Howards End by E.M. Forster

January 25th, 2020

I read Howards End after seeing Matthew Lopez’s play “The Inheritance”—which is in part a homage to this book that uses a lot of the elements of its plot, except transposed to modern New York/with the majority of the characters being gay men. I think seeing the play (which I loved) enhanced my enjoyment of the novel: it was interesting to read the novel already knowing a lot of the plot, and interesting to see the places where Lopez chose to structure his story differently from Forster’s original. As far as the novel itself, there were parts I loved and parts I found to be a slog. I love the moments of humor in Forster’s writing, as when he describes one character as having “one of those moustaches that always droop into teacups” (110) and another character as being “one of those who name animals after the less successful characters of Old Testament history” (120-121). Near the beginning of the book, there’s a great funny description of two of the main characters, the sisters Margaret and Helen Schlegel, attending a concert with various relatives/other people: the way Forster describes each character’s thoughts and behavior, the way everyone’s inside his or her own head in some way, is perfect. And I like the way Forster considers big themes: what to do about the gulf between rich people and poor people; what to do about the gulfs that can arise between friends or family or partners; what it means to connect, or to fail to connect, with other people or with a place, or what it means to succeed or fail at connecting the disparate elements of a personality or of life; what it looks like to make a life with other people; what we owe to others. (These are themes Lopez explores in his play, too, and it was interesting for me to think about the similarities and differences.) I like other things, too—how Forster describes arguments as “inevitable at the time, incredible afterwards” (18); how Helen fervently proclaims that “personal relations are the real life, for ever and ever” (23) (and how Margaret, later, makes that true in practice); and this, about Helen and Margaret being close again after a period of estrangement: “And all the time their salvation was lying round them—the past sanctifying the present; the present, with wild heart-throb, declaring that there would after all be a future” (255).

Leave a Reply

Subscribe without commenting