THE LAUREATE: John Galsworthy was born into a fairly wealthy family in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, on August 14th, 1867. He studied law at Harrow and New College, but decided against becoming a lawyer. He wrote a massive body of work, both novels and plays, many of which dealt with social justice topics. He actually managed to force through prison reform because of public reaction to Justice, one of his plays. He married his cousin’s ex-wife, and died a few weeks after being awarded the Nobel.
WHAT I’M READING: The book Galsworthy won the Nobel for, The Forsyte Saga. FUN FACT: Granada television, when it was shooting for the more recent of the two television adaptations, was filming in September, 2001. After shooting the apparently infamous rape scene, the actors started receiving calls about how the World Trade Center was hit by passenger planes. Worst “where were you?” story ever.REVIEW: John Galsworthy is gloriously sarcastic, but he has a certain amount of blindness despite his progressive tendencies. So, the Forsytes are a large, wealthy, upper-middle class family. They are obsessed with wealth and status. The best illustration of this is a statue group that Old Jolyon acquired for his dining room at the start of the novel.
The plot is simple: June, the youngest granddaughter/grandniece, is engaged to Bossiney, an architect (one of those artistic types!). Bossiney falls in love and begins an affair with Irene, Soames’ wife and June’s aunt by marriage, mostly because Soames had hired him to build a country house to save his marriage with Irene. This country house goes over Soames’ preferred cost by 350 pounds, so Soames sues him with full knowledge that that exceeds his yearly income, let alone his savings. Soames becomes aware of Bossiney’s affair with his wife and rapes her. Bossiney commits suicide and Irene slinks back home.
The most important subplot concerns the reunion and reconciliation of Old and Young Jolyon.Young Jolyon had left June’s mother for their foreign-born made and caused an … s-word (scandal). Old Jolyon tracks him down and finds him living in a (blegh) rowhouse in a (double blegh) middle-class neighborhood with two young children. Old Jolyon takes Soames out of his will and moves all his assets out of Soames’ practice as revenge against Soames for being a terrible husband and to reconcile himself with Young Jolyon. Ok, so I lied. The plot is pretty complex, but it’s still straightforward.
About Galsworthy himself: His narratorial voice is very sarcastic. He clearly has a deep and abiding contempt of the sort of status seeking, property obsessed people he describes. In fact, he frequently generalizes all people like the Forsytes as Forsytes. However, in his own introduction, he says that he considers Soames (you know, the guy who raped his wife and drove her lover to suicide over a month’s worth of his pay) the tragic hero of this story. If only he were capable of love! If only he hadn’t trapped himself in this barren and loveless marriage! No thanks. I suggest you laugh in the face of authorial intent and read the book as a chronicle of the decay of the Victorian upper middle class, which is what it really is.
RECOMMENDED: Absolutely. The whole Forsyte Saga is a hulking 900 page book in the Oxford World Classics edition, and The Man of Property, the section I actually read, is only 300. Plus, this is basically Real Housewives of Victorian London, so why wouldn’t you be all over that? Go read it.
WHAT’S NEXT: The staggeringly uncomfortable The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek