History: The Forsyte Saga is a series of three novels and two interludes (intervening episodes) published between 1906 and 1921. The Forsyte Saga earned John Galsworthy the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932.
Plot: The Man of Property (1906) - In his first novel of the Forsyte Saga, after introducing us to the impressive array of Forsytes headed by the formidable Aunt Ann, Galsworthy moves into the main action of the saga by detailing Soames Forsyte's desire to own things, including his beautiful wife, Irene Forsyte (née Heron). He is jealous of her friendships and wants her to be his alone. He concocts a plan to move her to the country, to Robin Hill and a house he has had built, away from everyone she knows and cares about. She resists his grasping intentions and falls in love with the architect Philip Bosinney who has been engaged by Soames to build the house. However, Bosinney is the fiancé of her friend June Forsyte, the daughter of Soames's cousin Jolyon. There is no happy ending: Irene leaves Soames after he rapes her, and Bosinney dies under the wheels of a cab after being driven frantic by the news of Irene's rape by Soames.
Indian Summer of a Forsyte (1918) - In short interlude after The Man of Property, Galsworthy delves into the newfound friendship between Irene and Old Jolyon Forsyte (June's grandfather, and by now the owner of the house Soames had built). This attachment gives Old Jolyon pleasure, but exhausts his strength. He leaves Irene money in his will with Young Jolyon, his son, as trustee. In the end Old Jolyon dies under an ancient oak tree in the garden of the Robin Hill house.
The Chancery (1920) - The marital discord of both Soames and his sister Winifred is the subject of the second novel, the title being a reference to the Court of Chancery, which deals with domestic issues. They take steps to divorce their spouses, Irene, and Montague Dartie respectively. However, while Soames tells his sister to brave the consequences of going to court, he is not willing to go through a divorce himself. Instead he stalks and hounds Irene, following her abroad, and asking her to have his child, which is his father's wish. Ultimately, Soames remarries, wedding Annette, the young daughter of a French Soho restaurant owner. With his new wife, he has his only child, Fleur Forsyte.
As for Irene, she is left the sum of £15,000 after Old Jolyon's death. His son, Young Jolyon Forsyte, also Soames's cousin, takes care of Irene's finances. When she first leaves Soames, he offers his support. At the time of the death of Young Jolyon's son Jolly in the South African War, Irene has developed a strong friendship with Jolyon. Then, Soames confronts Young Jolyon and Irene at Robin Hill accusing them (falsely) of having an affair. Young Jolyon and Irene assert that they have had an affair since Soames has it in his mind already. That gives Soames the evidence he needs for divorce proceedings. That confrontation sparks an affair between Young Jolyon and Irene.
Review: This monumental trilogy by the Nobel Prize-winning author chronicles the lives of three generations of an upper-middle-class London family obsessed with money and respectability. The Forsyte Saga enormously influenced views held by Americans and Europeans of Victorian and Edwardian life and it remains an excellent contribution to social history and literary art.
Duty versus Desire: Young Jolyon was once the favourite of the family until he left his wife for his daughter's governess. He eschews his status in society and in the Forsyte clan to follow his heart. Soames, though it seems he is the polar opposite of Jolyon, has those same inclinations toward doing what he desires. For example, instead of finding a wife who is rich, he marries Irene and then later Annette, who have neither money nor status. When he takes Irene to a play about a married woman and her lover, he ironically sympathizes with the lover and not the husband. However, most of his decisions are on the side of duty.
Generations and Change: The many generations of the Forsyte clan remind everyone of what has come to pass over the years. However, as the old ranks begin to die, people are able to change. For example, after a few generations, the fact that they are nouveau riche does not matter as much. This is also the case with Soames and Irene's marital problems. Once they grow old, and their children can overcome their parents' past, Soames can finally let go of the past. Mortality is an important issue because it forces people to let go. Another change with generations is the diminished number of Forsyte offspring. Many of the second generation have fewer children.
Opening Line: "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."
Closing Line: "And doggedly along by the railings of the Green Park, towards his father's house, he went, trying to tread on his shadow walking before him in the brilliant moonlight."
Quotes: "Love is no hot-house flower, but a wild plant, born of a wet night, born of an hour of sunshine; sprung from wild seed, blown along the road by a wild wind. A wild plant that, when it blooms by chance within the hedge of our gardens, we call a flower; and when it blooms outside we call a weed; but, flower or weed, whose scent and colour are always, wild!"
Rating: Very Good.