Resa's Reviews > The Forsyte Saga

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
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's review
Jun 19, 2012

it was amazing
Read in January, 2012

The Forsyte Saga, as the title implies, tells the story of the Forstye Family, members of the emerging upper middle class in England, and as is so often stated through the collection “men of property”. The story in particular focuses on Soames Forsyte, and man who is defined by his sense of possession but goes beyond trying to possess things and desires to possess people. His first wife, Irene, embodies a wild, almost bohemian beauty, the kind which can’t be properly possessed, at least not by Forsyte standards, and to say their marriage ends unhappily would be an understatement. The collection follows their marriage, divorce, remarriage, and ends with the love affair of their children, which also ends in tragedy. While the saga could be considered a tale of the trials and tribulations of the upper middle class, the plot is far from that shallow. This is not just the story about a family of means complaining about things they can’t have (although it does describe the lives of the 19th century upper-middle class in detail). Galsworthy goes into issues of possession and emotion, and the battle which often occurs between the two, an issue which is timeless and can be compared to the struggles of the rational vs. the creative minded.

As the Saga continues Galsworthy holds up the lives of Irene and Jolyon Forsyte against that of Soames and Annette Forsyte, lives of passion and love vs. lives of property and convenience. Soames still struggles to possess his new wife, a task which becomes impossible, and Irene tries to escape the ghosts of her past marriage. It’s difficult to really describe every story going on within this text as it is a massive work and contains many different stories and elements along with the main vein of Irene and Soames.

The saga tries to explore the difference between the old and the new generations, the transition of the new generation to the old, old money vs. new money (the aristocracy/titled and the rising upper middle class), property vs. land holdings, emotion vs. possession, and love vs. propriety. All of these themes are covered in depth within the saga, and while they run throughout the text they can been found in stronger or weaker form depending on which of the Forsyte’s is being focused on. While Galsworthy does do an excellent job of exploring all of these in depth the text is very long and very dense. It is not to be picked up by the feint of heart, and requires serious dedication to make it to the end.

If you’re willing to put in the effort and you know what you’re getting into, you’ll be in for a treat. Once you’ve managed to figure out which Forsyte is which (a task made much easier by the Family tree listed in the back of the saga) you’ll start to pick which characters you sympathize with and who you dislike. While the trend is to take the side of Irene (which I did while reading), you could make an excellent argument for taking Soames’s side in the argument. It all depends how you chose to think about things. I’m glad I took the time to finish this book and check it off my list, but I’m also very excited that it’s finished and I can go on to lighter reading for a while. My next big “classics” read will probably be Bleak House by Charles Dickens. But that’s going to wait for awhile. After finishing off the Forsyte’s I’m reading for some fluff novels…

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