John Galsworthy won the Novel Prize for Literature with this work in 1932 (and died the following year). I had long been dimly aware of it, but avoided it as just another voluminous novel. But I have been in Galsworthy's toil for the past week.
Although about a grasping, conventional materialistc family two of the redeeming characters, Jo Forsyte and his 20 year old son, Jon, provide what was for me a defining moment:
They had just buried an old pet, a dog about Jon's age:
"“Strange life a dog’s,” said Jolyon suddenly: “The only four-footer with rudiments of altruism and a sense of God!”
Jolly looked at his father.
“Do you believe in God, Dad? I’ve never known.”
At so searching a question from one to whom it was impossible to make a light reply, Jolyon stood for a moment feeling his back tried by the digging.
“What do you mean by God?” he said; “there are two irreconcilable ideas of God. There’s the Unknowable Creative Principle—one believes in That. And there's the Sum of altruism in man—naturally one believes in That.”
“I see. That leaves out Christ, doesn’t it?”
Jolyon stared. Christ, the link between those two ideas! Out of the mouth of babes! Here was orthodoxy scientifically explained at last! The sublime poem of the Christ life was man’s attempt to join those two irreconcilable conceptions of God. And since the Sum of human altruism was as much a part of the Unknowable Creative Principle as anything else in Nature and the Universe, a worse link might have been chosen after
all! Funny how one went through life without seeing it in that sort of way!"
Wow! 'orthodoxy scientifically explained' indeed. Is any of the rest of it necessary?
We all know that by the end of WW I religion was significantly dead in the mind of most of the English (and other Europeans as well); witness all the empty cathedrals. But there have always been 'good men and true' swimming in this cultural stream. The truly orthodox might say, "are they saved?
I have no doubt.