I was really hoping to enjoy Howards End as I did A Passage to India, but alas, try as I might, I was either bored or annoyed while reading this E. M. Forster novel. The boredom crept in during the narrator’s various rants and the annoyance set upon me when female characters acquiesced to the whim of any available man. Yes, yes I realize it was published in 1910, however, to introduce a strong and cerebral female character only to have her become a submissive wife is, well, it is just wrong. Pish posh to me. Given all this criticism, I must acknowledge that the writing was quite good.
We have the wealthy Wilcox family, the intellectual Schlegel family and the piteous Mr. & Mrs. Bast as our cast of characters seemingly reflecting class struggles and the battle of the sexes. Unfortunately, we end up with strong women who become reticent in the presence of the opposite sex and the wealthy carrying on ignorant of any matters that do not directly effect them.
The eldest and caretaker to her siblings, Margaret Schlegel, was indeed, a most frustrating character. She befriends the wealthy Mrs. Wilcox whom she introduces to her intellectual friends who all dismiss her upon seeing that she is not a woman of opinions. After Mrs. Wilcox’s sudden death, it is found that she bequeathed her home at Howards End to Margaret, however, the remaining Wilcox family does not honor the request. Margaret remains in the dark about the bequest and marries the widowed Mr. Wilcox, not her equal in age nor intellect, and inexplicably begins yielding to her husband’s wishes.
Helen Schlegel has more depth than her sister. We meet her as a young impetuous woman and actually see her grow into a person who can accept others while still remaining true to her own beliefs. One can only hope that her return near the end of the book and her decision to live with Margaret, will allow her to influence her sister and reawaken her thinking.
Leonard Bast was the most likable and believable character in the book. He realizes early on, that although he can appreciate the arts and is stimulated by thoughtful conversations, he does not have the means, nor will he ever, to support such a life style. Not surprisingly, tragedy befalls this crestfallen chap.
There were several unexplained scenarios and underdeveloped characters that left this reader rather frustrated. Why Mrs. Wilcox never sought medical care was never made clear and the tryst between Helen and Leonard seemed far fetched. Jacky Bast and Miss Avery were two interesting characters that we never get to know and certainly should have.
It is the vice of a vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness, to think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful that one square mile, and that a million square miles are almost the same as heaven.
If only he could talk like this, he would have caught the world. Oh, to acquire culture! Oh, to pronounce foreign names correctly! Oh, to be well-informed, discoursing at ease on every subject that a lady started! But it would take one years. With an hour at lunch and a few shattered hours in the evening, how was it possible to catch up with leisured women, who had been reading steadily from childhood?
It is thus, if there is any rule, that we ought to die–neither as victim nor as fanatic, but as the seafarer who can greet with an equal eye the deep that he is entering, and the shore that he must leave.
Surely a chat with Mr. Forster would be refreshing, but I’d have to avoid discussing Howards End in too much detail, as its said to be his favorite and is obviously not mine. Perhaps I’d steer the conversation to his later years and works.
My rating for Howards End is a 7 out of 10.
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