This is cross-posted on Blogcritics
Yes, I recorded it. Of Course! I’ll be watching it all week. The Forsytes are a complicated family, and stand up to repeat examination. Old Jolyon, Young Jolyon and Soames Forsyte are the men of note. Little June grows up before our eyes and Winifred scandalizes everyone, but harmlessly. Mostly. The Aunts tut tut over every little thing. There seems to be such importance placed on the smallest detail of propriety. And they all take such pride in the “Forsyte’s good name.”
The Victorian age was a tough time for people to figure out. With the Industrial era setting in, people who had no formal expectation of rising socially found themselves filthy rich and wanting to be upper class. England’s class system of nobility couldn’t hold all the worthy contenders.
Since nobility was not as easy to achieve as wealth, they had to settle on a different measure of what was upper class. Money, naturally, was easy to decide on. But there was that other part of nobility…nobility of character… that was implied (in complete disregard of evidence of such in their ranks) to the noble classes. Respectability was prized. If you were rich, but were vulgar or not respectable, all the other people, so desperately clawing for status, could look down upon you. You can see how the slightest impropriety would be pounced on as grounds for derision and exclusion.
Yes, the Victorians were prudish. And extremely money conscious. The Forsyte series makes that immediately evident.
But the Victorians were not without heart. Anyone who has read the Bronte Sisters knows the kind of high-flown passion the Victorians held dear. Jane Eyre and Heathcliff and all of them, falling so deeply in love, like falling off a cliff. They had nothing to orient them, and no handhold to grasp. Except respectability, which Jane had and Heathcliff did not.
So the Forsyte, and the rest of the Victorians, followed the rules to stay on track. There were so many rules, so so many, that it would keep them occupied past their moments of passion.
Young Jolyon, the artist, was able to recognize his passion. He knew enough to see the pearl of great price and give up what he had to in order to take it. He had the capacity for great love. It is easy for the viewer to recognize that—he is the artist after all.
But for poor Soames, to encounter the passion of his life and have nothing preparing him for it, the situation is agonizing. He was impeccable, always doing the right thing at the right time. Nothing but that, and always that, the right thing. He is the one who pushes the other Forsytes to harden their hearts against the members of their clan who trespass. Soames expresses the harsh opinion of “people” without a word, merely maintaining the hardness of his features.
It is chilling and wonderful.
But when he meets Irenie, he is lost. He is helpless in the face of his love, admiration and passion for her. There are so many men who are capable of falling so hard in love, but might be like Soames, having absolutely no idea what to do with their feeling.
Soames blunders it. He knows how to be respectable, but he doesn’t know how to enjoy life. Irene does, but he will not learn from her. He expects her to meet him on his terms. It is not hard to see how this will turn out.
I am mesmerized by Soames, even more than Irene or Young Jolyon. He is so controlled, that when he finally says “You are charming beyond words,” it is as if the words were formed in flame.
I can’t wait to see the rest of the series.
Check your local listings. I think many places repeat the first episode, and the rest is still coming.
And if you don’t “do” TV, then by all means read the books. They are as good, maybe better.