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Reviewed by Anna Dogole - May 31, 2012
The Forsyte Saga consists of three novels and two short 'interludes'. These interludes are often classified as short stories, but they are something a little more. No matter how you classify them, the interludes are essential to the continuity of the 'saga' which chronicles the foibles of the Forsyte family and it's patriarch, Soames Forsyte.
Many consider The Forsyte Saga to be John Galsworthy's masterpiece. It is both social commentary and an unabashed soap opera that details the social and economic changes that shook British society from the late 1880's through to 1920.
First published in 1922, The Forsyte Saga centers upon the upper middle class Forsyte family. The family is what was then termed 'new money' and they are all keenly aware that rather than inheriting their money like most members of the aristocracy, the family's money was earned and they always seem to feel that they have to work a little harder than everyone else to prove that they deserve to be rich. At the center of the saga is Soames Forsyte, who is a lawyer who thinks that just because he can afford to buy just about anything he wants he should be treated like a king, and he spends a great deal of his time accumulating material possessions. He is arrogant, narrow-minded, and he controls his family with an iron fist. Written with a wry humor, Galsworthy shows that while Soames thinks that he is always in charge, more often than not, he's not - a fact which infuriates Soames to no end. This is especially true as the role of women in English societies begins to broaden, and the women in the Forsyte family find that they no longer must live solely at the whim of the family patriarch.
The Forsyte Saga consists of novel The Man of Property (1906); the interlude "Indian Summer of a Forsyte" (1918); the novel In Chancery (1920); the interlude "Awakening" (1920); and the novel To Let (1921). The dates in parentheses indicate when each element was first published. The saga as a whole was not published until 1922. The large print, Read How You Want edition The Forsyte Saga contains all five elements of the saga, and it is available in Braille, DAISY, and five different large print formats ranging from a 16-point font size up to a 24-point font.
In The Man of Property we are introduced to the large Forsyte clan, and most importantly Soames who is busy acquiring stuff - including a wife by the name of Irene. Like all his other things, he wants to completely own and control her, and to keep her only for himself - in the process he only manages to turn her against him. An entire soap opera ensues that covers just about everything from domestic violence to marital infidelity.
In the short interlude, Indian Summer of a Forsyte, Galsworthy details the growing relationship between Irene and Jolyon Forsyte, an elderly gentleman and Soames's cousin, who has taken over the ownership of Robin Hill, the house that Soames built to confine Irene in, away from the prying eyes of everyone but him.
The next novel in the series, In Chancery follows the parallel marital difficulties of Soames and his sister Winifred, both of whom are trying to divorce their respective spouses. More affairs ensue, as do numerous misunderstandings, bigamous marriages, and assorted carrying-ons that serve to keep the story moving, and the reader eager to find out what is going to happen next!
In Chancery is followed by the stories second interlude, Awakening. This is a gentle story that focuses on eight-year-old Jon Forsyte, his childhood, his zest for life, and is generally a feel-good pick-me-up after some of the dark scenes recounted in the earlier stories.
The saga concludes with the novel, To Let. Much has changed since the first novel. Women have taken a prominent role in society. Due to the ease with which women can now go out on their own, Fleur Forsyte and Jon Forsyte meet and fall in love, without their family's knowledge. When it becomes known, their parents, Soames, Jolyon, and Irene all demand that the lovers go their separate ways. Fleur is the daughter of Jolyon and Irene who married after her divorce from Soames, and Jon is the son of Soames and his second wife. In part they want to keep the kids apart because Fleur and Jon are cousins, but more importantly from Soames's viewpoint, because Fleur has a very real chance of marring into the aristocracy, a move that would elevate the entire family.
From beginning to end, The Forsyte Saga is a gripping, multi-generational tale that is probably more satire than anything else. This is a story rich in characters, drama, and historical ambiance, which is why, perhaps, this saga has been made into so many movies and TV series. If you have only seen the theatrical versions of this story, do yourself a favor and read the entire saga. It will give you greater insights into the characters and their stories, and it will give you a greater appreciation of Galsworthy skill as a writer and will help to explain why he was awarded the Novel Laureate for literature!
The Forsyte Saga is available from Read How You Want, an on-demand publisher that makes books available in a variety of formats including Braille, DAISY, and five different large print formats. This range of formats makes this, and other books, available not only to visually impaired individuals, but also anyone with a reading or physical disability that makes reading standard print books difficult.
Anna Karenina, by Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky.
Castle Rackrent, by Maria Edgeworth.
This classic novel follows the misadventures of four generations of the Rackrents, a noble Irish family whose greed and mismanagement almost leads to bankruptcy and the family's ruin. They are destined to be saved, not by their own efforts, but by the actions of the son of a family servant.