Monday, August 10, 2009

Howards End by Edward Morgan Forster

E. M. Forster’s Howards End
Penguin Books, 2000

The early twentieth-century novel Howards End is about conflict and resolution as it relates to ideals and reality, nation and society, men and women, art and nature, intellect and impulse, and wealth and poverty. Several families who embody different values and classes meet and are contrasted: friendships, love affairs, and financial relationships evolve and are at stake. The novel Howards End is an honest and imaginative attempt to come to grips with modern English society and what it seemed to be becoming—in terms of the development of capitalism and city life and their impact on individual opportunities and choices. Forster was aware of much and that awareness was invested in his novel—and calls to the reader’s own awareness. Howards End is a genuinely engaging and deeply impressive novel.

The life of the mind that is created for Margaret and her sister Helen, with art and theatre and reading and discussion, comes out of genuine observation, while the money-making, property-hoarding, and status-consciousness of Henry Wilcox and his family is equally believable. The vulnerability of the poor clerk Leonard Bast, who wants to belong to a world of culture, is too recognizable. With these characters the novelist E. M. Forster creates a story of human relationships in which larger forces—not only human psychology but environmental nature and spirituality, as well as social progress—are at work. It is, really, a very large vision, an exacting task: making the novel an aesthetic object, and something of use, a resource for understanding.