Home

Reading The Forsyte Saga – Indian Summer of a Forstye

11 Comments

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”.

indian summer

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!

Several other bloggers are reading along with the Forstye saga including Ali, Liz and Bridget – check out their blogs for more posts!

A bookish jaunt – and the loveliness of Viragoites!

34 Comments

Despite my best efforts, the books continue to pour in at the Ramblings (much to the consternation of OH, who starts to wonder where we’re going to put them all, particularly if we manage to retire to a bungalow one day…) However, I’m trying to be strict with what I keep and I suspect some may be passed on to interested readers after I’ve enjoyed them – well, that’s the theory anyway

There’s been something of a splurge of review books – which is lovely, but sometimes unexpected – and these are pressurising me to read them – I’m doing quite well and reviews will follow! Here are some of the lovelies:

hesperus

Two *very* interesting titles courtesy of Hesperus Press. Gertrude Bell was of course a pioneering woman traveller and her work has been published by Virago in the past. The Pankhurst book looks fascinating and I know of several women (Middle Child, for example!) who may well want to read it after me!

pearlmanThe Edith Pearlman book comes courtesy of Bookbridgr and John Murray Publishers, and I’m very excited about this one as her fiction has been lauded everywhere.

Then there is the ongoing Virginia Woolf obsession… Having read everything there was available in the 1980s, I now find there is more – in the form of a 6 volume set of her complete essays and her early journals. The latter managed to make its way to the Ramblings this week:

woolf journals

However, the essays are proving a little more difficult as they are often large and expensive. So far, I have tracked down reasonably priced copies of the first three volumes:

woolf essays

The rest will have to be an ongoing project…

As for the bookish jaunt – this was to London, to meet up with Elaine, a fellow LibraryThing Viragoite who was visiting from the USA. She’s managing to take in a couple of LT gatherings, and yesterday we were joined by the lovely Claire and Luci, plus Simon from Stuck-in-a-Book (who alas had to dash off early), all of whom I’d met before at my first LT get-together last year. The trains were a bit of a nightmare (involving changes at Stratford plus Tottenham Court Tube being closed) and I had my usual “what shall I read on the train?” crisis; eventually settling for this:

kyril

Annabel had given it a rave review on Shiny New Books and I had recently snagged a bargain copy, so I grabbed it on my way out – and it proved to be just the right thing for the journey (a review will follow)!

After meeting up at Foyles, we spent a lovely day pottering around the Bloomsbury Oxfam, the Persephone shop, the LRB bookshop (and very wonderful cafe) plus lunching at My Old Dutch Pancake house – yum! There were bookish finds all round, and Elaine came across an original Virago she’d been after so that was good! Star of the day must be the wonderfully generous Luci, however, who seems to turn up at get-togethers with bags of books to donate – either to charity shops or to those of us who would like them! Such kindness is a wonderful thing and I’m beholden to Luci for several treasures this weekend:

tove

I’ve become a real convert to Tove Jansson recently, so to be presented with two collections I don’t have was a real treat!ghost milkI first read Iain Sinclair a few years back, pre-blog, in the form of “London Orbital”, which I loved, so I’m very keen to explore his work further.

hall and mansfield

And finally from Luci, a Virago title I don’t have and the Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield. These are all wonderful books and I feel very blessed to have been gifted them

You would think that would be enough for one day, wouldn’t you, but I did slip in a couple of other purchases (well – more than a couple, really). From Foyles came this – no explanation needed really:

party

From the Bloomsbury Oxfam came these:

blms oxAnd from the Persephone shop came Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg and some missing bookmarks:

ginzburg

But of course the best part of the day is the company – it’s lovely to chat all things bookish with people! Here’s hoping Elaine’s meet up with the Birmingham Viragoites is just as lovely! 🙂

Reading the Forstye Saga: A Man of Property

24 Comments

Being rather fuzzy minded at the start of a new year, I can’t quite recall how the idea of reading the whole of the Forsyte Saga during 2015 came about – although I think it might have been suggested by HeavenAli, who is reading along too, as is Liz and a number of other bloggers – Ali’s introductory post is here and her first review is here and Liz’s review is here. In any case, I have started January off with the first book in John Galsworthy’s sequence, “A Man of Property”.

I'm particularly keen on this era of Penguins

Galsworthy was quite an authorial presence in his time, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932 and writing novels prolifically. However, his star has somewhat waned and he’s mostly remembered for Forsyte. He was also lampooned as middlebrow author St. John Clarke in Anthony Powell’s “Dance to the Music of Time” series and seems very much to have fallen out of favour, despite two high-profile television adaptations of the books. I’m old enough to remember the scandal caused by the 1960s version (the rape of Irene being portrayed by Nyree Dawn Porter with a slightly ripped nightie, as I recall). So why is Galsworthy so disregarded nowadays?

Well, on the evidence of “A Man of Property”, I really don’t know! The book opens with the last gathering of the Forstye clan, at Old Jolyon’s, to celebrate the engagement of his granddaughter June to Philip Bosinney. Fortunately, we are provided with a family tree, or the introduction of a large family might be confusing! Galsworthy skilfully draws us in, using the occasion to present the Forsyte family in full flow (and he’s not beyond referring to the Forsyte characteristics as if they were a separate species, which is quite amusing!) As Young Jolyon describes them to Bosinney:

I should like.. to lecture on it: “Properties and quality of a Forsyte. This little animal, disturbed by the ridicule of his own sort, is unaffected in his motions by the laughter of strange creatures (you or I). Hereditarily disposed to myopia, he recognizes only the persons and habitats of his own species, amongst which he passes an existence of competitive tranquillity.” They are… half England and the better half too, the safe half, the three per cent half, the half that counts. It’s their wealth and security that makes everything possible; makes your art possible, makes literature, science, even religion, possible. Without Forsytes, who believe in none of these things, but turn them all to use, where should we be? My dear sir, the Forsytes are the middlemen, the commercials, the pillars of society, the corner-stones of convention; everything that is admirable.

The family has worked its way up from being farming folk to city men of property – upper middle class, with all the pretensions that go with that class. They’re incredibly status-conscious, so much so that the veering from the accepted path has caused Old Jolyon to fall out with his son Young Jolyon and the two have been estranged for many years. However, as the book beings, the cracks are starting to appear and it is clear that events are going to take the Forstyes into realms in which they are not comfortable.

Apart from Old and Young Jolyon, much of the storyline of this book focuses on the marriage of Jolyon’s nephew Soames and his wife Irene. Soames epitomises a Forsyte – buttoned up, repressed emotionally, seeing things in practical and monetary terms and hiding any artistic interests. Yet he loves his wife passionately – although in his own way, and regarding her as an item of property in many ways, which women still were seen at the time. Irene, however, obviously despises her husband and as the book progresses the marriage begins to implode. The catalyst for this is Philip Bosinney, the appearance of whom sparks a passionate affair between him and Irene. This has a disastrous effect on June, obviously, particularly as she and Irene had formerly been close friends. Soames meanwhile attempts to repair his marriage by commissioning Bosinney to build a country house for himself and Irene, thinking in his blinkered way that a move away from London will help. Instead, this just brings Bosinney and Irene closer together. While Old and Young Jolyon effect a reconciliation, and one of the old aunts dies, Soames takes possession of his property in a way he believes he has a right to, which brings events to crisis point…

I’ll say no more about the plot – this is an involved and involving novel – but what a fabulous read this was! Middlebrow? Well, I don’t go in for labels, but this was writing that I enjoyed. Galsworthy’s narrative voice is affectionate and yet ironic at the same time. He’s readable and I loved his wonderfully descriptive writing style so no criticism from me on that front.

Across the road, through the railings, Soames could see the branches of trees shining, faintly stirring in the breeze, by the gleam of the street lamps; beyond, again, the upper lights of the houses on the other side, so many eyes looking down on the quiet blackness of the garden; and over all, the sky, that wonderful London sky, dusted with the innumerable reflection of countless lamps; a dome woven over between its starts with the refraction of human needs and human fancies – immense mirror of pomp and misery that night after night stretches its kindly mocking over miles of houses and gardens, mansions and squalor, over Forsytes, policemen, and patient watchers in the streets.

As for his characters – for me, they were living and breathing and alive on the page. Well – with one exception. I found myself struggling to understand Irene, as it seemed to me that we only see her through other people’s eyes and never got below the surface. She obviously found her husband repulsive (early in their courtship she shuddered at the touch of his lips on her skin) and I found myself asking *why* she chose to marry him (it took him 18 months of his trying!) Given that in Edwardian times she would have had no way of making a living for herself and needed a husband to survive, why on earth didn’t she marry someone who was at least a little agreeable? Since she’s described all the way through as a stunning beauty who turns everyone’s head, finding a husband who was acceptable would surely have been possible. And there is a hint of the flirt in her behaviour; she’s well aware of the effect she has on men and seems not to hold back from using this. It may be that Galsworthy intended that we should never really know Irene, so that we should understand the point he’s making here about women being regarded as property, but I found myself a little niggled by the fact that I never felt I fathomed Irene. As for the marital rape scene, this is handled with incredible discretion by Galsworthy; but it’s obvious that his sympathies lie with Irene and from her horror and outrage we can see that he regards Soames’ forcing himself upon her as totally unacceptable. This is a forward-thinking view for the time, and I’m not surprised to find that the author was a supporter of the campaign for women’s rights.

Galsworthy’s also brilliant at capturing the generational differences in a large family – how the younger members are attempting to break out from the restrictions of the old, the middle-aged ones are actually caught in the middle, and the older members are struggling to understand the passing of time, the behaviour of the younger people and the changes in society around them (as well as in themselves). As Galsworthy comments on Soames’ father:

James had passed through the fire, but he had passed also through the river of years that washes out the fire; he had experienced the saddest experience of all – forgetfulness of what it was like to be in love.

While reading “A Man of Property”, my mind kept being drawn back to another unhappy married couple, the Karenins, and I found that Soames in many ways reminded me of Alexis Karenin: both married to women they love but who despise them; both unable to express their emotions properly; both struggling to cope with public infidelity. Although Soames is often painted as the villain of The Forsyte Saga, I think that’s too narrow a viewpoint. Yes, his behaviour is reprehensible; yes, he is wrong to treat his wife as a possession; but Irene should never have married him if she loathed him so much and he goes through a kind of torture during their relationship (or lack of it). I hope that both Irene and Soames will find some kind of happiness in future relationships because it’s obvious that theirs won’t last.

John_galsworthy

The term ‘saga’ has been used in the past in a derogatory way, almost implying that a work is a kind of soap opera. Yet nowadays sagas like the Twilight books, The Hunger Games et al sell by the bucketful without comment. I do feel that Galsworthy has been unjustifiably criticised and condemned to the dustbin of literature. I found his writing excellent for the most part; a little melodramatic in places, perhaps, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I loved his characters, learned to know them, became involved in their fate and watched their lives play out in a wonderfully painted world. My first experience of The Forsyte Saga has been a very positive one and I’m really looking forward to reading on in this series!

Reading challenges ahoy!

25 Comments

I often feel somewhat notorious (and a bit of a failure!) because of my inability to complete reading challenges! The first one I tried was the LibraryThing VMC group’s Elizabeth Taylor readalong a couple of year’s back, and I just about made it (though I did join in halfway through….). In 2013 their group read was for Barbara Pym and I burnt out mid-year. And this year, they went for a Great War themed readalong which I didn’t even get started with! I *did* succeed with my plan to read Anthony Powell’s “Dance to the Music of Time” series, however, and I’ve also completed the first volume of Proust (out of three I have) plus Olivia Manning’s “Balkan Trilogy”, so I suppose I’m not doing too badly!

I'm particularly keen on this era of Penguins

For 2015 I’ve decided, along with HeavenAli, Liz and possibly others, to read “The Forsyte Saga” – nine novels plus the odd interlude so at less than a book a month that should be manageable. However, a couple of other possibilities have reared their heads…

pp.001Ð050.indd

The most recent edition of Slightly Foxed magazine had an article on C.P. Snow, which reminded me that I have his “Strangers and Brothers” series of 11 novels on my bookshelves. I think they would be a remarkably interesting exercise following on from the Powells, particularly as Snow was satirised in “Dance” as J.C. Quiggin. The main issue I have with Snow is deciding on the order of reading, as the early novels were published in one order, but later Snow recommended a different reading order. I am one of those odd pedants who insists on reading the Narnia books in the order published, refusing to read “The Magician’s Nephew” first, so I think if I do read the Snows I shall be awkward and stick to the publication order.

Then there is Lawrence Durrell. I read and enjoyed “Prospero’s Cell” earlier in the year, and have been humming and hawing about whether to try his fiction, in particular his Alexandra Quartet. The question was decided in the Samaritan’s Book Cave at the weekend, when I popped down in search of books for Youngest Child’s university studies and instead came out with these:

alexandria

Yes, all four volumes of the Alexandria Quartet in lovely old Faber editions for £1 each. Cheaper than online with no postage involved (just the wear on my shoulder carting them around town).

So there are several series I could pick up and run with (let alone all the other recent arrivals). I am *definitely* going with “The Forsyte Saga”; but as for the others, I shall keep my mind very much open and free, and if those books happen to float past me, I may well be picking them up…! 🙂

%d bloggers like this: