The Forsyte Saga (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]

Overview


The Forsyte Saga depicts the volatile mixture of love and money. The tartly rendered narrative of the Forsyte clan reveals both adultery and intrigue as it pins down the English national character. Translated into many languages and twice made into a television miniseries, The Forsyte Saga has been admired ever since its completion in 1922.
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The Forsyte Saga (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview


The Forsyte Saga depicts the volatile mixture of love and money. The tartly rendered narrative of the Forsyte clan reveals both adultery and intrigue as it pins down the English national character. Translated into many languages and twice made into a television miniseries, The Forsyte Saga has been admired ever since its completion in 1922.
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Product Details

Meet the Author



John Galsworthy was born to a wealthy English commercial family in 1867. Initially trained as lawyer, he became a successful novelist and playwright who wrote over fifty works. He first achieved success as a writer with The Man of Property. Galsworthy was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932. He died in 1933.
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Introduction

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy is the absorbing story of the Forsyte clan, told in three novels and two "interludes" gathered together in a single volume. As it follows the family and one of its most typical members, Soames Forsyte, through adulteries, divorces, inheritances, and financial speculations, the trilogy depicts the tense mixture that parents, children, and money make. The tartly rendered narrative traces the decline of the class whose personal ambitions forged Victorian Britain, and for many readers, the trilogy frankly pins down the difficulties of the English national character. Translated into many languages and twice made into a television miniseries, The Forsyte Saga has been admired ever since its completion in 1922.

John Galsworthy was born to a wealthy English commercial family in 1867. Initially trained as lawyer, he became a successful novelist and playwright who wrote over fifty novels, books of short stories, and plays. He first achieved success as a writer when the first novel of the eventual trilogy, The Man of Property, was published in 1906. Later he completed the Forsyte trilogy with In Chancery (1920) and To Let (1921). Galsworthy was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932. He died in 1933.

The Forsytes are partially based on Galsworthy's own family. His father, John Galsworthy, was a solicitor with many business interests. He was descended, much like a Forsyte, from a grandfather who had moved to London from the country and quietly invested his money in property to see it swell in three generations. The senior Galsworthy, the model for Old Jolyon in the Saga, spent little time at his office and a great deal of it in his comfortable country home. Galsworthy's mother, Blanche Bartleet Galsworthy, was twenty years younger than his father. Nicknamed "the little Marquise," she was intensely concerned with the outward niceties and did not see much of her young children. Galsworthy's family fortune saw him through a typical route for an English upper-middle-class male-through Harrow and Oxford, where he studied law, not very attentively. Though he was called to the bar in 1890, he seldom actually practiced. His father provided him with a generous allowance which he used to travel-to Russia, Australia, Canada, and the South Pacific among other places-sometimes looking in on the family's business interests.

The young Galsworthy led a particularly Edwardian existence. His outward respect for the old Victorian proprieties masked a teeming imaginative and private life. He appeared to be a respectable bachelor gentleman even as he began an affair with his brother Arthur's wife, Ada. Divorce in the early twentieth century was difficult and scandalous. In order not to offend the elder John Galsworthy, Ada and Arthur waited to divorce until after his death; Ada and the younger John married soon afterward. Biographers have given most of the credit for starting Galsworthy's writing career to Ada, who urged him to write and throughout their lives was his editor, consultant, and muse. Galsworthy's secret writing life began with that relationship-his first four books were published under a pseudonym. Ada herself was a talented composer, musician, and translator from the French. Much of the story of the unhappy, passive Irene, married to the unimaginative, tense Soames, derives from Galsworthy's knowledge-and participation in-Ada's own experience of marriage.

Galsworthy was not an early or a natural writer, but he was a determined and eventually a prolific one. He only began writing at the age of twenty-eight, and had a long apprenticeship. He wrote every day-indefatigably, at first in his legal chambers and then wherever he was, even while traveling. He set himself literary mentors: Ivan Turgenev and Guy de Maupassant, though the influence of Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling is also evident in his early work. The first twelve years of his writing career were discouraging. None of his first four books (two novels and two volumes of short stories) did well financially or artistically. Galsworthy published what would become the first novel in The Forsyte Saga, The Man of Property, in 1906. He shortly made himself known as a playwright; his works flourished on the stage and made him a household name. His many successful plays dramatized pressing social problems, including class inequality (The Silver Box, 1906), labor unrest (Strife, 1909), and anti-Semitism (Loyalties, 1922). His play Justice (1910), urging prison reform, attracted the attention of Winston Churchill and brought about the passage of legal limits to solitary confinement.

Throughout the 1910s, Galsworthy published many novels, short stories, and essays. He returned to the Forsytes with In Chancery (1920) and To Let (1921). He completed a second Forsyte trilogy, A Modern Comedy, in 1929-the two trilogies together are known as The Forsyte Chronicles. He wrote a third trilogy, describing the aristocratic Charwell family, shortly afterward. Friends and family noticed his physical powers declining steadily as he aged; he died in January 1933 of a brain tumor, a month after he was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Galsworthy knew money well from acting as his father's factotum-he did legal work for his father's many interests and even collected rents from slum properties owned by his father's firms. Though Galsworthy had children, a friend noted that he seemed obsessed by his parents-when he was over sixty, he still talked about them. In addition, Galsworthy was politically liberal and very active in the support of numerous causes: he protested the Boer War, an unresponsive legal system, vivisection, caged birds, sweated industries, and the censorship of plays. He publicly endorsed the minimum wage and the League of Nations.

The Forsyte Saga brings together Galsworthy's social concerns in an extended imaginative work. The trilogy begins in the summer of 1886 at an engagement party for June Forsyte, the granddaughter of the head of the Forsyte clan, known as Old Jolyon, and ends in 1920, at the time last volume was written. The narratives are not continuous: the first volume takes us from 1886 to the end of 1887, the interlude "An Indian Summer of a Forsyte" presents a few months in 1892; In Chancery runs from 1899 to 1901; "Awakenings" depicts part of 1909; and To Let gives us 1920. Galsworthy did not envision the first novel as part of a trilogy-he wrote "The Indian Summer" more than a decade later, and conceived only of a trilogy on a day after he had finished this story-a day he marked precisely: July 28, 1918. The two later novels quickly followed. The trilogy was published in one volume in 1922.

In its first part, Galsworthy presents a caustic picture of the English upper-middle class-the class whose money was made in the nineteenth century through investment in the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire. It members are acquisitive, cheerless, and rigid-unable to conceive of any human emotion beyond the joy of possession. Throughout, the tone is deeply ironic. The chief character, the grim and successful Soames Forsyte, is unhappily married to the passive, young, and vital Irene. He thinks of her as property and tries to control her like it. Irene's unhappiness leads her to start an affair with her niece's fiancé, the architect Philip Bosinney, who is in the midst of building her husband a large country home at Robin Hill. Though Irene tries to escape the marriage in Bosinney's arms, Soames eventually shows his power by raping her. Bosinney, undone by the course of events, is run over by a cab, and Irene has no choice but to return to the house and the husband she despises. The machinations of the entire clan of Forsytes around these events-their continual talk of wills, interest, and expensive furnishings-are continually ridiculed.

The second volume offers us the Forsytes' deepening sense of their own limitations; the Forsytes intuit the end of their way of life. Soames, separated from Irene and sexually frustrated, hopes to enter in a marriage of convenience with a young Frenchwoman, Annette Lamotte. First, however, he has to get a divorce from Irene, which in this period involved a convoluted legal process in which proof of adultery had to be obtained. The process of the divorce is comic, as Soames sometimes hesitates, has Irene followed, and is at one time mistaken for her lover. Ultimately he obtains his divorce when Irene flees to Italy with his nephew, "young" Jolyon. Soames' second marriage to Annette is ambivalent; he marries her in France in order to conceal her lower-middle-class status from his family. During her difficult confinement Soames is willing to sacrifice her life against medical advice in favor of her child, though ultimately both the mother and the child, Fleur, survive.

The third volume skips over the Edwardian period and the First World War; in effect we suddenly see society having changed around and despite the Forsytes. Irene has married Young Jolyon, and she dotes on their gentle son, Jon. In turn, Soames spoils his attractive, willful daughter, Fleur. Fleur and Jon accidentally meet each other-they are both ignorant of their parents' pasts-and despite their apparent love are torn apart by their families, even though their families have experienced unhappy marriage themselves. Fleur ends up marrying a well-connected young man, Michael Mont, with whom she is not in love: the Forsyte pattern of loveless but personally advantageous matrimony continues. Soames, however, becomes in the course of this last book a far more complex character-he changes his mind about his daughter's relationship at the last minute, though his intervention comes to nothing; he clearly does his best for Fleur. By the end of the Saga, when Soames puts the "To Let" sign on the house in which much of the action takes place-the house that Bosinney designed and Soames built for Irene at Robin Hill-he is left speculating on his own personal and spiritual vacancy.

Galsworthy's characterization is consistently interesting. Though in the first novel Soames is simply a despot, he gradually becomes a type of British everyman, with the strengths-hard work, determination, ambition-as well as the many defects of his class. Soames eventually realizes what he has missed emotionally. The passive Irene is an experiment: Galsworthy intentionally only describes her in the eyes of others-her beauty and poise entrance her two husbands, her father-in-law Old Jolyon, and her son. The cousins, maiden aunts, and investing uncles that cram the pages of the Saga are all entirely alive.

Galsworthy's ironic style and material particularity are worth noting: the set piece of the funeral of Queen Victoria at the end of In Chancery in which the crowd realizes it is watching the ceremonial end to an age, is deservedly famous. What sets the trilogy apart from the Victorian novel is its bitter completeness. Galsworthy refused to give The Man of Property the happy ending some readers of the manuscript urged on him. The craving for possession runs through the family like an inherited disease. The Forsyte brothers are in constant competition: Forsytes cannot think without thinking of ownership. In the works of Dickens and other Victorian authors, the family is a charmed circle in which business values cannot and should not enter-think of Scrooge's conversion to family life in A Christmas Carol. The Forsytes' inherited concentrated avarice makes them largely emotional failures.

The individual volumes of the Saga were best sellers. Many writers-among them Katherine Mansfield, Rebecca West, Arnold Bennett, and Thomas Hardy-received them enthusiastically. Joseph Conrad, to whom Galsworthy was personally close-the two had met when Conrad was the first mate of the ship Torrens-was always his supporter. The single-volume Saga and his later novels sold thousands of copies, making the already well-to-do Galsworthy rich. He gave away much of this wealth to individuals and a large list of causes. But even as he achieved fame and critical success in the 1920s, the writers we now know as the High Modernists had doubts about his work. These doubts overwhelmed Galsworthy's reputation shortly after his death.

Some Modernist authors-D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf especially-showed a marked antipathy to Galsworthy that at least in part seems to come from a sense of competition. Galsworthy completed his chief work just before the Modernists published their most revolutionary ones-The Waste Land, Mrs. Dalloway, and Ulysses all came out in 1922. To writers in the avant-garde, Galsworthy suddenly seemed passé. Galsworthy's outward success also worked against him, no matter how many causes he supported or how kind he was in person. After the successful publication of the Saga, he was called upon to be the chief representative of English literature and thus of the literary wing of an establishment his novels once lampooned. He was elected the first president of PEN, the international association of writers. Though he turned down an offer of a knighthood in 1917, thinking it unsuitable for a novelist, he accepted an Order of Merit and many honorary degrees later on.

D. H. Lawrence enthusiastically recommended The Man of Property to a friend in 1909, but by 1913 he was calling Galsworthy's drama "bloodless." In 1917, Lawrence lunched with Galsworthy and wrote that he was a "sawdust bore" (Galsworthy in turn labeled him a "provincial genius") even as he was trying to enlist him in the fight to publish Women in Love. Lawrence's 1928 essay on Galsworthy, which did lasting damage to the older novelist's reputation, begrudgingly admits the initial power of The Man of Property, but argues that that power does not hold. For Lawrence, Galsworthy's rebellious men and women do not really rebel against Forsytism: they are just as jealous for cash and notice, only less honest about it. Lawrence was also disappointed by the increasing sympathy of the novelist for the characters, like Soames, who were initially objects of mockery. But, as Geoffrey Harvey has pointed out, the increasing likeability of Soames may not result from a failure of imagination or politics. It may spring from the requisites of the form that Galsworthy creates. Though his first novel was meant to stand alone, he realized he was creating a saga shortly before he started the second novel, and a saga demands a more episodic structure and more consideration for its characters.

Virginia Woolf's 1924 essay "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" classifies Galsworthy with Arnold Bennett and H. G. Wells as one of the Edwardians whom she, E. M. Forster, James Joyce, Lytton Strachey, D. H. Lawrence, and T. S. Eliot range themselves against. But she admits that Galsworthy also influenced Forster and Lawrence. A look at Forster's private thoughts confirms her sense of genealogy: Forster wrote in a letter in 1913 "I must keep myself from trying to look round civilization. I haven't the experience or the power, & the influence of Galsworthy Wells &ct is bad for me." Woolf's difficulty with Galsworthy is his material and moral earnestness-she characterizes him "burning with indignation, stuffed with information, arraigning civilization."

Woolf's aesthetic objections look for Modernism in a man who matured in a different era. The Saga is not a modernist work: it assumes that the world can be described, and that people, fictional or real, are knowable beings. There is none of Forster's exposure of the gaps between intentions and actions or language and its perception. Nor does Galsworthy share Woolf's doubts about the extent to which we can understand other people. Woolf's political objections also derive from Galsworthy's Edwardian training. Galsworthy was an early twentieth-century English Liberal, not a leftist. His first novel coincides with the last great wave of English Liberal reform, from 1906 to 1911. By the 1920s, the Liberals' ground was cut out from under them by the Labour party. English Liberals believed that the injustices of a capitalist society could be mitigated by the action of individuals and by the passage of legislation. They believed that the system could be reformed. It is possible that Galsworthy's faith in the system may have led him to temper his early satiric edge. It certainly seems to have shaped his life. In his last years he and his wife lived in a Forsyte-like mansion in the tiny, impoverished village of Bury: the employment of much of the village as workmen and domestic servants as well as his own personal generosity rescued its people from years of neglect. Forty years later villagers remembered him fondly. But the village was saved through individual, almost feudal, means-and only temporarily. After Galsworthy died, his widow could no longer maintain such a state, and she sold the great house at a loss, showing in her own family the limits of English Liberalism.

Nevertheless, through vagaries of critical reaction, the Forsyte Saga has remained a popular success-especially abroad, in Germany, Italy, and Russia. The 1967 miniseries, shown in the United States in 1969, is still admired; a second version was produced in 2002-3. Galsworthy's ironic but eventually understanding depiction of the disintegration of the financial and social sureties of the Victorian era endures. Galsworthy had the faith that an individual's criticism of a society would lead to positive change, and The Forsyte Saga is a monument to that belief.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 66 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 67 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2005

    The mini-series has nothing on this

    I met the Forsytes through a modern mini-series. Perhaps you did, too. That mini-series makes Irene the centre of attention, and therefore has to invent incidents and conversations. That said, the differences between screen and book probably made that a necessity. The book in fact makes the Forsytes the centre of attention, and is not at all chronological (in the way the mini-series is). In the book, you see Irene entirely through Forsyte eyes. And the book (and she) are all the more alluring for that. It is an effect that could not be realised on the screen, and yet another reason why great literature will always have to be read. It is a dark secret, known only to Soames, Irene, Jollyon and (briefly) Bossinney that binds this book, through three generations. I have often questioned the rightness of the ending of 'To Let', the third novel in the saga. But I can only have felt the same revulsion toward Soames, and thus his progeny. The fact is that life does not always have simplistic endings. There are inconquerable problems that sometimes make what seems obvious and perfect, utterly unobtainable. You will read and re-read.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 30, 2011

    Great novel, poor translation to eBook

    There are plenty of recommendations and reviews for Galsworthy's classic family saga. Be guided by the ones which rate it highly. This is a great novel that focuses on the inner life to the characters rather than on the action. You won't regret reading it. The B&R Samizdat Express rendition has its problems. Each page has at one or more errors where words are not correct. The conversion to eBook was obviously not proof read. Encountering so many errors on the page detracts from the reading experience.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2003

    i love this book!!!

    galsworthy speaks the truth regarding life and human nature. many beautiful scenes involving the english country side. just read it and see for yourself. its a wonderful family drama

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2006

    Fascinating Saga

    This book was a quick read. I recommend this novel to anyone who saw the new Masterpiece Theater version. The characters are extremely complex and fascinating.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2013

    Do NOT purchase this ebook edition.  It was not properly "t

    Do NOT purchase this ebook edition.  It was not properly "transcribed" and every page has spelling and punctuation issues. 
    Its very difficult to read because of the "printing" errors.  
    Its a great book, but buy a different edition.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    This Book Takes You Back...

    If you were ever wondering about 19th century British upper middle class, this book is for you. The little details of each character is brought out, but not drawn out. You get into each character to see what make him/her tick: pride, hate, love, compassion, rage, jealousy and greed are just wonderfully exposed and felt as each one is explored.

    At the end, I even felt sorry for Soames, because he was a product of how he was raised. He was the only one, who could not see that what he wanted was mearly window dressing and appearances. He lived under a Victorian illusion of what his life truly was, and never quite understood until the very end that money cannot buy true love or happiness.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2012

    Terrible editing

    There were so many typo's' I couldn't get past the first few pages. It's a shame that an author can't get any kind of review because of the terrible editing.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2004

    Greatest classic

    Enjoyable reading, Very comparable to the War and Piece, brittish version of High Society saga

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2002

    Terrfic! PBS is bringing new version to TV in fall

    Hard to resist being caught up in the Forsythes lives, and why would anyone? First class depiction of life 100 years ago, and in aspects not too far removed from our own times.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2003

    i adore this book

    every thing in this book is wonderful from the descriptions of english country life to all the love and hate relationships. love it!! so many themes are encountered in this book -love, life, family relationships, money, loyalty, art, and passion

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2003

    A story to read and re-read!!

    What a wonderful novel to read and re-read. Yes, there is a 2nd PBS presentation and it is very complimentary!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2000

    Great Book. Pleasant Reading.

    Gives you wonderful picture of the life and love in England of the Last Century.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2014

    PEOPLE PLEASE!!!

    The bad reviews here are unwarranted and uncalled for. This book was ocrd, a very old book more than likely so rare only 2-3 copies exist. There is NO editing that can be done because this book was more than likely digitally scanned. The scanning process itself is complicated and if text is unreadable or not recognized, the weird misspellings and symbols come in. Instead of complainig, be grateful this work is preserved. These types of NEGATIVE reviews ought to be removed and their users banned from using review features as they have nothing to do with the book or the author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2013

    Forsyte Saga

    I so enjoy reading this excellent novel; but the text has so many errors in this ebook edition, reading can be frustrating.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2011

    Page-turner

    The writing in this epic is masterful, engaging, substantive, and elegant. The story follows a family through three generations beginning in the late 1880s up the in 1920s. The characters are extremely well-developed and really come to life. The subtleties of the characters and the twisting lives of the Forsyte family are fascinating and makes for quite a page turner. I was hooked immediately. I recommend this book to people of all ages. I know that sometimes that novels taking place in this particular era can seem daunting for those of us who crave more modern, or action/adventure books, but there is no lack of excitement here. I urge you to give it a shot!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    This trilogy set in turn-of-the-twentieth-century England, chronicles the lives, loves, and tragedies of several generations of the Forsyte family. Distinguished by their "sense of property" and individualism in a rapidly shifting England, each Forsyte attempts to find a measure of happiness despite war, divorce, death, and deception. The focus of each book, however, is Soames Forsyte, a unique character in fiction. However, it's not actually Soames Forsyte himself who is interesting, but the ways in which Galsworthy uses him as the lens through which the reader views all of the other characters. For Soames Forsyte, we quickly learn, is basically a cold, shrewd, narrow-minded, selfish man. And yet, his nearly forty-year attempt to understand why his wife (and then ex-wife) Irene so despises him makes the reader, despite herself, actually sympathize with his frustration. Why, Soames asks himself several times in these 800 pages, does Irene hate him so much? Why, when he has given her all the material possessions she could want, respectability, and stability, does she shrink from his touch and refuse to share his bed? What, Soames asks himself and Irene many times, is wrong with him (in Irene's eyes)? Of course, Soames never gets an answer, and just once does Galsworthy refer obliquely to a instinctive repugnance that each one of us has for certain people, something that we cannot explain. The fact that Irene has an affair with one man and then marries another, after her divorce from Soames, only adds salt to his wound. One of the lessons of The Forsyte Saga, then, is that we can never really understand other people, trapped as we are in our own minds, with our prejudices, instincts, desires, and hatreds. How many times have we all wondered why a certain person doesn't desire us as we desire them, or why we can't stand a certain person even when they've never given us cause to dislike them? How many times has each of us wondered if there was something wrong in ourselves, something that everyone else can see but us? Ultimately, Galsworthy shows us the futility of trying to force love or friendship, and suggests that we find that which does make us happy and learn to live in a sometimes hostile, sometimes indifferent world.

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  • Posted May 8, 2010

    Superb Writing

    It has been a very long time since I have read such a superbly written book. The prose is outstanding and any given page in this long story is a treat! The description of the characters and the settings in the story were so wonderful that they stayed in my mind long after I put my NOOK down at night. I found myself dreaming about the people who inhabit this classic story and wondering how it would all turn out. When I finished the story, I found myself not wanting to turn the last page and surrender these characters for whom I had so much empathy and affection. The tragedy of the relationship of Soames and Irene and how it affected their decendents is the best of storytelling. Galsworthy was a genius!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2009

    Life story so touching

    This book has everything. Great character and plot development... When you start reading you just want to go till you all through. Its a great book all together

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 67 Customer Reviews

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