My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Forsyte Saga covers three generations of the Forsyte family as they traverse their way through family and relationship drama.
The antagonist, Soames Forsyte is a complex and three dimensional character who is a product of conservative Victorian and family values whose driving force is the betterment of self and thus the extended family through the accumulation and growth of property. Property in his view was everything he owned – his law firm, his homes, his money, his investments, his art collection and his wife.
The protagonist is Irene, his wife and property. Irene marries him because she has no money and no family support, but soon regrets her decision to marry a man she does not love. Soames is introverted and his obsession, intensity and sense of ownership is overbearing and creates a married life of a prison for Irene. It sets the stage for adultery and soon Irene falls for her cousin’s fiancé. Creating ruptures in relationships that ripple down the years to the following generation, when the star cross-lovers, Irene’s son and Soame’s daughter fall in love and their doomed relationship breaks because of the pressure from both parents.
Throughout the book, one develops sympathy for Soames as he never understands why Irene hated him when he did everything for her and gave her whatever she wanted and she never gave him her love. His bitterness and confusion never leaves him and neither does his passion for her. She is the love of his life and it’s an unrequited love. He is an unlovable person and despite having everything on a material level, you pity him.
Irene on the other hand isn’t a good character either. The author describes her as a femme fatale of the Victorian age. All the men love her irrespective of her behaviour, they forgive her anything, simply because she is ageless, beautiful, with the perfect figure. A Venus that weakens men into mush around her. She is passive aggressive, introverted and very self-absorbed. The main cause of ruptures in the Forstye family. Her worst achievement is to prevent her own son from marrying the girl he loves by manipulating her husband, the step-children and her son just so that she doesn’t have to interact with her ex-husband in the future. Her son is a mother’s boy, never really leaving the apron strings. While Soame’s daughter is a spoiled, petulant rich girl used to getting whatever she wants. But like her father, she realises people can’t be owned and are not easy to possess.
You have to get used to the English and mannerisms of a hundred years ago when this book was written which shows the values, behaviour and thoughts of the middle classes from mid-19th century through to Edwardian England with all the changes that came about through mechanical inventions, changes in values and behaviour. There is much rambling on and sentimentality to wade through to get to the story. This book, as with most classics, would not be accepted by literary agents and publishers today because of the writing style. It brings home how much novels, language and writing style have changed in a century.
View all my reviews