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!