Howards End by E.M. Forster is a novel of ideas. It entertains the notion that there might be a connection between social classes and that all of them might be able to live together, even if not equally. It shows us the relationship between three different families in turn-of-the-century London: the Schlegels, who represent the bourgeoisie and intellectual elite; the Wilcoxes, the typical patriarchal family, extremely aristocratic and non-plussed by more earthly questions; and the Basts, a couple who are split between a passion for knowledge and rising up in life and simply being with the one they love.
For a novel that centers mostly around concepts and theories, the way Forster managed to weave all these concepts with a plot is masterful, and none of the sides ever gets sacrificed in spite of the other. The writing is exceptional and the way England is described is so beautiful that I forgot I've never been to the English countryside. Many of the criticism I've read online is that it's hard to relate to this book because it is so English and not universal enough. Maybe that is what appeals to me in it, but I don't think that its Britishness is a bad thing. And what is more universal than the struggle between wealth and poverty, power and uselessness?
My favourite characters were Margaret, whom I related a great deal to, and I had a special fondness for Leonard Bast, with his dreams and silent wishes of grandeur; of course, Howards End, which is a character all of its own. I saw a great deal of Byatt's The Children's Book in this, and now realize it was the other way around. The house is not merely the stage, but the actions and people all at once, much like Byatt's novel.
A terrific book, laced with precious snippets of phrases and words that made me smile in appreciation and also made me wonder about how status and intelligence was and is now perceived. Besides from being an amazingly written book with an interesting storyline, it was written before the great wars, showcasing the tensions between the English and the German, with precise little jabs I enjoyed very much. My first Forster, and certainly won't be my last.
Read from December 31st, 2011 to January 19th, 2012.