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"The Forsyte Saga" was the title originally destined for that
part of it which is called "The Man of Property"; and to adopt it
for the collected chronicles of the Forsyte family has indulged
the Forsytean tenacity that is in all of us. The word Saga might
be objected to on the ground that it connotes the heroic and that
there is little heroism in these pages. But it is used with a
suitable irony; and, after all, this long tale, though it may
deal with folk in frock coats, furbelows, and a gilt-edged
period, is not devoid of the essential beat of conflict.
Discounting for the gigantic stature and blood-thirstiness of old
days, as they have come down to us in fairy-tale and legend, the
folk of the old Sagas were Forsytes, assuredly, in their
possessive instincts, and as little proof against the inroads of
beauty and passion as Swithin, Soames, or even Young Jolyon. And
if heroic figures, in days that never were, seem to startle out
from their surroundings in fashion unbecoming to a Forsyte of the
Victorian era, we may be sure that tribal instinct was even then
the prime force, and that "family" and the sense of home and
property counted as they do to this day, for all the recent
efforts to "talk them out."

So many people have written and claimed that their families were
the originals of the Forsytes that one has been almost encouraged
to believe in the typicality of an imagined species. Manners
change and modes evolve, and "Timothy's on the Bayswater Road"
becomes a nest of the unbelievable in all except essentials; we
shall not look upon its like again, nor perhaps on such a one as
James or Old Jolyon. And yet the figures of Insurance Societies
and the utterances of Judges reassure us daily that our earthly
paradise is still a rich preserve, where the wild raiders, Beauty
and Passion, come stealing in, filching security from beneath our
noses. As surely as a dog will bark at a brass band, so will the
essential Soames in human nature ever rise up uneasily against
the dissolution which hovers round the folds of ownership.

"Let the dead Past bury its dead" would be a better saying if the
Past ever died. 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.

But no Age is so new as that! Human Nature, under its changing
pretensions and clothes, is and ever will be very much of a
Forsyte, and might, after all, be a much worse animal.

Looking back on the Victorian era, whose ripeness, decline, and
'fall-of' is in some sort pictured in "The Forsyte Saga," we see
now that we have but jumped out of a frying-pan into a fire. It
would be difficult to substantiate a claim that the case of
England was better in 1913 than it was in 1886, when the Forsytes
assembled at Old Jolyon's to celebrate the engagement of June to
Philip Bosinney. And in 1920, when again the clan gathered to
bless the marriage of Fleur with Michael Mont, the state of
England is as surely too molten and bankrupt as in the eighties
it was too congealed and low-percented. If these chronicles had

been a really scientific study of transition one would have dwelt
probably on such factors as the invention of bicycle, motor-car,
and flying-machine; the arrival of a cheap Press; the decline of
country life and increase of the towns; the birth of the Cinema.
Men are, in fact, quite unable to control their own inventions;
they at best develop adaptability to the new conditions those
inventions create.

But this long tale is no scientific study of a period; it is
rather an intimate incarnation of the disturbance that Beauty
effects in the lives of men.

The figure of Irene, never, as the reader may possibly have
observed, present, except through the senses of other characters,
is a concretion of disturbing Beauty impinging on a possessive

One has noticed that readers, as they wade on through the salt
waters of the Saga, are inclined more and more to pity Soames,
and to think that in doing so they are in revolt against the mood
of his creator. Far from it! He, too, pities Soames, the
tragedy of whose life is the very simple, uncontrollable tragedy
of being unlovable, without quite a thick enough skin to be
thoroughly unconscious of the fact. Not even Fleur loves Soames
as he feels he ought to be loved. But in pitying Soames, readers
incline, perhaps, to animus against Irene: After all, they think,
he wasn't a bad fellow, it wasn't his fault; she ought to have
forgiven him, and so on!

And, taking sides, they lose perception of the simple truth,
which underlies the whole story, that where sex attraction is
utterly and definitely lacking in one partner to a union, no
amount of pity, or reason, or duty, or what not, can overcome a
repulsion implicit in Nature. Whether it ought to, or no, is
beside the point; because in fact it never does. And where Irene
seems hard and cruel, as in the Bois de Boulogne, or the Goupenor
Gallery, she is but wisely realistic--knowing that the least
concession is the inch which precedes the impossible, the
repulsive ell.

A criticism one might pass on the last phase of the Saga is the
complaint that Irene and Jolyon those rebels against property--
claim spiritual property in their son Jon. But it would be
hypercriticism, as the tale is told. No father and mother could
have let the boy marry Fleur without knowledge of the facts; and
the facts determine Jon, not the persuasion of his parents.
Moreover, Jolyon's persuasion is not on his own account, but on
Irene's, and Irene's persuasion becomes a reiterated: "Don't
think of me, think of yourself!" That Jon, knowing the facts, can
realise his mother's feelings, will hardly with justice be held
proof that she is, after all, a Forsyte.

But though the impingement of Beauty and the claims of Freedom on
a possessive world are the main prepossessions of the Forsyte
Saga, it cannot be absolved from the charge of embalming the
upper-middle class. As the old Egyptians placed around their
mummies the necessaries of a future existence, so I have
endeavoured to lay beside the, figures of Aunts Ann and Juley and
Hester, of Timothy and Swithin, of Old Jolyon and James, and of
their sons, that which shall guarantee them a little life here-
after, a little balm in the hurried Gilead of a dissolving

If the upper-middle class, with other classes, is destined to
"move on" into amorphism, here, pickled in these pages, it lies
under glass for strollers in the wide and ill-arranged museum of
Letters. Here it rests, preserved in its own juice: The Sense
of Property.


Man of Property by John Galsworthy
English Novel

General Fiction
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