Monday, August 13, 2018

Howards End by E.M. Forster


Howards End depicts three English families from three different classes whose lives were accidently intertwined. There are the Wilcoxes—the wealthy and business-minded, the Schlegels—the cultured rural middle classes, and the Basts—the poor and submissive working classes.

The story began with Helen Schlegel's (the youngest of the girls) short love affair with Paul Wilcox, which then continued in Margaret's (Helen's sister) friendship with Ruth Wilcox, Paul's mother and mistress of a country house called Howards End. Ruth is the only Wilcox who loves the house as a home, cares for its lovely garden, trees, and all. She values the 'spirit' of the house; while the others only value Howards End as property; they care more about motors, business, money, and luxury. And that's why she connects well with Margaret because they both believe in personal relations, in family ties, which 'build the spirit'. Before Mrs. Wilcox's sudden death, she bequeathed Howards End to Margaret. As business-minded family, of course the Wilcoxes cannot accept this, and they decided not to follow her wish.

Leonard Bash is a poor clerk of a bank who wishes to step up to middle class by way of culture and learning. He met and got to know the Schlegels on an opera night. The Schlegel girls heard from Henry Wilcox (husband of the late Ruth Wilcox), that the bank where Leonard works is in financial trouble. They told Leonard this, and advised—even  encouraged—him to resign.

Margaret and Henry Wilcox then fell in love and soon got married (though opposed by Wilcox children and Helen). Soon after this they learned that the Basts (Leonard and Jacky—the woman who lives with him though unmarried) were financially ruined because Leonard eventually left his proper job but never found another as good as his previous job. Helen the 'ever-emotional' was enraged because Henry was totally unperturbed with the Basts' misfortune. And when it's revealed that Henry has apparently had an affair with Jacky in the past (which was the cause of her ruin), Helen was mad with rage, even to Margaret, who of course forgave and defended her husband, practical as she always is.

The country house which became the set of Howards End the movie


This was my first encounter with Forster. It may not be my favorite, but I enjoyed every moment of the reading. Howards End is either Forster's dream or prophecy of what kind of people who should or would shape England as a nation in the turn-of-the-century (it was published in 1910); whether it'd be the business/industrial people like the Wilcoxes; or the cultured Schlegels; or the working class Basts. Unlike most Victorian novels, I felt that Forster did not judge; he merely gave us glimpses of each class' character, for our own analysis and judgment. To me, Helen is overreacting about the Basts business. Opinion is opinion; the Schlegels should not meddle with Leonard's career. They are right to forward Henry's insight to him, but they or Leonard should have never swallowed it wholly, but then blamed the informer when it didn't happen as they wished. I couldn't blame Henry here. And when Helen was mad at him for ruining Mrs. Bast, while she herself did the same with a married man, well... I think she disliked him for the wrong reason.

In the end, I believe Margaret represents the next ideal generation of England (at least Forster's ideal). Cultured, can accept modernity and respect business culture, but still maintains love of nature, and above all, personal relationship, which makes houses to be homes, and where morality and integrity will keep germinating in the next generation's homes. The mixture of these qualities is the key of surviving the turn of the century, and preparing for the future. Ruth Wilcox is too Victorian, while the other Wilcoxes are too business minded. Both are in the extreme poles.

It has been a tranquil read for me, but I guess it should be read when you are in certain level of calmness in mood; otherwise you'd find it rather flat and dry.

4 to 5 is my final verdict.


6 comments:

  1. This sounds interesting. I read A Room with a View last year, and found the premise good but the story itself lacking in depth. A Passage to India, I just didn't like. Maybe the human interactions here will fill in some of the gaps I found in his other novels.

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    1. Hmm... I do mean to read another novel by Forster, but still can't decide between A Room with a View and A Passage to India. But I'm more inclined to A Room now.

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  2. It has been awhile since I read this. I had a similar impression that you did, that is I liked it a lot but there are other Foster novels that I like better. I thought that A Room with a view was better and A Passage to India is one of my all time favorite books. The theme of different groups interacting and sometimes clashing can be found throughout his works.

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    1. Ah... the different group clashing is an interesting bit of this book which I seldom find in other books. Glad to hear that it is Forster's style. Then I will certainly read more of him! Thanks, Brian..

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  3. I liked this one, too; not too heavy -- an interesting way to think about the future of England.

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    1. Just the kind of book you'd want to tackle after a disappointing or a depressing one. It's soothing, yet quite interesting too!

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What do you think?