I have such a hard time writing about books I love. I want to just gush, but I will try my very best to be cool and objective and persuade you to read John Galsworthy. The Man of Property has a thrilling plot: marriage, scandal, death, lies…. but, the novel is about so much more. This is a novel about the ramifications of a dying Victorian England.
Steeped in Victorian values of property and propriety, the large Forsyte family is not adapting very well to modernity. Crumbling class structures, the infiltration and acceptance of “nobodies”, and an increasing desire for female independence in marriage and voting undermine the Victorian ideas of property so precious to a Forsyte. The ever-practical Forsytes are collectors and owners and find their value in society by what they claim as theirs. Property is everything to a Forsyte.
“When a Forsyte was engaged, married, or born, the Forsytes were present; when a Forsyte died — but no Forsyte had as yet died; they did not die; death being contrary to their principles, they took precautions against it, the instinctive precautions of highly vitalized persons who resent encroachments on their property.”
The tension of this novel stems from one of the most Forsyte-like of the Forsytes: Soames. Soames is stern and practical, but his ideas of property extend from china figures, homes, and carriages to things that one cannot truly own. He wants Irene — a beautiful, but penniless orphan — and succeeds in marrying her, but he cannot OWN her love. He marries her, he controls her, he even *spoiler alert* rapes her, but he cannot own Irene’s heart. Irene despises Soames and the some of the most gorgeous and haunting writing I have ever read occurs when Galsworthy describes Irene.
Soames also desires to own Art. He collects pictures and paintings and files them away for his eye only. His joy is in calling these works “his” and not necessarily about basking in beauty. He commissions a young architect, Bosinney, to build him a large and impressive house in the country, which Soames fully intended to function as Irene’s gilded cage. Instead Bosinney captures Irene’s heart, but with dire consequences.
The Man of Property (and the interlude Summer of a Forsyte) is the first novel in The Forsyte Saga.
~~~ Stats ~~~
Started: 16 January 2015
Finished: 23 January 2015
Challenges: Back to the Classics – 20th Century Classic
Owned/Borrow/Library: From my stacks
Stars: Five out of Five
New to me? Reread