Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1372
The Man of Property. It is 1886, and all the Forsytes are gathered at Old Jolyon Forsyte’s house to celebrate the engagement of his granddaughter, June, to Philip Bosinney, a young architect. Young Jolyon Forsyte, June’s father, is estranged from his family because he ran away with a governess, whom he later married after June’s mother’s death. Because of the ensuing scandal, June has grown up in the home of her grandfather.
Old Jolyon complains that since June became engaged he has seen little of her. Because he is lonely, he calls on Young Jolyon, whom he has not seen in many years. He finds his son painting watercolors and also working as an underwriter for Lloyd’s. Young Jolyon has two children, Holly and Jolly, by his second wife, and Old Jolyon comes to dote upon them. Old Jolyon, who has the tenderest heart among the six Forsyte brothers (there are ten siblings in all) realizes that he wishes for a complete reconciliation with his son.
The family knows that Soames, son of Old Jolyon’s brother James, has been having trouble with his lovely wife, Irene. She has developed a profound aversion for her husband and has recently reminded him of her premarital stipulation that she should have her freedom if the marriage were not a success. Desperate to please her, Soames plans to build a large country place at Robin Hill and hires June’s fiancé to design and build the house.
When Soames suggests alterations to the plans, Bosinney appears offended, and in the end, the plans remain as they were drawn. As work on the house proceeds, the two men argue over the costs, which are exceeding the original estimate. One day, Soames’s uncle, Swithin Forsyte, takes Irene to see the house, where she meets Bosinney. While Swithin dozes, the architect and Irene talk and fall deeply in love with each other. From this point on, Irene’s already unbearable life with Soames becomes impossible. She asks for a separate room.
Problems over the house continue. Bosinney has agreed to decorate it but only if he can have a free hand, to which Soames finally agrees. Irene and Bosinney begin to meet secretly. As their affair progresses, June becomes more unhappy, and as her suspicions grow, her deep friendship with Irene is strained. Finally, Old Jolyon takes June away for a holiday. He writes to Young Jolyon, asking him to see Bosinney and learn his intentions toward June. Young Jolyon talks to Bosinney, but the report he makes to his father is vague.
When the house is completed, Soames sues Bosinney for exceeding his highest estimate. Irene refuses to move to Robin Hill. When the lawsuit over the house comes to trial, Soames wins his case without difficulty. This same night, Bosinney, after spending the afternoon with Irene and learning that Soames has forced himself on her, is accidentally run over and killed. There is a lingering suspicion that his death may have been a suicide. Irene leaves her husband on the day of the trial, but that night she returns to his house because there is nowhere else for her to go.
“Indian Summer of a Forsyte.” June persuades her grandfather to buy Robin Hill for Jolyon’s family. A short time after Bosinney’s death, Irene leaves Soames permanently; she settles in a small flat and starts giving music lessons to support herself. Several years later, Irene visits Robin Hill secretly and meets Old Jolyon. She wins him over with her gentleness and charm, and during that summer, she makes his days happy. Each of her visits is a joy to the old man. Late in the summer, he dies quietly while waiting for her to come to him again.
In Chancery. After his separation from Irene, Soames devotes himself to making money. Then, still hoping to have an heir, he begins to court a young French woman, Annette Lamotte. His sister, Winifred Dartie, is facing difficulties. Soon, her profligate husband, Monty Dartie, steals her pearls and runs away to South America with a Spanish dancer. When Soames decides to marry Annette, he goes to Irene to see if she will provide grounds for a divorce. He finds that she has lived a very quiet, model life. Soames realizes that he still loves her and tries to persuade her to come back to him. When she refuses, he hires a detective to get evidence with which to divorce her.
Old Jolyon has left a legacy to Irene in his will, and Young Jolyon, now a widower, has been appointed trustee. Soames approaches Irene, who appeals to Young Jolyon for protection. She goes to Paris to avoid Soames; shortly afterward, Young Jolyon joins her. Their visit is cut short by Jolly, who announces that he has joined the yeomanry to fight in the Boer War. Holly has, in the meantime, fallen in love with Val Dartie, her cousin. When Val proposes to Holly, he is overheard by Jolly, who dares Val, whom he dislikes intensely, to join the yeomanry with him. Val accepts. June then decides to become a Red Cross nurse, and Holly goes with her. Monty reappears unexpectedly. To avoid further scandal, Winifred decides to allow him to come back.
Soames goes to Paris in a last effort to persuade Irene. Frightened, Irene returns to Young Jolyon. Before they become lovers, they are presented with papers by Soames’s lawyer. They decide to go abroad together. Before their departure, Young Jolyon receives word that Jolly has died of enteric fever during the African campaign. Later, Soames secures his divorce and marries Annette. To the discomfiture of both branches of the family, Val marries Holly.
Irene and Jolyon have a son, Jon. When Annette is about to give birth to a child, Soames has to choose between saving the mother or the child. Wishing an heir, Soames chooses to save the child. Fortunately, both Annette and the baby, Fleur, live. Little Jon grows up under the adoring eyes of his parents, and Fleur grows up spoiled by her doting father.
“Awakening.” It is the summer of 1909, and Jon is eight years old. He is an imaginative boy, who vividly reenacts every story that he knows. He awakens to a sense of beauty, especially to the beauty of his mother’s face and form and charm and tranquil spirit. From this moment forward, he worships her. Jon also shows signs of one day becoming an artist, not a painter like his father, but a poet.
To Let. Years have passed. Monty is dead. Val and Holly are training racehorses. One day in a picture gallery, Soames impulsively invites a young man, Michael Mont, to see his collection of pictures. That same afternoon, he sees Irene and her son, Jon, for the first time in twenty years. Fleur and Jon meet by chance. Having decided that he wants to try farming, Jon goes to stay with Val. Fleur also appears, to spend the week with Holly. Jon and Fleur fall deeply in love.
Only vague ideas exist regarding the cause of the feud between Jon and Fleur’s respective branches of the family. Later, Fleur learns all the details from Prosper Profond, a cynical Belgian with whom Annette is having an affair, and from Winifred Dartie. She is still determined to marry Jon. Michael Mont has received Soames’s permission to court Fleur. When Soames hears of the affair between Annette and Prosper, she does not deny it but promises there will be no scandal.
Fleur tries to persuade Jon to have a hasty marriage. She fails because Young Jolyon reluctantly gives his son a letter revealing the story of Soames and Irene. After reading the letter, Jon realizes that he can never marry Fleur. His decision becomes irrevocable when his father dies. He leaves England at once and goes to British Columbia, Canada, where Irene joins him. Fleur, disappointed, marries Michael. Timothy, Soames’s uncle, is the last of the old Forsyte brothers; when he dies, Soames realizes that the Forsyte age has passed. Its way of life is like an empty house that is to let. He feels lonely and old.