Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

I’ll be gathering all the Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times blogposts here for the moment. Judith at Reader in the Wilderness has had too much going on in her life recently to be able to keep up with it, so I’m stepping in to help.

More Books

The bookshelf I’m featuring this week is home to some favourite authors. I loved The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, it’s about a large and wealthy London based family, starting from Victorian times and following their lives and family feuds beyond World War 1. These books are available free from Project Gutenberg here.

I think I’ve read all of the books on this shelf apart from Veranilda by George Gissing. This book dates from 1904 and originally belonged to Jack’s Granny and has her name in it. M. Besford. I used to write my name in books but stopped doing that decades ago. I’m now wondering if I should at least write it in pencil, as I really like to see a name and date inside a book. What do you do – inscribe or leave blank and pristine? Have you read Veranilda or anything else by George Gissing.

I remember that I really enjoyed reading The Mulberry Empire by Philip Hensher – before I started blogging, but I’ve never read anything else by him. Have you?

A few of my Rumer Godden books are on this shelf, some are in a bookcase upstairs, possibly they wouldn’t fit on this shelf. Elizabeth Jane Howard and Penelope Lively are favourites too, then of course there’s Mrs Gaskell. I’ve been meaning to visit Elizabeth Gaskell’s house for years. I see that it has opened up again but I might leave it until next year.

If you’re taking part in Bookshelf Travelling this week I’ll add a link to you, if I miss your post please send me a link.

A Son of the Rock (Jack)

Staircase Wit

Stainless Steel Droppings

Swan Song by John Galsworthy

In Swan Song which seems to be the last book in the Forsyte Saga (although a few more books were written which feature some Forsytes I think) it’s 1926, a time of political upheaval, the miners are on strike and there is of course THE General Strike.

I suppose The General Strike was a battle between the upper classes and the working classes. Jon Forsyte, the man who broke Fleur’s heart is now married and has returned from America, he’s helping to keep the trains running. Fleur isn’t at all bothered that they are both now married and of course as she says herself, she must get what she wants. Soames is worried about her as he knows that she is just like him.

So the country is in a mess and those men who survived the trenches are now being treated like scum by the bosses. Michael Mont, Fleur’s husband, is still a Member of Parliament, and he is now trying to gather a group of influential men together to help to improve living conditions in the slums of London, where if you bang a nail into the wall, things crawl out.

Meanwhile Soames is thinking about the future, and how long he might have to live. The Forsytes are a long-lived lot but he feels the need to track down his ancestors, just as many people do nowadays. He has always been intrigued by the fact that his family had come from poor yeoman stock who within a few generations had amassed fortunes in business after moving to London.

These books were so popular in their day because they feature everything that we’re familiar with – families and the odd dodgy relative that most of us have if we dig deep enough, a political background which doesn’t really ever change – we’re always in a mess, a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy – and they often aren’t any happier than the rest of us, and other people’s immorality! I was sad to get to the end of it.

If you want to read the books you can do so online here.

The Silver Spoon (The Forsyte Saga) by John Galsworthy

The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy is close to the end of the long Forsyte Saga series. In fact I thought I only had Swan Song to read now but I see that there are a few other books which involve Forsytes. It has taken me a good wee while to work my way through them all, despite the fact that I really loved the series. I sort of came to a standstill because I wanted to stumble across a nice old copy of The Silver Spoon as all my other books from the series are old ones, but I gave up and purchased an omnibus edition, not my favourites as they are so big and heavy, so awkward to read.

Anyway to the book. The Silver Spoon of the title refers to the one which Fleur Forsyte was born with in her mouth – as the saying goes. The First World War is over and the survivors aren’t having an easy time of it – unless they’re rich, plus ca change! Fleur is the only child of Soames Forsyte and has been spoiled rotten by him. She freely admits that she must get whatever she wants and with a personality like that it’s quite amazing that Fleur comes across as likeable as she does. She’s a calculating character but she knows it and good manners often save her from being ghastly.

Fleur’s husband Michael Mont has become a Member of Parliament, Fleur is perfect as a politician’s wife, in fact the whole thing was her idea and she’s making a career for herself as a political hostess building up a ‘salon’ and collecting the right sort of people.

This book is mainly concerned with a court case which comes about entirely because Soames overheard one of Fleur’s guests slagging Fleur off at a party. Being old-fashioned he demands an apology and the whole thing snowballs.

Poor Michael Mont whom Fleur has married on the rebound due to not being able to get the man she wanted, has realised that although Fleur is outwardly gorgeous she really has no soul and is completely self-centred.

The Forsyte Saga is really a sort of soap, like most family series I suppose and there’s plenty in the way of scandal and dysfunctional family members to entertain the reader.

I watched the first BBC dramatisation of the books when it was first shown on TV way back in 1967, looking back I think I was too young to have been watching it but my parents never quibbled. One particular episode scandalised the nation, or at least the tabloid newspapers! But I loved it even although it was in black and white and when I read the books it’s those old actors that I imagine as playing the parts. So Fleur is the lovely Susan Hampshire, now better known by younger generations for her part in Monarch of the Glen, still looking beautiful in spite of her age, and Soames is Eric Porter.

I have that series on DVD as well as the more modern adaptation and I still enjoy the black and white ones, I don’t think that period dramas really date. Although having said that I did see a version of a Jane Austen book from the early 1970s fairly recently and I could hardly believe how wooden the acting seemed. I can’t even remember which book it was, I must have blocked it out as it was so bad!

Anyway, if a nice long series of books involving one family down the generations is your sort of thing then you’ll probably enjoy this series which follows the Forsytes as they live through a fast changing society, set mainly in London.

BBC Forsyte Saga (again)

I’ve been having a bit of a Forsyte-fest since I was given the original BBC set from 1967 for Mothering Sunday. I’ve watched all 26 episodes and although it seemed a bit dated at first, it wasn’t long before I forgot that it was in black and white and I got engrossed in the whole thing.

As I mentioned before, some of the love scenes in the earlier episodes are an absolute scream, but they did become more natural looking as time went on. Maybe the actors had started to do a bit more than acting with each other by that time.

I still think that the casting was better than the recent ITV version. Nyree Dawn Porter was so much better as Irene than Gina McKee was, although Nyree didn’t get the distinctive walk of Irene either. You would think it would be an easy thing for an actress to master – a sexy bum waggling walk, which Galsworthy described her as having.

For the most part, the ageing make-up was well done too. Although for some reason the character of June’s face looked dirtier as she got older.

Susan Hampshire will always be Fleur to me, I think she was just perfect for the part and her husband was played by the actor Nicholas Pennell, who I think did a good job. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t seen him in anything else, but apparently he was in The Saint, which I never watched. At some point he moved to Canada and acted in a Shakespearian company there. Maybe the parts just didn’t come up for him in Britain. Sadly he died when he was only 56.

So all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my present. It was an absolute bargain, bought from The Guardian website for £19.99.

The Forsyte Saga was hugely popular when it was first broadcast in Britain. Pubs closed early (in England – Scottish pubs were shut on Sundays way back then; only hotels could sell drink and then only to “bona fide travellers”) and churches rescheduled their evening services.

It was subsequently released in Australia and America where it was just as popular and it became the first serial sold by the BBC to the Soviet Union. More than 160 million viewers around the world watched the serial.

Book buying

I’m supposed to be using the library instead of buying books nowadays as we will probably be down-sizing at some point in the nearish future, due to the fact that we don’t want to be rattling around in a big family house when the family has flown the nest.

Unfortunately, we recently discovered a great second-hand bookshop which is only about a two mile walk away from our house. It’s just impossible to resist, and as my husband said – there are worse vices to have.

So, in the last week I have bought:

Vanity Fair by Willliam Thackeray – I’m blaming Jane GS for this one.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – We only had a paperback.
Swan Song by John Galsworthy – I had to complete my set.
The Novels of Thomas Love Peacock – Only had a few before.
Basil by Wilkie Collins – I’m blaming The Classics Circuit.
Miss or Mrs? by Wilkie Collins – DITTO.
Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer – DITTO.
The Battles of the Somme by Martin Marix Evans – I’m blaming
Gabrillo Princip for that one.

One of my grandfathers was at the Somme and we’ve been to visit one of the preserved battlefields where the Canadians had been in the front line.

Well worth a visit if you get the chance.

The removal men complained enough when we moved here, about the number of heavy boxes of books which we had. We’ve had more than 20 book buying years here since then. I suppose we should get rid of a lot of them – in fact I have given a lot to charity over the years. Often I’ve regretted getting rid of a particular book and wonder why on earth I parted with it.

I suppose there are worse problems to have, but I can hear that book shop shouting to me. Well, I forgot to buy their copy of Anna Karenina.

BBC’s The Forsyte Saga

My husband bought me The Forsyte Saga boxed set on 7 DVDs for Mother’s Day. Well, he’s not a bad lad and of course it was really cheap from The Guardian. (£19.99)

I’m really shocked that this was first screened in 1967, so I was only 8 years old. I remember that I loved it and certain parts of it have always stuck in my memory. I think it was actually on quite late at night, I’m sure that it wasn’t meant to be viewed by 8 year olds but as I was the youngest in my family by quite a long way, my bed time tended to be forgotten about. Lucky me.

It was a BAFTA and Emmy award winning series but of course it is in black and white which doesn’t really bother me, I love watching vintage films which are often in black and white too.

So I’ve been having a great time watching it again whilst my husband was out at a football match, and I’m already on episode 5. As you would expect after all this time it is a bit dated but that hasn’t spoiled my enjoyment. Some of the acting is really good but some is quite bad. The love scenes are terrible, really hammy so they are an absolute SCREAM. I think it was all a bit too much for the BBC to cope with in 1967. I certainly remember that it was talked of in the newspapers and thought to be not quite ‘nice’ and a bit risque.

I think that the cast was well chosen, apart from John Bennet who plays the part of Philip Bosinney. His acting is fine – apart from the hilarious love scenes – but he is just too old for the part, he looks older than Soames a lot of the time.

For some reason I have never liked the actor Kenneth More who plays the part of young Jolyon, but again he doesn’t spoil it for me.

As an 8 year old, I remember being a fan of Soames and I still think that he was very badly treated by Irene. Eric Porter was perfect as Soames.

So my Mother’s Day present has been a great success and I can’t wait to watch the rest of it.

The Country House by John Galsworthy

The only other Galsworthy books which I have read have been The Forsyte Saga series so I was interested to see what one of his more obscure books was like. Previously I have found his books to be very enjoyable and well written and I wasn’t disappointed with this one.

I galloped through it at a good pace because I found it to be so straightforward and clear, which isn’t always the way with Victorian novels. Strictly speaking, I suppose that The Country House is Edwardian as it was first published in 1907. However the action takes place in 1891. The themes are similar to those of The Forsyte Saga – family, marriage and infidelity.

Chapter 1 starts with guests arriving for a house party at Worsted Skeynes, it is the first shooting party of the season. At first I felt that there were rather a lot of characters being thrown at me and everyone seemed to be described minutely. I was a bit worried that it would all be a bit too much for bedtime reading but they all just seemed to fall into place without any complications.

The estate is owned by Horace Pendyce and has been in his family for generations but although it is farmed on model lines, it still runs on a slight loss. He is married to Margery and they have grown up children, 2 boys and 2 girls.

The eldest son, George owns a racehorse and has developed a secret gambling habit whilst living in town. A relationship develops between him and Helen Bellew, who is the estranged wife of a neighbour. She has left her husband, supposedly because he has a drink problem, however as she is a bit of a man-eater, there is always the possibility that she drove him to drink. They are regarded as both being at fault in the break up of the marriage, but when Jasper Bellew serves divorce papers to George, his parents are horrified to discover that he isn’t the sort of character that they had thought him to be.

The thought of such a scandal in his family is almost more than the squire can bear and there is a meeting to discuss the situation with the local rector Mr. Barter, the family solicitor and a cousin. George refuses to attend.

The rest of the book is about George’s parents reaction to his behaviour and how it affects their lives and the lives of those around them.

The book deals with the hypocrisy of the divorce laws, as they were then. Actually they didn’t change until fairly recently, it was much the same in the 1970s.

I don’t want to give too much away and spoil things for any would-be readers. Suffice to say that I’m glad that I read the book, although I wouldn’t read it again.