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John Thornton and Soames Forsyte. The Women They Love.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve become enthralled with The Forsyte Saga and I’ve threatened to continue subjecting my dear readers to more scattered thoughts on the plot and characters, so here it goes…

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Today I will be focusing on the, in my opinion, central relationship in the series, meaning that of Soames Forsyte and Irene Heron.

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I’ll be doing so by comparing them to another favourite pairing of mine, Margaret Hale and John Thornton from North and South.

Let me start by stating my opinion and them I’ll spend the rest of the post trying to claw my way back up from the hole my statement has created.

The difference between the outcome of the Forsyte relationship and the Margaret+Thornton one is determined not by the amorous men, but by the women they loved.

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If we compare Soames and Thornton, they actually have a lot in common

Both are respected members of Victorian society, successful, admired and come from tight-knit families.

They are viewed as authorities, but deep inside they have issues of low-self esteem, though the origins are different.

Despite their cool exteriors, under those well-cut expensive clothes beats a heart full of passion and they both fall for women who society would deem beneath them as both Irene and Margaret are plain old skint.

What’s even more interesting is that both gentlemen develop feelings for, and woo, women who simply don’t like them.

Despite knowing that their affections are not reciprocated, but encouraged by others (Irene’s step-mother, Hannah Thornton), against their better judgment, they both propose marriage.

This is where the seemingly correlated stories depart.

I argue that it is Irene and Margaret who determine the outcome of their respective plots by the decisions they make at this crucial juncture.

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Irene Heron is under the guardianship of her pragmatic step-mother and they are living on a tiny income generated from her deceased father’s estate.

Mrs Heron is desperate to get rid of her beautiful step-daughter as she has plans to re-marry and feels that Irene attracts too much attention from men.

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When Soames Forsyte appears, a wealthy bachelor from a prominent family who is clearly enthralled by Irene, Heron’s widow bullies Irene into accepting the man who is so very different from what she envisioned her true love to be.

It’s this crucial decision to marry a man she doesn’t even like that sets the stage for all the following events.

In her last act of independence, or maybe in an act of sheer desperation, Irene forces Soames to promise that he will let her go if their marriage is not a success.

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Although Soames seems like a man who keeps his word, she would soon learn that her husband is nicknamed The Man of Property for a reason and that he would never allow that which he possesses to be taken away from him.
Therefore, Irene is trapped in an unhappy marriage to a man who, although passionately in love with her, makes her skin crawl.

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When John and Margaret find themselves at the point where marriage seems like the most logical option, and Miss Hale’s reputation hangs in the balance, instead of taking the easy way out, she acts on her pride and stubborn nature to decline his offer.

Of course Margaret is in slightly different circumstances than Irene as she has the support of her family and her financial situation does not force her to accept the marriage proposal from a wealthy bachelor.

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Let’s for a moment, as some N&S fanfiction authors have before, imagine how the story would progress had Margaret accepted Thornton.

She would be tied to a man that she, of her own admission, didn’t like and felt was beneath her, someone who was in trade and would treat her as a commodity to acquire.
By moving to Marlborough Mills she’d lose her independence and would be forced to become a member of a tight-knit family who thought very little of her.

Forced into such circumstances, the natural growth of affection that we observe in Gaskell’s story, would probably never have taken place.

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Mr Thornton would marry the woman he so passionately loved and desired, but would have to be aware that circumstances, and not her affections, drove her into wedlock.

From what we know about Margaret’s character, if forced to marry John, I venture a guess that she’d have no qualms about expressing her misery and, apart from doing her wifely duties, she’d be unable to form any attachment to him.
What’s more this situation would have been made much more difficult because of Hannah Thornton.

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Although the Forsyte family is very close, and meddling in the affairs of the members is almost like a sport, I felt Irene was supported by them till the moment she ran away (and, in some cases, even beyond that point).

This is evident when Irene discusses her failed marriage with June Forsyte and Soames’ mother.

They both, in their own way, try to help Irene in her misery, offering very different solutions to the crises she had found herself in.

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Margaret would have been offered no such comfort from the women around her.

Of course, one may argue, that once married Thornton would never treat his wife as Soames did Irene.
I’d hate to give the impression I believe John would exhibit the same possessive behaviour by smothering his wife and forcing himself on her.

The relationship between Thornton and his mother proves that he regarded women as his equal and I think he would extend that to his wife, although he adopted a paternalistic approach to Fanny.

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 I believe that John would have offered Margaret as much space and freedom as the times and social conventions would have allowed him.

One thing, though, that the men have in common is they’d both  find themselves under one roof, and in such close proximity, to the women they desire and yet cannot have.

Perhaps in hopes of warming Margaret’s heart, Thornton would have taken actions which could be deemed beneath him, but I’d like to think he’d wait patiently for Margaret to discard her prejudices and open up to him.

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Nevertheless, I truly believe that had it not been for Margaret’s stubborn nature, her disregard for what was appropriate, her recklessness at rejecting a man who was such a good match, she saved them both from a miserable marriage and allowed for events to unfold as they learned more about each other, culminating in some juice kissing and a marriage founded on love.

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Had Irene taken a leaf from Margaret’s book and found the courage to reject Soames despite the pressures, I think she would have encountered a like-minded man, an artistic soul with whom she would have formed a happy marriage with.

Despite being Irene Frostbite rather than Forsyte throughout her marriage to Soames, we learn that she is capable of great passion towards the man she loves.

Had she been released from the prison her marriage had locked her into, I truly believe she would’ve learn to think better of Soames and both of them could have moved with their lives rather than linger in painful limbo.

Speaking  of the possessive smotherer, undeterred by rejection, he would have probably found another object of desire to add to his collection to stifle, another piece of pretty property that would have complemented his position in society.

More importantly, he would have found a woman willing to subject to his vision of what a marriage should be, one who could settle for being merely his wife and a mother to his sons.

In other words, had Irene and Soames stayed true to their hearts, they would have got their ‘happily ever after’.

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If you haven’t seen The Forsyte Saga, you can watch the episodes on YT.

To read more about the concept of love and marriage in The Forsyte Saga, check out  this great post by Feminéma.

Soames Forsyte. The Man you Love to Hate

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I’ve been meaning to write about The Forsyte Saga since the night I was up 10 hours straight till 6am watching it, but with all the build up I hardly think I can do it justice.

I saw the series floating around as recommendation to any North and South or Pride and Prejudice lover for some time, but I’ve aways found the word ‘saga’ a bit off-putting.

Nevermind, the gods of costume drama rolled the dice and deemed this summer the appropriate time to initiate me into the complex world of the Forsyte family.

And believe me, drama is the operative word proving that it’s always the most respectable families that have the most to hide.

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The Forsyte Saga consists of eight episodes and then the story is continued in four episodes of The Forsyte Saga: To Let.

For anyone who’s interested in checking it out, you can watch the episodes on YT or read John Galsworthy’s book (free ebook link in sidebar).

Here is the first episode:

There’s just so much I want to say on this story and I’ll start with stating my disappointment that it hasn’t amassed a N&S type following.

There’s the odd post, article, one or two fanfics and I doubt this post will change things, but I’ll give it a try 🙂

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Although the 2002 television series introduces a plethora of rich characters, today I will be focusing on the one that Blew. Me. Away!

Soames Forsyte, played by the dashing and ever so strangely sexy Damian Lewis, is an incredibly complex character.

On face value he’s the one you love to hate, a despicable possessive man with few redeeming qualities.

Enter Damian Lewis.

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Don’t get me wrong, Soames is still morally corrupt and his actions throughout the series are questionable at best, but Lewis manages to instil in him an element that somehow evokes our pity.

Watching Lewis piece together this character makes for fascinating viewing and just proves British actor’s superior skills.

It’s the minute details that make Soames come alive and become three-dimensional.

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We watch, episode after episode, as Soames’ carefully crafted persona, so highly regarded among his family and in society, unravels exposing a man who is riddled by insecurity and unable to upkeep the perfect picture he has created in his head.

His love for Irene (pronounced Irenee, which, as Servetus explains, is from the Greek pronunciation Ee-ray-nay), the woman he falls for and woos relentlessly, epitomises the notion that:

“It is better to love someone who loves you more”.

Despite there being little attraction on her part, Soames pursues her, blinded by his desire to possess her as yet another beautiful object in his collection.

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It’s important to note that in this feminist age, Irene’s behaviour reads as passive at best.

She allows for events to happen to her rather than take charge of her own destiny, but she also possesses a skill that make men fall madly, deeply, truly head over heels with her and, some may say, she taken advantage of that.

I just see her as a Helen of Troy type, one that subconsciously hurts those who love her most and create turmoil around her.

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The Forsyte Saga is a story of a love triangle or, at times, a love rectangle, but in my opinion what is at the heart of this tale is  Soames and Irene who are engaged in a duel, a life-long battle that merely features, and inevitably wounds, innocent bystanders.

Although they have so little in common with one another, they perform a complex tango and their actions bind them together in an awkward and, at times, disturbing manner.

This really is a guide in “What Not to Do in a Marriage”.

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This is a tale of the consequences of bad decisions, but also about how we tend to dig deeper into the black hole our actions have created, and how little we are able to learn from our errors.

When watching Lewis’ character it is evident that Soames is destined to repeat all the bad mistakes , learning very little from them.

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It’s this inability to draw conclusions from past events that is one of his downfalls, but there’s an evident loneliness and a need to stifle the object of his love that makes this character so raw and painful to watch.

Time and time again I’d find myself embarrassed by his actions and literally shouting at the screen.

Shame he never read “Wooing for Dummies” because never was there someone so desperately in need of guidance!

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I want to leave Soames’ and Irene’s relationship for another post when I’ll be comparing them to some other characters you may have heard of, but I hope I’ve intrigued you enough to check the saga out.

Although I’ve focused on what I believe to be the central theme of the series, there are plenty more delicious plots offering endless entertainment.

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Irene isn’t the only woman who is entangled in a stormy and difficult relationship with Soames.

Although he is regarded as a respectable, sensible man, and his family relies on his knowledge and expertise, he find communicating with women a tad testing.

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The dynamic between him and his cousin’s daughter June is worthy of its own post.

If Irene’s passive behaviour makes your blood boil, you will find June in juxtaposition as she’s one feisty lady!

She’s one of the few people who stand up to Soames and proves to be shoulder for Irene to cry on, although with the way the story evolve, I bet she’d wished she hadn’t.

In many regards June is the voice of reason and truth, and her character undergoes the most  significant growth throughout the saga.

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These are just a few scattered thought on a series that I found incredibly thought-provoking and I hope to return to some of the themes in subsequent posts 🙂

All of the caps come from Firthgirl’s picspam of the series and let me tell you, I was crying with laughter reading her interpretation, so check it out: Picspam 1, Picspam 2, Picspam 3, Picspam 4

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