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John Galsworthy – The Forsyte Saga: To Let

March 25, 2011

40. To Let by John Galsworthy (1921)
The Forsyte Saga, Book 3

Read my review of book:
1. The Man of Property
2. In Chancery

Length: 270 pages
Genre: Family Saga

Started: 08 January 2011
Finished: 13 March 2011

Where did it come from? Bookmooch / Free e-book from Amazon.
Why do I have it? Short version: I’m a sucker for British costume drama DVDs.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 27 November 2007.

Do the sins of the
father mean that his daughter
is ruined for love?

Summary: It’s 1920, and the next generation of Forsytes are just entering adulthood. Fleur Forsyte is the impetuous and willful only daughter of Soames Forsyte and his second wife, and he dotes on her without limit. Jon Forsyte is the only son of Soames’s first wife Irene and Jolyon Forsyte, Soames’s cousin. The two branches of the family never speak after what happened between Soames and Irene, but a chance meeting results in Fleur and Jon falling head over heels in love with each other. Their parents are desperate to keep them apart, but how can they hope to sever the children’s attachment to each other without unearthing painful secrets from the past?

Review: Now that I’ve read all three books in the Forsyte Saga, I’ve discovered a simple rule: How much I enjoy any one of them is inversely proportional to how much they feature Soames. Thus, correspondingly, I liked To Let substantially better than In Chancery, but neither was quite as good as The Man of Property. In fact, in To Let, Soames is almost back around to being, if not likeable, then at least not actively hateful, which is a refreshing change.

…But the bad news may be that the role of “actively hateful” is currently being filled by Soames’s daughter. I was siding with the parental generation of Forsytes throughout this book: Jon and Fleur absolutely should not be together. But it’s not because I particularly cared about what their relationship might do to injure the feelings of their parents; it’s because Jon is a genuinely nice guy, and Fleur is an insufferable, manipulative little brat. I had this problem when I watched the DVD version as well: it’s hard to become emotionally invested in the trials and tribulations of Jon and Fleur’s relationship when all you want to do is see him dump her (preferably straight into the river) and go find someone who’s not completely horrible.

But regardless, overall I did enjoy reading this. Galsworthy’s prose is descriptive and smooth and surprisingly easy to read, and he brings the 1920s and their feeling of newness and excitement and careless change to vivid life. The Forsyte Saga is not at the top of anybody’s list of must-read classics, but I found it worth my while, and I’m glad I gave it a shot. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Don’t read this one first: make no mistake, The Forsyte Saga really is a saga, and as such, it’s best to start at the beginning. But the saga as a whole should appeal to those who like multigenerational family dramas, and late-Victorian England.

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

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Soames Forsyte emerged from the Knightsbridge Hotel, where he was staying, in the afternoon of the 12th of May, 1920, with the intention of visiting a collection of pictures in a Gallery off Cork Street, and looking into the Future.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 12168: ““No, I only saw Venus Anadyomene.”” – Venus Rising from the Sea.
  • Location 12427: “Little half-beaten pockets of gentility and caste lurking here and there, dispersed and chetif as Annette would say; but nothing ever again firm and coherent to look up to.” – puny, stunted.
  • Location 12431: “He passed out under the archway, at last no longer – thank goodness! – disfigured by the gungrey of its search-light.” – on reflection, this is obviously gun-grey, but at the time I read it as “gungre-y” and couldn’t figure it out.
  • Location 12466: ““Well,” he said, “they brought me up to do nothing, and here I am in the sear and yellow, getting poorer every day.”” – age, from “sear and yellow leaf” [Macbeth]
  • Location 12483: “He was still gazing at her, when two of the prowlers halted on his left. “Epatant!” he heard one say.” – French slang for “bring it on!”
  • Location 12541: “And suddenly he became aware of a sort of human breeze – a short, slight form clad in a sea-green djibbah with a metal belt and a fillet binding unruly red-gold hair all streaked with grey.” – a long, collarless coat or smock worn by Muslims.
  • Location 12972: “His heart made a faint demonstration within him while he stood in full south sunlight on the newly whitened doorstep of that little house where four Forsytes had once lived, and now but one dwelt on like a winter fly; the house into which Soames had come and out of which he had gone times without number, divested of, or burdened with, fardels of family gossip; the house of the “old people” of another century, another age.” – a bundle; burden.
  • Location 13002: “Walls of a rich green surmounted the oak dado; a heavy metal chandelier hung by a chain from a ceiling divided by imitation beams.” – the lower broad part of an interior wall finished in wallpaper, a fabric, paint, etc.
  • Location 13044: “…and the marqueterie cabinet lined with dim red plush, full of family relics: Hester’s first fan; the buckles of their mother’s father’s shoes; three bottled scorpions; and one very yellow elephant’s tusk, sent home from India by Great-uncle Edgar Forsyte, who had been in jute; a yellow bit of paper propped up, with spidery writing on it, recording God knew what!” – strong, coarse fiber used for making burlap, gunny, cordage.
  • Location 13265: “Winifred, who in the late seventies, before her marriage, had been in the vanguard of freedom, pleasure, and fashion, confessed her youth outclassed by the donzellas of the day.” – damsels.
  • Location 13464: “In her bedroom Fleur had flung off her gown, and, wrapped in a shapeless garment, with the white flower still in her hair, she looked like a mousme, sitting cross-legged on her bed, writing by candlelight.” – A Japanese young woman or mistress.
  • Location 13706: “Goya, with his satiric and surpassing precision, his original “line,” and the daring of his light and shade, could have reproduced to admiration the group assembled round Annette’s tea tray in the inglenook below.” – a corner or nook near a fireplace; chimney corner.
  • Location 13767: “He, whose nature was essentially averse from intrigue, and whose adoration of Fleur disposed him to think that any need for concealing it was “skittles,” chafed and fretted, yet obeyed, taking what relief he could in the few moments when they were alone.” – I know what skittles means, but I can’t find any slang usage or definition that fits.
  • Location 14289: “The Gallery might be expected now at any time, after eighteen years of barren usufruct, to pay its way, so that she was sure her father would not feel it.” – the right of enjoying all the advantages derivable from the use of something that belongs to another, as far as is compatible with the substance of the thing not being destroyed or injured.
  • Location 14740: ““He’s like the hosts of Midian – he prowls and prowls around.”” – the fourth son of Abraham by Keturah.
  • Location 14890: “He wanted to see whether the words “during coverture” were in.” – the status of a married woman considered as under the protection and authority of her husband.
  • Location 15719: ““I’m not at all sure we shan’t go back to crinolines and pegtops.”” – skirts that were wide at the hips and narrowing to the ankle.
  • Location 16546: “Obliged by Annette to have one – a Rollhard with pearl-grey cushions, electric light, little mirrors, trays for the ashes of cigarettes, flower vases – all smelling of petrol and stephanotis – he regarded it much as he used to regard his brother-in-law, Montague Dartie” – any vine belonging to the genus Stephanotis, of the milkweed family, having fragrant, waxy, white flowers and leathery leaves.
  • Location 16898: “Soames had gripped the back of a buhl chair; young Mont was behind that “awfully amusing” screen, which no one as yet had been able to explain to her.” – elaborate inlaid work of woods, metals, tortoiseshell, ivory, etc.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2011 12:48 pm

    I will probably read this at some point…

    • March 29, 2011 9:40 am

      Kailana – I’m not a huge reader of the classics, but this whole series went a lot more smoothly than I was expecting, although its size was still a bit intimidating.

  2. March 25, 2011 4:24 pm

    I swear there was a TV show based on this book eons ago. Either that or I saw a movie version. I hope to read it someday, but who knows when.

    • March 29, 2011 9:48 am

      Kathy – There was a TV miniseries of the Forsyte Saga that came out a while ago (2002, I think?), that’s actually how I got interested in it in the first place. If you like British costume dramas, it’s well worth watching (and then maybe reading!)

  3. March 25, 2011 6:45 pm

    Yes- there was indeed a movie version that ran often on late night tv. Maybe that was what you saw?

    • March 29, 2011 9:48 am

      Vamp – I’d heard there was an older movie version as well, although I haven’t seen it. Is that what you’re referring to? Is it any good?

  4. March 30, 2011 2:32 pm

    There was a semi-famous UK TV version done in the 1970s, I think, and then a later one in the early 2000s (with Rupert Graves as Young Jolyon and Damien Lewis as Soames). I haven’t seen the earlier one, but it caused a bit of a stir at the time (might have been because of the marital rape scene).

    I quite agree with you about Fleur – she is so appalling you don’t feel she even feels strongly about Jon (who is a sweetie). I do like Soames in this, too, and the way he’s so fond of his daughter that he can’t even see her bad points.

    • April 1, 2011 9:39 am

      Ela – The 2000s one is the one I’ve seen (and loved; everyone is so fantastic.) When I got around to watching Band of Brothers I had a hard time with it because I kept seeing Damien Lewis as Soames rather than the heroic company commander. :)

      • Sidney Talbot permalink
        August 6, 2011 11:48 pm

        Sorry to disagree, but Damien Lewis (IMO) does not hold a guttering candle to the stolid, despicable Eric Porter’s take on Soames, back in the the 60’s! Some things are best left untouched and if not, are better left to those with good CASTING sense! Casting, after all, is everything!

  5. April 2, 2011 11:47 am

    That 2002 series was terrific: agreed. I didn’t realize that was the extent of the books though: I thought I still had pages left to turn. Makes me a bit sad to think that’s done with now…

  6. June 7, 2011 3:33 pm

    Honestly? Fleur was willful and Jon was a hypocrite. Both were very flawed people. It’s a pity that they couldn’t accept each other’s flaws, ignore their parents’ wishes and have a life together.

    • Sidney Talbot permalink
      August 6, 2011 11:51 pm

      I agree, but we are dealing with a different time here, and a different mentality. Would it work if Fleur and Jon went “over the windmill”? Much as I’d like to see that, I doubt it! My main regret (other than the thwarted passion of two such compelling young ones) is that a hick, American Southerner claims Jon…Irene and Jolyon’s son! TO me, this is more upsetting than the fact that Fleur doesn’t get him!

  7. Sidney Talbot permalink
    August 6, 2011 11:41 pm

    I have NOT seen the 2002 or whatever it is, version — on purpose–! NO woman who looks the way that actress portraying Irene, nor an actor (such a SIMP! As Martha, from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” would say) could do justice to Jolyon (my favourite) nor to Soames.

    I read this series many yrs. ago and watched the BBC’s (EXCELLENT) 60’s adaptation, which leads me to question why they cast the 2001-2 version as thy did! THE 60’s version was nearly perfect, except, I’ll admit, for the hair.The woman who played IRene, for instance, was WORLDS away from Galsworthys’s (and I assume, from most readers’) description!

    It is high time to get a REAL perfectionist on board (Ang Lee, anyone?) to recreate Galsworthy’s masterpiece in film.

    For me, there will NEVER be an “Irene” as perfectly cast as Nyree Dawn Porter”, nor a “Soames” as good as Eric Porter’s! LOOK to the past, people! Irene was NEVER supposed to be a “cold” nor a “Pre-Raphaelite” type (WHERE do people dredge up this junk?)..

    As for Fleur and Jon: they were BOTH in the wrong, and their only defenses being passion and having been played for fools by both Jolyon and Irene, after Soames unforgivable act.

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