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The Forsyte Saga


would be dicult to substantiate a claim that the case of
England was better in 1913 than it was in 1886, when the Forsytes
assembled at Old Jolyon’s to celebrate the engagement of June to
Philip Bosinney. And in 1920, when again the clan gat hered to
bless the marriage of Fleur with Michael Mont, the state of
England is as surely too molten and bankrupt as in the eighties
it was too congealed and low-percented. If these chronicles had
been a really scientific study of transition one would have dwelt
probably on such factors as the invention of bicycle, motor -car,
and flying-machine; the arrival of a cheap Press; the decline of
country life and increase of the towns; the birth of the Cinema.
Men are, in fact, quite unable to control their own inventions;
they at best develop adaptability to the new conditions those
inventions create.
But this long tale is no scientific study of a period; it is
rather an intimate incarnation of the disturbanc e that Beauty
eects in the lives of men.
The figure of Irene, never, as the reader may possibly have
observed, present, except through the senses of other characters,
is a concretion of disturbing Beauty impinging on a possessive
world.
One has noticed that readers, as they wade on through the salt
waters of the Saga, are inclined more and more to pity Soames,
and to think that in doing so they are in revolt against the mood
of his creator. Far from it! He, too, pities Soames, the
tragedy of whose life is the very simple, uncontrollable tragedy
2of being unlovable, without quite a thick enough skin to be
thoroughly unconscious of the fact. Not even Fleur loves Soames
as he feels he ought to be loved. But in pitying Soames, readers
incline, perhaps, to animus against Irene: After all, they think,
he wasn’t a bad fellow, it wasn’t his fault; she ought to have
forgiven him, and so on!
And, taking sides, they lose perception of the simple truth,
which underlies the whole story, that where sex attraction is
utterly and definitely lacking in one partner to a union, no
amount of pity, or reason, or duty, or what not, can overcome a
repulsion implicit in Nat ure. Whether it ought to, or no, is
beside the point; bec ause in fact it never does. And where Irene
seems hard and cruel, as in the Bois de Boulogne, or the Goupenor
Gallery, she is but wisely realistic–knowing that the least
concession is the inch which precedes the impossible, the
repulsive ell.
A criticism one might pass on the last phase of the Saga is the
complaint that Irene and Jolyon those rebels against property–
claim spiritual property in their son Jon. But it would be
hypercriticism, as the tale is told. No father and mother could
have let the boy marry Fleur wit hout knowledge of the facts; and
the facts determine Jon, not the persuasion of his parents.
Moreover, Jolyon’s persuasion is not on his own account, but on
Irene’s, and Irene’s persuasion becomes a reiterated: ”Don’t
think of me, think of yourself !” That Jon, knowing the facts, can
realise his mother’s feelings, will hardly with justice be held
proof that she is, after all, a Forsyte.
But though the impingement of Beauty and the claims of Freedom on
a possessive world are the main prepossessions of the Forsyte
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