The third installment of the Forsyte saga, To Let, continues the tale of despair and desolation that comes from a failed marriage that went horribly wrong. In the novel, Soames' and Irene's children must face the truth of their parents' disastrous marriage, something kept secret from them throughout their young lives until the truth comes out when they fall in love with each other. The irony is that Soames and Irene seek to doom their children to a loveless life, as they fight to keep their kids apart, which is not unlike the loveless life they each experienced themselves. While this tale is unique for its time, after three novels, the story has long since played itself out. I couldn't fathom why neither Soames nor Irene would seek to keep their secret from their adult children, when so many others around them knew the truth. It was naive to think it could be kept secret long. John Galsworthy writes a book that shows the effects of love and love gone wrong, and points out that the outcome for each can be quite similar. He's a writer worth exploring if you haven't already. I suspect though that the ideas behind this book was more cutting edge for its day that it is in modern times, but still I find the characters fascinating and fully developed. It's classic storytelling that shows why this tale has lasted throughout the ages.
If you're a Downton Abbey fan (and I am), you're doing yourself a disservice if you've never read the Forsyte Chronicles. Galsworthy brings the Edwardian era and post-WWI era to life with well-drawn characters, enticing plots, humor, social commentary and deeply felt humanity. Although the focus is on a wealthy upper middle class family here, as opposed to the aristocracy in DA, the two classes are not that much different as they look wistfully to the past, and press on to an unrelenting future of social change.
Jon and Fleur, two young people who are strangers to each other, fall in love at first sight, but it turns out that they will face problems because their two families hate each other, though the couple can't get anyone to tell them why. What they don't know is that Fleur's mother is her father's second wife, and that his first wife, Irene, is now married to Jon's father and is Jon's mother. Thus we have two households with an "ancient grudge" and a pair of "star-crossed lovers."
This concluding book of the Forsyte Saga is more than a rendering of the Romeo and Juliet plot, however. Galsworthy includes examinations of how family traits and personality types are passed from generation to generation, of the psychology of possessiveness, of the changes in society in England as a result of time and war experience. And it certainly doesn't end as one might expect.
One of the great strengths of this trio of Forsyte novels is Galsworthy's sensitive portrayal of Soames Forsyte (Fleur's father), who is the bad actor in the plot. Galsworthy shows us that of all the characters, he is the one most deserving of our pity. The last sentence of this novel, referring to Soames, says, "He might wish and wish and never get it -- the beauty and the loving in the world!" Now, that's sad.
This novel could be enjoyed in itself, but it should not be. The three books together complete a fascinating extended story of an upper-middle class family over more than 30 years. Most highly recommended.
I didn't like the first book of the trilogy. I warmed to the second. I loved the intervening shorts. But it's not until I finish the final installment in the trilogy that I really understand and appreciate what Galsworthy was doing here. His treatise on the end of the Victorian age is a deeply thoughtful, ironic, and ultimately very moving one. Glad I stuck with it.