The White Monkey

by John Galsworthy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1924. Svo. viii+328 pp. $2.00.

‘HE might wish and wish and wish and never get it — the beauty and the loving in the world.’ With these words the reader of the Forsyte Saga takes leave of Soames Forsyte, seated by the family vault in Highgate Cemetery. Throughout the series of novels which form Galsworthy’s masterpiece, Soames, the Man of Property, has been a dread embodiment of the possessive instinct. But he is a human being, not an abstraction, and in The White Monkey other traits of nature appear — different, yet of a piece with the old. The sense of property, it seems, implies also thoroughgoing honesty, in allegiance to which he is able first to lead by the nose and then to defy the spineless directors of the P. P. R. S. Then, too, he now stands on the threshold of the world of beauty and of loving. The warmth of human affection is beginning to enfold him; he is not likely to retrace his steps.
In short, Galsworthy is revealing to us, in Soames Forsyte, by an inspired vision as it were, the mystery — that is, the contradictions and yet the essential unity — of a human soul. From the first Soames has fascinated us; now, thanks to Galsworthy, we give him what he has ever craved — love. And so, with a fear that is full of tenderness, we await the picture of his Indian Summer.
But to the younger generation, about whom and for whom The White Monkey is ostensibly written, ‘Old Forsyte’ is a dud. The insistent and all-else-excluding present is their care. Fleur and Michael interpret it: Fleur, a true daughter of Soames; Michael, compact of jesting and loyalty, a being who wins our hearts from the first moment. (Forgive the uncritical language; but he is flesh and blood!) Like the white monkey in the symbolic picture, they taste the fruits of life, cast the rinds aside, and then, on a sudden, in spite of their carpe diem philosophy, find themselves in the clutches of nature with a small n, facing the question: What is beyond? Faith, sentiment, beliefs, they have, as they think, discarded; but in time of stress the age-old grit and loyalty of the race seems to be theirs, as it was their ancestors’. Through it they win the answer:
‘ It did matter that some person or some principle outside oneself should be more precious than oneself — it dashed well did!'
This, in drab prose, is ‘what the book is about.’ The analysis of a symphony on a concert programme may perhaps prepare the mind for the spell the music weaves; it cannot hint the magicin the sounds, or tell us when and how we are to be enlightened, uplifted, or searched to the very depths of our being. But the symphony is there, waiting for us to ‘tune in’; so is The White Monkey here; so. also, all about us, is the life which it interprets. Close your programme book, therefore; give ear to the music, and let the master have his way with you.