One hundred years ago a fabulous series of books came to end, with the publication of the last volume of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga. The first novel of the saga was The Man of Property, published in 1906. It was followed by an ‘Interlude’ book, Indian Summer of a Forsyte in 1918, then came In Chancery in 1920, another ‘Interlude’ Awakening in 1920, and finally To Let in 1921. Later he wrote more Forsyte Chronicles but The Forsyte Saga officially ended 100 years ago with To Let.
The series tells the story of an upper-middle class English family (strongly based on Galsworthy’s own) and the themes are money, status, marriages, and property (for some of the characters, wives and property are the same thing!). In 1932 Galsworthy was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the Forsyte novels came in at no.123 in the BBC’s ‘The Big Read’ poll of the UK’s ‘best-loved novels’.
I love the books and think it sad that in recent decades Galsworthy has rather sunk from sight. There have been several film versions – silent movies in 1920 and 1922, a 1949 movie, That Forsyte Woman (which only covered the first book) with Errol Flynn and Greer Garson. Then in 1967 came the 26-part BBC adaptation, which included A Modern Comedy (a subsequent Forsyte book written by Galsworthy). This starred Eric Porter as a chilly Soames, Kenneth More as Young Jolyon, Nyree Dawn Porter as Irene and Susan Hampshire as Fleur, as well as many other marvellous actors. I had heard about this version, but it was only in the early 1990s that I borrowed video tapes from the library and sat down to watch it. My husband was away on a business trip and each night I put the children to bed earlier and earlier, so I could fit in more episodes. I adored it and have re-watched it with equal pleasure since then. In 2002 Granada TV made a mini-series of the novels, with Damian Lewis as an excellent Soames, Rupert Graves, and Gina McKee as a disappointing Irene. I’ve never really loved this version – I think the old black and white adaptation spoiled me for anything else.
Did you know that John Galsworthy visited Australia? His visit was in 1893 – as the young man had fallen in love with a rather unsuitable woman, his father sent him travelling, hoping he’d forget the young lady. He did forget her, but returned home to start an affair with the wife of his cousin, whom he eventually married.
It was at the docks in Adelaide that he met another writer – Joseph Conrad. The two became firm friends, though Galsworthy always made far more money from his books than did Conrad.
Have you read John Galsworthy’s books or seen any of the movie or TV adaptations? Which is your favourite? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.