The Man of Property: The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Man of Property is the first book in The Forsyte Saga, a trilogy by John Galsworthy. Galsworthy won the Nobel prize in literature for his body of work with this trilogy sited as the best example of his “distinguished art of narration.” His author page states that in addition to his work as an author, Galsworthy was also a “social activist. He was an outspoken advocate for the women's suffrage movement, prison reform and animal rights.”
There is an agenda in Galsworthy's writing, which I admire, but which often felt as if I was being hit over the head with nineteenth century political correctness. He is constantly defining what a Forsyte is rather than allowing his readers to make up their own minds. For example:
Old Jolyon was too much of a Forsyte to praise anything freely; especially anything for which he had a genuine admiration.
The blurb for The Man of Property starts out as follows:
The most prized item in Soames Forsyte's collection of beautiful things is his wife, the enigmatic Irene. But when she falls in love with Bosinney, a penniless architect who utterly rejects the Forsyte values, their affair touches off a series of events which can only end in disgrace and disaster.
In most of the discussions I read about this novel, there is a concentration on Soames' love of possessions. But I found the second sentence in this blurb to be more interesting. Irene, Soames' wife was bored. I can't say I blame her. A life spent accumulating possessions is about as boring a life as anyone can choose. It is her boredom that leads to the affair.
Irene falls in love with Bosinney, apparently because his values are so different from Soames' values. But it is hard to sympathize with her choice. Bosinney is designing a house for Irene and Soames and during that process he is constantly shaking his head at Soames and acting as if the man has no sense of style whatsoever. There's a difference between confidence and arrogance and Bosinney has more of the latter. And then there's June. June's another member of the Forsyte family. She's engaged to Bosinney and she's Irene's best friend. She's treated horribly, betrayed on two sides and without even the courtesy of talking to her about the situation. And this is after June has worked hard to help Bosinney succeed in his chosen profession. It seems as if Galsworthy sees June's desire for Bosinney to achieve success as a act of self interest somehow.
The Man of Property isn't my favorite of the nineteenth century literature I've read, but it is worth reading. It's complex enough to be interesting and it's fun to read what others thing of the work.
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