Swan Song

by John Galsworthy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1928. 12mo. 360 pp. $2.50.
‘SOAMES FORSYTE is dead!’ So readers will exclaim who have followed the fortunes of the Forsyte family from The Man of Property through In Chancery, To Let, The White Monkey, and The Silver Spoon, to reach their pathetic conclusion in this novel. And they will feel a kind of homesickness to think that no longer will they be able to trace new threads in the history of the ten children of ‘superior Dossett and of their children to the third generation: Old Jolyon and Young .Jolyon, Irene, Holly, Val, Jon, Fleur, and the rest. Looked at in retrospect, the Forsyte saga is an astonishing accomplishment, probably unexcelled in scope, variety, and interest since the Comédie Humaine. Steadily and with almost unflagging genius, Mr. Galsworthy has unfolded the history of this hard-headed race, whose motto might have been ‘Thatte I please I wylle,’like the writer of a symphony, developing his two themes of Property and Beauty or Freedom, in a thousand variations. The two themes are epitomized in the stories of Soames and Irene: poor Soames, whose tragedy, as the author once said, is the ‘very simple, uncontrollable tragedy of being unlovable, and Irene, who is a ‘concretion of disturbing Beauty impinging on a possessive world. ’
In Swan Sony. Soames wins the reader’s love at last. I think, even though Fleur, whom he worries over like a hen with one chick, cannot until the very end ‘love him as he thinks he ought to be loved.’ Remembering his own hopeless attempt to win the affection of his first wife, Irene, he beholds his daughter married to an estimable man, Michael, whom she has never loved, and desperately trying to recapture the love of Jon, now married, from whom she was separated in a former novel. Fleur is the same Fleur, though perhaps more pathetic, still exhibiting that ‘lack of continuity which the Chinese artist had expressed in the eyes of the White Monkey and which Soames considers to be the special disease of this age. She typifies a world at loose ends. But when Jon returns from America, she determines desperately to win the happiness which she has lost seven years before. She fails because Jon has found other interests, but even in failure she is not sure of her own desires. Her father dies in saving her life, and by his deathbed she seems at last to understand him, though one cannot be sure. Fleur is, as her husband, Michael, says, ‘a bird shot with both barrels,’ and I here seems to be no special reason why life should have treated her as it has done. Michael sums up the entire history at the end: ’An ironical world ... queerly ironical, with shape melting into shape, mood into mood, sound into sound, and nothing fixed, unless it were . . . the instinct within all living things which said: “Go on!” . . The Eternal Mood at Work! . . . Moving on in the mysterious rhythm that one called Life. Who could arrest the moving Mood—who wanted to?’
One cannot find words to express one’s admiration for the firmness and beauty with which the story is told, and for the sustention of purpose which the author has displayed in planning and in carrying out his plan in the entire series. Swan Song is a fitting conclusion to the saga — on a somewhat minor key, perhaps, but showing no falling off of power, humor, or poetry. It can be read with interest without the preceding novels, and is a line novel without them: but for a full appreciation of it the reader should turn back for its roots. Jn the series. Mr. Galsworthy has said, an age is ’embalmed.’ One prefers to say that in it an age lives.