The Forsyte Saga

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Written over a period of four decades and covering more than 50 years of British history, Galsworthy’s nine Forsyte novels (THE FORSYTE SAGA is the name given only to the first three books) provide often trenchant social criticism of England’s upper-middle class, represented in these novels by the landowning, mercantile Forsyte family. Galsworthy’s underlying concern in this vast cycle of novels is the moral and spiritual decline of the social class embodied by the Forsytes, whose greed and blindness to social progress leaves them unprepared for the cataclysm of the 20th century.

Primarily a realist in his technique, Galsworthy at his best perfectly captures the social rituals and the physical settings that characterize the Forsyte way of life: the business meetings in bank offices, the receptions held in stuffy drawing rooms, the joyless weddings in expensive but lifeless houses. His characters are nevertheless types that are easily recognizable in real life: Soames Forsyte, the prosperous but unfulfilled man of affairs; his wife Irene, bored with possessions and in need of passion; Old Jolyon Forsyte, the dynasty founder; Soames’ daughter Fleur, the new woman. Through the use of such a huge time frame, Galsworthy is able to convey the stark differences between the various generations treated in the novels, while also commenting upon the societal changes that are occurring around them.

Though the novels were immensely popular when...

(The entire section is 542 words.)