Places: The Forsyte Saga

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1922 (originally published as The Man of Property, 1906; In Chancery, 1920; To Let, 1921; “Indian Summer of a Forsyte”; and “Awakening”)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Family

Time of work: 1886-1920

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*England

*England. Forsyte Saga, TheCountry in which virtually all the action in the novels takes place. Although John Galsworthy was not comfortable with the characterization, many of his contemporaries considered him the era’s leading chronicler of England’s upper-middle class. He himself was the son of a lawyer who owned considerable real estate, so he knew that class intimately. His portrayals of the British aristocracy and of working-class people are considered less successful. In The Forsyte Saga Galsworthy sets many scenes and chapters in locations he personally knew. For instance, a chapter in To Let is set at the annual cricket match between the great public schools Harrow and Eton in London. A graduate of Harrow, Galsworthy regularly attended the event. Part of In Chancery is set at Oxford University, where Galsworthy studied law.

*London

*London. Capital and largest city of Great Britain, in and around which much of the action takes place in scenes at various houses, clubs, streets, restaurants, art galleries, opera houses, parks, courtrooms, train stations, cemeteries, and theaters.

Robin Hill

Robin Hill. Small village near which Soames Forsyte–the title character of The Man of Property–decides to build a country house and engages Philip Bosinney to build, furnish, and decorate the house for him. He wants a large house within commuting distance of London in which to keep his collection of paintings and his wife, Irene. He regards Irene as his most precious possession and thinks he can control her better by keeping her out of London. When she and Philip fall in love, Soames seeks his revenge by suing Philip for going over budget on his house.

Soames never lives in the house, a two-story rectangular structure with a courtyard covered by a glass roof. Jolyon Forsyte buys the house and lives in it with his son, young Jolyon Forsyte, and his son’s family until his death a few years later. Later, Irene marries young Jolyon and lives with him in the Robin Hill house. At the opening of To Let, set twenty years later, Irene and Jolyon are still living at Robin Hill

Galsworthy based the grounds of Robin Hill, but not the building itself, on his boyhood home of Coombe Warren. The house is more than a plot device, however. Soames’s problems with the house parallel his problems with Irene and with life in general. Galsworthy believed that it was futile to try to control everything in a person’s life, especially the people in it. The more Soames tries to control his world and to plan other people’s lives, the worse his own life becomes.

Timothy’s house

Timothy’s house. Home of the aging bachelor Timothy on London’s Bayswater Road, in which, at the beginning of The Man of Property, Timothy lives with three sisters. The redbrick house overlooks a park and is a regular gathering place of the Forsyte clan. Timothy himself, a hypochondriac who lives to the age of one hundred, rarely leaves his bedroom. His funeral at London’s Highgate Cemetery takes place in the last chapter of the last novel, signifying that the saga has ended.

BibliographyGindin, James. “Ethical Structures in John Galsworthy, Elizabeth Bowen, and Iris Murdoch.” In Forms of Modern British Fiction, edited by Alan Warren Friedman. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975. Concludes that the central concern of the Galsworthy trilogy is ethical and explores what it is that people do to themselves and others. The main struggle is often between property and beauty.Johnson, Pamela Hansford. “Speaking of Books: The Forsyte Saga.” The New York Times Sunday Review of Books, March 12, 1967, pp. 2, 36. Discusses the reception of Galsworthy’s trilogy and the fact that the writer’s reputation had fallen but was on the rise because of the television production of The Forsyte Saga.Sternlicht, Sanford. John Galsworthy. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. Chapter 3 describes The Forsyte Saga as Galsworthy’s crowning achievement, an ironic account without heroes or epic battles and a fine portrait of the passing from power of England’s upper middle class.Stevens, Earl. “John Galsworthy.” In British Winners of the Nobel Literary Prize, edited by Walter Kidd. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973. Concludes that The Forsyte Saga alternates between satiric novel and lyric interlude and that Galsworthy seeks to teach readers to see the world more completely.Stevens, Ray. “Mrs. Woolf and Mr. Galsworthy, and the Queer Case of Beyond.” English Liter-ature in Transition (1985): 65-87. Reexamines Virginia Woolf’s criticism of Galswor-thy and shows the nuances in the relationship between them, as well as their relationships with Arnold Bennett and H. G. Wells.
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