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Howards End / A Room With a View / Where Angels Fear to Tread

by E. M. Forster

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A Room with a View:

Lucy Honeychurch (maybe one of the greatest character names ever composed) and her cousin Miss Bartlett finds themselves confronted with the unseemly and unconventional behavior Mr. Emerson and his son, George, while on holiday in Florence. Mr. Emerson and George offer to trade rooms with the ladies to provide them with a view of the river and countryside. Then, George rescues Lucy from the scene of a murder and escorts her home. George’s open and emotional approach to life appeal to a dark corner of Lucy’s soul, expressed only in her music. She battles against her feelings for George and against the emergence of any emotional freedom.

Forster is such a playful and delicately comedic author that the deeper message usually sneaks up on you altogether unnoticed. In [A Room with a View], Forster returns to his battle between conventional, outward civility and free, emotional expression. Much of his work touches on the strain between repressed convention and unrepressed freedom – [Howard’s End] in the context of social and familial relations and [A Passage to India] in the context of racial and national politics. But Forster’s touch is such a light one that the deeper issues in the story are usually swallowed with several laughs.

I’ve only scratched the surface with the characters, and Forster is a master character builder – Lucy’s cousin, Miss Bartlett, the fussy spinster; Mr. Beebe, the romantic rector; Cecil, the acerbic fop, etc., all form a melting pot of emotions and foibles that support great comedy and tragedy.

Bottom Line: Delicately comedic tale about the struggle between convention and freedom.

5 bones!!!!!
A favorite for the year!

Howards End:

Howards End plots the universal friction between the inner and outer lives. Margaret Schlegel and her sister Helen are clearly of the ilk whose lives are governed by the inner life of emotion and human connection. After a chance meeting on a holiday, Helen is invited to the country home of the Wilcox family, ruled by Henry Wilcox, a man of the world, of industry, and not a man who allows the heart, either his own or his families', to enter into the calculations of life. The country home, Howards End, turns out to be a concern more of his wife's than his own and the place enchants Helen and then Margaret through Helen's description. The two families collide over time, Margaret befriending Mrs. Wilcox and then Henry, until the Margaret and Henry reach the acme of their differences, posing a difficult choice. Both must choose how to conduct the remainder of their lives, either coldly plodding along, adrift from their senses and their spirits, or pursuing life in more abandon, directed by the soul rather than the intellect.

Forster is a master of the subtlety of human character, creating two families, driven by similar perspectives but able to advance or retreat by degrees in their choices and lives such that they are all interesting and believable and captivating. Margaret and Helen, and their brother Tibby, are all molded in the feelings of life, the emotions and the senses, but all three move through different paths and make distinct choices, all which lead to Forster's ultimate confrontation and resolution. Similarly, the Wilcox family are all built of the substance of the world, cast of stone and concrete, but all stand at different levels in the skyline of the story. Forster's construct fo these two opposing forces, battling over the soul of the story, Howards End itself, directs the reader to the inner battle of the soul, the battle between flesh and spirit.

This was a perfect story; never rushed, always complex, and constantly provoking introspection. Forster's eye for the divisions of human labor and society is unique. But in the end, his understanding of balance in life, the give and take, contibutes more to the resolution of these divisions than any utopian ideal. ( )
1 vote blackdogbooks | Jul 14, 2009 |
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This volume represents a comprehensive collection of the current criticism of E. M. Forster.

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