Dedicated to classics and hits.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Howards End (1910) by E.M. Forster

Book Review
Howards End (1910)
 by E.M. Forster

  Please note, there is no apostrophe in the title- that is a COMMON misconception.  I've been making my way through Howards End for months due to the fact that I've been reading it on my Kindle, and I actually lost my Kindle soon after I started, and I hardly use my Kindle anymore because I have run out of Public Domain books I can download for free on my Kindle  (most books published after 1915 are still under copyright, and therefore, not free.)

  Howards End continues to be a  "top 100 novels of all time" list perennial and I suppose this reflects both its continued popularity with the reading public, a plot that straddles the Victorian and Modern period, and a writing style that is unobtrusively sophisticated.  It says something about Forster as an author that his books can be read as "light" or subjected to the most searching analysis.  I think reading Forster in after reading late Victorian authors like Trollope or early Modernists like Henry James is a mistake, Forster is best enjoyed in isolation from his peers, as a kind of literary iceberg.

  This isn't because he is so different, quite the opposite.  Reading any of Forster's books can not but help to evoke his literary contemporaries, and some of the subtle pleasures of his work can be lost amidst the natural human instinct to compare like works of art.  If there is some aspect of Howards End (or any of Forster's hits) that is incredibly path breaking, I straight up missed it.  Finishing Howards End months after I'd finished the other books from this time period left me feeling nostalgic for simpler, pre-modernist literature, where men were rich, women were poor, and books were about marriage, property and families.

 In the 20th century, the literature of these types of concerns would expand to encompass the entire globe, but when Forster was writing, the intent focus on the concerns of the upper and upper middle classes of England and American was almost claustrophobic, and in this way Forster would be the last of the Anglo-American author to tread the grounds of his late-Victorian peers.  I'm reminded of William Faulkner's quote about Henry James, "Henry James was one of the nicest old ladies I've ever met."   Forster, a gay man who was not, in any sense of the word, "out."  Did not right about the physical passion that would obsess contemporaries like D.H. Lawrence.  His is the sexless world of the pre World War I Victorian aristocracy.   In Howards End, the half-German Schlegel sisters are his stand ins for the Bloomsbury group, and their sexuality is between unconvincing and non-existent.

   An illicit affair and illegitimate birth happens entirely off set.  Forster uses the birth to animate the end game of his inter generational story of marriage and property, but there is no physical passion on offer.  And clearly, this is something readers want and continue to want.

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