THE MAN OF PROPERTY. (1918). John Galsworthy. ****.
Galsworthy wrote this first installment of what was to become known as “The Forsyte Chronicles,” and it became an immediate success. He didn’t write the second novel, “In Chancery,” for another fourteen years. When he was finally completed, the Chronicles ran to six (or maybe nine – depending on how many you want to include) novels. He was ultimately awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for this series. It is the saga of, surprise, the Forsyte family, that takes the family from Victorian times to those years after WW I. In it he manages to not only tell a great story, but to illuminate the social and political surroundings of the period. The series of novels becomes not only a great read, but a history of the times. He manages to leave almost nothing out: transportation, attitudes towards money, the class distinctions, apparel, etc. In this first novel, he focuses on the patriarch of the family, Old Jolyon, and several of his sons. The key characters soon come to the surface: Soames, a son, and the “man of property” of this novel; June, a granddaughter of Jolyon; Irene, Soames’s wife; Bosinney, an architect. The concept of ‘property’ as it was viewed in Victorian times also extended to mens’ wives. A wife was not independent, but relied on her husband for her every material need. We learn this very well when the marriage of Irene to Soames is examined in detail – the focus of this novel. We would look aghast at this relationship today, but it was the common behavior then in Victorian England – especially amongst the wealthy class. This novel was extremely popular in its day, although it now reads more like a TV sitcom – akin to “Dallas.” Still, it is well written, and manages to keep the reader in its grasp throughout. Recommended.