London Stories: A Forsyte Encounters the People, 1917 by John Galsworthy

London Stories

A Forsyte Encounters the People, 1917 is from John Galsworthy’s novel On Forsyte ‘Change. Galsworthy who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932 wrote a number of books on the Forsyte family. Even though On Forsyte ‘Change is not a part of The Forsyte Saga, it looks into the lives of older Forsytes before the events chronicled in The Man of Property (the first book of The Forsyte Saga) as Galsworthy thought these footnotes would “help to fill in and round out the chronicles of the Forsyte family.” Neat!

In October 1917, when the air raids on London were acutely monotonous, there was a marked tendency on the part of Eustace Forsyte to take Turkish baths. The most fastidious of his family, who had carried imperturbability of demeanor to the pitch of defiance, he had perceived in the Turkish bath a gesture, as of a finger to a nose, in the face of a boring peril.

So begins the story of Eustace Forsyte. On this particular day, during the air raids, Eustace had gone to the Turkish baths as usual. After the ‘all clear’ alarm had sounded, he had been on his way to his room feeling he had cheated the Boche once again, when he realized the raid had not matured. Eustace had reached Charing Cross when people began to run past him in utter chaos, and a special constable seized Eustace by his shoulders and pushed him into a Tube station.

Bewildered and eager to find his way back towards the air Eustace attempts to squeeze through the in-flowing mass of people, but his efforts fail and anger the others who want him to keep still. “Had they no sense of smell; were they totally indifferent to heat, had they no pride that they let the Huns inflict on them this exquisite discomfort? Did none of them feel, with him, that the only becoming way to treat danger was to look down your nose at it?” Eustace wonders of his fellow refugees who seem to think “they had triumphed over the enemy” by retreating to the bowels of the earth!

A Forsyte Encounters the People, 1917 is a heart-wrenching story wonderfully written. I won’t give away the rest of the story as it’s available here in its entirety. Read it to find out how Eustace ‘survived’ the raids stuck inside a Tube station! 🙂


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