on 8 August 2001
Howard's End is a story of relationships, and the differences between people in the late victorian age.
The book's heroines are the two Schlegel sisters, Helen and Margaret - well-to-do women of independent means and philanthropic natures as they find their way through life in the comfort that comes with a steady annual income.
The introduction of the Wilcox family illustrates the vast differences in outlook and behaviour that people of the same class could encapsulate. Whereas the Schlegels hold 'Literature and Art' in the highest of esteem, the Wilcoxes live in a world of 'panic and emptiness' and 'telegrams and anger'.
The novel also shows Forster's views on a changing world - the distasteful motor cutting up the roads, creating dust and killing cats is the Wilcoxes pride and joy, preempting the prevalence of the car in later years and its effect on the world. The phenomenon of urban sprawl is also dealt with in the book, as Forster describes London creeping its way into the countryside. The characters who suffer from hayfever are those who belong to the city and the new order - they have discarded the old way of life in the country and have moved to the city, where money and cars and 'telegrams and anger' prevail.
The idea of the home is also very important in the novel. The Wilcoxes have a disregard for a 'home', seeing each as a device for living in. The Schlegels, and Mrs. Wilcox (who acts as a bridge between the two families) see a house as much more and apply sentimental value to houses and gardens.
Class is also dealt with in the case of Leonard Bast, a lowly clerk whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of these two wealthy families. He is a pathetic and pitiable character, who strives to better himself through literature and art but cannot climb his way out of the depths of his social standing, hampered by a disastrous marriage.
This is (no hyperbole) my favourite book. It has passages and turns of phrase that you will want to remember, and deals with issues in a natural and thought-provoking manner. If you haven't read it already, why not!
on 28 September 2007
This was perhaps my first real introduction to literature, apart from "1984", the inevitable smart-schoolboy read, and "Sons And Lovers". As such it was a revelation - Forster's empathy, subtlety, lyricism and chracterisation are magnificent, while being oddly inobtrusive. There are no verbal pyrotechnics as you might find in DH Lawrence or Virginia Woolf, but a deeper vision of life that was wonderful to encounter at 15.
Forster's writing trajectory had led him to be able to write a "condition of England" novel - while his previous novels had perhaps erred on the side of social satire and comedy ("A Room With A View" and "Where Angels Fear To Tread"), or been a personal projection ("The Longest Journey"), "Howards End" is more the work of a professional novelist. It has a far greater scale than his previous novels, is in fact a great novel of London, and there is less of the mythology which appears overtly in his short stories and covertly in his previous fiction (especially "The Longest Journey").
The novel is almost entirely character driven - the plot, like life itself, is somewhat formless and inchoate. Two contrasting families, the cultured Schlegels and the financial-sector Wilcoxes, clash and mesh over the course of the novel. Their interactions, contrasts and enmeshings form the action of the novel. At the background Howards End, the house of Mrs Wilcox, stands as repository of all the values Forster cherishes, as the reconcilliation of all divisive opposites.
During the novel Margaret Schelegel and Mrs Wilcox become friends. But after an illness Mrs Wilcox dies, and Mr Wilcox, Henry, later marries Margaret, the elder and more empathetic of the Schlegel sisters. (Helen in contrast is more impetuous, less considered - poetry rather than prose). But unknown to Margaret, a dying bequest to leave Howards End to Margaret is dismissed and burned. At the end of the novel, after various unlikely contortions, Margaret is finally living in Howards End, as a sort of spiritual sucessor of Mrs Wilcox, in more than name. Here Forster's latent mysticism becomes apparent, but it's not incongruous or off-putting; rather it's a matter of values. Margaret by marrying into the Wilcoxes and infusing her ideals into their (as demonstrated by the novel) rather barren view of life, thus enriches all around her. She stands for integration and completion, rather than seperation and isolation, as seen in Helen's isolating the blame for Leonard Bast's misfortunes on Henry, or Henry's failure to connect his shameful past with his treatment of Helen when she is pregnant.
As said above, Howards End is a symbol of the reconcilliation of opposites - "Only connect!", as Margaret (and Forster) would say. Prose and passion, the inner life and the outer, city life and country life, culture and business, all stand conjoined by the end of the novel, when the baby is being taken out into the hayfield (plainly Forster's imagining of his young self) outside Howards End.
This is a magnificent novel, large in scope, with unforgettable characters (you often see people who you think are like Margaret or Henry or Helen or indeed Tibby), a vision that is unique and a subtle imagery that resonates ever louder with every re-reading. Its discussions of music, art and the topography of England are worth reading the novel for alone. While Forster can sometimes be obscured behind the more famous DH Lawrence or Virginia Woolf, this novel is the greatest to come out of Edwardian England.
I know Howards End is considered by many a classic, and gets excellent reviews, but if I am honest I struggled with it. I love classic literature, and any thinness of plot as in this case doesn't usually bother me as I find character far more important. Despite this, and there being some beautiful examples of prose in here, overall I was just not very excited about this book.
As the themes started to develop I felt like the book became a bit bogged down, repetitive, ponderous, moralistic and that the characters started to feel more wooden, with an over-reliance on coincidence to make the story go anywhere. In the end it felt like this was more a commentary on society of the time, including the role of class and gender in Britain, than actually a novel. I also felt I preferred all the wrong characters instead of what the author had set out to make me like. Margaret seemed too good to be true, Helen and Leonard annoyed me intensely from the middle of the book onwards, and I really didn't think that badly of the personalities of the Wilcoxes (with a few exceptions in their actions).
I am glad I persevered as the end of the book was by far the best bit, with the most action and the characters finally beginning in to make sense to me. I can also see why many people do love the book, particularly as Forster is a most able writer and a pleasure to read in that sense. For me personally though, I just felt that the author tried to weave his philosophical ponderings around a thin story which lacked engagement and ended up losing out on both fronts.
on 25 March 2013
This is a strange book. it starts off very well, then falls away, but finishes with a hundred pages of sheer brilliance. it has this problem because the story line is very thin, unable to carry the book forward on its own.It involves two wealthy families and one poor one.
The Schlegel sisters, Helen and Margaret, are rentiers and philanthropists, displaying idealistic 19th Century values; the Wilcoxes are nouveau riche, selfish, greedy, brash and ignorant- prototypes for the 20th century. The Basts are poor, made poorer by Mr. Wilcox: Leonard , vainly, aims to better himself by reading and the arts.
The author's command of language and use of prose is outstanding- it is hard to think of better examples.
You must persevere to the end- it is brilliant.
The characters are rich and compelling, leading the reader to have real compassion for even the more uncompassionate sorts. It is an excellent way to spend rainy afternoons with a cat on one's lap and a cup of English tea by one's side.
The primary action focusses upon families ' first the Schlegels, genteel without being titled or particularly monied, but far from poor; second, the Wilcoxes, successful financial class, largely without too much background, and a few additional characters such as Leonard Bast and his wife, struggling working-class characters who, through a misappropriated umbrella, become entangled in and damaged by the affairs of the Schlegels and Wilcoxes.
The action throughout much of the novel consists of a study of manners and morals. The elder Schlegel daughter becomes friendly with the dying Mrs. Wilcox, and they become friends of a sort. After the death of Mrs. Wilcox, Margaret remains in contact with the Wilcoxes, eventually being courted by the widower Wilcox. The younger Schlegel daughter, Helen, is much more of a rebel, rejecting the implicit superiority of convention while perfectly happy to revel in the benefits of her station in life. Her sister Margaret lives a bit precariously through Helen (and, indeed, Mrs. Wilcox lives precariously through Margaret). Only the male Wilcoxes seem to be living for themselves, but they are far from attractive characters, more concerned with a subtle greed and propriety that is always ready to assume the worst in anyone beneath their station.
Here enters the unfortunate Mr. Bast, a stable if lowly clerk in a bank in the City of London, with dreams of more, but tied to a job and a wife, both of whom will never lead to greater things. Through a minor accident he encounters Helen, and this eventually leads to an affair, which leads to a potential scandal. Bast, unfortunately, has a run-in with the Wilcox son who assumes a gallantry quite out of place, and suffers the consequences thereof.
This text explores the dominance of inflexible social structures and moral expectations in the post-Victorian England of the early twentieth century. Friendship, vocation and career, love and marriage, attitudes toward money and property ' all are keenly examined and each, in turn, are found wanting of humanity, until finally the elder Schlegel daughter takes a small but meaningful stand.
For those who don't know, Howards End is actually the name of a cottage that features in the book, not prominently, but meaningfully. The text was converted into a film that is quite exquisite, being a well-appointed Merchant/Ivory production a la 'Room with a View' and 'A Passage to India', both also by the same author). Forster is perhaps the quintessential novelist of the English experience in the early part of the last century. His juxtaposition of characters from different social classes and backgrounds, his feeling for his characters (even as they appear to have no feelings themselves, or very repressed feelings by American standards), and his plots that are meandering and uneventful yet interesting and attention-holding make for a style that is very much in keeping with the subject matter.
on 30 January 2015
An enjoyable book but wrecked by terrible proofreading. Multiple full stops and speech marks have been missed out, and the formatting choices are so bad that they're distracting. I don't recommend the Start Classics edition - it's cheap but not worth it.
I have re-read this classic after half a century. I can't remember what I thought about it on first reading, but I find it quite disappointing now. It is true that it is well written and held my attention throughout, that it contains many philosophical ideas, about society, about relationships and about love. I don't agree with all of these - for example the way he generalizes about the differences between men and women - and I feel there is a slight pomposity in some of those philosophical passages. I am more in sympathy with Forster's dislike of German and British Imperialism, of motor cars, of restless London constantly in the throes of old houses being pulled down to be replaced by blocks of flats and whose ribbon-development spreads ever deeper into the home counties, of its foul fog when "the air tasted like cold pennies", and of the commercialization of Christmas. And Forster writes rhapsodically about the English countryside.
My main trouble with the book is that I cannot believe in the central relationship of the story: Margaret's marriage to Henry Wilcox. Forster says that it was not a romantic marriage for either of them, and I don't think he explains why she accepted him. But then he describes her as loving him, and I cannot understand what would make that cultured, progressive, strong-minded, perceptive and sensitive woman LOVE such a philistine, capitalist, insensitive, dead-of-soul and hypocritical man who was so utterly unlike her. She knew it, too, and hoped gently to teach him how "to connect". He certainly did not understand her nature and patronized her. Only near the end does she come to see the true awfulness of her husband, and decides to leave him - but then doesn't.
Of course there are many other aspects of the story which one can see in any synopsis - the relationship between Margaret and her highly-strung impulsive sister Helen, or the pathetic story of Leonard Bast, the clerk so keen to improve himself and whom the sisters try to help, Helen passionately so (I use the word advisedly), with such catastrophic consequences; above all the significance which Howards End, the house in still (just) rural Hertfordshire, has for the characters in the novel.
In this 1910 story of Edwardian England, Forster illustrates the conflicts between the superior attitudes of the aristocracy and a developing feeling of obligation toward the "lower" classes which World War I will soon bring into sharp relief. Margaret and Helen Schlegel are intellectual and sensitive to the arts, with compassionate hearts for those less fortunate. When Margaret, at age twenty-nine, is affianced to Henry Wilcox, the much older, widowed husband of a friend, this conflict of attitudes is brought to the fore. Henry, insensitive and believing himself actually entitled to his family's privileges, is cold and reserved, though Margaret believes that "Henry must be forgiven and made better by love."
Helen, her sister, a 21-year-old with an enthusiasm for the life of the imagination, has no sympathy for Henry's staid pronouncements and failure to pay attention to the people "below him" who are dependent upon his whims. When Henry asserts that Porphyria Fire Insurance Co. is on the verge of collapse, Helen and Margaret persuade Leonard Bast, a young clerk they have befriended, to resign his position there, only to have him later "downsized" out of his subsequent bank job. Henry refuses to accept any responsibility whatsoever and refuses his wife's entreaties to give the destitute Leonard a job.
Immensely sympathetic to the economic position of the poor and women, Forster illustrates their financial dependence on those over whom they have little control. Margaret, who secures the reader's total sympathy, must try to educate a close-minded dolt like Henry to be kinder and more empathetic towards the people he considers below him, but she achieves only limited success. When Helen returns from Germany, where she has been living, and Henry and his family discover she is pregnant, Henry's belief that her condition reflects negatively upon himself and his family inspires a disaster with far-reaching consequences.
Filled with incisive observations and great wit, the novel follows the narrative pattern of a melodrama, but Forster's sensitivity to both sides--the practical and conservative values of Henry vs. the emotional and idealistic sides of Margaret and Helen--elevates the novel above the tawdry. Henry is a product of his time and his class, but though times are changing, he is too dense to realize it. With the action centered around the Wilcox home at Howard's End, the reader realizes that the estate is a microcosm of the country and that its conflicts are those of the nation. Thoughtful and entertaining, Howard's End still draws in readers after almost a hundred years. Mary Whipple
on 1 December 2010
Forster's perhaps most renowned novel is a story abundant with connections, hence the characteristic 'just connect' which embellishes the book. Forster expertly examines class conflict in the connected characters of Helen Schlegal and Leonard Bast, their child crossing the border between the gaping middle classes, suggesting England's future offspring. The connection between the internal, (that is to say, culture and the arts,) and the external (business, directness, practicality,) is breached by the union of Margaret and Mr Wilcox. The ghostly, other worldly figure of Mrs Wilcox haunts this novel, her appearance in union with Howards End, the house which the plot revolves. These are only two examples of the assortment of connections within this book, and I urge anyone with a taste of the 20th Century novel to have a read. What I personally find interesting about Forster's novel is its date of publishing in 1910, only 4 years before 'the war to end all wars' and yet Forster appears almost oblivious to any tensions, indeed- the protagonists are half German. Compare this with Colegate's 'The Shooting Party,' and the reader sees a very different pre-war Britain, the dawn of war just on the horizon- due to the post-war publishing. This novel also displays Forster's distaste of the urbanised future of England, referring to the 'Motor' which appears to pollute with a 'cloud of dust' all it passes. The suggestion of urban sprawl also displays Forster's criticism of a more industrialised England, the author referring throughout to the retreating London through the country. Read this novel, it is didactic in the sense Forster appears to be urging readers to reconsider our own connections, the critical attitude to class conflict something which can appear relevant today with other prejudices.
on 11 March 2013
I feel sorry for students that have to study this book. In places it is very difficult to follow and until 2/3 the way through the book I really couldn't care enough to try and decypher it. The latter part was mush better and I became enthusiastic to see what was going to happen. Initially I could not relate to any of the characters, in fact I don't think there was any portrayal of characters,it just seemed to be a series of disjointed and shallow events. I read this on Kindle and wonder if something was lost in the transcription. Also the text was grey rather than black and that made it more difficult to read. Having said all this , I am glad to have read it and portrays a way of life lost in the past, (probably a good thing)