to remove her from the influence of her London friends and society, hits upon the idea of a house in the country.

Soames’ house at Robin Hill becomes another obsession, but really it is a means for Soames to have Irene all to himself. He employs June’s fiancé Philip Bosinney as architect and soon the project is underway. Bosinney has a creative flare, and delights in a chance to fully show off his talent. The Forsyte family gossip is already starting to wonder at Soames’ and Irene’s relationship, with news that Irene has been asking for her own room. However when Irene and Bosinney are seen to become particularly friendly the speculation is only added to. The fact of the matter of course is that Irene and Bosinney have fallen in love, and there are frequent house calls and rides in the park soon talked about. Poor little June only about seventeen, is gradually made aware of the situation, her hurt and humiliation is hard to bear.

Meanwhile, Old Jolyon (my most favourite Forsyte so far) decides to meet his son, tracking him down in a spontaneous moment at his club. Thereafter he goes to Jo’s house in St John’s Wood, meets his daughter – in law (the former other woman) his two young grandchildren Jolly and Holly and the family dog. Jo’s family gives Old Jolyon a new lease of life; they even have a day out at the zoo.

The Soames, Irene, Bosinney triangle descends into high drama – (I don’t want to spoil it for future readers) as the new house at Robin Hill is completed, vastly over budget.
Indian Summer of a Forsyte is the interlude, of around fifty pages, that comes after The Man of Property, and concerns Old Jolyon and his friendship with Irene. Old Jolyon is now living in the house at Robin Hill, delighting in his youngest granddaughter having even made friends with the dog. This is a beautifully, poignant section, Jolyon feels the years, wondering how much time he has left to enjoy Robin Hill and his family.

Such an endlessly readable novel, oh how I loved it! This first, brilliant instalment runs to about 360 pages, and although not an especially fast read, it is a book the reader wants always to read just one more chapter of. If all nine novels are as readable and unputdownable as The Man of Property and its associated Interlude then I have many hours of reading pleasure ahead of me.

john galsworthy

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