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The Forsyte Saga  
Author John Galsworthy
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Dover
Publication date 1906-1921 (serialised)

The Forsyte Saga is a series of three novels and two interludes published between 1906 and 1921 by John Galsworthy. They chronicle the vicissitudes of the leading members of an upper-middle-class British family. Only a few generations removed from their farmer ancestors, the family members are keenly aware of their status as "new money". The main character, Soames Forsyte, sees himself as a "man of property," by virtue of his ability to accumulate material possessions—but this does not succeed in bringing him pleasure.

Separate sections of the saga, as well as the lengthy story in its entirety, have been adapted for cinema and television. The first book, The Man of Property, was adapted in 1949 by Hollywood as That Forsyte Woman, starring Greer Garson, Errol Flynn, Walter Pidgeon and Robert Young. The BBC produced a popular 26-part serial in 1967, that also dramatised a subsequent trilogy concerning the Forsytes, "A Modern Comedy". In 2002, Granada Television produced two series for the ITV network called The Forsyte Saga and The Forsyte Saga: To Let. The 1967 version inspired the popular Masterpiece Theatre television program, and the two Granada series made their runs in the US as part of that program.




The Man of Property (1906)

In this first novel of the Forsyte Saga, after introducing us to the impressive array of Forsytes headed by the formidable Aunt Ann, Galsworthy moves into the main action of the saga by detailing Soames Forsyte's desire to own things, including his beautiful wife, Irene Forsyte (née Heron). He is jealous of her friendships and wants her to be his alone. He concocts a plan to move her to the country, away from everyone, but she resists his grasping intentions and falls in love with architect Philip Bosinney. However, Bosinney is the fiancé of her friend June Forsyte, the daughter of Soames's cousin Jolyon. However, they don't have a happy ending , Bosinney dies in an accident, while Irene leaves Soames leaving him empty-handed.

Indian Summer of a Forsyte (1918)

In a short interlude after The Man of Property, Galsworthy delves into the newfound friendship between Old Jolyon Forsyte (June's grandfather) and Irene, who has left Soames. This attachment gives Old Jolyon pleasure, but exhausts his strength. He leaves Irene money in his will with Young Jolyon, his son as trustee. In the end Old Jolyon died under an ancient oak tree.

In Chancery (1920)

The marital discord of both Soames and his sister Winifred is the subject of the second novel, the title "Chancery" being a reference to the system of courts that deal with domestic issues. They take steps to divorce their spouses, Irene, and Montague Dartie respectively. However, while Soames tells his sister to brave the consequences of going to court, he is not willing to go through a divorce himself. Instead he stalks and hounds Irene, following her abroad, and asking her to have his child, which is his father's wish. Ultimately, Soames remarries, wedding the young Annette, the daughter of a French Soho restaurant owner. With his new wife, he has his only child, Fleur Forsyte.

As for Irene, she is left the sum of £15,000 after Old Jolyon's death. His son, Young Jolyon Forsyte, also Soames's cousin, takes care of Irene's finances. When she first leaves her husband, he offers his support. At the time of the death of Young Jolyon's son Jolly, Irene has developed a strong friendship with Jolyon. Then, Soames confronts Young Jolyon and Irene at Robin Hill accusing them of having an affair when there was none. Young Jolyon and Irene assert that they have had an affair since Soames has it in his mind already. That gives Soames the evidence he needs for divorce proceedings. That confrontation sparks an affair between Young Jolyon and Irene.

Awakening (1920)

The subject of the second interlude is the naive and exuberant lifestyle of eight-year-old Jon Forsyte. He loves and is loved by his parents. He has an idyllic youth, his every desire indulged.

To Let (1921)

This novel concludes the Forsyte Saga. Second cousins Fleur and Jon Forsyte meet and fall in love, unknowing of their parents' past affairs, indiscretions, and misdeeds. Once Soames, Jolyon, and Irene discover their romance, they forbid their children to see each other again. Jolyon warns his son that once he dies, there will be no one to protect Irene from her ex-husband. Jon is torn between the past and his present love for Fleur. Despite her feelings for Jon, Fleur has a very suitable suitor, Michael Mont, heir to a baronetcy. Should they marry, Fleur would elevate the status of her family from "nouveau riche" to the aristocratic upper class. The title derives from Soames' reflections as he breaks up the house in which his Uncle Timothy, recently deceased at age 100 and the last of the older generation of Forsytes, had lived a recluse, hoarding his life like property.


Silent films

In the silent film era, it was filmed in 1920 and 1922.

1949 movie

A 1949 adaptation, called That Forsyte Woman in its United States release, starred Errol Flynn as Soames, Greer Garson as Irene, Walter Pidgeon as Young Jolyon, and Robert Young as Philip Bosinney. Walter Plunkett and Arlington Valles's work were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Color.

1967 serial

A television adaptation by the BBC of "The Forsyte Saga", and its sequel trilogy "A Modern Comedy", starred Eric Porter as Soames, Kenneth More as Young Jolyon and Nyree Dawn Porter as Irene. It was adapted for television and produced by Donald Wilson and was originally shown in twenty-six episodes on Saturday evenings between 7 January and 1 July 1967 on BBC2. It was the repeat on Sunday evenings on BBC1 starting on 8 September 1968 that secured the programme's success with 18 million tuning in for the final episode in 1969. It was shown in the United States on public television and broadcast all over the world, and became the first British television programme to be sold to the Soviet Union.[1]

Radio adaptations

There have been various BBC radio dramatisations. The first was probably a radio production of The Man of Property serialised and broadcast circa 1944 - 1948 on the BBC Home Service. The music used as the opening and closing theme came from Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations, specifically the Nimrod variation. Serialisations of the Forsyte novels in the 1940s and '50s usually featured Grizelda Hervey as Irene and Ronald Simpson as Soames. Young Jolyons included Andrew Cruickshank, Leo Genn and Guy Rolfe. Another production of the dramatised cycle came soon after the 1967 TV series. This had Rachel Gurney as Irene, Noel Johnson as Young Jolyon and Alan Wheatley as Soames. The version broadcast in 1990 comprised a 75-minute opening episode followed by 22 hour-long episodes, entitled The Forsyte Chronicles. It was the most expensive radio drama serial ever broadcast, due to its length and its big-name cast which included Dirk Bogarde, Diana Quick, Michael Williams and Alan Howard. This radio series was rerun on BBC 7 radio in 2004, and has been released commercially.

Twenty-first century

The Forsyte Saga (2002)

In 2002, the first two books and the first interlude were adapted by Granada Television for the ITV network, although, like the 1967 production, the miniseries took many liberties with Galsworthy's original work. Additional funding for this production was provided by American PBS station WGBH, the BBC version having been a success on PBS in the early 1970s.

"The Forsyte Saga: To Let" (2003, miniseries)

Main Article: The Forsyte Saga: To Let (2003 miniseries)

Immediately following the success of the 2002 adaptation, a second series was released in 2003. It portrays the saga's last book 'To Let'. Much of the cast resumed their roles, but most of the first generation of Forsytes had died in the previous series. The principal characters played by Damian Lewis, Gina McKee, Rupert Graves, and Amanda Root return. It has also been released on DVD.

Main characters

The Old Forsytes

  • Ann, the eldest of the family
  • Old Jolyon, the patriarch of the family, having made a fortune in tea
  • James, a solicitor, married to Emily, the most tranquil woman
  • Swithin, James's twin brother with aristocratic pretensions
  • Julia (Juley), a fluttery dowager
  • Hester, an old maid
  • Nicholas, the wealthiest in the family
  • Roger, "the original Forsyte"
  • Susan, married sister
  • Timothy, the most cautious man in England

The Young Forsytes

  • Young Jolyon, Old Jolyon's artistic and free-thinking son, married three times
  • Soames, James and Emily's son, a brutal and possessive solicitor, married to the unhappy Irene, who later marries Young Jolyon
  • Winifred, Soames's sister, one of the three daughters of James and Emily, married to the foppish and lethargic Montague Dartie
  • George, Roger's son, a dyed-in-the-wool mocker
  • Francie, George's sister and Roger's daughter, emancipated from God

Their Children

  • June, Young Jolyon's defiant daughter from his first marriage, engaged to an architect, Philip Bosinney, who becomes Irene's lover
  • Jolly, Young Jolyon's son from his second marriage, dies during the Boer War
  • Holly, Young Jolyon's daughter from his second marriage
  • Jon, Young Jolyon's son from his third marriage to Irene
  • Fleur, Soames's daughter from his second marriage to a French Soho shopgirl Annette, Jon's lover, later marries a baronet, Michael Mont
  • Val, Winifred and Montague's son, fights in the Boer War, marries his cousin Holly
  • Imogen, Winifred and Montague's daughter


  • Parfitt, Old Jolyon's butler
  • Smither, Aunts Ann, Juley and Hester's housekeeper
  • Warmson, James and Emily's butler
  • Bilson, Soames's housemaid
  • Prosper Profond, Winifred's admirer and Annette's lover


Duty versus Desire: Young Jolyon was once the favourite of the family until he left his wife for his daughter's governess. He eschews his status in society and in the Forsyte clan to follow his heart. Soames, though it seems he is the polar opposite of Jolyon, has those same inclinations toward doing what he desires. For example, instead of finding a wife who is rich, he marries Irene and Annette who have no money or status. When he takes Irene to a play about a married woman and her lover, he ironically sympathizes with the lover and not the husband. However, most of his decisions are on the side of duty.

Generations and Change:The many generations of the Forsyte clan remind everyone of what has come to pass over the years. However, as the old ranks begin to die, people are able to change. For example, after a few generations, the fact that they are nouveau riche does not matter as much. This is also the case with Soames and Irene's marital problems. Once they grow old, and their children can overcome their parents' past, Soames can finally let go of the past. Mortality is an important issue because it forces people to let go. Another change with generations is the diminished number of Forsyte offspring. Many of the second generation have fewer children.


Galsworthy's own sequel to The Forsyte Saga came in A Modern Comedy, written in the years 1924 to 1928. This comprises a novel, The White Monkey, an interlude, A Silent Wooing, a second novel, The Silver Spoon, a second interlude, Passers By, and a third novel Swan Song. The principal characters are Soames and Fleur, and the second saga ends with the death of Soames in 1926. This is also the point reached at the end of the 1967 television series, but Galsworthy wrote one further trilogy, End of the Chapter, comprising Maid in Waiting, Flowering Wilderness, and Over the River, also known as One More River, chiefly dealing with Michael Mont's young cousin, Dinny Cherrell.

In 1994, Suleika Dawson wrote a sequel to The Forsytes called The Forsytes: the Saga Continues in which Soames's daughter, Fleur, Lady Mont is the main character. She has been a dutiful wife and mother, and had long forgotten her love for Jon Forsyte. But when tragedy brings Jon back to England, Fleur is determined to recapture the past—and the love of her life.


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