After watching the BBC’s delightful 2017 adaptation, starring the brilliant Hayley Atwell and Matthew MacFadyen, I was inspired to put E. M. Forster’s turn-of-the-century classic, Howards End onto my new list for The Classics Club. Then in March, I picked this up thinking it would be perfect for spring.
Howards End is considered by many to be Forster’s masterpiece, in which the author explores the slowly changing landscape, social conventions, codes of conduct and relationships in turn-of-the-century England. He does this with humour and pathos through the lives and interactions of three very different London families: the bohemian Schlegels; the rich, capitalist Wilcoxes and the impoverished Basts. The meeting of individuals with such polarised social status, world outlook and economic situation makes for some positive effects, comical blunders but also some disastrous consequences.
What, or should I saw who, really made this novel for me was the engaging Margaret Schlegel, an intelligent, idealistic and independent woman, with a love of the Arts, nature, travelling and social justice. Who, in a time when there were still many constrictions on women, is courageous enough to live the life and be who she wants to be, whilst also lovingly accepting others for who they are. Highlighted in her unwavering love for her rather irritating younger siblings: the flighty Helen and the pompously philosophical Tibby.
Similar it is with her love and compassion that Margaret draws many of the other main characters into the story and drives the plot along. First she befriends Ruth Wilcox, the matriarch of the Wilcox family, who is sick and alone, and in Margaret, Ruth believes she has met a kindred spirit. This later leads to the blossoming romance between Margaret and the widowed Henry Wilcox, who is a kind, practical and unsentimental businessman. Margaret also encourages and tries to help Leonard Bast, a poor Bank clerk with a passion for literature and music, after Helen accidentally takes his umbrella.
A lot of the story takes place in London, a little on the coast and in the country, however in the air always hangs Howards End… This house was the prized possession of Ruth Wilcox, which she wished to bequeath to Margaret, however even though her family don’t feel the same about the place, yet they can’t bare to part with it either. I could so easily picture the old, rambling house set in its semi-wild gardens, surrounded by fields out in the suburbs; that have yet to be swallowed up by London’s gradual expansion. For much of the book the house lies empty and it is Margaret who unintentionally brings life back to it. Forster creates a beautiful symmetry: beginning and ending the story with Howards End.
Oh I could go on, but I will stop. Overall I thought Howards End was a touching, humorous and masterful tale of family, society and change in the early 20th century, with vibrant characters and vivid descriptions of place. This did turn out to be a perfect read for Spring. Great read.
Have you read this? Or anything else by E. M. Forster?
This is book 8/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.