Howards End Howards End discussion

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message 1: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sherry Let's start discussing this on May 1, 2008.

Kellie This is one of my top three favorite novels, how exciting!

message 3: by Jan (new)

Jan Livingston This is one of my all time favorites..I even own this book. I would love to discuss it.

Melissa Okay, I've only started reading ... but why did my iTunes shuffle start playing Brahms' Four Serious Songs just after I'd read the chapter about the concert at the Queen's Hall? Too eerie. I like that kind of thing.

message 5: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim The Great Issues of Howard’s End are class conflict and sexual politics or in the words of Lionel Trilling quoted on the back of my paperback edition “Who shall inherit England”?

Personally, I wince a bit at the thought of Great Issues. We had a course in college called Great Issues which consisted of lectures by distinguished thinkers and required attendance by all seniors. This course was informally renamed Grey Tissues and part of freshman hazing was to sit in the seats assigned to the seniors.

From what I have read, Trilling’s essay on Howard’s End was the high point in his career as a critic. Given his Trotskyist beginnings, I can imagine him jumping 5 feet in the air trying to hit this one out of the ballpark. My own leanings are more toward the personal. I am more interested in why Margaret ever married Henry than who shall inherit England or even Howard’s End (or is that a symbol for England?).

I am also interested in Forster’s change of tone from paragraph to paragraph.. You begin in the middle of a Oscar Wilde farce:

“The interlude closes. It has taken place in Charles’ garden at Hilton. He and Dolly are sitting in deck-chairs, and their motor is regarding them placidly from its garage across the lawn. A short-frock edition of Charles also regards them placidly; a perambulator edition is squeaking; a third edition is expected shortly. Nature is turning out Wilcoxes in this peaceful abode, so that they may inherit the earth”

Three paragraphs later you are reading:

“She would only point out the salvation that was latent in his own soul, and in the soul of every man. Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.”

Another element that interests me is the way that characters don’t quite behave the way that you might expect. Mrs. Wilcox seems like the essence of graciousness in her first appearance and then makes that awkward approach to the Schlegels. A couple of characters who seem quite fastidious have sex with the most unlikely people, and then there is that marriage between Margaret and Henry.

I’ll be interested to see what everyone else got out of the book.


Do the lawyers in the group think that they could have really gotten a manslaughter conviction on Charles?

Stephen Brassawe Questions concerning the match of Margaret and Henry must have crossed the mind of everyone who ever read this novel. This passage struck me:

England expects every man to open his heart once; but the effort would have jarred him, and never, if she could avoid it, should he lose those defenses that he had chosen to raise against the world. He must never be bothered with emotional talk, or with a display of sympathy. He was an elderly man now, and it would be futile and impudent to correct him.

This had me convinced that we were in for another horrid marriage like that one in Middlemarch.

I didn’t know that England expects every man to open his heart once. I learned something.

message 7: by Yulia (last edited Apr 30, 2008 08:48PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Yulia I completely agree with Steve: I just couldn't understand the connection formed between Margaret and Henry. Was it meant to be a surprise to the reader, because if so Forster was successful. But then, even in Passage to India, I couldn't understand the friendship at the core of the book, so perhaps this was not as intentional as he'd like us to believe.

Coincidentally, Zadie Smith, who modeled On Beauty on this work, seems to have inherited Forster's inability to create a marriage that is in any way believable. I kept on thinking during OB that Howard married Kiki for her mother's house!

As for the manslaughter conviction, it didn't seem right to me considering the nature of the death, but I have no legal training and certainly no knowledge of the British system, so I speak only as a would-be juror.

Happyreader Spoilers and late night rambling warning.

There was absolutely no good reason that Margaret would have married Henry. Henry just married her because she was there and he was lonely. He wasn't picky about his friends or his wives. But Meg? She didn't need economic security, she didn't want children, she didn't like his family or "his people." Why? Just because he wasn't as "unmanly" as past suitors?

I kept wondering what the story would have been like if a woman had written it. In Middlemarch, Dorothea had her reasons. They were bad, naive reasons but they had some logic. And George Eliot gets her out of that marriage after a suitable period of suffering and makes sure she's learned her lesson.

And yes, all the people who have sex so wouldn't/shouldn't have.

Which brings me to what really irked me. The epigram is "only connect" and Meg forces Henry to connect but what about her and Helen? I really think Henry's only connection was how he compromised Jacky, leaving Jacky to desperately look for a man which led her to Leonard. And that's really Leonard and Jacky's own responsibility.

Meg and Helen are the ones with their esoteric parlor debates on how to help the poor, despite lacking any practical experience in the world. Henry didn't know Leonard Bast. The conversation on the esplanade was, to him, rhetorical. He didn't directly tell Leonard to leave his job. It was Helen and Meg who patronizingly decide to meddle in this poor man's life -- when they didn't know what they were talking about!!! They didn't have enough experience to know that business conditions could change and they barely know Henry at this point. Yet they never really take responsibility!!! And Helen inappropriately drags the Basts to the wedding -- and leaves them in financial ruin!!! And ultimately leads Leonard to his doom.

I don't see how Charles is criminally liable. The end to me seems rushed and tied up too neatly and unrealistically.

message 9: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Mr. Wilcox is elderly? STeve, I think he is younger than you or me. That must have been a misprint.

message 10: by Stephen (last edited May 01, 2008 06:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stephen Brassawe Great alertness on your part, Jim. Exactly the same thing occurred to me. Clearly, this was an error in the typeset.

Happy, most of us English majors get upset with rich people after studying The Great Gatsby. You, however, have gotten upset with rich people after your study of Howard's End. A display of refinement in taste. (Apropos your profile, by the way, there is no such thing as a former English major. Once one, always one.)

Yulia Is the point, then, that the wealthy marry for no identifiable reason? Because that's exactly how I felt about Fitzgerald: that he was incapable of substantiating any attraction he wrote so famously about.

Happyreader When you have different degrees that don't fit together (BA vs BS), they become like marriages. Hence, the former. The BA in lit is my first youthful, married for love, passion-focused first marriage while the BS in nutrition is my second more mature, more practical, skill-focused second marriage. CR is my illicit affair with my former flame.

Oddly, receiving my first degree from McGill, a Canadian university, Fitzgerald and other US writers made only minor appearances. But the Brits were ever present in my education. And the rich always seem to marry for identifiable reasons -- money or connections. That's why this marriage is so mystifying. Margaret gained nothing and lost a lot of her freedom and intellectual life. Eventually she got Howard's End (and houses/estates always figure big) but she doesn't even see it until after she's engaged.

message 13: by Gail (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gail I dunno. This doesn't seem quite like the same book I read about three years ago. Of course, a familiarity with the plot allows one to explore avenues that were overlooked in the first rush to finish...sort of like a love affair.
Anyway, was I the only person who thought that Forster was a bit, oh, mean-spirited or snide in writing about Leonard and Jackie? And even in writing about the Schlegals, he seemed to me to have his tongue in his cheek, maybe.
Also, I remember thinking that Margaret must have felt the earth shift when Henry finally told her about Mrs. Wilcox wanting her (i.e., Margaret) to have the house, but Henry decided that it was just fanciful. I had a sneaking suspicion that a large, if unacknowledged, part of Henry's wanting to marry Margaret was so that he could feel that he legitimately owned Howard's End. I don't quite see why she wanted to marry him, but I don't think she really knew either. What say you all?

message 14: by Happyreader (last edited May 01, 2008 11:09AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Happyreader Gail, those are good questions. Who doesn't Forster speak tongue-in-cheek about? I can't think of a single character he truly likes. Maybe Meg? He definately didn't like Leonard and Jacky. Or poor Tibby. I loved when the little girl at the wedding thought Meg was referring to her pet bunny when she said "And we have another one at home named Tibby."

I agree with you at the end about Meg's reponse to Mrs Wilcox's bequest but I think what stunned her was the bequest itself and the fact that the bequest was ultimately fulfilled. She had a similar response when Mrs. Avery's words came true. I think if it had been offered to her earlier, she would have declined it, just like Evie declined Mrs. Avery's pendent, because it was too extravagant for the relationship. With Henry, I'm not sure but it's possible. The bequest may have made him curious about her but he never planned on them keeping Howard's End, even when they married.

Stephen Brassawe Would everyone consider me a complete asshole if I pointed out that it is the narrator who displays these attitudes and not Forster?


I thought so.

message 16: by Jan (last edited May 01, 2008 11:37AM) (new)

Jan Livingston Hey Jim H.
I read your comments and kept wondering...who is this guy?... My bookclub in Sacramento would want you to be part of it (However it is a women's only bookclub !). I like the way you think. -Jan

Happyreader In this novel, how do you think the narrator differs from Forster? I agree that sometimes the narrator differs from the author but I don't think he (and it's definately a he, nothing feminine about this narrator) does here.

Stephen Brassawe That’s strange. I had the distinct feeling that the narrator was a woman.

In any event and like you, Happy, I am pretending to labor at my work computer right now without my copy of the book at hand. I will come back with citations later.

Happyreader Interesting. I'm intrigued that you think he may be a she. I await the citations. Perhaps he is a she. Anyone else?

Speaking of voices, even though I don't think I've seen the movie since it came out in 1992, I had the hardest time not seeing or hearing Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anthony Hopkins whenever Meg, Helen, and Henry appeared. I had completely forgotten about Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs. Wilcox.

message 20: by Yulia (last edited May 01, 2008 03:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Yulia Hmm, I've never seen the film, but the casting does seem spot-on (though I'm still recovering from Thompson's casting herself in "Sense and Sensibility."). As for the narrator, I always assumed it was a male, though one with an effeminate outlook. To me, it doesn't differ at all from the narrator in Forster's Passage to India.

By the way, did anyone else come to Forster after reading Zadie Smith or am I odd in having done so?

message 21: by Gail (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gail Gee, I always thought the narrator was a male. Hmmm...have to think about the female angle.
Yulia, I've never read Smith. Is O.B. worth the read?
No, Steve, I don't think you're an asshole; you're interesting.

Yulia Some people really dislike On Beauty but I thought it was great, and it's not even because I'd cared for Smith's previous book, White Teeth. I think those who liked HE would appreciate Smith's honoring Forster's work in her contemporary work, but then, I read her before I read him, so perhaps others would think just the opposite.

message 23: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim In terms of the book, I really don't mind Margaret and Henry getting married. Let's face it: no marriage, no book. And people do inexplicable things all the time. As my father-in-law told my wife on our wedding day, everyone likes their own mistakes best.

As for explanations, there is always the practical one: she needed a house and he needed someone to manage his house since Evie was moving out. Or for the more romantic explanation: he needed the grace that went out of his life when his first wife died, and she married him more or less out of pity.

"Pity was at the bottom of her actions all through this crisis. Pity, if one may generalize, is at the bottom of woman. When men like us, it is for our better qualities, and however tender their liking, we dare not be unworthy of it, or they will quietly let us go. But unworthiness stimulates woman. It brings out her deeper nature, for better or worse."

I have plans to bring this to my wife's attention so that she knows that I am being a bum in order to make her life more stimulating and myself more loveable.

On another topic, reading this narration from the end of chapter 28, I can see where Steve may have gotten the sense that the book was being written from a woman's point of view.

message 24: by Yulia (last edited May 01, 2008 06:20PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Yulia Forster does get at a very real component of human relationships in noting that pity can inspire tenderness, compassion, and even love, but I think it's overly simplistic to say women react one way to the flaws of a partner and men, another. In their context, generalities don't tend to rankle me so much, but when taken from their surrounding cushioning, they're quite ridiculous.

message 25: by Happyreader (last edited May 01, 2008 06:10PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Happyreader I agree without the marriage there is no book. I'm going to give you the pity argument as somewhat plausible. Mind you, she doesn't feel the pity until after she learns he was an adulterer.

I do not, however, agree that the end of Ch. 28 sounds at all feminine. Only a man would think a woman would be OK with their potential husband having an affair with such a dimwitted woman as Jacky. Pure male fantasy.

Meaning also don't show that passage to your wife. Pity is not the motivating force it used to be. ;-)

message 26: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim The reason I thought this passage sounded as if it were written by a woman was that when the narrator wrote, "When men like us, it is for our better qualities etc...." the implication seemed to be that the narrator was speaking as a woman.

As for whether only a man could put this idea into a woman's head, that is an interesting question. The answer isn't that obvious to me. Lots of things go through people's heads regardless of gender, and people have been known to overlook the spotted past of a spouse.

message 27: by Ruth (last edited May 01, 2008 10:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth I want to emphasis one of Yulia's comments. This book was rampant with generalities. Never saw so many galloping stereotypes in my life--Germans, English, men, women, upper class, lower nauseum. Every time I saw another one, the book went down a notch in my estimation.

What would you people say was the raison d'etre of this book, it's overarching theme. Male/female, emotions/abstract thought, German/English, idealism/pragmatism?

message 28: by Jim (last edited May 02, 2008 06:55AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars


I kept seeing the farce-like characters breaking out of their stereotypes and running into the incredibly uncomfortable moments like Bast showing up at the wedding. When you put real people into the situations created by class and gender roles, they don't always perform the way you expect.

Rather than sympathizing with Jackie and Leonard, Margaret rejects them to support a husband whose loveable qualities are fairly well disguised. Her sister responds by having a one-night stand with Leonard. Neither reaction is in line with the image of the enlightened upper class ladies that we met at the first.

This messiness is what I like, and of course Mr. Trilling suggests that the theme of the book is the need to connect on a personal basis rather than in terms of education, gender, or class. What "connect" means is another good question.

What to do with the generalities? Certainly, you can criticize them or attribute them to the limitations of the omniscient narrator style. An alternative might be to attribute them to an undependable narrator. That gives Forster a free pass to say whatever he wants without being responsible.

message 29: by Stephen (last edited May 02, 2008 06:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Stephen Brassawe Jim, thank you so much for that pithy pity quote in yours at number 23. I agree that you should not put much stock in sharing this with your wife. I say this for the simple reason that based upon my own experience, the basic proposition asserted is absolutely wrong. It is certainly not the case today, and I cannot believe that human nature has changed since the time setting of this book. To assert as a generality that women choose and keep a mate based upon pity not only flies in the face of Uncle Steve’s experience, it flies in the face of Darwinism.

The really fascinating thing is that, as you have so astutely pointed out, the narrator saying this is certainly a woman! All reports indicate that E.M. Forster was a man. We have no reports to the contrary anyway. So this cannot be Forster speaking. It appears that he has propped up a female narrator to say something that is clearly wrong.

This does still leave the question of whether in this particular case pity explains Margaret’s decision to marry Henry. I don’t think so. I can’t think so.

Gail, thank you for your reassurance. Sadly, it only served to emphasize the resounding silence on that score from everyone else. Heh.

Great discussion by the way!

Happyreader Jim, I actually thought that section was Meg, not the narrator, mulling over what she should do but it could be the narrator. Such unfemale sentiments from a female, whomever it was. Which now makes me wonder, if it is the narrator, why would the author choose a female narrator? What did he think it would add? Who is this woman and what class does she belong to?

I'll give you the messiness. It was always surprising to me every time Henry would ask Meg to confirm a snobbish belief -- and she would! Perhaps that's Forster's intention. Meg and Helen play at the liberal game but when push comes to shove, they still cling to a not-everyone-is-equal belief system. She's obviously comfortable with having a servant class and seems a little miffed at not being able to find the best maids at the agency because those maids have their own life concerns.

Ruth raises a good question about the novel's raison d'etre. I guess I'd still go with "only connect" since there is so much collateral damage from unexamined behaviors from all parties.

One scene I liked is in Chapter 34 when the issue is raised over Helen's behavior and whether it all went back to her brief romance with Paul. "Were all Helen's actions to be governed by a tiny mishap, such as may happen to any young man or woman? Can human nature be constructed on lines so insignificant? . . . Well, it is odd and sad that our minds should be such seed beds, and we without power to choose the seed. But man is an odd, sad creature as yet, intent on pilfering the earth, and heedless of the growths within himself."

That Helen could spin out of control because of one random unexamined mishap rang true for me.

And I have yet to think anyone made an a-hole comment so Steve, consider me seconding Gail's opinion.

message 31: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth I find it interesting that so many of you saw this as being narrated by a fictional narrator, rather than the standard omniscient POV narrator, who doesn't emerge as a character, but merely stays in the background showing what's going on, somewhat like a video camera that's privy to people's thoughts.

It never crossed my mind to question whether the narrator was male or female. I just thought he/she was a device to tell the tale. What did I miss?

message 32: by Yulia (last edited May 02, 2008 04:57PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Yulia I do think, as Ruth suggests, that the narrator was omniscient and every now and then steps into the mind of a character, whether male or female, and records their thoughts without putting these thoughts in italics or quotation marks. That's the only way to explain the random moments in which the narrator seems to have a woman's perspective instead of a general unisex one. Why else would Forster have a narrator of a different sex and not develop her perspective and societal standing more fully (is she an intellectual? an aristocrat? is she single), as Happy points out.

But how is this discussion making me rethink my admiration of Forster? As it is, I'm hearing my own doubts about the book reflected in the others' comments. Who knew I wasn't alone in my cynicism!

message 33: by Jim (last edited May 02, 2008 05:03PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim All good points about the narrator. You would think that more would have been made of the narrator's gender if that was a key issue. At the end of Chapter 2 there is a chatty aside that establishes the narrator as sort of a character but does not indicate gender:

"If you think this (description of a railway station) ridiculous, remember that it is not Margaret who is telling you about it ..."

Browsing through the library, I ran into a writer who said that the Schlegels were very loosely based on the characters of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. Apparently the Stephen sisters also had more empathy for the lower classes in the abstract than in the flesh.

Happyreader There's a Virginia Woolf essay in the Norton's Critical Edition of HE. She credits Forster for talent but calls the book a failure. "Elaboration, skill, wisdom, penetration, beauty -- they are all there, but they lack fusion; they lack cohesion; the book as a whole lacks force." She accuses Forster of being so realistic that he can't make the leap to symbolism. "The bookcase which fall upon Leonard Bast in HE should perhaps come down upon him with all the dead weight of smoke-dried culture."

The Norton's also quotes a 1917 Katherine Mansfield journal entry which says about HE "EM Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot. He's a rare fine hand at that. Feel the teapot. Is it not beatifully warm? Yes, but there's not going to be any tea.

And I can never be perfectly certain whether Helen was got with child by Leonard Bast or by his fatal forgotten umbrella. All things considered, I think it must have been the umbrella."

Oh, snap!!! Perhaps Forster and the ladies didn't quite get on. And Katherine does have a point about poor Leonard's potency or lack therof. Poor tragic Leonard.

Wilhelmina Jenkins I agree with Ruth and Yulia that the narrator is the standard omniscient one. I think that Forster switches POV at times to point out the failings of the characters and the values of the time in his mocking way. His stereotypes, to me, seemed to be more of a reflection of his disdain for the times in which he lived. His characters exemplify so many of the trends at the beginning of the 20th century that had just not quite jelled yet. I am afraid that many of the ideas voiced (England vs. Germany, for example) were voiced by many at the time. To me, these characters were engulfed by the rapidly changing times and therefore behaved in an inconsistent manner. The Schlegel women, for example, knew that the rigid class structure was wrong, but they bungled terribly in trying to act differently.

Margaret's decision to marry Henry did not seem surprising to me at all. Having lost both parents at an early age and devoting herself to the needs of her much younger brother and sister, Margaret carried an enormous burden, particularly for a young woman of her time who was expected to be under the care of some man. Being forced to move was the limit - leaving the home in which she grew up and searching for someplace that would please everyone left her exhausted and vulnerable. She was not a great beauty or sufficiently rich to attract many interested men. When Henry and Bast confronted one another over her, she felt feelings awaken that she had long ignored. Henry is an older man (missing father substitute) who appears to be extremely stable and prosperous and, significantly, loved by someone(Ruth)with whom she had felt a deep connection. Finally, both of them were very lonely and surprised to find that loneliness in each other (Ch. 18). Henry's wife is dead and his children are adults, and clearly he doesn't deal well with loneliness (hence Jacky). Margaret is beginning to picture a life as an old maid - difficult in the time in which she lived. The match seemed almost inevitable to me. And don't forget the fatal mistake that women make to this day - she thought she could change him.

Kathy Although I did miss the female narrator (and still wonder if the narrator didn't "step into the mind of the character" as Yulia suggests), I will say I thought of this story as the original (please forgive the sit-com reference) Frazier. Everyone was subject to derision.

I may have too high esteem for Forster, and Happyreader's quotations have given me pause, especially the teapot comparison. But just as I took A Passage to India to be an expose of race relations, I took HE to be an expose of class relations.

I think the raison d'etre of this story is found in the multiple references to standing on the brink, to falling in and never being heard from again. Are we all at that edge? Is the abyss what we make it? How is the brink explained by different classes? And, what of falling in? Did Helen fall in, and if so, did her life continue as expected.

Stephen Brassawe Ah, yes, Wilhemina. Point well taken. I believe the adage roughly goes, “Women always marry men thinking they can change them, and they never can; men always marry women thinking they will stay the same, and they never do.”

Kathy, I don’t think we should take those comments from Virginia Wolff and Katherine Mansfield all that seriously. Howards End was commercially successful upon publication. Those ladies being human were perfectly capable of envy, a sin to which authors seem particularly susceptible. Katherine Mansfield’s observations seem gratuitously catty to me.

I think we have the narrator issue straightened out. An omniscient narrator to be sure, but one who occasionally cannot restrain itself:

"It is rather a moment when the commentator should step forward. Ought the Wilcoxes to have offered their home to Margaret? I think not."

message 38: by Gail (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gail I agree with Steve that we have the narrator issue clear hear. What strikes me is that HE now seems to be a different book from the one I read before. I'm a bit disappointed because I now see elements that disturb me which before I just found funny. See what a close reading will do for you?

Like Yulia and Ruth, I find my undiluted admiration for Forster has suffered a bit. On the other hand, I see traces of Woolf in some of the passages: the mental confusion and internal dialogue, particularly of Margaret, is portrayed very well, I think. I found her willingness to marry Henry believable and not dated. Helen's behavior is completely incomprehensible to me. But she seems to be the character who is most, er, content with who she is and what she's done; the one who worries and analyzes the least. And Leonard...oh poor Leonard. He still lives today, and is commonly found among us.

message 39: by Barbara (last edited May 03, 2008 12:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Barbara I absolutely think you have it right about the omniscient narrator, slipping in and out of viewpoints. Also, Steve, I think your comment about the character's voice as opposed to the author's voice is important. That's a reminder that I got early from my brother when we talked about books. The most interesting discussions concern how the writer is doing what he's doing. But, good writers get us so wrapped up in their characters that we forget who is pulling the strings.

I've always felt that the overriding theme of Howard's End is a British class structure based soley on old money giving way to those who acquired their own. The Wilcoxes are some of the first of the merchant class which was seen as somewhat crass and hopelessly beneath even the Schlegel sisters. But, as the culture sloooowwwwly changed, the Wilcoxes were going to begin to rise to the top or, at least, at equal status.

We get hints from the beginning that Margaret is attracted to this feet on the ground approach. I can't find the examples that I want just now but will try to get back with them.

Regarding Forster's ability as a writer, I don't put him in the class of Tolstoy or George Eliot, but I definitely place him in the second tier. He's a wonderfully readable, literate author.


I'm about a third of the way through a reread of this and find myself absolutely dreading what happens to Leonard Bast. I didn't find Forster's writing of Bast to be stereotypical in the least. And, he succeeded in making me care a great deal about him.

message 40: by Wilhelmina (last edited May 03, 2008 12:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Wilhelmina Jenkins When I think about Bast, I feel terribly sorry for him, especially from my American viewpoint. Had he been in the US instead of England, he might have realized some of his dreams of an intellectual life. In England's more rigid class structure, he was a lost man.

Barbara, you mentioned the culture changing slowly, but I think it's only slow from an American perspective. For the Old World, change took off running after the Industrial Revolution, and I think that the characters in Howard's End exemplify the false steps that can be made in adjusting to change, even change for the better.

Marsha This is my first reading of this novel, but will not likely be the last. I had never questioned the omniscient narrator.

I always thought that Margeret had a lot of respect for Henry as a provider and as a man of competence and importance, and I have always considered many marriages of the time to be based primarily on exactly that- even to be a strong basis for marriage with cultural norms being what they were at the time. Respect isn't a bad starting point today either.

I think also that while these were independent young ladies, the concept of the old maid was still in full force at the time. Women were not "fulfilled" without the evidence that they were desirable- and the only real proof of that was a wedding ring.

As for Henry, well, I don't get the impression that he felt much guilt about the house, or that he married Meg because of any real obligation he felt on that point- but I do think that he replaced his wife with someone he believed she had hinted at anyway- and wasn't it fabulous that he didn't have to waste his valuable time seeking a suitable replacement.

As for Helen and Bast- I can't help comparing Helen to Marianne Dashwood- and maybe that is because of Emma Thompson playing the big sister in both movies- but I see a lot of similarities, and maybe that is why I don't find Helen's passionate feelings and impulsive decisions so surprising.

I identify strongly with Bast in this story. Maybe I should get that Kindle after all. I won't have to beware my bookselves.

Yulia So much happened while I slept! Let's see, I'll go in order.

Happyreader, fabulous quotes from Woolf and Mansfield. I wish Mansfield were more known nowadays. She's brilliant.

Wilhelmina, great explanation for why Margaret married Henry. I also convinced myself it was her way to be close to Ruth after Ruth's death, which I know people do in real life. In fact, I just reviewed a memoir in which a man married the girlfriend of a brother he's lost, yet he denies any possibility it had to do with their mutual love for the one who was lost. Also, great point about what Leonard's life would have been like in America and how the change was only slow by our standards.

Kathy, I love your abyss image. I suppose it comes to each of us at different times in life and perhaps we're defined by what we do at such times. Helen is saved by losing Leonard. If he'd survived, her life would have been much more complicated. Now she's simply a pseudo-widow. Yes, the abyss is much less forgiving for the lower classes, as displayed by Leonard and Kathy. And it brings to mind Wharton's House of Mirth and poor Lily Bart, who just couldn't pull herself out.

Steve, great quote, but I wonder if authors are more capable of envy or if they're simply caught in the act more often because their sin is recorded for posterity.

Gail, yes, all these characters are alive today, I believe. Is this reassuring or worrisome?

Barbara, as for the slow shift of classes and the increasing acceptance of those who make their money through trade, I also couldn't forget what lay ahead for these characters with the rise of Hitler, what the Schlegel sisters would one day think of their homeland and its merits, and which they would cling to more.

Marsha, I think the fear of growing up to be spinsters is still very real today for many women, though marriage is no longer necessary to avoid this label (long-term relationships are increasingly viable alternatives, as long as they last, at least). I remember growing up being terrified of cats, because to me they symbolized spinsterhood. Now I actually find I like cats quite a bit, but I've become somewhat allergic to them. I also agree Ruth did point Henry to Margaret and I like your comment about his not having to waste his time finding someone. Sounds so much like some guys I know in their cost-benefit approach to relationships. Thirdly, great comparison between Helen and Marianne Dashwood. Helen could've easily been portrayed by Kate Winslet, as I envision Helen. And Bast, poor Bast, he was the truly tragic figure in the book. I have to think more about how he'd do in America today.

message 43: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim In today's world, I wonder if Bast might not have turned into a Leslie Titmuss, John Mortimer's fictional bastion of the Conservative Party, while Mr. Wilcox would have turned into an NPR Liberal. Wilcox took the first step by marrying a Bloomsbury type, the NPR Liberal of his day.

message 44: by Ruth (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ruth I don't think we're quite through with the narrator. An omniscient narrator, which we have agreed this is, is just that--omniscient. IOW, by definition, an omniscient narrator knows everything, even the thoughts of the characters. So it's not at all unusual the the narrator in HE occasionally slips into the mind of the different characters. It's what omniscient narrators do.


Wilhelmina Jenkins True. I don't think that a female voice was implied, just a voice enlightening us from various viewpoints.

The heartbreaking aspect of this book, in my opinion, was that poor Bast was not utterly ruined by Henry, but by Helen. After his brief affair with Helen, who only wanted to help him, he collapsed entirely. He went from a hardworking man with romantic and intellectual aspirations to an unproductive moocher beset by guilt. The best laid plans.....

Yulia Jim, no, I can't believe Bast would be a conservative today, even an aspirational right-winger (say it ain't so). Rather, I see him dragged to Obama rallies by Margaret and Helen, where he eventually lets himself be inspired and awed by the energy of the crowd and become a true believer in change, only to be crushed when Obama loses in the general election and enter a severe depression. That's Bast today. Margaret and Helen, of course, return to their home in England and live happily ever after.

message 47: by Gail (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gail You know, I'm beginning to find Helen more than a bit annoying. Wilhelmina: yes, I do think Helen was more the downfall of Leonard than Henry was. And I certainly see the Schlegals in soemwhat the same way as Yulia.
Ruth, you're ablsolutely right re: narrator. It's just a bit disconcerting to apparently have the narrator speak with a specific character's voice. I think.

message 48: by Wilhelmina (last edited May 04, 2008 09:55PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Wilhelmina Jenkins For those who saw the movie, did the ending in the book seem far more redemptive than the movie? I saw the movie some time ago, but if I remember correctly, the family did not come together in healing one another the way they did in the book.

Wilhelmina Jenkins Come to think of it, were all of these liberal minded people at all concerned about Mrs. Bast? I can only imagine one fate for her without old Leonard around.

message 50: by Happyreader (last edited May 05, 2008 09:34AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Happyreader They thought of Mrs Bast but they thought of her as unworthy. Too tacky and coarse. The Schlegels wanted to rescue Leonard from Jacky.

At the same time, Margaret does at one point think of Jacky as unmalicious, which she certainly was. But still someone they probably thought unable to "improve."

The Schlegels failed to connect their mania for improving the lower class with their distain for improvements in the physical world. They hated all the old buildings coming down in London to be replaced by new, more modern flats. The improvements that the Wilcoxes tried at Howard's End were clumsy and fortunately temporary. The country estate was unworkable and abandoned since it couldn't be improved.

The sisters had respect for nature in the physical realm but not in the human psyche. The Wilcoxes, on the other hand, only focused on what could be improved in their own environment and didn't much care to bother otherwise.

I can't remember how the movie version ends so it's time for a re-viewing. I've put it to the top of my queue to watch this week.

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