The Forsyte Saga

by John Galsworthy

Other authorsAda Galsworthy (Introduction)
Hardcover, 1933



Drama of the family life and loves of an upper-middle-class Victorian family.

Library's rating


(336 ratings; 4.2)

User reviews

LibraryThing member k8_not_kate
Although I dove into this hefty novel thinking it would be not much more than frothy Victorian scandal and romance, I was pleasantly surprised. Don't get me wrong--the scandal and romance is there, but it did have a bit more to offer than all that. Galsworthy manages to comment on the Victorian British middle class (upper-middle class?) in a way that's still interesting to look in on. Also, the character Irene is expertly handled; we never hear her thoughts and feelings as we do all the other characters, yet she's more or less the center of the story. All the other characters (especially the male ones) revolve around this one person who the reader must size up without the benefit of being told her side of things. I would call the book very well written, if not a little over-the-top or dramatic at moments in terms of sentiment, although this is as much as I expected.

A plus for me personally, the novel spans something like 40 years and three generations; I'm truly a sucker for the epic story, be it in the form of literature or movies. The ambiance of the late Victorian era, WWI, and the beginning of the Jazz age are all covered, and Galsworthy relates them well. Furthermore, you really, really KNOW the characters when you're done. I was almost sad to leave Soames and the gang behind in the end.
… (more)
LibraryThing member ursula
John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga is made up of 3 novels and 2 short "interludes." The works concern themselves with the family dramas of the Forsyte clan, who we meet in the late 1800s in London. They are upper-class, but recently so, still feeling the sting of having a not-distant-enough ancestor who was a farmer. Galsworthy frequently reminds the reader that the Forsytes are a type, not just an individual family. New money, and those most concerned about acquiring and keeping wealth and property are called "Forsytes," no matter what their name may be. Personally, I think the books would have benefited from less emphasis on that point, but I suppose it seemed like a good idea to have these reminders that the Forsytes were not alone in their attitudes and foibles.

The family stories are engaging, and each of the many Forsytes have their own distinct personalities, even as they're shaped by the times in which they live. The oldest generation ranges from the reclusive Timothy to the softened-by-age Old Jolyon, to the crotchety James. The middle generation is much different from their elders, both as a reflection of the change in attitudes brought about by the turn of the 20th century and as a reaction to their parents' values. Much of the substance of the series turns on members of the second generation - Soames, his wife Irene, and Young Jolyon in particular. But they also have their turn as the older generation as their children come of age and have ideas of their own about what's important in life. However, one can never really escape the past; some actions have effects that reverberate through the generations, however much one tries to ignore them and move on.

Although a long read, it was enjoyable and not difficult to follow at all. The family themes of love, duty, forgiveness, second chances, and propriety are set against the backdrop of changing times - not only the turn of the century, but the first World War, the Boer War, and the change of lifestyle brought on by the popularity of automobiles.

Recommended for: people who liked Pillars of the Earth or Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence, people who like to watch miniseries, Anglophiles.

Quote: "The persistence of the past is one of those tragi-comic blessings which each new age denies, coming cocksure on to the stage to mouth its claim to a perfect novelty."

Bonus quote: "This great and good woman, so highly thought of in ecclesiastical circles, was one of the principal priestesses in the temple of Forsyteism, keeping alive day and night a sacred flame to the God of Property, whose altar is inscribed with those inspiring words: 'Nothing for nothing, and really remarkably little for sixpence.'"
… (more)
LibraryThing member Renz0808
"Was there anything, indeed, more tragic in the world than a man enslaved by his own possessive instinct, who couldn't see the sky for it, or even enter fully into what another person felt!" This has to be my favorite line of the whole book which was thought by young Jolyon Forsyte about his tragic cousin Soames. It also sums up what the entire long family saga is about, possessions whether they are tangible or human. This book is so brilliant because it has a little bit of everything including family secrets, adultry, forbidden love, gambling, and scandal. It almost sounds like a soap opera but is only so much better. Another brillant part of the book is the fact that all the characters are so human none of them are perfect and each has their own set of flaws. At first I didn't think I was going to like the fact that there was no real hero but I have to say that it makes for some interesting reading. Another thing I liked about Galsworthy's writing of the book is that readers never really know what Irene is thinking, the only interpretations you get from her are what other characters give you. This makes her as elusive as she is described in the book. You either are going to love her or hate her. I found myself hating her at the beginning of the novel because I pitied poor Soames for receiving no love from her but by the time the interlude had occured, I found myself liking her more, especially because of her treatment of Old Jolyon. I started hating and piting Soames more and more, even his own daughter dislikes him. If you like LONG invloved novels with detailed descriptions about time and places you will love this book. It is really one of the great works of the 20th century and I think this author was way before his time. I look forward to reading the other two novels about the Forsyte family in he future.… (more)
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I just finished the book recently and have wanted to mull it over. I think this book is a genuine masterpiece because of Galsworthy's fabulous aiblity to reflect societal change in a single family tree. As society shifts, so do the Forsytes, at lest the newer generation at the time. Galsworthy's character development is memorable. As with Dickens, there are certain characters who will live on in my memory, such as Irene, Soames, Timothy, and June, just to name a few. Galsworthy is able to adapt not only characters to the changing times but he adapts setting as well, changing sounds and smells to match the changes in the environment. I will always love the way Soames monitored and predicted the times through his assessment of art. Cold and calculating perhaps, yet prescient as well.… (more)
LibraryThing member xieouyang
I really enjoyed this novel. It has a very rich writing style. Rich in the use of language. Rich in the variety of characters and personalities and their interaction. Rich in the plot itself.

The novel traces the lives and travails of three generations of an English family residing in London at the end of the 19th century through the first couple of decades in the 2oth. It's a story of a wealthy family embedded in the Victorian tradition that sees the transition to modernism among the younger generation. It has a vast number of characters, all family relations which makes it difficult, at the beginning, to keep track of who is who and who is related to whom. My copy has a very handy family tree that helped identify the characters and their relatioins.

Galsworthy does a great job in depicting the peronalities and emotions of the novel's characters. And they cover the whole range. Some of them are clearly dumb while other are very intelligent. Family and social tradition plays a key role for many of the characters, particularly the older generation. The younger generations, as it always the case, rebel and do not value those traditions necessarily, with dire results for the family.

I recommend reading this novel- but it requires some time because of it's length. It's entertaining throughout.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Kristelh
This is the story of the Forsytes of England during the Victorian, Edwardian, and post WWI years and specifically about Soames’ marriage to Irene and how it affects the whole family for several generations. It is an interesting look at a family but also about a historical time and changes that occur. Changes in the roles of men and women, changes in transportation, changes in manners. This is a story which is mostly told through inner dialogue as the family has so many secrets and things they won’t talk about. The audio was well done. The narrator had a nice English accent and was able to give the characters their own voice.… (more)
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
One of those turn-of-the-century novels that feels as though it was written much later. There is a lightness of touch, a preoccupation with interesting events and situations rather than flowery description. Soames is an excellent character; we first encounter him trying to 'look through his own nose'. His difficult relationships with the various women in his life are fascinating. I can see why the TV series was so popular… (more)
LibraryThing member amerynth
I thoroughly enjoyed John Galsworthy's "The Forsyte Chronicles." Best described as a Victorian soap opera, the book (which actually contains three novels and two short stories) follows several generations of the Forsyte family. Money, power, love and death are at the center of the story, as is the changing landscape of London during the Victorian era.

A word of warning: There is a huge cast of characters in this book and they can be hard to keep track of at first. Don't use the family tree at the front of the book to do so... (even though it is wonderful.) Spoilers abound and I already knew the endings since I'd seen marriages listed in the family tree that were to come later on in the book.)

So glad I read this one... I enjoyed it enough that I plan to read the remainder of the series at some point.
… (more)
LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
This version of The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy is over 800 pages and consists of 3 books; A Man of Property, In Chancery and To Let as well as 2 short interludes; Indian Summer and Awakening. This is a family saga about money, morals and class at the beginning of the 20th century. The Forsytes are an upper-middle class family that have good expectations of improving their status. While the main focus of the story is on the disintegration of the marriage between Soames Forsyte and his wife, Irene, and the interactions between these two and their families, there are other plots involving this multi-generational family that revolve around the expansion of their wealth and the price paid for this obtainment.

I have to admit that by the third book I was quite tired of reading about Soames and Irene as well as their overdone “soap opera” plot. While Soames’ journey through life was difficult, I didn’t feel much sympathy for him as I found him quite pompous and rigid. At the same time, I found his wife, Irene too cold and distant to ever feel that I knew her so I couldn’t generate much interest in her story either. In the later books, I did like both Fleur and Jon, but it was easy to see what was going to happen with this relationship so I was never emotionally invested in their story.

Galsworthy spreads his story over a large canvas that includes all the various members of this family and we learn a little about each member over the course of the three books and many different sub-plots are developed along the way. Personally I much preferred these sub-plots that featured the other Forsytes and while I grew tired of some of the characters I can certainly attest to the appeal of this story with it’s descriptions of wealthy English lifestyles and conventional society morals at the turn on the century.
… (more)
LibraryThing member julie10reads
John Galsworthy was born on August 14, 1867 in Surrey, England. Although more popular as a playwright during his lifetime, Galsworthy is now famous for his fiction masterpiece, The Forsyte Saga, which won him a Nobel prize for literature a year before his death in 1933. The saga traces the ups and downs of the upper middle class Forsyte family from the end of the 19th century up until 1920 in a series of three novels and two “interludes”. Think Downton Abbey.

Did Nature permit a Forsyte not to make a slave of what he adored? Could beauty be confided to him?

Unlike Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes, John Galsworthy dissected the lives of the people of his own class. Galsworthy could not tolerate the obsession of his peers with buying and selling. The idea that one could “own” ineffables such as beauty and love, whether as art or a wife, was contemptible to him. He channelled his disgust into the creation of the odious but unforgettable Soames Forsyte, jealous husband of the beautiful Irene (pronounced in the Edwardian style: I-REE-nee). Galsworthy was clearly in love with the character of Irene, making her story of self-determination the unifying thread of the entire tapestry. Indeed it is hard to miss his empathy for women in this series.

The Forsyte Saga has been serialised twice on television, most recently and lavishly by Granada TV with Damian Lewis as Soames and the elegant Gina McKee as Irene. If the print format seems daunting at 912 pages (Oxford paperback), I highly recommend the audiobook narrated in a beautiful Edwardian drawl by Fred Williams.
… (more)
LibraryThing member ReneH
One of the best books I ever read. It is very well written. It also is very, very English. The story has no flaws at all. Read this!
LibraryThing member NinieB
About 40 years after watching the 1960s British television production, I finally have read this trilogy. I didn’t even remember the plot(s) properly. And I would never pretend to appreciate in depth the literary aspects. But the writing is a delight, the characters complex and fascinating. Just outstanding.
LibraryThing member jmoncton
The Forsyte Saga is the epic story that revolves around three generations of the Forsyte family, who have gone from being middle class tradesmen to a wealthy and powerful family. Although very fun for it's depiction of England and London society from the end of the Victorian period through the Edwardian era, the series is a great story about passion, love, jealousy and the interplay between members of a family. The book is actually broken down into 3 novels with 2 short stories in between. Although I enjoyed the first story, 'A Man of Property', I wasn't completely hooked until the second story. Part of the difficulty is the enormous cast of characters. Although I wasn't sure who was who in the first story, by the end of the book, I knew all of their relationships and odd personality quirks. Definitely worth rereading just to enjoy the entire book.

I did a combination of reading and listening for this saga. I picked up the audio narration performed by Fred Williams. After the first 6 hours, I had to stop and switch to a narration by David Case. What a difference! Williams is basically just reading a very long book. Case performs the different voices of the characters and really captures much of the passion and feeling behind this emotional book.
… (more)
LibraryThing member hbergander
Young readers from nowadays will not have the time to consume the whole series of several novels. The first interlude “Indian Summer for a Forsythe” may be a good selection to receive an impression about Galsworthy’s clear style and his subtlety.
LibraryThing member romanwoman
Classic novel of the emerging British middle class during the Victorian era. It examines the role of women, money, and obsession during Britain's empire era.
LibraryThing member CatieN
A social satire starring the Forsyte family. Excellent writing but a little hard to follow sometimes because of the number of characters and situations.
LibraryThing member mahallett
921 pages and I didn't want it to end.
LibraryThing member dmarsh451
Drat. I see I lost the slip of paper where I write page numbers and the little notes for the book report. There are a few numbers scrawled on the inside back cover; page 785 has cricket, 808 the fixed idea, and there's a giant dog-ear folded from the bottom of the page. That would be a chapter I want to read again. I put off finishing it too. The book was left untouched at page 830 for an entire month. Didn't want to finish it. I had been through too much with them, especially the unloveable Soames, and the houses; Robin Hill and Timothy's.

"His heart made a faint demonstration within him while he stood in full south sunlight on the newly whitened doorstep of that little house where four Forsytes had once lived, and now but one dwelt on like a winter fly; the house into which Soames had come and out of which he had gone times without number, divested of, or burdened with, fardels of family gossip; the house of the 'old people' of another century, another age."

That house.

The passage of time is strong in this book and Galsworthy's precision and wit so timeless, I can recognize in Soame's misgivings about motor cars my own dizzy suspicions about cellphones. Whether it's the 19th or 20th century that's turning, things only seem to go faster. This is not going back on the shelf. I'm tucking this dogeared beast under the bedside table so I can reread all my favourite parts.
… (more)



Charles Scribner's Sons (1933), 921 pages

Original publication date

May 1922 (in hardback); Reprints in July & September 1922
1906-1921 (serialized)




Page: 0.2873 seconds