Friday, 23 September 2011

The Forsyte Saga

I’ve just finished reading The Man of Property by John Galsworthy being the first volume of The Forsyte Saga. Absolutely first rate as one of his characters might think but not say, after all it doesn’t do to be too enthusiastic. The Forsytes give nothing away; they amass, they collect and finally surrender only to take a profit. When the novel opens it is 1886 just before the Jubilee Year of 1887 and the family meet up for the engagement party of June Forsyte at the house of her Grandfather Jolyon. His brothers and sisters with all their children are there. The family saddle of mutton is also there, for they love succulent, simple and ample food, floury potatoes and the gourmand brother Swithin drinks champagne by the pint. Collectively they live in those areas like Park Lane and Kensington where property values are on the rise and their family conversations are like moves in real monopoly.

Soames Forsyte son of James the brother of old Jolyon is married to the beautiful Irene. They are not happy and there is talk of separate bedrooms. She has brought nothing to the marriage but her beauty which is in itself an indication of a lack of judgment on his part. Her father was a professor, not much money in that, and after the death of her mother he remarried a much younger woman. The step-mother was anxious to have Irene off her hands and enhance her own chances. Pertinacious Soames wore her down after several refusals. They have been married for 3 years and she is now about 25. He is 32 or so and his name is in the style and title of a firm of solicitors.

It’s an interesting thing how the intentions of the author often fail to coincide with the depiction of his character. Irene suffers from what we can today easily recognise as Dickens disease. Under that sanctified plaster we wonder whether there is functional plumbing. A little thought suffices to reassure ourselves when we recollect that the refined love of the best of everything has been traded for conjugal rights with a man that physically repelled her even in her days of chaste courtship.

But I will say no more; these short reports are merely an incitement to read. Find it on Gutenberg Project (Complete Saga)


elisa freschi said...

thanks for the intriguing incitement.
I am afraid I would not be able to recognise "easily" that Irene suffers of Dickens disease. In fact, what is the Dickens disease?

ombhurbhuva said...

The reference is to Charles Dickens whose treatment of women in his novels was extremely sentimental and idealised. They are good through and through without any redeeming badness. One suspects that this was a reproach to his mother who left him working in a shoe polish factory for longer than was necessary when he was young and his father was in prison for debt. Oscar Wilde said of a character in his The Old Curiosity Shop “Only someone with a heart of stone would fail to laugh at the death of Little Nell”.