Review: The Forsyte Saga

John Galsworthy (1906-1922)

As soon as I finished this 800-plus-page book, I wanted to flip it over and began again, that’s how much I loved The Forsyte Saga. Beginning in the Victorian era and spanning three decades, Galsworthy interweaves three generations of a prominent family, from the apex of their wealth and social standing through their slide into the 20th century.

Two sides of the family tree come to be divided by Irene, a beautiful and enigmatic woman, a literal and figurative representation of Beauty. She has the misfortune to marry Soames Forsyte, a “man of property” whose passion comes from the possession of beautiful things, be it art, architecture or a wife. Driven by his possessiveness, Soames sets out to build Irene the finest cage, a country house to marvel all others, thereby setting in motion a series of scandals that will rock the Forsyte family from its staid foundation.

The Forsyte Saga is not a story of big events and dramatic fireworks. Its strength comes from its characters, who emerge from the page full-blooded and very contemporary. This includes Soames, a character the author manages to keep interesting by avoiding to cast him purely as the villain. Galsworthy’s prose is as rich and colorful as his characters, tinged with a wry sense of humor; the language is utterly readable, propelling you from one chapter to the next.

“Indian Summer of a Forsyte,” the interlude chapter between Book I and II of The Forsyte Saga (there are three books in all), focuses on Soames’ uncle Jolyon, and is one of the most beautiful and touching stories I have ever read. The Forsyte Saga is a book I very much look forward to reading again.

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2 Responses

  1. Julie R.

    Did you watch the original Masterpiece Theatre that came out in 1967? In my young 9 years i was glued to the TV! I have been meaning to re-watch. Maybe this summer. I have it here if you want to borrow.

  2. Julie!
    I’m actually nearing the end of watching the recent BBC version. I debated between watching it or the original MT version (which I’d long heard was fantastic) but I ultimately went with the Damien Lewis version because of, well, Damien Lewis. (Who is truly amazing as Soames Forsyte.) I’ll let a few years pass, re-read the book and then watch the older one.

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