Having read A Man of Property a couple of years ago, I was really pleased to find I could read its sequel In Chancery by John Galsworthy for the 1920 Club. These books are volumes one and two respectively of The Forsyth Chronicles which compromises a total of nine novels. Pictured are my paperback copies of the first six that my mom bought at a church rummage sale many, many years ago which I inherited, so to speak. The Scribner box set has the price of $11.70 on it and I am sure my mother would have paid less than a dollar for them in circa 1975 at the rummage. This set was issued by the publisher to take advantage of the T.V. series broadcast on National Educational Television (the precursor of PBS) in 1967(?)which actually kicked off/created that venerable institution in American Television "Masterpiece Theater". Pictures from the T.V. show are on the box.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot of In Chancery since it is a sequel, but in terms of its main characters, both books are set at the end of the 19th century and focus mainly on Soames Forsyte and his beautiful but aloof wife Irene and Soames’ first cousin “Young” Jolyon Forsyte.
The Forsytes as a clan have humble beginnings. Two generations earlier in the late 18th century their forefather was a modestly well-off farmer. But his son, through the acquisition of property and subsequent investment, prospered so much so that his progeny, the third generation, became very comfortably middle class and by the mid-1800s their children, the fourth generation, go to all the right schools, dress in all the right fashions and dine at all the right places. As they say, money begets money.
Soames is the titular "Man of Property". All Forsytes appreciate money and possessions and one of Soames’ most prized possessions is Irene, who does not love him. Soames can and does meet, if not exceed, all of Irene’s material needs but she cannot love a man who does not see her as a person but rather covets her as an object to be admired and envied by others. Soames contrasts with his cousin, Young Jolyon who is estranged from the family because he left his first wife after he fell in love with another woman. To make matters worse, he has designs on becoming a painter. Young Jolyon’s father and the patriarch of the Forsyte clan, Old Jolyon, longs to reconcile with his disgraced son, but doesn’t quite know how to go about it. In Chancery takes place 12 years after the first book, still with its spotlight on the doomed relationship between Soames and Irene, but it also ushers out the old generation of the family and brings in the new, fifth generation who will come of age in the new 20th century.
All in all, this is a very soapy series, full of affairs and intrigue. But I think it is intelligently written and I find it often quite moving emotionally and also not without plenty of sharp satirical commentary. In particular, Galsworthy reminds me of Trollope in his depiction of the plight of married women in the Victorian and Edwardian era when such women were legally the property of their husbands. Galsworthy doesn’t quite have the charm of Trollope, but I imagine a reader who likes the one will probably like the other. I’m not sure when I’ll get to the rest of the books but I am looking forward to finishing out the series, or at the very least, these six books I own.
Many thanks to Simon and Karen for hosting The 1920 Club. I can't wait to hear what year will be chosen for November 2020. 😄