Learn English Network

Forsyte Saga

Plot Summaries

The Forsyte Saga is a series of three novels and two interludes published between 1906 and 1921 by John Galsworthy. They chronicle the vicissitudes of the leading members of an upper-middle-class British family. Only a few generations removed from their farmer ancestors, the family members are keenly aware of their status as "new money". The main character, Soames Forsyte, sees himself as a "man of property," by virtue of his ability to accumulate material possessions—but this does not succeed in bringing him pleasure.

The Man of Property (1906)

In this first novel of the Forsyte Saga, after introducing us to the impressive array of Forsytes headed by the formidable Aunt Ann, Galsworthy moves into the main action of the saga by detailing Soames Forsyte's desire to own things, including his beautiful wife, Irene Forsyte (née Heron). He is jealous of her friendships and wants her to be his alone. He concocts a plan to move her to the country, away from everyone, but she resists his grasping intentions and falls in love with architect Philip Bosinney. However, Bosinney is the fiancé of her friend June Forsyte, the daughter of Soames's cousin Jolyon. However, they don't have a happy ending , Bosinney dies in an accident, while Irene leaves Soames.

Indian Summer of a Forsyte (1918)

In a short interlude after The Man of Property, Galsworthy delved into the newfound friendship between Old Jolyon Forsyte (June's grandfather) and Irene, who has left Soames. This attachment gives Old Jolyon pleasure, but exhausts his strength. He leaves Irene money in his will with Young Jolyon, his son as trustee. In the end Old Jolyon dies under an ancient oak tree.

In Chancery (1920)

The marital discord of both Soames and his sister Winifred is the subject of the second novel, the title "Chancery" being a reference to the system of courts that deal with domestic issues. They take steps to divorce their spouses, Irene, and Montague Dartie respectively. However, while Soames tells his sister to brave the consequences of going to court, he is not willing to go through a divorce himself. Instead he stalks and hounds Irene, following her abroad, and asking her to have his child, which is his father's wish. Ultimately, Soames remarries, wedding the young Annette, the daughter of a French Soho restaurant owner. With his new wife, he has his only child, Fleur Forsyte.

As for Irene, she is left the sum of £15,000 after Old Jolyon's death. His son, Young Jolyon Forsyte, also Soames's cousin, takes care of Irene's finances. When she first leaves her husband, he offers his support. At the time of the death of Young Jolyon's son Jolly, Irene has developed a strong friendship with Jolyon. Then, Soames confronts Young Jolyon and Irene at Robin Hill accusing them of having an affair when there was none. Young Jolyon and Irene assert that they have had an affair since Soames has it in his mind already. That gives Soames the evidence he needs for divorce proceedings. That confrontation sparks an affair between Young Jolyon and Irene.

Awakening (1920)

The subject of the second interlude is the naive and exuberant lifestyle of eight-year-old Jon Forsyte. He loves and is loved by his parents. He has an idyllic youth, his every desire indulged.

To Let (1921)

The third novel concludes the Forsyte Saga. Second cousins Fleur and Jon Forsyte meet and fall in love, unknowing of their parents' past affairs, indiscretions, and misdeeds. Once Soames, Jolyon, and Irene discover their romance, they forbid their children to see each other again. Jolyon warns his son that once he dies, there will be no one to protect Irene from her ex-husband. Jon is torn between the past and his present love for Fleur. Despite her feelings for Jon, Fleur has a very suitable suitor, Michael Mont, heir to a baronetcy. Should they marry, Fleur would elevate the status of her family from "nouveau riche" to the aristocratic upper class. The title derives from Soames' reflections as he breaks up the house in which his Uncle Timothy, recently deceased at age 100 and the last of the older generation of Forsytes, had lived as a recluse, hoarding his life like property.

Main Characters

The Old Forsytes

  • Ann, the eldest of the family
  • Old Jolyon, the patriarch of the family, having made a fortune in tea
  • James, a solicitor, married to Emily, the most tranquil woman
  • Swithin, James's twin brother with aristocratic pretensions
  • Julia (Juley), a fluttery dowager
  • Hester, an old maid
  • Nicholas, the wealthiest in the family
  • Roger, "the original Forsyte"
  • Susan, married sister
  • Timothy, the most cautious man in England

The Young Forsytes

  • Young Jolyon, Old Jolyon's artistic and free-thinking son, married three times
  • Soames, James and Emily's son, a brutal and possessive solicitor, married to the unhappy Irene, who later marries Young Jolyon
  • Winifred, Soames's sister, one of the three daughters of James and Emily, married to the foppish and lethargic Montague Dartie
  • George, Roger's son, a dyed-in-the-wool mocker
  • Francie, George's sister and Roger's daughter, emancipated from God

Their Children

  • June, Young Jolyon's defiant daughter from his first marriage, engaged to an architect, Philip Bosinney, who becomes Irene's lover
  • Jolly, Young Jolyon's son from his second marriage, dies during the Boer War
  • Holly, Young Jolyon's daughter from his second marriage
  • Jon, Young Jolyon's son from his third marriage to Irene
  • Fleur, Soames's daughter from his second marriage to a French Soho shopgirl Annette, Jon's lover, later marries a baronet, Michael Mont
  • Val, Winifred and Montague's son, fights in the Boer War, marries his cousin Holly
  • Imogen, Winifred and Montague's daughter


  • Parfitt, Old Jolyon's butler
  • Smither, Aunts Ann, Juley and Hester's housekeeper
  • Warmson, James and Emily's butler
  • Bilson, Soames's housemaid
  • Prosper Profond, Winifred's admirer and Annette's lover


Volume 2

Feel free to explore the Learn English Network more.