Sunday, May 17, 2015
It seems a bit stodgy in here
Howards End is a book that is very concerned with the question of What Really Matters - is it Art? Interpersonal Relationships? Productive Ability? History? In a lot of ways the novel is a precursor to The Great Gatsby - it examines the way that flighty socialites in entrenched classes can just absolutely wreck shit for people with less money and free time than they have. And I think that's really how the novel answers the question of What Really Matters - it's not shitting on everyone below you. That's what's important to Forster, not shitting on the poor, the middle class, women who get pregnant out of wedlock, porters, and basically anyone who doesn't own five country houses.
But, for all that it's a very egalitarian novel, the book is stuffy as all get out. It seems like it was written to be read only by the people it was criticizing - which is a good strategy for getting your message out but maybe a bad strategy for readability.
I had trouble liking anyone in the novel except for maybe Tibby, though Helen and Margaret became completely awesome at the very tail end of the novel. The entire Wilcox family is reprehensible, and I know I'm supposed to dislike them, but they seemed to have NO redeeming qualities and Margaret getting entangled with them made me like Margaret less.
Howards End is a fine book but frustrating to read at times and almost incomprehensibly bound up in turn-of-the-century English social ideals. I feel like there's a lot of subtlety that I missed by being a century removed from the story, and maybe I would have gotten more out of it if I had a better knack for picking up social understatement. As it is I'm happy I read it but I'll probably never read it again. Well, maybe just the bits with Tibby in them.
Forster, E.M., Howards End. Signet Publishing. New York: New York. 1992.(1910).