Howards End: Book Review Essay, Research Paper
Howards End by E. M. Forster deals with the conflict of class distinctions and human relationships. The quintessence of the main theme of this lovely novel is: “Only connect!?Only connect the prose and passion?and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” This excerpt represents the main idea that Forster carries through the book: relationships, not social status, are–or at least should be–the most important thing for people.
Howards End was written in 1910. That explains the naivete and idealism that permeate the atmosphere of the novel. Written in the beginning of the twentieth century in England about the beginning of the twentieth century in England it reflects the mood that existed in England at that time. It was a time of prosperity. The industrial revolution that started in the previous century made the British Empire a world power. Everyone had a job and the conditions for the workers significantly improved as compared to the past century. Trade unions that never existed before had just begun to form to protect the rights of the working people, and poor children didn’t have to work in mines anymore. A bloody and seemingly meaningless war hadn’t yet begun to destroy bodies and devastate souls of people. Generally speaking, the times were good, and the future was viewed in an optimistic way. The atmosphere of the book is filled with romance and hope, even though the author is very far from writing an utopian type of description of English society.
In fact, the book is very truthful in the description of class problems of the country. In Howards End Forster talks about two classes and two ideologies that are separated by the thick wall of social prejudices and misunderstandings. The two social groups are represented by the cultured, idealistic Schlegels and the pragmatic, business-oriented Wilcoxes. The Schlegel Sisters, who aren’t ‘pure’ English, but people of German origin, personify Forster’s dream about what people’s philosophy of life should be. They used to think about the class differences as obstacles that do not allow people to fully understand each other. The hope is that if everybody thinks that way, people will just forget about class differences–that’s what Forster’s dream is. Margaret and Helen Schlegels partly think this way because being part of minority group in England they have experienced discrimination caused by class prejudices. However, they reject splitting society into different social groups not only because such a splitting puts them in a disadvantage. Even if the Schlegels belonged to the upper class, and breaking the society into parts were to benefit them in terms of some mercenary interests, they would still have a strong feeling of rejection of such a social structure. Relationships–not social position–are important for them.
It seems that the philosophy of life of the Wilcox family–English through and through–should reflect the views of patriotic Forster. However, it’s incorrect. The Schlegel sisters are the protagonists and the Wilcoxes are the antagonists of the novel–not in the sense that they are the ‘bad guys’, but in that their philosophy of life is opposite of Schlegels’ and, therefore, the author’s. Wilcoxes completely approve of the distinction between classes and are extremely pragmatic. Their snobbism and pragmatism don’t leave any chance to the happy development of the engagement between Helen Schlegel and Paul Wilcox that ultimately contradicts the main principle that is emphasized throughout the book: “Be comrades!”
The characters of the novel are believable–as long as the author wants them to be believable. By that I mean that Forster, naturally, wants to create a plausible image of England of that time and therefore he must try to make the characters look plausible. He is successful in making the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes look natural enough, but in doing so he does not care about the characters themselves very much. For Forster, the characters of the novel are people who represent certain ideas, and it is the ideas that are important for him, not the characters as individuals. If he could have written a novel just as lovely and clear as Howards End and talk about ideas only–not people–he would have probably done it.
Unlike some other authors, who try not to emphasize the location where the action takes place to universilize their novels, Forster made Howards End very ‘English’ book. He never lets the reader forget where the action is set: many pages of the book are dedicated to the description of ‘our island’. Forster never fails to mention how beautiful England looks in the spring and what a marvellous country it is. The theme itself suits England, for the English society is strictly divided into upper and lower classes. The novel is so English that on the first glance the issue of human relationships and differences between classes–at least as they are presented in the book–is strictly local. Everything ties into the English social structure so much that the reader gets the impression of impossibility of existence of the same situation in some other country like, for example, some North American country.
The novel describes a number of years in the lives of two families. Reasonable pacing and clear structure of the book makes it a pleasure to read. The author was kind enough not to make the novel a chaotic mound of his ideas forcing the reader into struggling to figure out where to fit the pieces of the puzzle. The novel features the well-connected events and the clearly presented ideas. The events at the beginning of the book–Helen’s engagement with Paul, the meeting between the Schlegel sisters and poor Leonard Bast, the conversation between the Schlegels and Henry Wilcox in London–don’t seem to be connected very well. Later, however, the fragments all tie into a tragic knot of social values and human relationships. Howards End–house that represents England herself–becomes an object of inheritance dispute between the Wilcox family and the Schlegel sisters. So, the question asked is whom will England belong to in the future? The ending of Howards End is very symbolic–Ruth Wilcox’s wish to give the house to Margaret that was ignored by the others at the beginning had been fulfilled at the end–Margaret marries Henry Wilcox and brings him to Howards End. So Forster’s extremely optimistic answer is that English society will finally unite, leaving class prejudices in the past. In fact, the answer is too optimistic. The happy ending in the story occurs only because the author wants it to occur. Unfortunately, there was nothing in English society at the beginning of the twentieth century that could have given a hope of such an ending, and there is not too much now.
But who cares?
We have to be optimistic sometimes and hope for a better future. Too much of Hemingway’s “things end badly” approach will make us all sick, tired, incorrigible pessimists. We need novels, movies, cartoons that end happily to bring some hope to our world where–Hemingway was right–too many things end too badly. This lovely and romantic book is worth reading, for it’s an excellent candy in the world of our bitter reality. The idea of being comrades and ‘only connecting’ suits any place in the world at any time. Why not follow it, why not pay attention to personality only instead of making a big fuss about a person’s social status or the amount of money an individual has? This book is too romantic, but the ability of being romantic is, after all, our strength. Who knows, maybe things that seem too idealistic to us today will become the fundamental society principles tomorrow. Who knows, maybe in the future people all over the world will “only connect” and be happy. At least, one may hope.