In Chancery by John Galsworthy

July 22, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): In Chancery and the subsequent interlude, Awakening, are the third and fourth installments of The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. As the entire collection would be far too difficult to sum up in a single blog post, I thought it would be best to tackle them one or two at a time.

In Chancery continues the story of Soames and Irene’s marital troubles. Though 12 years have passed since the events of The Man of Property, and though they haven’t seen each other in that time, they remain married in the eyes of the law. This is beginning to bother Soames now, as he suddenly feels the need to produce an heir (preferably male) to the vast fortune he has accumulated during the course of his lifetime. Soames has it in his mind to divorce Irene, despite the distasteful gossip that will surely arise from such a move, and marry Annette, a 20-year-old French beauty whose mother operates a Soho restaurant.

Towards this end, Soames looks up Irene — and is shocked to find her as beautiful as ever. Indeed, once he talks with her, he thinks perhaps it would be better to forget about Annette and try to make things work with Irene instead (after all, she’s just 37 and could certainly have a child yet). Irene doesn’t buy into that scheme at all, however, and flees to France. Soames is convinced this is because she has a lover, so he sets a private investigator on her trail. The investigator turns up nothing until much later, after Soames already realizes that his cousin Jolyon is in love with Irene — and she with him. In the end, Soames marries Annette, and Irene marries Jolyon.

Another storyline in In Chancery involves the divorce proceedings between Soames’ sister Winifred and her do-nothing cad of a husband Montague Dartie. One drunken night, Dartie steals Winifred’s pearls, writes her a goodbye letter, and leaves for South America with his mistress. Soames, a solicitor, comes up with a plan for Winifred to follow to make it look as though Dartie is 100 percent at fault so they don’t have to pay him anything in the divorce. The plan, which involves writing Dartie a letter entreating him to come home, backfires, however, as the man does indeed come home after his money runs out. Winifred ends up taking him back, much to Soames’ disgust.

The interlude, Awakening, paints a brief picture of the life of young Jon Forsyte, Irene and Jolyon’s son. He is eight-years-old at the time of the interlude, and has a vivid imagination. His parents love him dearly, and Jon in turn adores them. Readers get the idea that his every wish will be indulged during this happiest of childhoods.


  • I liked that Irene got along well on her 15,000 pounds from Old Jolyon. It’s always interesting to read these portrayals of independent women back in the day. Too bad she took so long to get herself a new lover, though. Bossinay always seemed a bit beneath her, so I don’t understand why she mourned him all those years.
  • I enjoyed the detective stuff. I don’t know why, but the idea of having a wife followed to prove infidelity seems like a rather modern convention (I mean in the last 50-60 years) and not something that would be associated with the early 1900’s.
  • Poor Jolly went off to the Boer War, only to end up dying of disease before ever really being part of the fight. I thought the rocky relationship between Jolly and Val Dartie was interesting, and wish it could have lasted a bit longer.
  • Val and Holly’s marriage will entwine the various branches of the family even more closely.


  • Soames is a distasteful character, so I don’t like how he’s always the focus. I couldn’t care less about him and Annette, so all the scenes involving her were kind of boring. In fact, I was hoping he made the wrong choice when he told the doctor not to operate when Annette was close to giving birth. Would have served him right to have Annette and/or the baby die because of his selfishness.


In Chancery and Awakening are nice continuations of The Forsyte Saga. They tell about the further adventures of this usually interesting clan, and make me want to delve into the final installment to see how everything turns out for these people.

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