With the three novels and two short stories that make up 'The Forsyte Saga' Galsworthy creates a family epic that chronicles the transformation and upheaval of Great Britain in the late 19th and early 20th century. Accomplishing this, too, with hardly any mention of World War I.
The ten elder Forsyte children entered London in the early 19th century with their inheritance and through the miracles of business and sound investment amassed fortunes. Eldest sister Ann is an indomitable matriarch who binds the family together by reminding them of their connections to each other, her unmarried and widowed sisters Hester and Julia provide comic relief and an admirable innocence. They keep house for their agoraphobic brother Timothy, who rarely appears. Eldest brother 'Old' Jolyon made a fortune in tea and dotes on his granddaughter June the same way he doted on her father 'Young' Jolyon before Young Jolyon ran away with her governess. James is a solicitor and his children Soames and Winnifred make poor marriages. James' twin brother Swithin dresses fine and daydreams about charming women; Roger has two children, George and Francie, that round out parlor and club scenes, while Nicholas and Susan contribute faint commentary and additional cousins.
The second and third generations grow farther apart, providing the background for not one, but two secret love affairs between Forsyte cousins of estranged branches. is saved by turning it all in to focus on Soames' contemplation on the death of the last of his father's generation. Not all Forsytes are equal: Soames Forsyte is our star, with Young Jolyon and Irene providing important balance and motivation to his worldview and actions. Romance is thrilling, but tracking Soames' development as he deals with uncomfortable emotions and reflects on the changing world around him give the novels more weight than the admittedly superb television adaptions. The effect of the novels is also greater together than apart, the two '20s novels rounding out the tragedy of Soames and Irene. Two more trilogies carry the story to 1933.
'The Forsyte Saga'
'The Man of Property': 4 Stars
'In Chancery': 4 Stars
'To Let': 4 Stars
Next: 'A Modern Comedy'