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The Forsyte Saga

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http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/forsyte/

 

I've annotated the description a  little:

The Forsyte Saga is the story of a love polygon that shifts like a kaleidoscope.

Soames loves Irene, Irene loves Bosinney, and later, young Jolyon. Young Jolyon's daughter June loves Bosinney, young Jolyon loves his daughter's nanny Helene, and later, Irene. Old Jolyon, improbably, is infatuated with Irene.

 

Thirty-three years after public television viewers first thrilled to the larger-than-life story of the Forsyte clan, John Galsworthy's sprawling epic has arrived on Masterpiece Theatre in an all-new eight-hour version. [The 26-episode BBC adaptation was 1967; this version is from 2002. They're based on Galsworthy's Nobel Prize–winning novels, which were published 1906–1921. The story takes place from the 1870s to the 1920s.]

 

Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers) stars as acquisitive, tormented Soames Forsyte [he's best known these days for starring opposite Claire Danes on Showtime's Homeland] with Gina McKee (Notting Hill) as his reluctant bride, Irene. Also appearing are Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower) as the passionate architect Bosinney, Rupert Graves (Take a Girl Like You) as young Jolyon Forsyte [he's DI Lestrade on Sherlock, and baddies on Scott & Bailey and Garrow's Law] and Corin Redgrave (Shackleton) as the family patriarch, old Jolyon. [He was the brother of Vanessa and the late Lynn Redgrave.]

 

According to a 2012 article in the New York Times:

In co-producing a new “Forsyte” adaptation, “Masterpiece Theater” was returning to its roots. It was the sweeping popularity of the original series on American public television that led WGBH to start “Masterpiece Theater” in 1971.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the BBC version’s renown, the producers of the “Forsyte” reboot opted to ignore it altogether rather than compete with memories of the series. They went back to the books, seeking to highlight plotlines that would resonate more with modern audiences, like the striving of Irene and another Forsyte, June, to redefine themselves as women in a changing England.

 

Unlike its predecessor, which was filmed on soundstages, the 2002 “Forsyte” was shot on location in sumptuous Georgian mansions in and around Liverpool and Manchester.

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Not the way that Gina McKee played her.  Normally she is really good but not so much here.

 

Heh, I started reading the Saga back when it aired....still reading it.

Edited by M. Darcy
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Not the way that Gina McKee played her.

 

The New York Times said in 2012:

The show had its debut in October 2002 to healthy ratings and mostly positive reviews, though Ms. McKee’s subdued performance polarized critics and viewers.

 

I also liked this:

Based on the John Galsworthy novels, the series spanned the decades from the 1870s to the 1920s and starred Damian Lewis of “Homeland” as another repressed villain demented by love and loss.

 

His Soames Forsyte—like Brody, his character on “Homeland”—is driven by a cause he believes is just and evokes sympathy for his torment if not his misguided actions. An uptight man of property, Soames grimaces his way through an evolving London as if enduring a nasty toothache.

 

Mr. Lewis dazzled during casting, but his listless performance in the early days of the production puzzled the filmmakers. “Damian seemed terribly distracted and not really on his game,” said Christopher Menaul, the initial director of the series. “We thought: ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong with him? Is it the pressure already?’ ”

 

Fortunately it was only acute appendicitis. The actor was taken to the hospital to have his appendix removed, and production stopped for several weeks while he recuperated.

 

“In a way we thought, ‘Oh thank God,’ ” Mr. Menaul said, laughing. “They can deal with that. He’s not having a sort of mental crisis.”

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Subdued? That's like calling a run away train 'subdued'. I mean, she was so subdued it was like she wasn't there at all.

Edited by Milz
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Subdued? That's like calling a run away train 'subdued'. I mean, she was so subdued it was like she wasn't there at all.

 

I've only seen the first three episodes. I loved Gina McKee in Wonderland, and liked her in Notting Hill. But the only interesting thing about Irene is the way she pronounces her name. (Like Irene Adler in the Jeremy Brett version of A Scandal in Bohemia.)

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I am I the middle of re-watching this series.  I thought Irene's performance was spot on.  She starts out with her father having just died and being in a difficult financial situation; then she is in a marriage to Soames who totally smothers the life out of her.  It is with Bosinney and later with other characters that we see her come alive, with her beautiful smile and loving nature.  I thought she was brilliant.

 

Lewis as Soames was so good I detest him no matter what I see him in now (Henry VIII in Wolf Hall, for instance).  The over-all character was well played, beautifully nuanced, and there were moments that were positively stunning.  The first time he danced with Irene was unforgettable; the way he held her, as if she were some fragile magical creature he couldn't believe he was holding, the expression on his face of breathless wonder.

 

This has been one of my favorite Masterpiece series, and I am currently enjoying for the fifth time.

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Yes, Irene is a rare and special orchid ... which is why Soames is determined to acquire him for his collection of perfect and rare things  .... I think McKee's performance makes much better sense when you compare Irene to the sister ... and you appreciate that her life and personality are very private, a bit shy but carefully observed and deeply felt ... she's as far as can be from being "part of the clan" ... it's an unfathomable gap, however, she is present, she does participate, and she does pitch in -- in her way -- and over the decades become a valued and trusted member. She genuinely is sorry she could not get over her revulsion at being Soames' wife and property. I don't know -- I liked her and liked that she was NOT a wizard or a paragon or vindictive or a doormat ... 

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I read and enjoyed the books a few years ago. Then I watched the 1967 TV adaptation, followed by the 2002 one. I remember thinking at the time that I wished that the 2002 version used the 1967 script but kept the latter's production values (except for the fact that the exteriors were clearly not filmed in London). Everything about the earlier adaptation -- hair, makeup, costumes, sets, lighting, sound, camerawork -- is now hilariously cheap and awful to eyes used to HD, however the script was much more faithful to Galsworthy.

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My PBS station showed the first three episodes last week, then nothing this week. (And "Last Tango in Halifax" starts next week.)

I'm getting antsy!

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But the only interesting thing about Irene is the way she pronounces her name.

 

Irene is a classical Greek name, so the pronunciation of the final 'e' puts it in the same boat with other such names: Penelope, Phoebe, Hermione, etc. I don't know when its pronunciation shifted to Ireen, but it's certainly a recent-ish thing.

 

I thought Irene's performance was spot on.

 

I'm a fan of McKee's as well. In the book, Irene is depicted as the kind of woman on whom men project their own desires (heedless to hers). So it makes sense to me that an outward placidity would be attractive to all these thwarted male personalities. They read into her every gesture what their hearts want. A bolder girl would have been threatening, unattractive. See, for instance, how June ends up alone, how Winifred is scorned and cheated on, how the opinionated Aunts are spinsters. I'm laying this at Galsworthy's feet, of course choosing to make his heroine an empty slate. But I think McKee glowed with Irene's inner compassion and warmth. And she wore the hell out of that blue and white outfit!

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I can't help it I dislike Irene so much.  If she does not want Soames so be it.  Must she have relationships with every other male in the family.  I just don't see her exquisite beauty,she has good bone structure but is not striking in any way.  She is so cold and almost devoid of any personality.

 

As for Jolyon- these names are so odd-reallllly.  You need to see her and have absolutely no concern for your cousin.  Also June these people are so fucking forgiving it seems not to be real.  I find as I watch this I get quite angry and irritated.  I just do not see Soames as a villain.  I am really enjoying the series though.

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When Soames holds his daughter Fleur for the first time it is a brilliant piece of acting.  Initially angry that she is a daughter instead of a son, he looks at her and you can see the beginning of his next obsession.

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Must she have relationships with every other male in the family.

 

Once Phil is dead, there are no other male characters outside of the fam. The device of dramatic economy. If the writer wants to keep her in the story, he's got to involve her with existing characters. See: daytime soaps, where all the families intertwine, unravel, and recombine again and again.

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Irene's long relationship with Young Joslyn occurred as a direct result of Old Joslyn's will leaving her £15,000 -- Young Jos was Old Jos' designated administrator of the bequest and the relationship was one of platonic friendship until (a) after Young Jos' wife died and (b) Soames had threatened (with serious intent) to sue for divorce on the basis of infidelity citing young Jos as correspondent.

 

to wit: wiki:  ""By the time his son Jolly dies in the South African War, Irene has developed a strong friendship with Jolyon. Then, Soames confronts young Jolyon and Irene at Robin Hill, falsely accusing them of having an affair. Young Jolyon and Irene assert that they have had an affair since Soames has it in his mind already. That gives Soames the evidence he needs for divorce proceedings. That confrontation sparks an actual affair between young Jolyon and Irene, leading to their marriage and the birth of a son Jolyon 'Jon' Forsyte."" 

 

June did NOT forgive Irene for a very long time ... but as she made peace with her father, she made peace with Irene (although I agree, story in general, with Irene "stealing" both Bossiney and her long lost father could have used a happier ending for June ... beyond that of being a peripheral Bloomsbury-type character) 

 

Finally, Gina McKee's resemblance to any number of Modligliani's women is striking ...  and I don't agree that she was cold or passionless, rather -- for most of the story until actually divorced from Soames -- extremely vulnerable with her place in "polite society" nonexistent ...  In order to survive, she needed to maintain a spotless reputation .. Old Jos' bequest freed her from needing piano pupils and the approval of their parents. 

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I was super-impressed with the filming of Phillip's death:  that was very unusual!

 

Irene is a totally unsympathetic character.  While she appears to come to life when with "Phil" (seriously is that what they called him in the book?) she's so wrapped up in her own self pity, I cannot feel even a tiny bit sorry.  I so wanted June to deck her!  Verbally I thought she was doing a great job, stopped only by that slap from Irene.

 

Also, does she (Irene) have too many teeth for her mouth?  It looks like she has to make a huge effort to close her mouth.

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about Irene from Galsworthy preface:

""Galsworthy in a foreword to the complete edition writes that he deliberately had Irene present only through the eyes of the other characters. He calls her a 'concretion of disturbing beauty impinging on a possessive world.'"" 

http://scandalouswoman.blogspot.com/2009/05/scandalous-women-in-fiction-irene.html

=====================================================================

I rewatched maybe 6 months ago and was fascinated this time by Winnifred and bad-boy Darte and bad-boy Prosper Plafond ... contrast to Soames with Irene then Annette and Prosper Plafond and realizing that of the 5 Forsyte heirs -- Winnifred, Soames, young Joslyn, and then George and Francie -- there were surprisingly few surviving male heirs to carry on the name

from Wiki:

-- June, Young Jolyon's defiant daughter from his first marriage; engaged to an architect, Philip Bosinney, who becomes Irene's lover -- old maid
-- Jolly, Young Jolyon's son from his second marriage; dies of enteric fever during the Boer Wars - dead 
-- Holly, Young Jolyon's daughter from his second marriage, to June's governess -- married to Val 
-- Jon, Young Jolyon's son from his third marriage, to Irene, Soames's first wife - moved to Canada 
-- Fleur, Soames's daughter from his second marriage, to a French Soho shopgirl Annette; Jon's lover; later marries a baronet, Michael Mont -- now Mont 
-- Val, Winifred and Montague's son; fights in the Boer Wars; marries his cousin Holly **
-- Imogen, Winifred and Montague's daughter (??)  (daughter) 

 

Anyway -- Did the family fortunes which prospered over preceding generations hit some turbulence as that wealth "allowed" Soames to indulge both in his art collecting and in a poorly conceived marriage to Irene (and then Annette) and Winifred to indulge in Montague Darte and his spendthrift and gambling ways?? Were both Soames and Winifred desperate to marry as rebellion against the dull bourgeois comfort of the Soames "dynasty" -- 

I could never figure out if Profond was a good witch or a bad witch  -- I love Michael Maloney the actor who plays him and his character is the rare source of humor or leavening, but why is he in England (on the lam?) and is he really as wealthy as he seems (or does he just have an amazing knack for ingratiating himself with the ladies?) There are moments when he seems to have evil intents, but then no.  Did Soame divorce Annette? Did she run off with Profund? Memory (and google) these details escape me .... 

Wealth also "allowed" Soames to build that intended "golden cage" of Robin Hill -- ostentatious and lavish enough to make most observers blame Irene if the marriage failed -- which of course it did.  

Edited by SusanSunflower
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I was super-impressed with the filming of Phillip's death:  that was very unusual!

 

Irene is a totally unsympathetic character.  While she appears to come to life when with "Phil" (seriously is that what they called him in the book?) she's so wrapped up in her own self pity, I cannot feel even a tiny bit sorry.  I so wanted June to deck her!  Verbally I thought she was doing a great job, stopped only by that slap from Irene.

 

Also, does she (Irene) have too many teeth for her mouth?  It looks like she has to make a huge effort to close her mouth.

 

I think she bears a striking resemblance to Eleanor Roosevelt.

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Indian Summer of a Forsyte, which is an "interlude" in the saga, was always my favorite part.  I tried to read the entire series back in the day, but except for this one it was a hard slog.  Anyway I enjoyed that story, and I enjoyed that episode in the first series.  It's probably the only one I would re-watch.

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Indian Summer of a Forsyte, which is an "interlude" in the saga, was always my favorite part.  I tried to read the entire series back in the day, but except for this one it was a hard slog.  Anyway I enjoyed that story, and I enjoyed that episode in the first series.  It's probably the only one I would re-watch.

Was this only in the books?  Or was it part of the 2002 version as well.  Also, why was it your favorite.  Editorgrrl has alerted us that the movie version of 1950 is on Mon. july 6th with Errol Flynn.  Was he considered a good actor?? 

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I don't know if it was in the 2002 version.  It was an entire episode in the sixties version and beautifully done.  I think it was the reason I tried to read the books.

 

I liked it because in 1970 that was the kind of story I liked.  I didn't like Soames, I didn't like Fleur, I liked Winifred but I hated her husband, and that she stayed in that marriage irritated me (I didn't really appreciate then how a rich girl could get stuck with a bad husband, and her family usually wouldn't let her out of it).  I didn't like the way people behaved to each other, but Indian Summer was a sweet story, and finished with one in the eye for Soames, so it was a distressed damsel rescued story.

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I just watched "That Forsyte Woman" (1950) with Greer Garson, Errol Flynn, Walter Pidgeon.   It was excellent and Irene's relationship and behavior with Soames was much more believable. I also liked Flynn's portrayal of Soames which was as a hard-working driven successful lawyer.  Robert Young as Bossiny wasn't my idea of eye candy (it's hard to beat Ioan Gruffudd there) but all the characters were so much better grounded in reality.

Edited by DHDancer
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Can't believe all the Irene hate and pro Soames.  I'm only going from memory of seeing this show when it originally aired but I thought Soames was horrible.

I'm just happy that this if finally being shown again.

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Oh I think we all agree that Soames is horribly obsessive (I loved the story about the kitten he once had) but this portrayal of Irene as being so incredibly cold and unfeeling, and actually very lacking in social niceties within the home that it's not unreasonable to feel it's not a one-side issue.

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I disagree: Soames promises --before she accept his proposal -- that he'll let her go if their marriage doesn't work, and then he moves the goal posts. Being cold in the face of that treachery seems to me to be a reasonable response. Look, I love Lewis and think he does a tremendous job playing Soames, but I'm totally on Team Irene here.

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Recently starIted watching this on Netflix and while it's interesting, I cannot get over the poor casting of the Irene character. While I admired the skill of Gina McKee the actress in Notting Hill, she doesn't do the book character justice. In the first couple episodes I swear she looked like Margaret Hamilton from the Wizard of Oz in the long, side angle shots. The hats don't help. There's no passion or spark in the character and I can't muster any sympathy for her or her situation.

Edited by turbogirlnyc
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I broke down and bought the complete series at Barnes and Noble and am perplexed about Fleur marrying the baron.

Edited by whatsatool

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I swore that Soames was going to say Save the Child!  Big surprise for him to say that Annette couldn't die.  And then the final scene of him being so emotional over "Fleur".  The guy's a psychopath with humane moments.

The whole young Jolyn/Irene relationship is interesting in a bizarre way.

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Yes he did rule out surgery: he was hedging his bets based on Annette being young and strong.  It was a big risk to take but if he was going to lose one of them, he wanted the baby.  Still at least he didn't outrightly say "Save the baby".

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I broke down and bought the complete series at Barnes and Noble and am perplexed about Fleur marrying the baron.

 

Soames once told Fleur that it was best to be the one in a relationship who loved their partner less than their partner loved them.  And her mother told her not to marry for love but for a comfortable life and look for love outside the marriage.  So she took the advice of both of them.

Edited by treeofdreams
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Yes, there's real irony in that Soames and his Winifed sister both married "for love" quite badly indeed ... as if that were a luxury that the hard work of the prior generation(s) had made possible for them ... one that Soame's second wife had no illusions about, having come from less than "genteel circumstrances."  Irene's life story of the other hand demonstrates the folly of marrying of "necessity" (even with an escape clause) underestimating the determination of unloved spouse/lover. I always wondered just how much idle gossip and a "amusement" Soames had to endure wrt his inability to keep a wife -- first Irene and then Annette (so flagrant in her appreciation of another man's attentions). 

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to wit: wiki:  ""By the time his son Jolly dies in the South African War, Irene has developed a strong friendship with Jolyon. Then, Soames confronts young Jolyon and Irene at Robin Hill, falsely accusing them of having an affair. Young Jolyon and Irene assert that they have had an affair since Soames has it in his mind already. That gives Soames the evidence he needs for divorce proceedings. That confrontation sparks an actual affair between young Jolyon and Irene, leading to their marriage and the birth of a son Jolyon 'Jon' Forsyte."" 

 

That's Jolyon's modus operandi. Frances accused him of having an affair with the governess which prompted them to have an affair. IMO, it's a convenient way to shrug the responsibility for their behaviors/choices.

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I dunno, I thought Gina mcKee was wonderful and incredibly lovely. I have read the book and very few of the later scenes exist in the book. Jon is told through a letter about Soames and Irene after his father dies. Michael Mont is not portrayed as a wonderful philanthropic guy, just a guy. There is no plan to go to Ireland and there is no scene of Soames facing up to his behavior by confessing to Fleur. That said, it was a lovely series in every respect, imo.

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I think it's perhaps the best mini-series "evah" ... the fault in the later parts are those of the story. 

 

I've not been able to find commentary on how the book (which won the Nobel prize) was greeted at the time ... was it a commentary on changes society was already undergoing or a rallying cry for (post-war) need for changes, loosening of roles, particularly those of women and an end of the socially required hypocrisy of married men and their mistresses. and a dearth of unhappy but life-long marriages ... Young Jolyen, despite his three wifes and two "scandalous" affairs, in the end is an honorable and loving man ... scented, I think deliberately, with a touch of the Bloomsbury ... See also the independent-but-fullfilled June who is not a classic "spinster," living with her mother, doing needle work -- even Irene's strength after leaving Soames, giving piano lessons, charitably repaying the goodness of the whores who saved her life ... etc. 
Is Gainsborough offering these strong individuals -- mostly women -- as role models of the future? The dynamics of the featured marriages demand scrutiny. While the working class were still "stuck" with divorce being damn near unthinkable (and too expensive) for a long time, does this very "fortunate" family emerging freedom and choices? 

I think the Nobels are "supposed" to capture society -- different societies and culture -- perhaps, in flux -- I'm not sure, however, I was surprised that such as "soap opera" was judged "Nobel worthy" -- thoughts? 

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I think it's perhaps the best mini-series "evah" ... the fault in the later parts are those of the story.

I've not been able to find commentary on how the book (which won the Nobel prize) was greeted at the time ... was it a commentary on changes society was already undergoing or a rallying cry for (post-war) need for changes, loosening of roles, particularly those of women and an end of the socially required hypocrisy of married men and their mistresses. and a dearth of unhappy but life-long marriages ... Young Jolyen, despite his three wifes and two "scandalous" affairs, in the end is an honorable and loving man ... scented, I think deliberately, with a touch of the Bloomsbury ... See also the independent-but-fullfilled June who is not a classic "spinster," living with her mother, doing needle work -- even Irene's strength after leaving Soames, giving piano lessons, charitably repaying the goodness of the whores who saved her life ... etc.

Is Gainsborough offering these strong individuals -- mostly women -- as role models of the future? The dynamics of the featured marriages demand scrutiny. While the working class were still "stuck" with divorce being damn near unthinkable (and too expensive) for a long time, does this very "fortunate" family emerging freedom and choices?

I think the Nobels are "supposed" to capture society -- different societies and culture -- perhaps, in flux -- I'm not sure, however, I was surprised that such as "soap opera" was judged "Nobel worthy" -- thoughts?

Have you read the book? Anyway, Nobels go for body of work. Galsworthy was a prolific writer. The book is not a soap, tho I guess the miniseries could be characterized as such. Many events were changed. Monty dies offscreen and unmourned, with no redemption arc, for one example.

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Actually, I think it is a soap when read today without context ... much as Pride and Prejudice could be seen as a girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl get boy back -- Wedding Bells!!!! and they live happily every after.  See also Dickens. When Dickens was published it constituted social commentary and the plight of various characters advanced social movements.  Lots of classics can be read "for pleasure" as fairly simple if "complicated by events/society" love stories ...  but never mind. 

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Well, P&P is "boy loses girl, gets girl"-- novels have plots. They are not easily reduced to cliche if they are good novels. All of Jane Austen's stories are essentially Cinderella. Girl gets prince. For me, P&P is fascinating because the prince is humbled and seeks to be better. Makes it a great story, imo.

Forsyte Saga, the novel, is not like the recent series. Many important changes. I never read Dickens or any other novel without an awareness that the novelist has a comment to make on society. Harry Potter tacked racism and press hypocrisy and government blindness, among other subjects. Didn't escape me.

Actually, what you learn from literature is that people are pretty much alike, across continents and generations, the same concerns, jealousies and acts of kindness make themselves felt.

Edited by SFoster21
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