4 journalers for this copy...
I was going to say not to expect a fast review on this, as it joins the enormous flanks of Mt TBR, but in fact I picked it up off the pile when preparing for a late lunch after not going to France this morning...
So - an interesting read and a good intellectual exercise to "spot the echoes"! I will now pass it on by wild release or at a meetup.
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
Giving this to BookGroupMan at the Unconventio
ps. a few of the early pages are missing, it starts on p7 of the intro/notes section. Just to let you know; it hasn't stopped me starting to read it already!
I read this book for 2 reasons; as background...erm...research before I tackle Zadie Smith’s new novel (based loosely on HE), and because someone recommended it – I forget who!
So, the point being, I normally approach Edwardian writing with some degree of caution. My perception from admittedly minimal exposure to fiction from this period is of silly upper-class twits bombing around the English countryside in the new-fangled motor cars, the gay* artistic Bloomsbury Set, obscured under the long shadow of the end-of-empire and the clouds of the Great War looming in the distance. Of course attributing a single style and cast of characters to 10 years of literature is ridiculous, but we are nothing but the sum of our knowledge, experiences & prejudices ;)
Howards End is all these things, but the strength of the writing, and Forster’s beautifully drawn observations on class, privilege, morality, the gender war, and the poignant loss of hopes & aspirations, make it an absorbing book. But possibly the stongest thread is a fin de secle wistfulness for a lost, or fast disappearing, English rural idyll...the totemic house ‘Howards End’ with its Wych Elm, meadow and glorious views; the transition from the romanticized horse & cart and train to the demonized car; the continuing urban spread and sprawl outwards from London towards the fictional village of Hilton (in Herts, although there is talk about the growing ‘new’ town of Stevenage?)
So to the plot, condensed. This is about connections between people, across class divides, between individuals and their own individuality (as opposed to external, machinistic and non-spiritual matters) and between people and the countryside, a house, the idea of a house. Forster repeats the theme, through the older Schlegel sister Margaret, "Only connect! Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be at its highest." Such is Margaret's, largely failed (IMHO), attempt to change her older businessman husband Henry Wilcox, erstwhile of Howards End. But she has other problems, despite a seemingly limitless private income, her younger sister Helen cannot seem to find and sustain the right sort of practical relationship beyond her idealistic and quite child-like outlook, and her brother Tibby (gay?) also drifts through life...they are all rootless orphan’s until Howards End and the Wilcox family promise some stability and pragmatic balance to their artistic tendencies; they (the Wilcoxes) seemed to always have their ‘hands on the ropes’. But, in the end Helen’s misplaced allegiances with Paul Wilcox and then her charity ‘project’ Leonard Bast bring a series of touchpoints-between and disasters-upon the 2 families. But it’s hard to feel sorry for anyone, accept maybe the ethereal presence of the first Mrs Wilcox (nee Howard, the last, or 'end' Howard?).
As Forster himself very honestly says about the novel and its characters, "Have only just discovered why I don’t care for it; not a single character in it for whom I care...I feel pride in the achievement, but cannot love it..."
Finally, a quote that I like – Forster uses the idea a couple of times that, "Death destroys a man; the idea of death saves him."
And finally again(!), I’m intrigued that the Schegel’s might be based on Vanessa and Virginia Stephen (later Woolf) and their brother Thoby. Despite what I said earlier I like the novels of Virginia Woolf, so I may look out for her biography and parallels with Helen?
*in the old sense (but sometimes in the new sense as well; Maurice/Brideshead Revisited?)
WILD RELEASE NOTES:
I took this along to today's Ipswich meet-up, trying to interest someone in continuing this 'ring' This copy has got a bit tatty, not helped by me dropping it in a puddle on my way to Caffe Nero :( I hope it dries out and finds another appreciative reader.
( it has dried out nicely with no permanent damage)