I wonder how many people saw the 2002 adaptation of John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga (or maybe even the 1967 version), and like me instantly went out and bought the book. Actually I saw part of the film preferring to read the book first and see the movie later. And then I wonder how many people took a look at the very large omnibus edition and left it on their bookcase to molder away for years feeling the tiniest bit intimidated by the sheer size, the tiny print and the idea of a very lengthy classic. My edition contains the first three books that make up The Forsyte Saga plus the two shorter interludes.
It's only recently that I learned the story is actually comprised of nine novels, and they have been published separately. For some reason I feel far more ambitious reading all nine novels individually, if I can take little breaks in between, than attempting the hefty omnibus edition that only has the first three novels but well over 800 pages in one go. Besides the set of nine books has such luscious covers and they look so elegant sitting next to each other on your bookshelf. Really, though, there's nothing to be afraid of I've discovered.
Upon introduction to the Forsytes in The Man of Property things can be somewhat overwhelming. There are so many of them, several generations worth and in the opening chapter they are all gathered together to celebrate the engagement of June Forsyte with Philip Bosinney who has been dubbed "the buccaneer". A young man of no fortune, but progressive ideals, he's an architect. That alone makes him stand out amongst the moneyed clan and very upper class Forsytes. "Man of property" is a phrase that's going to be bandied about often in this novel. The Victorian era is waning, but most of the Forsytes are still deeply mired in the sensibilities of a class bound and determined to create wealth and have all the physical niceties to show for it. They are only a few generations removed from an agricultural background so wealth and possessions are very important to them.
Soames Forsyte is a true connoisseur of lovely things, and if anyone in this story is a man of property it is Soames. As a matter of fact he is often called "the man of property", though not necessarily in a polite context. Next to his paintings, Irene, his wife, is his most prize possession. You might even say, his property. He had to have her when they met, and despite turning down his many offers of marriage, he finally wore her down. Beautiful and artistic she is the antithesis of what the Forsytes stand for, and only too late does she discover (though maybe she knew all along?) what a mistake her marriage is. Like so many women of that period she married him for convenience and stability, as it would be such a "good marriage."
Irene and June are close friends, so close that Soames would like to take Irene away from London to the country where she won't be under anyone else's influence. So he hires Bosinney to build him a country house on a well situated and attractive piece of land. By now, though, there are whisperings amongst the Forsytes about Irene and Bosinney. It's obvious she doesn't love Soames, but he doesn't quite believe she's capable of treachery. Bosinney is an artist with impeccable taste. The house he builds isn't just a country home but a work of art down to all the smallest details and tempers flare each time he exceeds the budget Soames has set for him. At the beginning of the story the Forsytes are brought together as a family in celebration, but by the end they will be estranged.
I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but just enough so you'll go grab the book yourself and start reading. I've left all the best parts for you to discover. This is a wonderful social satire that is full of "drama, passion, and scandal" just like the book promises. The cast is very large but manageable once the story starts really moving. And while this isn't a story with a lot of action, the characters are so fully formed and completely flawed you can't help but be drawn into their lives. It doesn't matter whether they are likable or not, you still want to know them. Soames is a fairly reprehensible character, but I still felt pity for him. He truly didn't understand how he could love Irene so much yet she couldn't or wouldn't love him back. Irene is a bit of an enigma. The reader is never let into her head to know what she really wants or feels, only through her actions is any idea given of what she thinks. For a novel that verges on melodrama it is quite complex and has left me with much to think about.
I'm curious to see what will happen next with the Forsytes and will be able to find out soon in In Chancery, though I am taking a little interlude myself and reading another short classic before continuing on. I believe Series I of the 2002 film adaptation covers the first two books, and Series II the third book. I've heard the adaptation is excellent and can't wait to watch it. I wonder if I will be able to make it through the remaining eight books before the end of the year? If the first is anything to go by, the story is certainly addicting. why aren't more people reading him?