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Wednesday, 2.23.05: The Forsytes

We have finished watching the 10 episodes of The Forsyte Saga. Whew! It was a wonderful soap opera and tear-jerker all done up in a British accent and gorgeous clothes. It's basically the story of three generations of the Forsytes, a wealthy merchant class family. The stuffy conservative side of the family wars with the more free-spirited side, even as various grandchildren fall in love with one another.

I rented it because Orpha was reading and referring to it in her letters in the summer of 1926. James was also carrying it around with him during their first spring together.

In one letter, James ponders whether to follow the path of least resistance and be a Long Island real estate man and Rotarian or whether to follow his heart and get a more satisfying job without a guarantee of success. She responds:

Oh! so many days, so many bursting hours of thinking, screaming, calling to you wanting you to know all that I am thinking, seeing so clearly now and having to force back to perhaps permanent oblivion even little sentences I read, or tiny flaky clouds, or a tiny pond and a tree near it swaying to gaze on itself in the quiet mirror below I cannot live. But, I must not say you admire restraint, do you not? and yet, you love abandon, whole-hearted, uncertain, youthful-like abandon, and if that were all, and if the world were like a world you and I can create in dreams, and if there weren't a lot of the Forsyte in us all, and if we weren't all compromising a tiny bit our individualism by the very act of living in this world then you would know, for I have told you in my message last, that business and prestiges and financial successes are all hateful to me and you would know without once asking which of the alternatives I should choose.

The Forsyte Saga is not just melodrama. It's about the great changes in society between the Victorian era and the Modern era. The Forsyte name stood for stolid tradition and propriety. Those who stood behind their name found such a messy concept as "love" a source of anguish and obsession. The branch of the family who broke off, rejected expectations, rejected wealth, embraced love wherever it took them lived more vibrant lives.

Galsworthy was writing about the wrenching transition into modernity and the 1920s era of radical thought and free love. I think Orpha and James knew they were Moderns even though they weren't really sure how Moderns should live.

Funny, we also watched Hairspray -- how different can you get from Galsworthy? Yet it was also about a major transition time -- 1960. Who can get on the bandwagon of the new era of diversity and integration? Which sourpusses will be left behind?



Forsyte Saga (2003). 2-part mini-series with 10 total episodes.

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (1922). Chronicles the ebbing social power of the commercial upper-middle class Forsyte family between 1886 and 1920. Galsworthy's narrative examines not only their fortunes but also the wider developments within society, particularly the changing position of women.

Hairspray (1988)


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