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John Galsworthy – The Forsyte Saga: In Chancery

January 4, 2011

156. In Chancery by John Galsworthy (1920)
The Forsyte Saga, Book 2

Read my review of book:
1. The Man of Property

Length: 264 pages
Genre: Family Saga, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Started: 01 November 2010
Finished: 18 December 2010

Where did it come from? Bookmooch / Free e-book from Amazon.
Why do I have it? See my explanation for The Man of Property.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 27 November 2007.

Stuck in a loveless
marriage, Soames can’t get a son
without a scandal.

Summary: It’s some twelve years since The Man of Property, and all is not well in the Forsyte clan. Although Soames and Irene are still legally married, they haven’t seen each other since the death of her lover all of those years ago. Soames is feeling the effect of the years, however, and his father’s ailing health has him thinking about his own legacy, and longing for a son of his own. He has his eye set on a pretty young French waitress, so he finally overcomes his fear of having the Forsyte family name splashed across the papers, and begins proceedings to divorce Irene – while similarly encouraging his sister Winifred to divorce her irredeemable rakehell of a husband.

Review: While I love a good family saga, and The Forsyte Saga certainly provides that, I thought In Chancery didn’t quite measure up to The Man of Property in a number of ways. First, I really missed the first-generation Forsytes, both as characters, and as point-of-view characters. I realize that in a multi-generational saga you eventually have to shift from the old generation to the new generation, and several of the old Forsytes are still around, but there’s a emphasis on them in the first book that was missing in the second, and the trials and tribulations of the youngest Forsytes just didn’t interest me as much.

Actually, the missing of the old Forsytes is representative of what I felt was a more general imbalance in the plot and perspective of the story. While Soames is the titular character of The Man of Property, he takes a hugely central role in In Chancery, with all other characters being largely relegated to sub-plot status. Since the bulk of the book is spent with Soames dithering about whether or not to divorce his wife, the plot doesn’t move along particularly quickly, either. In the DVD adaptation (which is remarkably well-done), they actually do a much better job of balancing the storylines, and of contrasting Soames’s plight with his sister’s, which leads to some interesting observations about marriage and fidelity and the relative roles and powers of men vs. women. In the book, however, Winifred’s story is concentrated in the early chapters, and then largely ignored for the rest of the story.

I did enjoy Galsworthy’s writing, and again found it remarkably easy to read. While he’s not always particularly subtle about making some of his points about duty and desire and change and the desire for stability and legacy, he certainly is an interesting writer, and the chapter musing on Queen Victoria’s funeral and the end of the Victorian era from one who had lived through it was fascinating. I just wish more of Galsworthy’s obvious talents with prose had been applied to something other than Soames’s internal monologuing. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I was about to suggest that In Chancery is worth reading if you liked the characters from The Man of Property, but since almost everyone in both books is flawed enough to be at least slightly unlikeable, that’s not really what I want to say. I suppose if you found the characters from the first book interesting, or if you’re eager for the next generation in a multi-generational saga, then In Chancery will certainly provide it. Just be prepared for a lot of Soames.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Rebecca Reads
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First Line: The possessive instinct never stands still.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 6304: “And he drank his hock, and watched her lips, and felt nearly young.” – any white Rhine wine.
  • Location 6587: “She played studies, mazurkas, waltzes, till the two children, creeping near, stood at the foot of the piano their dark and golden heads bent forward, listening.” – a lively Polish dance in moderately quick triple meter.
  • Location 6991: “They were all now married, except George, confirmed to the Turf and the Iseeum Club; Francie, pursuing her musical career in a studio off the King’s Road, Chelsea, and still taking ‘lovers’ to dances; Euphemia, living at home and complaining of Nicholas; and those two Dromios, Giles and Jesse Hayman.” – a set of identical twins that were accidentally separated at birth in Shakespeare’s play The Comedy of Errors.
  • Location 7032: “Leaning back in a marqueterie chair and gazing down his uplifted nose at the sky-blue walls plastered with gold frames, he was noticeably silent.” – inlaid work of variously colored woods or other materials, esp. in furniture.
  • Location 7132: “Suffice it to say that the good thing fell down. Sleeve-links finished in the ruck. Dartie’s shirt was lost.” – a fight; the crease or fold.
  • Location 7183: “Then, putting on his hat and overcoat, he took two others, his best malacca cane, an umbrella, and opened the front door.” – the stem of the rattan palm
  • Location 7259: “The young woman’s arm touched his unconsciously; there was a scent of musk and mignonette.” – a plant, Reseda odorata, common in gardens, having racemes of small, fragrant, greenish-white flowers with prominent orange anthers.
  • Location 7580: “She could not see the tenacious Forsyte spirit working in that thin, tremulous shape against the extravagance of the emotion called up by this outrage on Forsyte principles – the Forsyte spirit deep in there, saying: “You mustn’t get into a fantod, it’ll never do. You won’t digest your lunch. You’ll have a fit!”” – a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets.
  • Location 8047: “She had been even prettier than he had thought her yesterday, on her silver-roan, long-tailed ‘palfrey’; and it seemed to him, self-critical in the brumous October gloaming and the outskirts of London, that only his boots had shone throughout their two-hour companionship.” – heavy mist or fog.
  • Location 8060: “The Dartie within him made him chaffer for five minutes with young Padwick concerning the favourite for the Cambridgeshire; then with the words, “Put the gee down to my account,” he walked away, a little wide at the knees, and flipping his boots with his knotty little cane.” – to bandy words; chatter
  • Location 8527: “Ever the most courageous and downright of all the Forsytes, June, with her decided chin and her spirited eyes and her hair like flame, sat down, slight and short, on a gilt chair with a bead-worked seat, for all the world as if ten years had not elapsed since she had been to see them – ten years of travel and independence and devotion to lame ducks.” – frankly direct; straightforward.
  • Location 8774: “Madame Lamotte, with coffee and liqueur, put an end to that colloquy.” – a conversational exchange; dialogue.
  • Location 8847: ““He’s in that fast set too, isn’t he? Rather La-di-da and Brummagem.”” – showy but inferior and worthless; an allusion to the counterfeit coins produced in Birmingham in the 17th cent..
  • Location 8854: “And Val was unconsciously forming himself on a set whose motto was: ‘We defy you to interest or excite us. We have had every sensation, or if we haven’t, we pretend we have. We are so exhausted with living that no hours are too small for us. We will lose our shirts with equanimity. We have flown fast and are past everything. All is cigarette smoke. Bismillah!’” – in the name of Allah.
  • Location 8857: “The aristocracy had already in the main adopted the ‘jumping-Jesus’ principle; though here and there one like Crum – who was an ‘honourable’ – stood starkly languid for that gambler’s Nirvana which had been the summum bonum of the old ‘dandies’ and of ‘the mashers’ in the eighties.” – the highest or chief good.
  • Location 9421: “The sturdy English soul reacting after the first cried, ‘Ah, but Methuen!’ after the second: ‘Ah! but Buller!’ then, in inspissated gloom, hardened.” – to thicken, as by evaporation; make or become dense.
  • Location 9456: “And turning up his smarting eyes, he saw the stars shining between the housetops on the High, and himself lying out on the Karoo (whatever that was) rolled in a blanket, with his rifle ready and his gaze fixed on a glittering heaven.” – any of several high arid plateaus in South Africa.
  • Location 9957: “And glancing down the menu, he determined on ‘Bombe aux fraises’ as the proper moment; there would be a certain solemnity while they were eating that.” – a round or melon-shaped frozen mold made from a combination of ice creams, mousses, or ices.
  • Location 10008: “Opposite his mother in the cab going home, Val tasted the after-fruits of heroism, like medlars over-ripe.” – a small tree, Mespilus germanica, of the rose family, the fruit of which resembles a crab apple and is not edible until the early stages of decay.
  • Location 10056: “The atmosphere of his house was strange and pocketty when Jolyon came in and told them of the dog Balthasar’s death.” – oppressive, stuffy.
  • Location 10556: “He wandered thus one May night into Regent Street and the most amazing crowd he had ever seen; a shrieking, whistling, dancing, jostling, grotesque and formidably jovial crowd, with false noses and mouth-organs, penny whistles and long feathers, every appanage of idiocy, as it seemed to him. Mafeking! Of course, it had been relieved!” – a natural or necessary accompaniment; a town in N Republic of South Africa: former administrative seat of Bechuanaland; besieged for 217 days by Boers 1899–1900.
  • Location 10705: “Soames returned to England the following day, and on the third morning received a visit from Mr. Polteed, who wore a flower and carried a brown billycock hat.” – a derby or a hat resembling it.
  • Location 10738: ““Pity,” he said, “quite a pity! That other affair seemed very costive.”” – slow in action or in expressing ideas, opinions, etc.; alternatively stingy, tight-fisted.
  • Location 10776: ““Your son down with enteric no immediate danger will cable again.”” – of or pertaining to the enteron; intestinal issues.
  • Location 10873: “Above her on a wall, not yet Morris-papered, was a print of the Queen on a pony, amongst deer-hounds, Scotch caps, and slain stags; beside her in a pot on the window-sill was a white and rosy fuchsia.” – wallpaper popular in the Arts & Crafts movement, usually with floral or other natural designs.
  • Location 11059: “That fellow to talk of injuries! Did he know how near his throat was to being scragged?” – to wring the neck of; hang; garrote.
  • Location 11363: “The air was drenched with the scent of pinks and picotees in his flower-borders.” – a variety of carnation, tulip, etc., having an outer margin of another color.
  • Location 11619: “To wait, one on each side of the hearth in the drawing-room, for the clock between them to strike; their thin, veined, knuckled hands plying knitting-needles and crochet-hooks, their hair ordered to stop – like Canute’s waves – from any further advance in colour.” – a Viking king of Denmark who, according to legend, set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes; but the tide failed to stop.
  • Location 11836: “It was not his taste; but in its own substantial, lincrusta way it was the acme of comfort and security.” – a type of wallpaper having a hard embossed surface

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2011 7:58 am

    I think at least some of the characters in the Forsyte Saga are likeable! Young Jolyon, and June, especially. I found the sweeping saga-ness of the books quite fun, too (better than Trollope, any day). I think I felt more sympathy for the middle generation of Forsytes (Soames, Irene, young Jolyon and so on) – the later books, focussing on Fleur and Jon aren’t quite so interesting (though Fleur is an interesting character, I really dislike her!).

    • January 5, 2011 11:15 am

      Ela – I do like young Jolyon, without a doubt. June, though, is a little too… blunt, maybe? for me to really find her entirely sympathetic. I haven’t started reading To Let yet, but I remember finding Fleur from the movie a bit obnoxious, yes.

  2. January 4, 2011 7:47 pm

    Not too inspired to read the saga, Trollope is more my style, but I think I’m going to start saying Brummagem shamelessly.

    • January 5, 2011 11:23 am

      Carrie – I haven’t read any Trollope (yet), so I can’t comment on the differences/similarities. I do, however, really love the word inspissated. So fun to say, even if it’s unlikely to be relevant to daily conversation!

  3. January 5, 2011 11:07 am

    Wow. The vocab used seems quite dense, I don’t know the meanings of half the words used here.

    • January 5, 2011 11:25 am

      Nish – From what I understand, Galsworthy was a bit of a wordsmith, and tended to coin words or phrases that weren’t regular usage, even at the time. Combined with all of the nouns for things we just don’t have/use anymore (all of the wallpaper words), equals a lot of vocab! And yet, it’s surprisingly not particularly dense to read, I thought.

  4. January 7, 2011 9:50 pm

    I absolutely love the DVD series for these books: I think I’ve likely paid for my own set with the number of times that I’ve rented them!

    • January 12, 2011 9:11 am

      BiP – I love the DVDs too; they’re what led me to the books in the first place!

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