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The Forsyte Saga is a series by English novelist John Galsworthy, detailing three (arguably four) generations of an upper-middle-class Victorian family from the 1880s through to the mid-1920s.
The nouveau riche Forsytes are chiefly concerned with property, wealth and the family, though it is their obsession with property that is the underlying theme of the saga. Property comes in many forms, and the character of Soames Forsyte loses almost every form of property that his kind values — first his beautiful wife Irene abandons him (with good reason), then he is forced to sell the house he commissioned as a way of isolating her; finally, his chance of having a son is extinguished forever when his second wife, Annette, gives birth to a daughter after a difficult labour and can no longer bear children — thus even his name is taken out of his hands, as no one will bear it once he dies.
Therefore Soames, and many other Forsytes, are forced to learn to let go — not only of property, but also of grudging feelings and the past.
The saga is an example of the decrease of moral lessons being pressed onto the reader, as all characters have shades of grey and can be assigned motivations for even the most selfish of their actions. Soames, for example, commits the most despicable act in the book, and yet the reader can still sympathise with his character.
The books spawned two British television serials. The first version starred Eric Porter, Nyree Dawn Porter, and Kenneth More. It was broadcast in 1967 to great acclaim, and drew in 18 million viewers every Sunday when it was repeated a year later. The second adaptation starred Damian Lewis as Soames and first aired in 2002. There is also a 1949 film, That Forsyte Woman, starring Errol Flynn and Janet Leigh. And in case anyone's interested, there was also a 1990 BBC Radio dramatisation.
The Forsyte Saga contains examples of:
- Author Avatar: The author of the saga, Galsworthy, fell in love with his cousin's wife, had an affair, and then married her on her divorce ten years later. Irene is largely based on this woman - Ada Pearson. In turn, this means that Young Jolyon is essentially a representation of Galsworthy.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Soames over Irene
- Broken Bird: Irene, for most of the saga.
- Dances and Balls: A couple, as you would expect for a costume drama. There's a particularly important one in the first part of the saga, when Bosinney and Irene pretty much display their attraction for all to see - much to the heartbreak of June and jealous fury of Soames.
- Deadpan Snarker: George Forsyte, who according to his family is 'very droll' (even on his deathbed, when asked by his butler if he would like the Vicar to come in and see him, he replies: "No. Give him my regards and tell him I'll see him at the funeral."), and to some extent Phillip Bosinney, who often pokes fun at the stuffy Forsytes (though whether they all realise they're being made fun of is another matter).
- Death by Falling Over: Montague Dartie, who fell down the stairs of a disreputable house in Paris.
- Domestic Abuser: Soames — and it changes the course of events forever.
- Although this is also offers a case of Values Dissonance caused by the passage of time. Soames' actions would have been seen as legitimate at the time, although some of the characters disapprove.
- Feuding Families: The backbone of the saga is the feud between two branches of the Forsyte clan.
- Gold Digger: Montague Dartie marries Winifred for her money, and Irene marries Soames for his.
- Gossipy Hens: The old Aunts - Hester, Juley and Ann. Their house is known within the family as 'Forsyte 'Change', and it is commonly acknowledged as the best place to hear family gossip.
- Heir Club for Men: Most of "In Chancery" is concerned with Soames' desire for a son.
- Ice Queen: Subverted, in that Irene only appeared to be cold and unfeeling while unhappily married to Soames.
- Informed Attractiveness: Due to the fact that Galsworthy praises Irene's beauty to improbable levels, even comparing her to Venus on more than one occasion, any actress taking on the role of Irene runs the risk of encountering this trope. The criticism was levelled at Gina Mc Kee when she was in the most recent adaptation.
- Kissing Cousins: And more than once! Val and Holly, Jon and Fleur, and perhaps even Irene and Young Jolyon, who were cousins by marriage.
- Love Redeems: Soames dies thwarting Fleur's suicide attempt. Although Young Jolyon, Irene and June say he is incapable of selfless love, he proves them wrong in the end.
- Momma's Boy: Jon is accused of being one of these by Fleur because he chooses his mother over his love for her. In fact, Jon is rather naive and somewhat deferential to both of his parents, especially in contrast to the wayward and headstrong Fleur - another example of the times changing.
- Moral Dissonance: There's a lot of moral dissonance here, mostly caused by the influence of Author Avatar. For example, Irene marries Soames for his money, even though she knows he is desperately in love with her. She later cheats on him with her best friend's fiance. In the book, she expresses no remorse, and the 'good' characters hold no ill-will towards her. Even in the adaptations, she still gets very sympathetic treatment. Also, Young Jolyon is very big on duty and responsibility when guilt-tripping his son, Jon - but wasn't so keen when he ditched his wife and young daughter and shacked up with the governess.
- No Accounting for Taste: Winifred decides to 'keep' her husband Monty, despite him being a drunken bounder.
- No Sparks: The main problem in Irene's marriage to Soames.
- Parental Marriage Veto: Somewhat subverted, in that Young Jolyon and Irene never outright tell Jon that he can't marry Fleur; they just relentlessly apply emotional blackmail.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In the 1967 version, Anne and Francis Wilmot have the least convincing 'southern' accents ever heard.
- Ominous Fog: The day after Soames and Irene's marriage has definitively broken down, there is an thick fog. This same thick fog leads to Bosinney's (Irene's lover) death, as he runs out in front of a carriage, blinded by the fog.
- Second Love: Young Jolyon and Irene.
- Playing Against Type: Uptight, unloveable Soames, for whom Irene could not find even a tiny bit of sexual attraction, was played by Errol Flynn in the 1949 film adaptation. The dashing Flynn was known mostly for his roles in romantic swashbucklers and lobbied for the role of Soames in order to demonstrate his acting range.
- The Pollyanna: June Forsyte, who loses her father at a young age because he runs off with her governess; then, a few years later, her mother dies; later, at only seventeen her fiancé has an affair with her best friend and is then killed horribly; and finally, her beloved grandfather dies while she is abroad. Through all this she manages to retain a desire to help people who need her, particularly starving artists.
- Rape Discretion Shot: In the 1967 version, just as Soames is about to claim his "marital rights" from his reluctant wife Irene, the scene shifts to a barrel-organ playing beneath their window.
- Selective Obliviousness: Soames constantly disregards Irene's loathing of him.
- Soames is acutely aware of the fact that Irene does not love him; he just can't understand why. He even asks her flat-out what's 'wrong' with him, in both the book and the adaptations.
- Sexless Marriage: The rumour that Irene and Soames no longer share a bed lets the rest of the family know that the marriage is on the rocks.
- According to the 1967 adaptation this is also the main reason Young Jolyon left his first wife Frances for his mistress Heléne.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Irene and Bosinney, and somewhat less tragically, Jon and Fleur.
- Starving Artist: Phillip Bosinney (a radical architect), and Young Jolyon after he's been cut off.
- Take Back Your Gift: Soames only realises how much Irene really hated him when he sees that she has left him, taken none of the jewellery he ever gave her, and left him a note saying "I have taken nothing either you or your people have given me"
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Soames and Irene, Soames and Annette, and Michael and Fleur (although neither man is described as ugly, it is noted more than once that the women are far more attractive than they are).