Howards End: an introduction
Throughout July and August, some of the team behind Wildfell Zine will be reading E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel, Howards End. We will be publishing content throughout the next couple of months surrounding the novel but, for now, here are some introductory thoughts.
Asking ‘What’s so great about E.M. Forster?’, BBC Radio 3’s Arts and Ideas solicited many answers relevant to Howards End: his ferocious championing of the youth, deft combination of elaborate description with matter-of-fact plot delivery, and humorous and human musings on the English class system. So, I baulked when Laurence Scott claimed the novel lacks the classic Forsterian sense of place! A Shropshire ‘lass’, I find his romantic depictions of Shrewsbury and Oniton (Clun) overly charitable. But from the ‘feminine’, ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘intellectual’ Wickham Place, to the ‘masculine’, ‘feudal’, and ‘practical’ titular, Howards End triumphs in using place to explore personhood and psychology.
The unfortunate Leonard Bast of E.M. Forster’s Howards End is as endearing as he is calamitous. From Beethoven to Ruskin, his genuine love of art and culture makes him the novel’s most redeeming character. The other protagonists – the chaotic Schlegels and the haughty Wilcox family – appear more superficial in their love of the arts. Still, Forster’s commentary upon the theatrics of the Edwardian upper classes is reminiscent of some of the performances we might see today. The writer asks us to ‘only connect’, yet in this world of social media and instant messaging, such a simple task seems harder than ever.
In Howards End I felt I had reconnected with a lost friend. I had never read any Forster before - something of an embarrassment to someone emerging from a four-year English Literature degree. Yet the language of connection, the depiction of England and the centrality of sorority touched more than one nerve as I read page upon page in my lockdown living room. I will continue to think of this novel as we emerge from lockdown, as we try to ‘live in fragments no longer’.