Saturday, September 27, 2014

Howards End by E.M. Forster (1910)


Listening to Howards End on audio, read aloud by the inestimable Nadia May.  I do not know how many times I've read this book - at least five.  It is one of those books with which I am slightly obsessed.

 "I believe we shall come to care about people less and less, Helen.  The more people one knows the easier it becomes to replace them.  It's one of the curses of London.  I quite expect to end my life caring most for a place."

Hearing this passage really struck me deeply this morning.  Is it true?  This certainly matches my idea of the circles of friendship, and how different people dance in and out of those circles.  Sometimes people you know and love are in the inner circle, the one nearest to family (which is the center, at least for most people).  The men and women you refer to as "almost like family."  But even they can dance outward, usually due to time and space, sometimes to emotion.  I'm not sure place can replace people though. 


As with all books I really love, I have a difficult time writing about them.  I’ve read Howard’s End so many times now that I just feel a part of the book.  Listening to it was a different experience though.  You hear everything, and the characters – which are always alive to me – are especially vivid.   And not completely likable.  I mean, you always sort of dislike the Wilcoxes, right?  They aren't written in a particularly sympathetic way.  Other than the first Mrs. Wilcox, and even she has some flaws.  Overly sensitive, I think – although she is dying, and no none knows that she’s dying – so I guess she’s entitled to be touchy and thin skinned.
It’s Leonard Bast that comes off as particularly unlikable, I think.  He’s really sort of a jerk, and I just don’t get what makes him attractive to Helen.  He’s one step short of a boor.  His earnestness is irritating rather than making him sympathetic or likable.  I came away from Howard’s End with a hope that I’m not a Leonard Bast.  I’ve always wanted to be more of a Schlegel – but perhaps the best people are the combination of the Wilcoxes and Schlegels.  I suppose that is partly what Forster means:  “Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer.”  A whole person is able to connect his Schlegel-ness and his Wilcox-ness.


“We are reverting to the civilization of luggage, and historians of the future will note how the middle classes accreted possessions without taking root in the earth, and may find in this the secret of their imaginative poverty.”  I did particularly like this, and think it’s true.  We are more about our Iphones and bags and tschotkes, our Halloween decorations and Christmas trees, our Le Crueset pots and laptops and lipsticks.  It’s scary the amount of stuff we acquire.  Forster was writing this a hundred years ago, and it’s still true.  He was very prescient about this and so many other things.


Howards EndHowards End by E.M. Forster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm almost (almost but not quite) obsessed with Howards End but I'm not exactly sure what it is about the book that obsesses me, engrosses me, haunts me about the novel. It's nothing in particular and everything about Forster's work - I think it's his greatest novel, and certainly one of my absolute favorites.  The adroitly written characters, the surprising plot, the comedy of manners and errors.  It's prescient too - Forster writing a century ago about Schlegels and Wilcoxes could have been writing about the 21st century.  "We are reverting to the civilization of luggage, and historians of the future will note how the middle classes accreted possessions without taking root in the earth, and may find in this the secret of their imaginative poverty," he writes - and our need for more and more things to make us happy seems more true now than at any other tim e in our history; good prognostication, Mr. Forster.  And in this time of horrible time of worry and strife, could "only connect" be any more important either?  I search and search for a book as meaningful and moving as Howards End; I come close occasionally, but nothing seems to surpass this wonderful, wondrous novel.  Nadia May's audio version is, to add a bit of Edwardian slang, too deevy!!!



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