(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Forsyte Saga, in particular The Man of Property, is John Galsworthy’s most enduring work. It is the story of one upper middle-class family in England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The most important character is Soames Forsyte, the title character of The Man of Property. He is a successful lawyer and a collector of paintings. He is married to Irene Heron, whom he and society regard as his property. At the climax of the book, Soames rapes her. Galsworthy was horrified at the situation of a woman who is forced into the sexual act with a man she does not love. He did not agree with the prevailing attitude of the time that a husband had the right to his wife’s body.

In Chancery picks up the story several years later. Soames and Irene are still legally married, but separated. Soames becomes obsessed with the need to father a son, but Irene refuses to go back to him. Soames then casts his eye on a young Frenchwoman, Annette Lamotte. The only ground on which Soames can divorce Irene, however, is adultery, but she had not taken a lover. Irene has developed a friendship with Soames’ cousin, Jolyon Forsyte. They are seen together in public, but it is only after Soames confronts them that they consummate their relationship. They do not contest the divorce proceedings, so Soames marries Annette, and Jolyon and Irene legally become husband and wife.

The book ends with the birth of a son, Jon, for Jolyon and Irene and a daughter, Fleur, for Soames and Annette. Annette has a difficult birthing. Soames’ doctor gives Soames the choice of saving his wife or his child. Soames chooses the child, although had he known it would be a girl he might have chosen differently. Annette survives, but she cannot have any more children.

To Let takes up the story twenty years later. Jon and Fleur meet and fall in love. Soames approves the match, but Jolyon and Irene oppose it. In a reversal of attitude, Galsworthy shows Jolyon and especially Irene as treating Jon as a possession, but shows Soames to be a loving parent. The book ends with Jolyon telling Jon the story of Soames and Irene. Jolyon dies shortly afterward, and Jon breaks off the relationship.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 1372 words.)