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The Forsyte Saga
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The Forsyte Saga

The Forsyte Saga is the collective title of a series of novels by John Galsworthy. The name has become almost synonymous with the tradition of "classic" television dramatisations, as a result of the BBC's marathon 1967 serialisation. However, the book had been brought to the screen earlier, by Hollywood as That Forsyte Woman (starring Greer Garson).

Warning: Plot details follow.

The sequence consists of three novels and two interludes: The Man of Property (1906), Indian Summer of a Forsyte (interlude) (1918), In Chancery (1920), Awakening (interlude) (1920), and To Let (1921), They deal, in a manner full of both humour and pathos, with the vicissitudes of the leading members of the Forsyte family, an upper-middle-class clan of businessmen. The main character, Soames Forsyte, sees himself as a "man of property," by virtue of his ability to accumulate material possessions--but this does not succeed in bringing him pleasure. He is besotted with his wife, Irene, but cannot possess her in the same way as his paintings, and is humiliated by her affair with a young architect, Philip Bosinney. Running parallel to the story of their marriage is that of the relationship between Soames' cousin, Jolyon, and the latter's father, also Jolyon, the younger Jolyon having been expelled from the family fold for eloping with his daughter's foreign governess and having gone to live and work as an artist in a poor area of London.

In later books, Soames and Irene divorce and young Jolyon's second wife dies, and subsequently Jolyon and Irene meet and marry. Eventually their son, Jon, falls in love with Fleur, the daughter of Soames and his second wife. Later books deal with the development of their relationship.

The phenomenal success of the BBC's dramatisation of the novels can largely be attributed to its sheer length. Both adapted for television and produced by the highly-experienced Donald Wilson, it was originally shown in twenty-six episodes on Sunday evenings, thus becoming, effectively, a soap opera. It was shown all over the world, and became the first British television programme to be sold to Russia. However, it was made in black and white, and in 2002 the first three books were adapted by Independent Television in a manner truer to Galsworthy's original work. A second series followed in 2003.

There was also a 1990 BBC radio dramatisation, comprising a 75-minute opening episode followed by 22 hour-long episodes, entitled The Forsyte Chronicles. It was the most expensive radio drama serial ever broadcast due to its length and its big-name cast which included Dirk Bogarde and Diana Quick.

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