The Silver Spoon – John Galsworthy
Galsworthy’s Forsyte Chronicles stretched to nine volumes and the Silver Spoon in some senses marks the midway point, being the fifth in the series and the second of the Modern Comedy trilogy. Published in 1926, it follows the story of Soames Forsyte and his daughter, Fleur, now married to Michael Mont and mother of a son, Kit, described as the eleventh baronet.
There have been some cosmetic changes at Fleur’s house. Gone is the Chinese décor and the Pekinese has been replaced by a new pooch. Fleur, though, is still the same social gadfly, collecting admirers and the company of the movers and shakers in London society. It is this trait in her character that leads to the central moment of the book, a libel case. At one of her soirees, Fleur is accused by Marjorie Ferrar of being a snob, neither having the wit nor personality to create the sort of salon that she is desperate to have. Soames overhears the remarks, calls Marjorie a traitress and orders her to leave. As neither side will back down in what today would seem to be a storm in a cocktail glass, the matter goes to court.
Soames uses all his guile to build up a convincing defence for Fleur. The case does offer Galsworthy the opportunity to explore the change in moral attitudes amongst the younger crowd in London society, raising questions of morality and comparing and contrasting standards of behaviour with the more staid and stuff outlook of Soames’ generation. Francis Wilmot, a young American guest of Fleur’s, who brings her news of her long-lost lover, Jon, falls under Marjorie’s spell and betrays his host. Although Fleur prevails, it is at some cost, becoming a social outcast and feeling that she cannot remain in London and play the part she desires in society persuades her doting father to accompany her on a trip around the world.
Fleur’s husband, Michael Mont, has left the world of publishing and has secured himself a seat in Parliament. He has become an advocate of an eccentric political philosophy, Foggartism, one of whose tenets is to ship youngsters off to parts of the empire, to ease unemployment at home and provide a labour force to the colonies to enable them to supply the motherland with goods and produce. Despite general ridicule and the failure of some social experiments to help the workers, Michael is determined to soldier on and feels that he is unable to accompany Fleur on her jaunt, only promising to join her when Parliament is in its summer recess.
One of the interesting aspects of the Chronicle is the change in treatment of Soames. In the early books he was clearly a villain, for whom the reader was invited to have little sympathy, set in his ways, concerned only for property, his art collection and money. Much of that remains, of course, but Galsworthy’s portrayal appears more sympathetic. He is a lost soul in a world he barely recognises, let alone understands. What he thought was an act of kindness to his daughter, the relentless pursuit of a frivolous court case, has backfired and left her unhappy. His reflections are often astute, amusing and filled with regret.
And the silver spoon? The sense of entitlement that pervades through the book, personified in the behaviour and attitudes of Fleur and the air of expectation that surrounds young Kit.