For someone like myself, one who purports to be a literary man, I am frankly abashed by admitting that I have just read John Galsworthy for the time first time in my life of nearly three score and ten years. My dear friend, Larry Young, has reminded me several times, over the years, that the Forsyte Saga, may be the best fiction ever written by a British author. But somehow, I never got around to it, since, as we all know, usually contemporary fiction takes precedence over the reading of classics.
So alas, when my wife Anne’s recommendation that the first novel of the Saga, The Man of Property, happened to be selected as our next book club read, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Anne really liked the Masterpiece Theater dramatization of the Saga that she had recently seen. But viewing a dramatization on the television is one thing, and reading a novel another. I thought perhaps that Galsworthy’s Edwardian English might come across as too stilted nowadays. I worried somehow that his characters might be caricatures of the British Gilded Age, non-emotive and stuffy beyond belief.
After completing The Man of Property today, I am happy to admit that my concerns were ill-founded. Larry Young was right; Galsworthy’s writing is brilliant, still abounding with sparkling language after more than a century. The book had some remarkable similarities in tone and emotion with Anna Karenina. It seems that I have discovered the British Tolstoy in Mr. Galsworthy!