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Beth Meacham, David Brin

Howards End

Howards End - E.M. Forster I vaguely remember seeing the film adaptation of Howards (no apostrophe-s!) End decades ago. I don’t remember much about the plot, I just vaguely (mis)remembered it as a story of some mad old biddy giving a house to Emma Thompson. I suppose if you must give away a house to someone Emma Thompson is not a bad choice, she is pretty cool. Anyway, after recently reading [b: A Room with a View|3087|A Room with a View|E.M. Forster|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388781285s/3087.jpg|4574872] and [b: The Machine Stops|4711854|The Machine Stops |E.M. Forster|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347943820s/4711854.jpg|4776249] I have added E.M. Forster to my much coveted list of favorite classic authors (he missed my sci-fi list by a hair, having written only one novella, albeit an excellent one).

The nice lady who gives away the eponymous Howards End house is not an old biddy at all. She is roughly the same age as myself and is actually one of the least annoying characters in the book so I will retract both “old” and “biddy”. She is in poor health though and after spending some time with the kindly, friendly, clever and generally awesome Margaret Schlegel decided to write a note in pencil expressing her wish to give the house to her friend upon her death. This sounds like a ridiculous premise for a novel but Forster knew very well such a note would not be legally binding and the book is not about some kind of legal battle for the house, besides Margaret has no idea of the brief existence of the note until almost the end of the book.

What Howards End is really about (unless I am very much mistaken) is social classes and their perception and relation to each other. The central characters represent the intellectual, the materialistic, and the poor. Their interactions in this book are on the whole not a happy one even though Margaret marries the stuffy businessman Henry Wilcox (whose wife – who is not an old biddy –snuffs it fairly early in the book). The book is not particularly densely plotted and any further description of the storyline seems like spoiler to me. Certainly it is full of themes and symbolisms about social classes, culture vs practicality etc. but as a reader I am more interested in the readability of it, the themes always come after the story for me. I find Howards End to be immensely readable and never drag at any time even though nothing much seems to happen in it; quite a triumphant achievement by Forster I think.

I enjoy reading Forster’s observations of different kinds of people, their “lights and shades” as he puts it. The awkward romance between the two main characters who have nothing in common is peculiarly charming, especially when Henry, a man devoid of passion, tries to express touchy feely sentiments. The prose is characteristically top notch. I like Margaret’s notion of taming the stiff upper lipped Henry:

“She might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man.”

It can’t be easy constructing rainbow bridges. I don’t have a lot more to say about Howards End really because it is all about the characters, even the titular house is a character of sorts. Once you get to know these characters, their idiosyncrasies become quite absorbing. Anyway, I have no problem recommending this book, I enjoyed it from beginning to end. If you like characters study novels set in the Edwardian era this one is for you.

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Notes

Audiobook: I listened to the free Librivox edition, beautifully read (as always) by Elizabeth Klett, who is one of the very best readers on there. Thank you very much!

I feel like I ought to rate it at 4 stars because I'm always throwing 5 stars about, but I can't think what to deduct the one star for.