Architectural Symbolism in Forsyte Saga: House Building as an Act of Self-Fashioning
Combining the lens of literature and architecture, this research explores how the design and construction of Robin Hill country estate by a pre-modernist architect Philip Bosinney serve as major catalysts for self-construction of the characters in John Galsworthy’s novel “The Forsyte Saga.” Robin Hill is not only a break from a Victorian and Edwardian architectural molds, but a break from pretended relationships and decorous family ties. This break leads characters to a radical assertion and re-design of personal freedoms and relationships. In this sense, Forsyte Saga is quite literally a Bildungsroman, in which the development and execution of architectural plans parallels the unfolding of the Irene’s, Bosinney’s and later Jolyon Forsyte’s authentic selves. As the house gets built on a new pattern, new and true relationships are constructed, while old fixtures – flawed and false marriage between Soames and Irene – get condemned and demolished. House that was meant to be a prison and a symbol of personal subjugation acts as a major rebel in the story– refusing to comply, conceal and close in. Galsworthy forecasts new trends in visual arts and design as he captures new views of domesticity in Edwardian England. His characters reveal changing views of personhood and nationhood, ownership and class differences, public and private, male and female. Contemporary English and American authors continue in Galsworthy’s footsteps as they depict house building as an external representation of self-fashioning and re-design.
Keywords: Victorian and Edwardian Architecture, English Novel in Post-Victorian Era, Bildungsroman, Modernism
Assistant Professor of English, Humanities and Arts Department, Worcester Polytechnic Institute