My one reading challenge for 2015 is to read the whole of the Forstye Saga – in three fat Penguin Modern Classics volumes! I have got slightly behind the other bloggers who are reading along too, but I have made it into the second, slightly short, part in the form of an interlude – “Indian Summer of a Forsyte”.
Originally published on its own in 1918, “Indian Summer” is now usually attached to the end of the first story, “A Man of Property”. It takes a look at the life of Old Jolyon Forsyte sometime after the cataclysmic events at the end of the first book. Old Jolyon is now living in the country at Robin Hill, the house built for Soames by Philip Gosinney, his wife’s lover. Jolyon is joined by his son, young Jolyon and his family, and the menage live happily in the beautiful surroundings.
Old Jolyon has abandoned all of his city life, and happily dotes on his grandchildren, revelling in the beauties of nature and walking through the landscape accompanied by his faithful dog, Balthasar. Into this idyll comes Irene Forstye – still brooding over the loss of Gosinney, she cannot stop herself visiting Robin Hill and remembering. Her beauty entrances Old Jolyon and his Indian Summer begins. While the family is away, he spends time in London wining and dining Irene in London, and hosting dinners for her at the house. It’s a totally innocent flirtation but gives Jolyon a second lease of life, allowing him to enjoy her company and socialise once more. As the real summer develops, hot and hazy, Jolyon’s Indian Summer continues, although there are warning signs that he is putting to much strain upon his frail old body… As the date for the return of the family approaches, he becomes apprehensive about how they will view his friendship and decides to at least take some action to help Irene in future.
Once again, I was instantly drawn into the world of the Forstyes via Galsworthy’s wonderful prose. Although short, this novella has so much packed into it: the rift between Soames and Irene; Gosinney’s death and legacy; Old Jolyon’s touching relationship with his grandchildren; and Irene’s efforts to help ‘fallen women’. The atmosphere of a hot English summer in the countryside is brilliantly conjured up by Galsworthy’s vivid writing, so much so that I almost felt I was there too.
I also felt that Irene was allowed to develop a little more as a character in this story: we see her as a person in her own right, struggling to cope in a society that views her as a kind of fallen woman herself, and I’m glad Galsworthy is allowing her to become more of a real woman. Her friendship with Jolyon is handled deftly and delicately, allowed to develop over the summer, and it’s lovely to see her bring a little light and happiness into his life.
Needless to say, there is sadness to come, and the end does rather bring a tear to the eye. But I loved this little Forsyte novella, and I’m greatly looking forward to the next book in the series!