The first sequence of three novels, The Man of Property (1906), In Chancery (1920) and To Let (1921), deals, in a manner full of both humour and pathos, with the vicissitudes of the leading members of the Forsyte family, an upper-middle-class clan of businessmen. The main character, Soames Forsyte, sees himself as a "man of property", by virtue of his ability to accumulate material possessions - but this does not succeed in bringing him pleasure. He is besotted with his wife, Irene, but cannot possess her in the same way as his paintings, and is humiliated by her affair with a young architect, Philip Bosinney. Running parallel to the story of their marriage is that of the relationship between Soames' cousin, Jolyon, and the latter's father, also Jolyon, the younger Jolyon having been expelled from the family fold for eloping with his daughter's foreign governess and having gone to live and work as an artist in a poor area of London.
In later books, Soames and Irene divorce and young Jolyon's second wife dies, and subsequently Jolyon and Irene meet and marry. Eventually their son, Jon, falls in love with Fleur, the daughter of Soames and his second wife. Later books deal with the development of their relationship.
The phenomenal success of the BBC's dramatisation of the novels can largely be attributed to its sheer length. It was originally shown in twenty-six episodes on Sunday evenings, thus becoming, effectively, a soap opera. It was shown all over the world, and became the first British television programme to be sold to Russia. However, it was made in black and white, and in 2002 the first three books were adapted by Independent Television in a manner truer to Galsworthy's original work. A second series followed in 2003.