Book reviews

Archive for the ‘Forster – E.M.’ Category

Howard’s End by E. M. Forster

 

howard

Howard’s End by E.M. Forster is overrun with characters who have clever thoughts and conversation about Nature, Literature, Art and other Capitalised Ideals, although these intellectually blessed characters were generally short of common sense, to the detriment of themselves and other characters whose more ordinary thoughts were more in keeping with my own.

I read Where Angels Fear to Tread by this author and enjoyed the writing style and the story, but did not like the characters any better than those in Howard’s End.

Howard’s End follows the lives of the Schlegel and the Wilcox families who meet while travelling on the Continent (I guess there is no need to say when this story is set after using the term “travelling on the Continent”). Sisters Margaret and Helen Schlegel have a large enough income to indulge in Clever Thoughts, but they are fascinated by the self-made, buttoned-up Wilcox clan to the point where Helen entered into a hasty and soon regretted engagement with the younger Wilcox son.

The engagement ends as quickly as it begun and the two families would not have met again except that the Wilcox’s took a house in London across the road from the Schlegel’s. Mrs Wilcox and Margaret form a friendship and when Mrs Wilcox dies suddenly, the Wilcox family were angry to learn she left her family home, Howard’s End, on a whim to Margaret. As Mrs Wilcox’s wish was not formalised in a will, the Wilcox’s did not action the wish and Margaret herself was unaware of the bequest.

A few years after Mrs Wilcox’s death Mr Wilcox began courting Margaret, who agreed to marry him for reasons I found difficult to understand. Personally, I would have been put off by his horrible cigar breath during the first kiss, but Margaret professes to Understand and Respect who Mr Wilcox is as a Man. Mr Wilcox’s children, however, were unhappy with their father’s choice of Margaret.

Margaret’s younger sister Helen was the type to interfere and cause trouble wherever she went, most significantly when she and Margaret became involved in the life of Leonard Bast, a poor clerk they met by accident at a concert and took an interest in. Leonard’s common-law wife Jacky had an unexpected connection with the Wilcox family too.

The differences between the three families seemed insurmountable to me for them to have been connected socially, but these differences in their outlooks were the whole point of the novel. The different standards for men and women, the extreme divide between the rich and the poor, the stiff English nature of the Wilcox’s compared to the expressive, romantic nature of the half-German Schlegel’s, even the differences between the love of the city and the country. “Only connect” is the most well-known quote from this novel.

My irritation with the characters, who mostly had unlikeable natures (excluding Mrs Wilcox and Margaret), meant that I struggled to like this story. The Schlegel’s Big Ideas drove me mad, while the Wilcox’s weren’t my type either. Funnily enough, I think I related best to poor Leonard Bast, whose only aim was to improve himself culturally.

Regardless of my general dislike of the characters, I can Respect and Admire the Beauty of the Writing. The story is also fascinating in that Mr Wilcox believes a war with Germany is coming (Howard’s End was written several years before World War One broke out). The author delighted me by suggesting in Howard’s End that in 100 years, it would be unthinkable for a woman not to work. Woohoo!

 

 

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Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster

where angels

Where Angels Fear to Tread was E. M. Forster’s first novel, which seemed to me to be  good place for me to start reading this author.

The story begins with widowed Lilia leaving her daughter with her in-laws to travel to Italy as chaperone to her friend, Caroline Abbott. In Italy, Lilia falls in love with Gino, who is much younger than her and who, as the son of a dentist, is socially ludicrous in the eyes of Lilia’s in-laws.

Philip, Lilia’s brother in law, races off to Italy as instructed by his mother, to save Lilia from herself only to find that Lilia has already married Gino.

Lilia’s marriage turns out unhappily (was anyone really surprised to hear this?) and when Lilia dies giving birth to her and Gino’s son, Philip is sent back to Italy by his mother to bring the baby back to England. Philip’s sister Harriet, a cold fish who is more concerned with retrieving an inlaid box she loaned Lilia than the baby, accompanies Philip. When Philip and Harriet arrive in Gino’s home town they find Caroline Abbott there too, as she also intends to return to England with the baby.

Caroline visits Gino first and realises he loves the baby, then Philip visits Gino and realises the same thing. Caroline and Philip agree that the baby is best left with the father who loves it*, than returning it to England where it will be brought up properly in an English household, but will not be loved.

Harriet complicates things though by stealing the baby, which is then killed in a road accident. Philip returns to Gino to tell him of the tragedy.

When Philip finally realises he is in love with Caroline, he is too late, as Caroline had fallen in love with Gino, and there can be no future for them. I suspect Philip was a bit in love with Gino, too. In comparison to the reserved and proper English characters, Gino was full of life and emotion.

The only character I really liked or felt sorry for in this story was the baby. The adults were selfish and full of their own importance and the ‘rightness’ of their ideas. The English and the Italians patronised each other in their own way, and none really showed themselves at their best.

Based on Where Angels Fear to Tread, I would definitely visit Italy though. I will probably read more of this author’s work too.

*Sorry, I know the baby is not an ‘it’ but I can’t remember if it is a boy or a girl…

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