We pick up where left off at the end of the interlude between parts 1 & 2, with the death of Old Jolyon Forsyte. His will included a sum left to Soames’ estranged wife, Irene, which prompts Soames to go and seek a divorce, now several years after they parted. This is why the title refers to the process of legal proceedings, though the book is not consumed with a court case. As this comes in the middle of a trilogy, this whole review comes with a *spoiler warning* in case you are reading along.
The executor of Old Jolyon’s estate is his son, Young Jolyon, though since the passing of the former, the latter is henceforth simply referred to as Jolyon. In executing his father’s will, Jolyon befriends Irene and becomes a regular visitor to her haunts both in London and Paris. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Soames has a new interest, but before he can embark on any meaningful relationship with her, he must finish properly with Irene. In choosing to confront her face-to-face though, his former passion for her is rekindled and he finds himself torn between trying to pursue the divorce or try to find reconciliation. Underlying this, though, is the growing desperation for Soames to produce an heir. So he professes his love Irene, whilst at the same time loathing her for her affair with Bosinney and her leaving him. His motivation remains that of property; in this case, having someone around to whom he can leave his estate.
While this forms to the foreground of the plot, the background is laden with subplots, most notably the outbreak of the Boer War with some of the younger members of the Forsyte clan choosing to join up, including Jolyon’s son, Jolly.
From here, the pace of the narrative rather picks up and though I wasn’t a fan of some parts of The Man of Property, thinking them turgid, such passages are much fewer in this most enthralling of dramas. Irene refuses to take back Soames, pushing him into divorce proceedings, though not before Soames seeks better grounds by hiring what could be described as a private eye to spy on Irene and Jolyon. When the divorce is fulfilled, Soames gets to marry again, this time taking a French wife whose family and sensibilities are somewhat alien to his own middle class English peccadilloes.
So the focus then becomes the perpetuity of the Forsyte properties. With Soames’ father, James, in ill health, the race is on to have a son, though not before it is announced that Jolyon has wed Irene and that they are to have a child themselves.
The climax of the book comes with a moral choice, when Soames’ new wife, Annette, has difficulties in birth. The choice is that the doctor could operate, saving Annette’s life and in so doing, killing the child, or on the other hand the doctor could not operate and risk the lives of the both, but where both also have a chance to live. In either case, this would be the last child that Annette was ever to have.
Ultimately Soames makes the choice that suits his own selfish desires. Though there is no time to rest for Soames is straightaway summoned to be at the side of his father’s deathbed. And what more could send James happy to his grave than to hear that Annette had a boy to carry on the Forsyte name? Soames duly obliges by telling James of the birth of a son. But was it a boy he had? I’ll let you find out yourself.
As with The Man of Property, the book is appended by an interlude between volumes 2 and 3. Here, we pick up the story a few years later but solely looking at the family life of Irene, Jolyon & their young son. As with the earlier interlude, it seems to set up the next volume and in the context of this book seems a little out of place and time.
Here, more so than in the earlier volume, Galsworthy’s quality of writing is evident. He remains the passive narrator who breathes life into characters who have such depth that one could very easily imagine other parts of their lives off the page, making Galsworthy more of documentary maker. For an author to do that is high praise and it is clear to me why, even though he is far from a poetic writer, he won the Nobel Prize for literature.
If you’ve picked up The Forsyte Saga and struggled with the first volume, then please do carry on. This is an absolute treat.