The Forsythe Saga

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 6.03.34 PM“The Forsythe Saga” (1906-20) is 850 pages and won the author John Galsworthy the Nobel Prize, but as the editor concedes, the author’s reputation “had begun to suffer from a marked shift in critical taste,” and you don’t find Galsworthy in college curricula nowadays. Nevertheless I found it underrated, and a pretty good yarn, covering the period 1886 to about 1920 and following the ups and downs of various Forsyte family members, who had come to “town” (i.e., London) from Dorset in the mid-nineteenth century. By the time of the action they are established and well-to-do members of the upper middle class. It’s not in a class with Musil, and inferior in literary merit to Santayana, but it’s well worth the read.

Thomas B. Lemann


Below are two significant summaries: one on the liver, a recurrent theme, and one of unfamiliar words.


The Liver in Galsworthy

“He did not believe at all in the ailments of people outside his own immediate family, affirming them in every case to be due to neglected liver.” (p. 78)

“He could not go abroad alone; the sea upset his liver.” (p. 83)

“They had had a capital walk too, which had done his liver good.” (p. 106)

“He was suffering from a sense of impending trouble…He tried to think it physical – a condition of his liver – but knew that it was not.” (p. 144)

“He seldom ate much in the middle of the day, and generally ate standing, finding the position beneficial to his liver, which was very sound, but to which he desired to put down all his troubles.” (p. 153)

“…as the glow of the wine he has drunk is slipping away, leaving him cross, and conscious of his liver.” (p. 180)

“The air is bracing, but my liver is out of order.” (p. 191)

“His own liver was out of order, and he could not bear the thought of anyone else drinking prune brandy.” (p. 267)

“You don’t look well. I expect you’ve taken a chill – it’s liver I shouldn’t wonder.” (p. 273)

“On Friday night he took a liver pill, his side hurt him rather, and though it was not the liver side, there is no remedy like that.” (p. 322)

“It was good for him to walk – his liver was a little constricted, and his nerves rather on edge.” (p. 620)

“His senses were at rest…his health excellent, save for a touch of liver now and again.” (p. 723)


Unfamiliar Words in Galsworthy

daverdy – dowdy, unkempt – p. 85

flustered (as in “he flustered out”) – p. 107

pomatum – an ointment made from the pulp of apples, used on the hair with powder – p. 121

opopanax – a perfume obtained from the gum-resin of a plant – p. 121

thimble-riggers – professional sharpers who cheated at thimblerig, a swindling game played with three thimbles and a pea – p. 121

stilly (as in “stilly radiance”) – p. 303

snileybob – childhood term for a snail – p. 305

jenny – a stroke in billards – p. 258

fantod – a crotchety way of acting – p. 382

biblicality – quotation from the Bible – p. 416

Wopsy-doozle – “a mysterious game not to be understood by outsiders” – p. 474

gravified (as in “gravified brown masses”) – p. 489

billycock (as in “a brown billycock hat”) – p. 532

tantalus – a stand containing usually three cut-glass decanters that cannot be withdrawn until the grooved bar that engages the stoppers is raised – p. 582

lincrusta – a type of thick, embossed wallpaper – p. 588

rosaline – a variety of fine needlepoint or pillow lace – p. 636

mousmé – an unmarried Japanese girl – p. 672

chine – a fissure in the surface of the earth; a crevice, chasm – p. 673

splashboard – a screen in front of the driver’s seat on a carriage to shield him from mud thrown up by the horses’ hoofs – p. 803

nemesia – a plant native to southern Africa, bearing flowers of various colors – p. 829

flummery – flattery, nonsense, humbug, empty trifling, useless trappings or ornaments – p. 832

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