Summary of “The Forsyte Saga” By John Galsworthy

The Forsyte Saga is a sequence of five texts by John Galsworthy, first published in one volume in 1922. The saga comprises three novels, The Man of Property (1906), In Chancery (1920), and To Let (1921), and two interludes, Indian Summer of a Forsyte (1918), and Awakening (1920), which together trace the declining fortunes of three generations of the Forsyte family. Among other things, Galsworthy lays bare the urbane brutality and blinding materialism that underpins the ‘full plumage’ of upper-middle-class family life.

In The Man of Property, Soames Forsyte, a successful solicitor, the nephew of ‘old Jolyon’, lives in London surrounded by his prosperous old uncles and their families. He marries the penniless Irene and builds a country house for her, Robin Hill; when she falls in love with its architect, Bosinney, Soames reasserts what he regards as his proprietorial rights and rapes her. Bosinney is killed in a street accident and Irene returns to Soames. In Chancery describes the growing love of young Jolyon, Soames’s cousin, for Irene; Irene’s divorce from Soames and her happy marriage with Jolyon; and the birth of their son Jon. Meanwhile, Soames marries Annette Lamotte and they have a daughter, Fleur. In To Let, Fleur and Jon fall in love; Jon’s father feels compelled to reveal the past of Irene and Soames, and the agonized Jon, in spite of Fleur’s Forsyte determination, rejects her. She marries Michael Mont, and when young Jolyon dies Irene leaves to join Jon in America. The desolate Soames learns that his wife is having an affair with a Belgian, and discovers that Irene’s house, Robin Hill, is empty and to let.

The Forsyte Saga was serialized in 26 episodes for BBC television in 1967 and proved a phenomenal success. It was also adapted by Granada in 2002 as an ITV mini-series but to rather less acclaim.

Galsworthy’s sequel to The Forsyte Saga came in A Modern Comedy, written in the years 1924 to 1928. This comprises the novel The White Monkey; an interlude, A Silent Wooing; a second novel, The Silver Spoon; a second interlude, Passers-By; and a third novel, Swan Song. The principal characters are Soames and Fleur, and the second saga ends with the death of Soames in 1926. This is also the point reached at the end of the 1967 television series.