Margaret Schlegel, engaged to the much older, widowed Henry Wilcox, meets her intended the morning after accepting his proposal and realizes that he is a man who has lived without introspection or true self-knowledge. As she contemplates the state of Wilcox’s soul, her remedy for what ails him has become one of the most oft-quoted passages in literature:
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
Like all of Forster’s work, Howards End concerns itself with class, nationality, economic status, and how each of these affects personal relationships. It follows the intertwined fortunes of the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, and the Wilcox family over the course of several years. The Schlegels are intellectuals, devotees of art and literature. The Wilcoxes, on the other hand, can’t be bothered with the life of the mind or the heart, leading, instead, outer lives of “telegrams and anger” that foster “such virtues as neatness, decision, and obedience, virtues of the second rank, no doubt, but they have formed our civilization.” Helen, after a brief flirtation with one of the Wilcox sons, has developed an antipathy for the family; Margaret, however, forms a brief but intense friendship with Mrs. Wilcox, which is cut short by the older woman’s death. When her family discovers a scrap of paper requesting that Henry give their home, Howards End, to Margaret, it precipitates a spiritual crisis among them that will take years to resolve.
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I loved the opening chapter or two of this book. It throws you immediately into the (short lived) action, tells you all you need to know about the Schlegel sisters, how they differ from one another, and how they relate to the rest of their family. Family being one of the major themes of the book, this is rather important. Another of the major themes of the book is the thought of ‘homes’ vs ‘houses’. This was interesting to read about for me as I currently live, if not a completely nomadic life, certainly a more nomadic life than most people I know.
As you can tell, I found this book to be rather thematic. It demands to be thought about and read at a leisurely pace. Unfortunately, when reading it I was in a bit of a slump and it really wasn’t what I ought to have been reading. The story jumps around a bit (as I find classics are wont to do) and I couldn’t really get the hang of the characters. Just as I felt I was understanding someone, the chapter ended and the next one picked up from someone else’s point of view, and or months later in chronology. Problematic.
But the prose! There are many wonderful EM Forster quotes, and no wonder, his way with language in general is magical. His appeals to me like few other writers’ do, what with his perfect concatenations of beautiful words, long words, wildly underused words, that give his characters such a fluid, if floral, way of speaking to one another. (How I would love to live in the days when people actually spoke as they do in Forster novels!) It makes for a truly lovely read, if you are a lover of language as I am. So, I am definitely a Forster fan, it’s just that Howards End didn’t resonate with me as much as A Room With A View.