DISCLAIMER: mild spoilers ahead.
“To trust people is a luxury in which only the wealthy can indulge; the poor cannot afford it.”
I think my opening quotation captures the very essence of Howards End. It is a novel that is heavily concerned with Edwardian class warfare, in particular that of the middle-class. It’s a melancholy tale of three families at the turn of the century: the rich Wilcoxes, the moralistic Schlegels, and the lower-middle-class Basts. I think the novel’s obsession with class is why I enjoyed it so much. Class, specifically from the Regency period to the Edwardian era, is such an interesting topic. It determined so much for people: who they married, where they lived, where they worked, what possessions they had, and so on. I always find something new about these monolithic systems whenever I read a book concerned with class. Howards End was no different.
Through these three families, and through the complete disregard for any other class, Forster comments on the hardships and prosperity of this society. Through the idealistic Margaret Schlegel, Forster represents the section of the middle-class who are in tune with their morals. Through Mr Wilcox, he represents the section who are pompous and selfish. Through Leonard Bast, he represents the lower-middle-class who have to work hard for their money and accept whatever comes their way. It’s an incredibly rich novel, drawing attention to the conflict between this seemingly neutral social class. It’s very interesting that Forster decided to depict three different aspects of this class; it allowed readers to see that this class is not just a solid group of people. They are separate entities who are in conflict with one another. It brought to life a real issue of Edwardian England, granted not one of importance, but one that seemed important at the time. This was society’s main concern in the lead up to World War One; in hindsight, is interesting to see how this shifted afterwards.
There was just something I really enjoyed about this novel. Though the narrative started to run a little dry towards the middle, it thankfully picked up at the end when all the lies and death started to unravel. Forster has a very unique writing voice. This may have been another reason why I clicked with it. I was so captivated by his writing style. He would comment on the state of London during the climax of industrialisation in a satirical manner; he would denounce imperialism; and would criticise the gender inequality experienced in society. These are such refreshing things to see in classics; a genre that is usually traditional and conventional in their views. Forster did not conform to Edwardian conventions, but instead challenged them through ridicule and highly developed characters.
Underneath the surface of this novel is a whole hidden depth. Forster incorporated so much into this narrative it’s surprising my head didn’t explode. An interesting conflict that he explores is the city versus the country. The city, specifically London, is a main concern of the narrator’s. They are constantly questioning the moral taint the city can have on a character and their relationship to other people. A main critique is the constant changing or flux of the city. London is devouring everything within its sights, birthing new complexes and buildings out of nowhere, and destroying people’s livelihood and homes. It’s very much a city for the wealthy, thus leaving the people who struggle for money without safety. They are allocated to the dingy and dark sectors of London, whilst the rich can live in flashy apartments with enough room to shelter 20 plus people.
Then, on the other hand, the country is spoken of in such a beautiful way. It is the epitome of Englishness. It’s a place where one can connect to life, nature and the land. There is something so real about the countryside that cannot be found in the overflowing city. There is real value here which is all embodied by the house, Howards End. The way this country house is described pulls me into this belief that the city is our enemy. I think for this reason the chapters depicting Howards End were definitely my favourite. It was in these specific chapters I found elements of Romanticism tucked away; the appreciation of nature, the sublimity of it and the way it guides our characters echoes the likes of Wordsworth’s poetry.
Moreover, all of the characters were interesting and unique. They each brought something different to the narrative, giving us a whole range of individuals from all over the place. Margaret Schlegel was, without a doubt, my favourite. In a nutshell, she is a sensitive, emotionally charged and level-headed woman. I think she is someone we can all relate to in one way or another. She is constantly stuck between her head and heart. She tries to find the perfect balance in her unusually chaotic life. A lot of her struggles stem from the fact she never fails to see the good in people; she is sympathetic and understanding, which leads her into a constant battle of how to act. At the end of the novel, she transforms into an improved version of herself (and arguably mirrors the old Mrs Wilcox). In a way, I believe we are privileged to follow Margaret’s journey throughout the course of the book. She is an unusual and unique character, one that I don’t often come across. She was definitely a highlight for me.
On the whole, this is a fantastic novel. I really could go on for another hour or so about the complexities of this book, but I won’t. By now, you are probably aware of how much I enjoyed this book, hence why it was a favourite of mine last year. It’s a very humbling, thought-provoking and traditionally English tale. One that stands for more than just a petty warfare between social class. I think it’s a universal story in the sense that anyone could enjoy it; it’s not suited to particular group of people, or a particular genre, and so on. For that reason, I plead you to read it – you won’t regret it!
Side-note: I’d 100% recommend watching the latest BBC miniseries adaptation. It stars Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfadyen (the latter being my all-time favourite period drama actor). It’s so true to the novel, capturing the very heart of Forster’s Howards End.
4 out of 5 stars.
Thanks for reading, Lauren Xx
3 thoughts on “E.M Forster’s Howards End”
I love your review, it’s so in-depth and well thought out! E.M Forster’s A Room With A View is probably my favourite classic, so I’ve been eyeing up how other books for awhile now and this might just have to be my next one of his. I’m so glad to see you enjoyed it!!
I’ve been meaning to read A Room With a View for a while now but always thought it wouldn’t be my style. I’ll take your word for it and give it a go!! ❤️
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It’s a very slow book in the sense that not much happens, but it was just the perfect read for me at the time I picked it up! I feel like “quaint” is the perfect word to describe it 🙂