Listened to on Audibled
Narrator David Case
In Chancery moves the Forsyte Saga forward against a background of The Married Woman’s Property Act, the death of Queen Victoria and the Boer War. The Forsytes find that tradition and property have become built on shifting sands. What is to become of the Forsytes and their kind?
In the best tradition of the English middle class they rally and survive. But at what cost? Death, marriage and property absorb them.
This novel opens with the shocking news that Old Jolyon not only broke with the tradition of being buried in Highgate Cemetery but has left Irene, Soames’s estranged wife, a life interest of £15,000, thus making her financially independent, and with outsider young Jolyon as her trustee.
Soames’s mind has turned to a replacement wife to give him a son if only he can find grounds for a divorce. Surely Irene, now living in Paris, must have a lover. Soames has his eye on a young Frenchwoman, Annette, who keeps the books for her mother’s Soho restaurant. He thinks that with a few adjustments she will make a suitable wife and mother.
However, he soon rationalises his position. He is rich, presentable and already married. He sees no reason why Irene should not overlook the rape, return to him and give him a son. She agrees to see him and he pursues her relentlessly. When she rejects his advances and expensive gift of diamonds he is bewildered and furious. After all, he sees her as his property.
After many vicissitudes, Irene moves in to Robin Hill with Young Jolyon, her Trustee and eventually, they give Soames the evidence he has been waiting for. The divorce is arranged. Soames marries Annette and Irene marries Jolyon
In contrast, Galsworthy draws a brilliant picture of a cad in Winifred’s gambling husband, Montague Darte. She married Dartie for his charm and dashing good looks. Over the years, James Forsyte has subsidised Dartie’s horse habits but eventually Dartie steals the pearls he has given Winifred (paid for by her) and assaults her in order to run off with a dancer to Buenos Aires. Soames is called in and recommends divorce. The ensuing scandal causes Winifred to assess her position and ends in a convenient compromise. After his fling fails, she takes Dartie back on her own terms and because of his situation she sees him as her property.
And so it continues. James dies, Soames marries Annette, Irene marries Jolyon and children are born. Fleur to Annette and Soames and Jon to Irene and Jolyon. Annette nearly dies in childbirth. To the horror of the doctor Soames instructs him to save the child first. Annette survives but can have no more children. No son then for Soames.
The Boer War affects their finances and worries them continually. Mostly they are on the side of the English but there are murmurs of a broader view from June, who is given to rescuing lame ducks and lost causes. Joly dying of enteric fever sacrifices himself to the cause and leaves the next generation to the decadent Val, son of Winifred and Dartie. Sadly, Val and Holly, Jolyon’s daughter, form a friendship.
The aunts in Bayswater Road act as a kind of Greek chorus adding a running and very amusing commentary on the family. There is a strong domestic feel to the Forsytes in spite of their wealth. When Soames visits his parents, James and Emily, in Park Lane, he can stay the night. He can run upstairs to their bedroom and talk with them while they dress. In view of his own coldness this seems extraordinarily intimate.
Recounting plot and narrative is a difficult exercise for me, possibly because audio is so different from reading. I find that, whilst the story speeds along with all its twists and turns and large cast, what interests me most is the ambience, characterisation and style. I am somewhat disappointed, when I recount the actual story for the purposes of this blog, at the soap opera elements. But why? This is a wonderful picture of a particular time and class and I am very much enjoying it. I should enjoy it for what it is and I do!
The less said about the interlude, The Awakening, the better. Whether it was because I was listening rather than reading, I found the sentimentality of Irene’s relationship with her child hard to take!
Nevertheless, I can’t wait to listen to To Let and I hope to alter my style of reviewing to one more suited to audio.