Howard's End is a charming country house in Hertfordshire which becomes the object of an inheritance dispute between the Wilcox family and the Schlegel sisters. Through romantic entanglements, disappearing wills, and sudden tragedy, the conflict over the house emerges as a symbolic struggle for England's very future. A clear, vibrant portrait of life in Edwardian England, Howard's End deals with personal relationships and conflicting values.
The story revolves around the Schlegels, Wilcoxes and Basts, three families whose lives interconnect over the course of several years and not necessarily always for the better, and at the center of the story is always the country home, Howards End. The book is an amazing study of class distinctions; passion versus intellect; constraint versus action; wealth versus poverty.
The Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, are passionate for life; they want to experience as much as they can from it. The Wilcoxes come from a more conservative stock, more it tune with their wealth and possessions than anything else. After a hastily announced (as just as hastily broken) engagement between the youngest Wilcox son, Paul, and Helen, the families find themselves at odds, until an unlikely friendship forms between Mrs. Wilcox and Margaret Schlegel. Upon Mrs. Wilcox's death, she leaves Howards End to Margaret, but the Wilcoxes as a whole do not feel that Mrs. Wilcox was in her right frame of mind and never let Margaret know of Mrs. Wilcox's bequest. In amidst these settings we are also introduced to Leonard Bast, who lives on the brink of poverty and feels that through education and enlightenment he might better his life and that of his fiancée, Jacky.
There are so many subtle nuances to this story, I have a hard time getting it all down on paper. Forster has created an amazing story that is poignant in its telling and staggering in it depth. No matter how many times I read Howards End, I am always amazed at the intricacies of the story and feel that I take something new away with each reading.
Helen meets the Wilcoxes and falls in love with their ways and the titular house. Manages to resist marrying into the family, knowing it would not do. Two years later, after Mrs. Wilcox has passed away, Margaret is drawn to the Wilcoxes and marries Mr. Wilcox. It all begins very well; Margaret plays Rosamond Vincy.
Unfortunately, while Mrs. Wilcox is another one of Forster's Mrs. Moore characters - one of those women with an overwhelmingly exceptional presence yet nothing special about them in particular - Mr. Wilcox is set in his little ways. Wanting to appear knowledgeable, he assuredly gives unsound financial advice, bungles his house purchases, and blames it all on someone else, in a most high-handed way. Margaret wants to use her love to reform him.
I enjoyed this book, despite finding most of the characters despicable (Charles, Mr. Wilcox, Tibby, etc.)
All of the prose makes the book readable but at the same time it is sometimes so wordy I find myself switching off and then having to reread and missing plot points.
It is a book about a changing nation and changing society. The end of the height of the empire when to be English is to be the best and brightest but before the First World War which changed England's relationship with Europe and society as a whole. Each character seems to be looking for stability when everything is changing around them. Charles wants the security of money Henry wants a return to the comfort of marriage. Meg wants a home to feel secure in. Helen wants to find truth and justice and doesn't comprehend that no one else cares for either. I do wonder if Forster was totally sexist and really thought women were as they are portrayed, or if he was just writing the commonly held views of the time.
When people discuss this novel, they often refer to Margaret as the heroine and Henry Wilcox as the hero. I agree that Margaret is the heroine: she is the stabilizing factor for all the other characters. In the end, everyone comes to her for advice or support. She, ultimately, fulfils the novel’s imperative to connect while the others stumble or create muddles. But Henry doesn’t strike me as a hero, for the same reason that Helen is not a heroine. Both become overcome by trying to remain rigid in their philosophies and ideals to the detriment of themselves and others. Helen becomes hysterical and unhinged in her quest to help Leonard. The novel suggests this stems from her brief romance, and subsequent disappointment, with Paul Wilcox. While both Schlegel sisters are dreamy and have lofty expectations of Love and Death, Margaret becomes more realistic and accepting of people and things the way they are, while Helen rails against them. While she tries to do good and seek justice, she actually creates chaos. Henry, with his rigid ideals of how everything and everyone should be, rules the Wilcox family with condensations and a touch of the bully. His proposal to Margaret opens him up to new ideals, but it isn’t until he fully surrenders himself to her that he is able to truly connect with anyone on an emotional level.
Like Forster’s other novel, A Room with a View, things start with a muddle, get more and more agitated, then finally explode before settling into a calm.
Reread for a book club meeting. Forster could get so many things right about human relationships. But his class prejudices really stood out for me during this reading. He makes us care for Leonard, but at the same time he makes us feel liking someone like Leonard is somehow unpleasant, lowering. God forbid you ever were a Leonard, reading this book -- it makes you feel embarrassed by your own edge of genteel roots. At least Leonard warrants enough attention from Forster to deserve killing off (by the deluge of books, no less -- the visual of watching this in the film struck me for the first time how Leonard is literally killed by the weight of the culture he can never fully gain); poor Jacky warrants no mention at all at book's end.
Forster as his best.
Because of the lack of immediate page-turning storyline, patience is certainly the most important virtue a reader requires when approaching this novel. However, Forster's writing style is extremely easy to follow, which helps to delve into the story. This is helpful because the story seems to drag for a majority of the novel, leaving the reader wondering where in the world Forster is planning on taking them.
One of Forster's core beliefs concerning the novel was that plot was of minimal importance. Plot is simply to serve as a means-to-an-end--it is a device simply utilized to suggest a broad social critique. When the novel is concluded, it becomes clear this is the case with Howards End. Characters such as Leonard, an insurance clerk of the lower echelon of Britain's socioeconomic ladder are presented as incredibly complex, but developed briefly and not touched upon for large chunks of the novel. Leonard lacks intelligence concerning fine art, but not or lack of trying. After encountering Forster's two protagonists who are of a high-art, liberal (and borderline feminist) persuasion, Leonard desires to increase his knowledge of art and fiction, and begins to resent his simplistic wife, who represents everything he loathes within himself.
Leonard's complexity comes to us in the span of two short chapters and is not touched upon for most of the novel. I had a sense of him being key to the conclusion of the story (and was correct!), though I had no idea how. Because of his disappearance from the plot, much of the novel, especially the middle bits, seem to needlessly drag. I almost began to hate reading the novel, but the last one hundred pages turned brought me back around and caused me to love the story, and the points Forster made.
The core of the story deals with political struggles. The liberal Schlegal sisters alternate between being disgusted by the aristocratic and conservative Wilcox family and admiring them. The Schlegals are introduced to the Wilcoxes before the story even begins. They start to constantly intersect the Wilcox's affairs both intimately and casually. The first chapter describes to us how the youngest sister (Helen) hastily becomes engaged to one of the youngest of the family. The engagement quickly turns to be a sham. Besides, with their alternating world-views, would it have worked out anyway? After this, the Wilcox family becomes a constant physical, emotional, and even spiritual presence in the sisters' lives, fueling the banter of ideas between the two clans. The Schlegal sisters (mainly the older one, Margaret) come under their influence and begin to question their own ideals, such as the belief that women should someday be allowed employment the same as men.
The banter between the two families serves as much of the entertainment of the novel, but because of the length of the book, it becomes exhausting. Luckily, Forster saves his reader from utter boredom with the final third of the novel. This concluding section tackles taboo (for the early 1900s) subjects such as pregnancy out-of-wedlock, and how societal reactions negatively impact the pregnant woman in question. Many pieces written circa the same period (the book was published in 1910) would be undoubtedly condemn this type of woman as a harlot who is not fit for Christian society. Forster remains hopeful on the subject, treating it with compassion and acceptance. He urges his society to do the same, which for the time was quite a bold statement.
Like all Forster novels, Howards End is tame when compared to what is being written today. However, if this novel is read for the time piece that it is, it should be an all-together inspiring experience. It is comforting to know that people such as Forster existed in a time of intolerance. His works were anything but groundbreaking.
I didn't love this novel quite as much as I loved A Room with a View, but it was still a lovely story about how some people deliberately misunderstand each other, while others make similar efforts at understanding (which becomes in and of a conflict), how people make mistakes and are forgiven, and how life can come around to happiness if only you have a good home to take root in.
There are three principal groups of characters, each representing a different social strata. The Schlegels — principally the older sisters, Margaret and Helen — are members of the leisure class, having old money and intellectual rather than professional pursuits. The Wilcoxes represent the rising middle class. And the Basts are working class, living on the edge of extreme poverty, at the mercy of those above them. These three families, thrown together by the cultural shifts happening around them, entangle their lives, with tragic consequences.
However, all of these characters share a flaw, which directly contributes to the tragedy. They all isolate themselves, a pervasive modern problem that Forster presciently portrays here. No character has a real community or sense of belonging. The Schlegels, particularly Margaret, separate themselves via their eccentricities, their insular family life and their intellectual pursuits, which help them avoid emotional entanglements. But the sisters, at least, long for connection. Margaret wants to belong to a community; Helen craves romance. Yet they keep failing to find the connection they seek. The Wilcoxes hold themselves aloof with their antiquated social principles, their hasty judgments of others and their unspoken sense of inferiority to the moneyed upper classes. Leonard Bast is separated not only by his class, but by his refusal to settle for his lot in life, which he is told he must accept. He tries to hold himself to an ideal he has only read about in novels, which leads him into a marriage that he know will be bad and that estranges him from his family.
That is why the novel begins and ends with a house: Howards End. It isn’t a grand estate, but it represents a sense of continuity and belonging, of something that will endure. The Schlegel girls instinctively feel at home at Howards End, and the Wilcoxes are loathe to give it up, even though they don’t really value it. When Margaret forms a rare true connection with the first Mrs. Wilcox, she wants to leave Margaret Howards End, because she understands its importance and feels that Margaret will likewise value it, protect it and pass it on. In a world of change and upheaval, Howards End is a constant, and lives that are lived there, however quiet, are meaningful lives.
Howards End is not as much of a pleasure to read as A Room With a View. There are certainly passages where Forster wanders off into obtuseness or inserts too much authorial opinion. But it’s a valuable book to read, to understand this time in history, and perhaps even shed some light on our modern discontents.
Its an interesting book. Its well written, but I don't think its that great. As I read the book, I had a hard time following who was talking, how time was handled, and spent a lot of time backtracking.
The story was interesting, but only because I enjoyed learning about how the Schlegal sisters friends and companions. As a modern woman, I was absolutely appalled at how Margaret Schlegal accepted a marriage proposal from Mr. Wilcox. As for Leonard, his story is important, but it isn't a large part of the book. He's pretty much only there as a project for the two Sisters and as a comparison to Mr. Wilcox.