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The Forsyte Saga Paperback – January 5, 2017
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Not exactly. It's Nobel Prize Winner John Galsworthy's sprawling family epic "The Forsyte Saga," a three-volume saga that spans the nouveau riche Forsyte clan, and the devastating events that threaten their ever-respectable facade. Galsworthy's lush writing and intricate, insightful stories are excellent on their own, but the dignified handling of 19th-century laws and mores -- and how they changed -- add an extra dimension to his writing.
The Forsyte family is determinedly regal and hard-nosed, almost to the point of a fault. And as the story begins, the Forsyte family has come together to celebrate June Forsyte's engagement to a young bohemian architect, Philip Bosinney -- except for June's father, who eloped with the governess and is now shunned by his family.
Among the guests are the stuffy, domineering Soames Forsyte and his quiet, unhappy wife Irene -- though she conditionally agreed to marry him, she doesn't love him. But Soames regards Irene as his most valuable piece of property, even as she begins an ill-fated affair with Bosinney. At the same time, the patriarch Jolyon starts to kick off family disapproval, and goes to see his estranged son.
Soames' determination to "own" Irene leads to tragedy for all three of them, and Irene and Soames separate for the next decade. But when Soames demands a divorce so he can marry a French girl, he finds himself obsessed and stalking Irene once again. And as before, Soames' harassment drives his estranged wife into the arms of another man -- his disgraced cousin Young Jolyon. And even as Soames gains a new woman, he finds that you don't get everything you want...
A new complication enters the works almost two decades later -- Soames' daughter Fleur is immediately attracted to Irene's son Jon. The two start an innocent romance, unaware of their parents' past together, but still overshadowed by the loathing and shame Soames and Irene have for each other. An aristocratic suitor for Fleur, mysterious letters and a secret love affair all come to the surface, as Fleur and Jon discover that love isn't always enough to overcome the bitterness of the past...
The Forsyte Saga is indeed a saga -- it stretches from the stuffy Victorian era into the first bloom of the roaring twenties. Despite the early claim that Forsytes would never die, various characters age, die and weave new lives for themselves, and grapple with a rapidly changing world -- including the new rights for women as individuals, rather than "property."
The first part was written in a time before the world of England's upper crust changed forever -- sort of an English "Age of Innocence." And while Galsworthy's first trilogy can be seen as the story of an obsession, it can also be seen as the portrait of the Forsytes overall -- stuffy, gilded, and eager to forget the working class roots a few generations back.
Galsworthy paints this time in a flurry of lush, dignified prose , filled with slightly mocking notes about the Forsyte family, and tiny gestures and expressions that convey more than actual dialogue could ("Huddled in her grey fur against the sofa cushions, she had a strange resemblance to a captive owl") and lushly written descriptives ("... over the lush grass fell the thick shade from those fruit trees planted by her father five-and-twenty years ago").
Yet there are touching moments too, like Old Jolyon paying a visit to his estranged son and his lower-class second wife, and the grandchildren he has never met. The awkwardness, love and pain in these scenes is truly astounding.
As for the main characters of this drama, Galsworthy handles their passions and involvements delicately and with dignity. No soap opera dramatics -- just a married woman in love with her best pal's fiance, and who is raped by her angry husband. And then a realist's version of "Romeo and Juliet," if Romeo and Juliet's parents were exes and no suicides came into it.
Soames and Irene are really at the center of this book -- she remote, quiet and something of a mystery even to the readers, and he a selfish, close-minded man who wants to "own" people. Their children are far more endearing -- Fleur is passionate and vivacious, and Jon is sensitive and sweet. But there's a vast cast of interesting characters in the Forsyte family, especially melancholy Young Jolyon and his artistic daughter June.
Bitterness, obsession and love fill the pages of the "Forsye Saga," and provide the start of a truly classic series. While it has a distinctly soapy flavor, it retains its dignity and look at turn-of-the-century mores and society.
This book goes to show that even back in the Victorian days of yesteryear things were the same as today in the human condition (only people had more conviction and were more respectful than in modern times); however, history can only keep repeating itself through the ages, as we can attest to the state of the world today and the people in it.
This is not a book you read in one day--it's a book you savour, a book that makes you stop and think. If you love the human insight Jane Austen captured in her novels in the early 1800s then you will love this, and even more so as subjects that were taboo in the early 1800s are examined here. I rarely give a 5-star review to novels, but this book deserves it.
A world is depicted in its entire complexity and vastness, with the same attention to details for character insight and relationships and for the colour of the age.
I have throroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it without reserve,
D-I-V-O-R-C-E and sex by every other euphemism are his life-long obsessions. Galsworthy's detailed descriptions are mesmerizing: before we're done we know the interior decoration of every room of every home or club, what each character is wearing each day, each person's facial expression and utterance of same. We even get to know the inner lives of a family dog. Talk about a saga--"The Young and the Restless" has nothing on "The Old and the Ruthless" in late Victorian and early Edwardian England. Get comfortable and give it a try!
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