Revolving around the theme of “Only Connect”, Howards End concerns love, lies, death, and living. From the feisty Schlegel sisters, Helen and Margaret, to the upper-class Wilcoxes, Howards End also sees to the struggling Basts amidst discussions of social convention, wealth, charity, and relationships. In this turn-of-the-century novel, widely regarded as Forster’s best, Margaret is our strong-willed, independent protagonist, who refuses to let her husband’s smugness and closed-mindedness affect her own life.
This book is unequivocally English. Unlike Forster’s other novellas I have read (A Room With a View and Where Angels Fear To Tread) which both take place predominantly in Europe, Howards End takes place entirely in England, mostly in the rolling hills of the south, where I live.
I really loved the Schlegel sisters. For 1910, when this book was written, they would be seen as incredibly forward-thinking. Something I do love about EM Forster is his writing of women, because it’s not like the modern-day romance writer. Forster writes about women as real people, and Margaret and Helen have some of the most interesting, thought-provoking, and life-changing parts in the book. They are both catalysts for many of the events, and even in marriage, when a woman would be expected to submit to her husband, Margaret frequently stands her own ground and knows when she should and shouldn’t forgive her husband for doing something wrong.
The actual story, aside from ongoing thread of “who will inherit Howards End?” wasn’t entirely interesting, but something that carries Forster’s novels for me is the beautiful description. Whenever I open one of his books, I feel like I’ve jumped into the pages. The whole world melts away, and I just live the literature.
It may help that I actually live where much of the novel is set. The Schlegel sisters are from London, which was completely different in the turn of the century than now, but they often travel to Swanage, where I spent many summers, and to Hertfordshire and around the South Downs in general. I’ve read some criticism of the book that it wasn’t “universal” enough (whatever that means; when is a book ever “universal”?!) but for me, it was. It was like I’m standing on the same soil, just 100 years ago.
Whilst the main question of the story is “who will inherit Howards End?”, when we view the larger picture we end up asking, “Who will inherit England?” Forster uses three families, representing three different tiers of class in 1900s England – upper, middle, and working, and in many books, you’d expect these classes to remain separate. However, Forster mingles them with intermarriage and interbreeding. By the end of the novel, within the marriages and births and deaths, there are no clear cut “classes”; no one clear cut class ready to inherit Howards End – or England, as the metaphor goes.
I thoroughly enjoyed Howards End. It’s a book that I may not remember the exact story line of, but I am satisfied when I turn the last page.
Source: Bought from Waterstones