Monday, November 30, 2015

Howards End by E. M. Forster

Title: Howards End
Author: E. M. Forster
Published: 1910
Challenges: Reading England, Literary Movement Reading Challenge (Bloomsbury Group)

If you are participating in Behold the Star's Reading England Challenge 2016, this is a book to consider adding to your reading list.  Howards End is about England during the early twentieth century, and the title shares the name with an estate - no, a house, or better yet, a lovely home - belonging to Mrs. Wilcox, a gentle, sweet woman.  She is like England of the past.

The main character, Margaret Schlegel, is a well-grounded, thoughtful, clever, modern woman who represents the future of England and its idealistic upper class.  She has a younger sister, who also shares a love of the arts and progress for women; however, she is temperamental and unrealistic.

Henry Wilcox, husband to Mrs. Wilcox, represents the materialistic, upper class lifestyle of traditional England.  He is stuck in his old ways and does not consider changing with the times.

Meanwhile, there is a young man named Leonard Bast who represents the lower middle class of England.  He feels trapped in his socio-economic place in society, though he tries to escape it by developing his education, to no avail.  His life crosses paths with Margaret and her sister, Helen, and the plot snowballs from here.

There are additional characters from each of the three families, and they all cross, connect, and mesh with each other.  In doing so, each family, representing three different classes in English society, challenge, pressure, and affect one another.

Howards End, from the film
Howards End, the home (representing England as a whole), is up for grabs when Mrs. Wilcox passes away.  As the story unfolds, the question of who will be Her rightful possessor or inhabitant begins to present itself.  Or you could ask: Who will establish the future of England?  Will it be the struggling middle class, the cultured idealistic, or the old fashioned, traditionalist?
England was alive, throbbing through all her estuaries, crying for joy through the mouths of all her gulls, and the north wind, with contrary motion, blew stronger against her rising seas.  What did it mean?  For what end are her fair complexities, her changes of soil, her sinuous coasts?  Does she belong to those who have moulded her and made her feared by other lands, or to those who had added nothing to her power, but have somehow seen her, seen the whole island at once, lying as a jewel in a silver sea, sailing as a ship of souls, with all the brave world's fleet accompanying her towards eternity?
There are numerous important topics and ideas woven within Forster's poetic vision of England, such as social, economic, and sexual equality; cultural and gender prejudices; self-education; pride and ideals; money and the poor; England vs. Germany; love and death; reality and the spirit world, marriage vs. singleness, socialism, and more.  Here are only some of the quotes I starred in my book:

Margaret and Helen on money:
Money was the fruit of self-denial, and the second generation had a right to profit by the self-denial of the first.
Forster on a married Margaret:
A younger woman might have resented his masterly ways, but Margaret had too firm a grip of life to make a fuss.  She was, in her own way, as masterly.  If he was a fortress she was a mountain peak, whom all might tread, but whom the snows made nightly virginal.  Disdaining the heroic outfit, excitable in her methods, garrulous, episodical, shrill, she misled her lover much as she had misled her aunt.  He mistook her fertility for weakness.  He supposed her "as clever as they make 'em," but no more, not realizing that she was penetrating to the depths of his soul, and approving of what she found there.
(Who writes like this!!!?  Which is another way of me saying I am mesmerized by Forster's writing.)

Margaret on her experience at Howards End: was English, and the wych-elm that she saw from the window was an English tree.  No report had prepared her for its peculiar glory.  It was neither warrior, nor lover, nor god; in none of these roles do the English excel.  It was a comrade, bending over the house, strength and adventure in its roots, but in its utmost fingers tenderness, and the girth, that a dozen men could not have spanned, became in the end evanescent, till pale bud clusters seemed to float in the air.  It was a comrade.
Margaret's thoughts on influencing her husband:
The woman who can't influence her husband to vote the way she wants ought to be ashamed of herself.
Helen on death:
Death destroys a man: the idea of Death saves him.
Forster on married men and women:
Man is for war, women for the recreation of the warrior, but he does not dislike it if she makes a show of fight.
Margaret's thoughts on the poor:
To trust people is a luxury in which only the wealthy can indulge; the poor cannot afford it.
Mrs. Wilcox on war:
I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.
Oh, I must stop or this will go on too long.

After I finished the book, I watched the 1992 film version of Howards End. I thought Emma Thompson, who played Margaret, did a fabulous job.  You will like her character, and because of her ideal disposition, you will agree with the final outcome of the story.

Finally, Howards End counts towards my Lit Movement Challenge, Bloomsbury Group, which Forester was a member.  The group attracted intellectuals, including authors, who refused to adhere to societal norms.  They discussed ideas related to culture, arts, philosophy, and liberal politics - basically everything you will find in Howards End.


Lois TinĂºviel said...

I read Forster's Room with a View this year but I've been thinking about reading Howard's End now. It looks interesting... though I skimmed the review to not get too spoiled. :)

Anonymous said...

I've watched the movie several times (I'm a fan of Emma Thompson), but I've always come away with sadness. I felt nothing ever got resolved between the various people, nor did any of the characters change because of their experiences. The book is on my list to read, perhaps I will feel differently reading the book than I did viewing the movie.

Ruth said...


I believe there is truth to that (sadness in the end, no change in characters). Here are a couple of ideas I take away from the story:

The author portrays several classes of society, and everyone lives his life accordingly. However, paths cross and the characters become mixed up with each other in one way or another. In the end, the author may be suggesting no one particular class will inherit England, but rather a mixture of people will populate England.

The other suggestion may be that the main character is the most reasonable, well-grounded, logical character capable of maintaining Howards End, as none of the other characters in their classes were worthy or cared to keep it. They were stuck in their ways, hard-headed, selfish, or irrational. One never knows after the story ends if they learned their lessons and changed; but the reader may recognize the goodness of the main character and her worthiness. So while some people may never change, those who have what it takes to lead and excel will do well in the future.

Ruth said...

A Room With a View is on my TBR list now. I really loved Forster's writing style.

RT said...

Great posting/review! I personally prefer Forster's A Passage to India, but you've nearly persuaded me that my preference is in error. Well done!

Ruth said...

Except I have only read this; therefore, I need to also read A Passage to India.

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

On my list it goes! I've been wanting to read this, and watch the Emma Thompson version, for a long time now. Thanks for giving me the impetus to add it to my CC list.

Ruth said...

It was wonderful. And the movie was nicely done, as well.

Fanda Classiclit said...

I failed to finish this book, and stopped in the middle. Maybe it's supposed to be read leisurely, not between one's busy days. Anyway, I found it boring, and at times it felt like it's not going anywhere. Hmm... I might try it again sometime, but can't promise I'll like it.

Ruth said...

I have a feeling that your busy schedule may have affected your experience. When my life is busy, it is too difficult to get into a story - unless it is really light reading.

Anonymous said...

Just had to stop by and read your review on Howards Emd.
Great insights and loved the quotes you selected!

Ruth said...

Thanks! : )