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Howards End by E. M. Forster
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Howards End (1910)

by E. M. Forster

Other authors: David Lodge (Introduction)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
Margaret and Helen Schlegel meet the Wilcox family during a vacation in Germany. Helen, the younger sister, falls in love with Paul, one of the Wilcox sons, but the two soon break off the hastily made engagement after realizing that they aren't right for each other. Margaret, meanwhile, befriends Ruth, the Wilcox matriarch, who entertains her companion with stories about her ancestral home. The house, Howards End, is Ruth's pride and joy, though no one else in her family appreciates its charms. Margaret never manages to visit the house before Ruth's untimely death, but unbeknownst to her Ruth bequeaths the house to the eldest Schlegel. Ruth's family, horrified at the thought of losing the house, burn Ruth's will and ignore their mother's dying request. Ultimately, though, Margaret does find her way to Howards End, albeit in a way no Wilcox anticipated. Woven into the narrative of the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes is the story of the Basts, an impoverished couple trying to rise beyond their lower class limitations.

Howards End is one of the titles on that famous 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. There was a time when I thought I'd actually try to conquer that particular mountain, so I ordered a bunch of the titles on the list from various book-swapping websites. As life got busy my enthusiasm waned, and the books got shuffled in with my other to-be-read tomes and were forgotten. Howards End resurfaced only because I happened to download an audio version of the story.

So what made this book so great that it was included in the 1001 Books list? Well, it is a rather biting social commentary on early 20th century England. The Schlegels are kindhearted women who mean to do well, but when it comes to practically applying their book knowledge to helping the less fortunate, they fare poorly. They pass bad advice on to Mr. Bast, who quits a steady job clerking at a firm only to find himself much worse off than before. But at least the Schlegels realize their error. Mr. Henry Wilcox is incredibly callous and cold; it was he that declared the firm that Mr. Bast worked at doomed to imminent failure and triggered the young man's state of unemployment, but after grandly declaring a few days later that the firm is in fact one of the soundest in England, Wilcox does absolutely nothing to remedy the situation his careless comment has created.

Yet of all the characters, it is Henry Wilcox who ultimately experiences the greatest transformation and growth over the course of the novel. It seems a bit of a stretch to call him the hero, but his change could be called heroic.

But though it is prettily written, and the characters pleasantly complex, I didn't find Howards End particularly memorable. As Librarything user AlCracka drily notes, “There are a million books about the inner lives of English people. Here is one of them.” It's a nice, diverting read but I'm just not convinced that it's really a book one must read before death. ( )
  makaiju | Jun 5, 2014 |
Reading this at the time I did is an event I can only describe as 'lucky', seeing as how both my reasoning and the circumstances hardly heralded how much I would love this work. The facts: Carson's [The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos] left me with a craving for something white and male and English, a rare beast these days that has made this the seventh work out of 45 read this year that fits that all too often ubiquitous combination of characteristics. I turned to the stacks, thinking on the days of Maugham and James and pondering the latter's [The Ambassadors] as the likely candidate before remembrance of the author's hate for feminists dampened my mood. Then I remembered Forster and his [A Room with a View], filmed but never read, and pulled out my combined edition that despite never having wished to read [Howards End] I had never seen fit to replace. I flipped to the front and lo! the cover had lied, and HE proceeded ARwaV. After muddling through the Listopia lists left me scoffing yet intrigued by HE's place on 'Best Feminist Books' (ha!), I began to read.

This is not [Middlemarch], or [Shirley], or some flavor of androgynous voice, but of the same strain of warm insight that paints a picture of privilege without pretense. There is acknowledgement of classism, anti-intellectualism, Imperialism, even the overarching sexism that initially drew me on to testing these waters, and yet here are humans that I feel for utterly. Forster must have read his Hugo to have such a taste for daydreaming digressions on Place and Time and the usual Big Ideas, but not too much, else the politickings would have been more in evidence in both composition and biography. He also made a wonderful effort to portray the Female Voice, something that the French master for all his overt empathy never quite achieved.

Where Hugo rhapsodizes on war and justice, Forster contemplates domesticity and the everyday, less admirable in his lack of stridency, more appreciated for his keen insight into what powers these lives of ours when the climax is through and we're left to ride out the rest. I've stolen the phrase "soap opera with brains" from an unfortunately forgotten individual for a review before and I'll steal it again, for a world in which we denigrate our humble to's and fro's as not fit for "quality" entertainment is a sad world indeed. As often as I speak of social justice, I would go mad if I were to live in the mindset forevermore, the strain of dwelling on idealism too long in this reality of ours being what it is. Sometimes, I must rest my hat on the guarantee that I'll be coming back to it for the rest of my life, and go off to a place where the need for equality is recognized without forbearing the sentiment of simple pleasures.

Although Forster has his moments of naive whimsy that forbid me from declaring this a favorite, I will admit to loving this book, balancing as it does action with thought, practicality with philosophy, efficiency with insight. Best of all, letting each side appeal to the other with the necessary determination to see the attraction through without sudden windfall or other poor excuses of deus ex machina. Also, scenes of women ferociously ripping apart double-standards of gender, mental health, and love, setting forth to develop their own sense of things and given the capability to achieve their vision? Yes please.

And now, off to the long intended [A Room with a View]! ( )
2 vote Korrick | May 29, 2014 |
Having read another of Forster's works, 'The Longest Journey', I expected this novel to be terrible. I was surprised that I very much enjoyed it. A clever plot where various individuals are woven together and then parted again, nothing improbable and I found it very cleverly done. Very interesting also for the exploration of arts relationship to everyday life.
  benshelf1 | Mar 22, 2014 |
Margaret and Helen Schlegel are idealistic, artistic, and seem to exist in a world untouched by the realities of the increasingly modern world in which the Wilcoxes thrive. When the lives of the Schlegel sisters intersect with those of the Wilcox clan, it is a surprisingly long lasting connection that will ripple through their lives for years to come.

A lovely novel that is as much about the encroachment of modern life as it is about the fascinating relationship between the Schlegel sisters. Written with gorgeous prose, Forster creates a beautiful world for the Schlegels to exist in within a bubble of money and ideals that is constantly buffeted by the realities in which the Wilcoxes reside. Fascinating for its depiction of Edwardian society in the years prior to WWI, this is a quiet but enthralling classic novel to experience. ( )
  MickyFine | Feb 23, 2014 |
It's one of those books I should give 4 stars to for writing quality but it's kind of a 2 in terms of how well it reverberated in my mind (which is to say it is Not For Me), so I'll split the difference and call it a 3. Forster and I do not see eye to eye and I didn't understand what he even really meant half the time. Just not my kind of thing. ( )
  marti.booker | Dec 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
"The season's great novel"
added by GYKM | editDaily Mail
 
"A fine novel"
added by GYKM | editGraphic
 
"My impression is that the writer is a woman of a quality of mind comparable to that of the Findlater sisters or to May Sinclair."
added by GYKM | editChicago Tribune
 
"A story of remarkably queer people"
added by GYKM | editWestern Mail
 

» Add other authors (65 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
E. M. Forsterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lodge, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hynes, SamuelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klett, ElizabethNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pennanen, EilaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"Only Connect . . ."
Dedication
First words
One may as well begin with Helen’s letters to her sister.
Quotations
Theatres and discussion societies attracted her less and less. She began to ‘miss’ new movements, and to spend her spare time re-reading or thinking . . . she had outgrown stimulants, and was passing from words to things. It was doubtless a pity not to keep up with Wedekind or John, but some closing of the gates is inevitable after thirty, if the mind itself is to become a creative power.
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
Margaret greeted her lord with peculiar tenderness on the morrow. Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monk, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the grey, sober against the fire. Happy the man who sees from either aspect the glory of these outspread wings. The roads of his soul lie clear, and he and his friends shall find easy-going.
The train sped northward, under innumerable tunnels. It was only an hour’s journey, but Mrs. Munt had to raise and lower the window again and again. She passed through the South Welwyn Tunnel, saw light for a moment, and entered the North Welwyn Tunnel, of tragic fame. She traversed the immense viaduct, whose arches span untroubled meadows and the dreamy flow of Tewin Water. She skirted the parks of politicians. At times the Great North Road accompanied her, more suggestive of infinity than any railway, awakening, after a nap of a hundred years, to such life as is conferred by the stench of motor-cars, and to such culture as is implied by the advertisements of antibilious pills. To history, to tragedy, to the past, to the future, Mrs. Munt remained equally indifferent; hers but to concentrate on the end of her journey.
They were both at their best when serving on committees. They did not make the mistake of handling human affairs in the bulk, but disposed of them item by item, sharply. ... It is the best—perhaps the only—way of dodging emotion.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0486424545, Paperback)

Margaret Schlegel, engaged to the much older, widowed Henry Wilcox, meets her intended the morning after accepting his proposal and realizes that he is a man who has lived without introspection or true self-knowledge. As she contemplates the state of Wilcox's soul, her remedy for what ails him has become one of the most oft-quoted passages in literature:
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
Like all of Forster's work, Howards End concerns itself with class, nationality, economic status, and how each of these affects personal relationships. It follows the intertwined fortunes of the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, and the Wilcox family over the course of several years. The Schlegels are intellectuals, devotees of art and literature. The Wilcoxes, on the other hand, can't be bothered with the life of the mind or the heart, leading, instead, outer lives of "telegrams and anger" that foster "such virtues as neatness, decision, and obedience, virtues of the second rank, no doubt, but they have formed our civilization." Helen, after a brief flirtation with one of the Wilcox sons, has developed an antipathy for the family; Margaret, however, forms a brief but intense friendship with Mrs. Wilcox, which is cut short by the older woman's death. When her family discovers a scrap of paper requesting that Henry give their home, Howards End, to Margaret, it precipitates a spiritual crisis among them that will take years to resolve.

Forster's 1910 novel begins as a collection of seemingly unrelated events--Helen's impulsive engagement to Paul Wilcox; a chance meeting between the Schlegel sisters and an impoverished clerk named Leonard Bast at a concert; a casual conversation between the sisters and Henry Wilcox in London one night. But as it moves along, these disparate threads gradually knit into a tightly woven fabric of tragic misunderstandings, impulsive actions, and irreparable consequences, and, eventually, connection. Though set in the early years of the 20th century, Howards End seems even more suited to our own fragmented era of e-mails and anger. For readers living in such an age, the exhortation to "only connect" resonates ever more profoundly. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:17:43 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

When impetuous Helen Schlegel believes herself to be in love with Paul, the youngest of the Wilcox sons, she sparks off a connection between the two families that leads to collision.

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Two editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

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