The Forsyte Saga, the epic masterpiece that brought John Galsworthy his very well deserved Noble Prize in 1932, follows the life of three generations of a wealthy and prominent British family, spanning the Victorian, Edwardian and Post World War I eras. The predecessor of modern sagas (I wouldn’t say soap operas) is an extensive overview of the values and prejudices of an upper-class family, whose members place money and possessions over sentiments and feelings. Galsworthy creates a gallery of characters, real with their strengths and weaknesses and follows the wider developments in society – from the collective power of the family to the individual value of the human being and from the oppression of women as mere possessions to their rise as equal to men. One of the most exhaustive and extensive descriptions of England at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, The Forsyte Saga is a story about love and betrayal, honesty and lies, death and life that keeps the reader in the early hours of the night, enchanted with the destinies of its characters.
At first one is lost among the members of the Forsyte family. Grandparents, parents, and children form a complicated structure but after 100 pages or so, the reader already feels he has known them forever. Soames, the man of property, for whom career and family are the most important things. Brought up to believe in the value of possessions, he strives to own his work, his house, even his wife. Irene is a beautiful and sentimental woman, who finds herself trapped in an unhappy marriage. Leaving her husband would mean a social suicide, so Irene reconciles to living with Soames, growing to loathe him every single day. Old Jolyon, uncle of Soames and the oldest of the old Forsytes, is a man surprisingly advanced for his own age. He appreciates the beauty of nature and condemns the focus on property that seems to run deeply in his family. His son, young Jolyon, is the black sheep of the family. Having abandoned honor and duty, he distances himself from the Forsytes, following his own way as an artist. These and many more characters form the network of Forsytes, who are bound to run into each other in unexpected ways.
The Forsyte Saga is formed as three novels interrupted by two interludes. The first one, The Man of Property, focuses on Soames and his obsession with posession. Even though Soames may be considered somewhat negative character, Galsworthy creates a real human being – with his passions and weaknesses, prejudices and beliefs. The second and third novel continue to explore Soames and his difficult relationship with Irene, introducing for the first time the theme of women in society. Leaving your husband on pursuing career of your own becomes more and more acceptable, even though people such as Soames strive to keep the things the way they were. In the final novel Galsworthy focuses on the lives of a third generation of Forsytes, where old disputes and hatred emerge once again in the face of an impossible love.
Probably the most beautiful and well written part remains the first interlude, Indian Summer of a Forsyte. Focused entirely on Old Jolyon, it creates a peaceful and beautiful atmosphere of the last days of an old man. Old Jolyon, now reconciled with his past, finds happiness and enjoyment in the most unexpected places, proving that his body might be old, but his soul remains young and open to appreciating beauty.
More than 1,500 pages flew like a moment in the company of the Forsytes. I came to hate some and love others, but I couldn’t help but admire all of them. A portrait of an entire society, The Forsyte Saga encompasses the entire spectrum of human relationships, brought together in a single family. A gallery of characters as relevant today as they were more than 100 years ago, the Forsytes can be a mirror to society today – just open the book and you would find any of your friends or acquaintances staring guiltily from the pages. I expected it to be a little boring and predictable at the end, but John Galsworthy’s talent keeps the reader glued up until the last page. I prayed it wouldn’t end, which only happens when you read a true masterpiece.