Monday, July 02, 2007

Howards End

I read Howards End because I was interested in how Zadie Smith used the 1910 novel for her own On Beauty. I'll have to save that comparison for another day. I wasn't expecting to enjoy Howards End, just to read it critically. I gave E.M. Forster's Passage to India a try many years ago and was so bored I couldn't finish. But Howards End was wonderful - it's the story of two women - Margaret and Helen Schlegel, liberal, early-feminists, and another family - the Wilcoxes - different from the women in almost every way. The book is very sympathetic to the women, and I found myself getting so indignant every time the Schlegel's encountered the Wilcox rudeness. Look what Forster has to say about the Wilcoxes:
Day and night the river flows down into England, day after day the sun retreats into the Welsch mountains, and the tower chimes: "See the Conquering Hero." But the Wilcoxes have no part in the place, nor in any place. It is not their names that recur in the parish register. It is not their ghosts that sign among the alders at evening. They have swept into the valley and swept out of it, leaving a little dust and a little money behind.

One of the themes of Howards End is the Home. Margaret repeatedly remarks that one of the downfalls of society is that so many people are nomadic - everyone rents, feeling no permanent homestead anywhere. This struck a note with me because several years ago we got ousted from an apartment we loved because it "went condo" as they say these days. The Schlegel's long-term rental also essentially "went condo" and they found themselves in a desperate search for a new home. The Wilcoxes had a home - Howards End, which was loved by the Wilcox matriarch but unappreciated by the rest of the clan.
Marriage had not saved her from the sense of flux. London was but a foretaste of this nomadic civilization which is altering human nature so profoundly, and throws upon personal relations a stress greater than they have ever borne before. Under cosmopolitanism, if it comes, we shall receive no help from the earth. Trees and meadows and mountains will only be a spectacle, and the binding force that they once exercised on character must be entrusted to Love alone. May Love be equal to the task!

Near the end, I feared I was being led through one of those awful, 19th century-ish British morality tales, but ultimately, I saw the book as a progressive look at the modern family and a tribute to the generosity of spirit.

1 comment:

Trish said...

I've had this book on my reading list for a couple of months now and keep putting it off. Thanks for the positive review and push in the reading direction.