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The Forsyte Saga, Book I: The Man of Property

Scheduled broadcast: Sundays October 6 - November 10, 2002
(Confirm with your local station)

Originally published as three separate novels, The Forsyte Saga is John Galsworthy's sprawling epic of the wealthy Forsyte clan, centered around the materialistic Soames Forsyte and his beautiful but rebellious trophy wife, Irene.

In this, the first of three novels, Soames Forsyte is the "Man of Property," a successful upper-middle class lawyer with strict Victorian values in turn-of-the-century England. He pursues the beautiful Irene, who finally agrees to marry him. Irene balks at her husband's controlling rigidity and falls in love with Philip Bosinney, an architect hired by Soames to build his country house. When Soames learns of the affair, the result is a brutal clash of Soames' values with his wife's passions.

Discussion Questions

The Forsyte Saga: The Man of Property
by John Galsworthy (1906)

  1. Does Galsworthy successfully "embalm the upper-middle class," as he claims in his Preface? What do you think of his assessment that the upper-middle class is "pickled in these pages," lying under glass? Does he pull off this job?

  2. Looking at the characters' names, discuss Galsworthy's choices and the character traits the names imply. How does Galsworthy's storytelling style -- with its lengthy narratives and frequent interior monologues -- reflect the society he's writing about? Is he a reliable narrator? Share whether or not he could have used a different type of narration, and why. What type of narration does the film use?

  3. With everything he possesses, why is old Jolyon so lonely? Considering his era, what does the opera mean to him? What point is Galsworthy making by having old Jolyon go to the opera? What happens to him there?

  4. Why is Swithin portrayed at the "junction of two curiously opposite emotions, a lingering and sturdy satisfaction that he had made his own way and his own fortune, and a sense that a man of his distinction should never have been allowed to soil his mind with work" (p. 35)? Discuss why this is or is not an ingrained truth about the Forsytes.

  5. Is it true that Soames got a "secret and intimate feeling" out of his property, and out of Irene he got none (p. 61)? Why is it so important for Soames to build his country house? What does it represent to him? To Irene? To Bosinney?

  6. Discuss the "unspoken meanings" of the sharp words between Soames and old Jolyon about Bosinney and Irene (p. 145). What are these unspoken things, and what could be said if they were able? In Chapter V, what is really going on in the correspondence between Soames and Bosinney?

  7. Why does old Jolyon call Soames "a man of property"? Why does Soames scoff at the title? Why does Soames like art so much? What makes him pursue Irene so aggressively?

  8. Look at the conversation between young Jolyon and Bosinney about the "Forsyte man" (pp. 188-190). Thinking about the Forsytes you've become acquainted with, what is young Jolyon really saying? What does it mean having "in a remarkable degree those two qualities which are the real tests of a Forsyte -- the power of never being able to give yourself up to anything soul and body, and the 'sense of property'" (p. 190)?

  9. Why is young Jolyon's position, and that of June's, so deplorable to old Jolyon (p. 200)? What changes old Jolyon's mind about his son and granddaughter? Explore what it means to old Jolyon that he is "reverent before three things alone -- beauty, upright conduct, and the sense of property" (p. 301). In general, what do these things mean to you?

  10. What are the effects of Bosinney's death on the family? Looking at the relationship that developed between Irene and old Jolyon, how does it differ from other relationships in the book?

  11. What does Galsworthy want the reader to know and understand about Irene? Discuss women's rights and roles in The Forsyte Saga era. Share whether or not you think Irene conforms to these distinctions, and why. How is Irene perceived in the book? What do you think about the roles of the other women in the book?

  12. How do the actors' portrayals of characters in the film compare with your mind's eye's idea of those same characters from the book?

Questions provided courtesy of Simon & Schuster

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