Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Howard's End and What We're Reading Wednesday

I finished Howards End by E. M. Forster about a week ago and I've been thinking ever since about what to write about it.

The thing is, I liked it but I didn't like it. Its a fairly interesting story with an intriguing heroine, Margaret Schlegel, but Forster is attempting to make a social commentary using storytelling. This almost always spells disaster. I'd say the development of most the characters really takes the hit. Margaret's sister Helen, becomes the epitome of the artistic, spiritual person rebelling against the capitalistic tendencies of the day, while Henry Wilcox, Margaret's husband, is simply a raging materialist. There seem to be little shades of real character until the ending, which makes for tough reading at times.

Despite this however Forster still comes away as an astounding writer. Not an astounding writer in terms of plots, characters, and even ideas or themes, but every once in a while a passage comes along which contains such beauty in terms of prose, description, and acute observational insight that it stops you in your tracks. Although a fleeting fancy, I think these passages make Forster worth reading, at least once.

I liked the idea of the story. Margaret and her sister Helen are artistic-types, who survive comfortably on a legacy of money, but they are actively concerned about the societal ills that plague post-Victorian British society and the relationship between rich and poor classes. They want to make things better for the poor, but like many rich then and now, have such a small understanding of what poverty means and how to help. They come into contact with the Wilcox family, a upper class family whose wealth has come from hard work and commercial success. The Wilcox's embody an upper class who looks down on those with less as a matter of personal fault and lack of initiative, they seem unfeeling towards those with less. As the Wilcox's and Schlegel sisters mix their differing world views collide and its only Margaret who can envision any peace being reached.

Margaret marries Henry Wilcox, the family's patriarch after the death of his wife, Margaret's friend. Margaret admired Mrs. Wilcox's love of home and its importance, although her death came before Margaret could understand it completely. Henry Wilcox falls in love (and term is used as a bit of a stretch here) with Margaret and their marriage rocks both their families. Both families come in contact with the Bast's, a couple from the bottom of the economic ladder whom Helen seeks to help and Mr. Wilcox be rid of, the Bast's propel the plot until its surprising ending.

I don't want to give to much away of the plot that deals with the Bast's because I feel that its surprising conclusion was the better part of this novel. I did not see the ending coming in quite that fashion. And yet, I was pleased that Margaret's balance wins over both philosophical extremes in her sister and husband.

Have you read Howards End ? Was it a classic? I haven't seen the movie - which seems impossible because I'm Emma Thompson's biggest fan, I swear - but I hope to this weekend so I'll let you know how I compare the two versions!

Linking with the great readers at What We're Reading Wednesday over at Housewifespice!


  1. I never made it through Howards End, not book nor movie form, but I love love loved A Room With A View- both versions.

  2. This sounds so interesting! I once attempted A Room with a View in high school, but got bored quickly. This one sounds like it might be more engaging. I'll keep it in mind next time I give Forster a try. :)

  3. I read it last year. I enjoyed it in a detached way. It didn't draw me in as much as I expected but it did make me think. History is a great love of mine and reading novels written in a particular time period always makes me reflect on what it would have been like to live at that time. Would I have been as blind/perceptive as this or that character. I love the insight I gain from a novel such as this, which tries to make sense of the world in which the author is living. It amazes me how different and how much the SAME we all are regardless of time.

  4. I watched the movie and it depressed me so much I've never really seriously considered reading the book...but I'm kind of pulling at loose ends for books these days, so with your recommendation, I might just look at it. Let us know what you think of the movie! The opening scene with Emma Thompson is one of the most gorgeous pieces of cinematography I think I've ever seen.

  5. I read it and feel pretty much the same way you do. It's intriguing but the social commentary is heavy-handed. I don't remember much about the movie, but I did see it and I think it was pretty true to the book.

  6. Flat characters are a pet peeve of mine. I feel weird saying this, but I think I'd rather have a plot I hated or characters I hated than characters that are too unrealistic to either love or hate. Anyway, why am I going on about this? I haven't read any of Forster's books or seen the movies. I think I'm stuck in my own teenaged reading habits...

  7. I read passage to India, and know where you are coming from. I actually really enjoy reading his work, but it is impossible to let the story be itself when he so very much has an agenda he is leading you toward.

  8. I remember liking the book, but it could just be because I read it in college with a fantastic professor who pointed out all the nifty stuff. I do love me the film version. Helena Bonham Carter is her usually bizarre self and Emma Thompson is my homegirl. Sometimes I think we should skype while watching Netflix movies together? But I'd have to learn how to skype so, there goes that plan. <3


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