It’s incredible–I’m a British lit nerd and somehow missed Howards End by E.M. Forster. I’ve never even seen the Merchant/Ivory production! How did this happen???? Well, I’m now 1 for 2, so I guess the long weekend will be spent watching the adaptation, right?
Howards End is described as a representation of Late Victorian England (but I’d argue it’s so much more than that) through three families: the middle-class and pragmatic Wilcoxes, determined to maintain status quo and retain their foothold on their wealth; the ideologically-oriented upper-class and somewhat foreign Schlegels use their influence to think about literature, art, and philosophy; and the working-class Basts strain against the confines of poverty and class hierarchy. These three families converge on the idea of Howards End, the establishment loved by Mrs. Wilcox and no one else. She leaves it to Margaret Schlegel, but her wish is not considered lawful and goes to waste. The series of events that unfold bind the families in a variety of ways.
I am deliberately avoiding spoilers, because there are some genuinely exciting moments and secrets in here. The relationships that unfold are raw, and Forster packs in some real feminist punches. I enjoyed those aspects of the novel immensely. I also really appreciated the discussion of morality as an individual idea, one that does not necessarily stem from religion but from an individual’s sense of right/wrong and fidelity to self. It seems that we lose this sense of manners and morals in the discussion of England As Metaphor (nothing wrong with that–I think it’s good to put down the metaphor once in awhile, and examine other cultural aspects). If you are not a hardcore Anglophile as I am, you might find it a bit slow. So, let me just say this: start with Pride and Prejudice. Go to The Age of Innocence next. Then try this, and see if the novel of manners is the genre for you.