While not as bad as Garcia Marquez’s Macondo, where every male who isn’t named Jose is named Aureliano, there are probably too many Jolyons in John Galsworthy’s A Man of Property. There’s Old Jolyon, one of the Main Ten Forsytes who open the novel in their post-Victorian shine-on-you-crazy-diamonds hubris. There’s his son, Young Jolyon, who has disgraced his family by leaving his wife for a foreign governess. Then there’s Jolly, the son of Young Jolyon and that foreign governess, Helene Hillmer.
Yet, I’m pretty madly in love with all of them*.
[* The Jolyons, that is. Those Aurelianos are all bad news, what with each of them dying in some worse way than the one before.]
Specifically, I’m in love with this moment between the Old and Young Jolyon: Old Jolyon is visiting his son, unannounced, after a separation of 15 years. (I hinted in the opening paragraph at the cause of the rift. The Forsytes are known for reacting first and maybe-but-not-generally considering the reaction afterwards. I think Old Jolyon drops his son because he assumes it’s expected of a Forsyte to not allow such a breach of societal etiquette. And I find it interesting that masters of society rarely seem to be iconoclasts; they’re of society, not above society.) I’ll quote directly from the scene:
“My wife’s not the thing today,” he said, but he knew well enough that his father had penetrated the cause of that sudden withdrawal, and almost hated the old man for sitting there so calmly.
“You’ve got a nice little house here,” said old Jolyon with a shrewd look; “I suppose you’ve taken a lease of it!”
Young Jolyon nodded.
“I don’t like the neighbourhood,” said old Jolyon; “a ramshackle lot.”
Young Jolyon replied: “Yes, we’re a ramshackle lot.”‘
The silence was now only broken by the sound of the dog Balthasar’s scratching.
Old Jolyon said simply: “I suppose I oughtn’t to have come here, Jo; but I get so lonely!”
At these words young Jolyon got up and put his hand on his father’s shoulder.
In the next house someone was playing over and over again: ‘La Donna mobile’ on an untuned piano; and the little garden had fallen into shade, the sun now only reached the wall at the end, whereon basked a crouching cat, her yellow eyes turned sleepily down on the dog Balthasar. There was a drowsy hum of very distant traffic; the creepered trellis round the garden shut out everything but sky, and house, and pear-tree, with its top branches still gilded by the sun.
I love that Galsworthy gives Old and Young Jolyon that moment without wallowing in that moment, which would be easy to do because seeing tenderness between men is rare. Galsworthy doesn’t end it too soon, either. Instead, he directs the reader’s attention to a piano, a garden, a cat, and a wall. He gives the Jolyons privacy, and he gives the reader an emotionally generous moment.