Happy 148th birthday to British novelist and playwright, John Galsworthy!

John Galsworthy was born on August 14, 1867 in Surrey, England. Although more popular as a playwright during his lifetime, Galsworthy is now famous for his fiction masterpiece, The Forsyte Saga, which won him a Nobel prize for literature a year before his death in 1933. The saga traces the ups and downs of the upper middle class Forsyte family from the end of the 19th century up until 1920 in a series of three novels and two “interludes”. Think Downton Abbey.

Did Nature permit a Forsyte not to make a slave of what he adored?  Could beauty be confided to him?

Unlike Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes, John Galsworthy dissected the lives of the people of his own class. Galsworthy could not tolerate the obsession of his peers with buying and selling. The idea that one could “own” ineffables such as beauty and love, whether as art or a wife, was contemptible to him. He channelled his disgust into the creation of the odious but unforgettable Soames Forsyte, jealous husband of the beautiful Irene (pronounced in the Edwardian style: I-REE-nee). Galsworthy was clearly in love with the character of Irene, making her story of self-determination the unifying thread of the entire tapestry. Indeed it is hard to miss his empathy for women in this series.

The Forsyte Saga has been serialised twice on television, most recently and lavishly by Granada TV with Damian Lewis as Soames and the elegant Gina McKee as Irene. If the print format seems daunting at 912 pages (Oxford paperback), I highly recommend the audiobook, ideal for August vacations!