Howards End

by E.M. Forster

Oniton Grange! Wickham Place! Ducie Street! Like to live at any of those? They're all names of places, as the title of this book itself is a place name. I like Howards End. It is a readable page turner. Although written over a century ago, it addresses concepts we still ponder today, like: Why do other people always seem to have it more together than us? And: How exactly do we find the middle path?

As to the issue of other people seeming to be more competent than we are, or leading more ideal lives, or somehow living in the REAL world while the one we inhabit is something of a sham: Mr. Bast envies the Miss Schlegels, while the Miss Schlegels in turn envy the Wilcoxes. The idiom that E.M. Forster uses for this kind of envy is to say that the beholder believes the other party seemingly to have "their hands on the ropes." I find this to be a delightful saying, if anachronistic, and one that is used copiously in Howards End.

As to how one finds the path of moderation... Well, let's just put it this way: The answer was proffered at least 100 years ago by E.M. Forster, and we all could have taken a lesson at that time! In considering any two paths that lie at extreme ends of a continuum, adhering strictly to one is just as misguided as adhering strictly to the other, right? OK; we all know that. But! Did you know that following the middle path just as strictly is just as narrow & incorrect a pursuit as those extremes? Don't tell Aristotle, but apparently—and listen up here because this makes good sense—the most genuine, honest, & human way to find that middle ground of moderation is by very organically bumping up against both of the extreme paths while you carom back & forth, ultimately, towards center. I love this concept because it gives you permission to fuck up! Or, as the narrator in Howards End puts it (in a discussion comparing businessmen against mystics), "[T]ruth, being alive, was not halfway between anything. It was only to be found by continuous excursions into either realm, and though proportion is the final secret, to espouse it at the outset is to ensure sterility."

This is a major theme in Howards End, and it is stated in other ways (sometimes more subtly) elsewhere in the book:
• "You remember how he would trust strangers, and if they fooled him he would say: 'It's better to be fooled than to be suspicious'—that the confidence trick is the work of man, but the want-of-confidence trick is the work of the devil."
• "[S]he felt that those who prepare for all the emergencies of life beforehand may equip themselves at the expense of joy."
• "Mature as he was, 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."
In fact, "Only connect!" is a phrase that personifies the main character, Margaret Schlegel. You see it repeatedly in the pages of Howards End. It is Meg's motto; her philosophy. It also happens to be the book's epigraph.

Like A Room with a View, Howards End is a lot about, what E.M. Forster likes to call, "chance collisions." Either fin de siecle Europe was A LOT smaller, or it's simply that Forster's favorite plot device is to keep coincidentally running characters into one another. I can only abide a little of this before the suspension of my disbelief fails, so thankfully there is less deus ex machina in Howards End than there is in A Room with a View, and it's a wee bit more believable. Another compare/contrast between both Forster books is the reappearance in Howards End of the GENERAL term "love-making." Around the turn of the century, this meant something far closer to simply showing affection. Love-making might be practical, it might be romantic, it might be just how two people relate to one another inside a relationship or keep a happy home. Adopting this as the definition, Classic Bitch hereby invites all of you to...if you like someone...MAKE LOVE to them!

I haven't told you much about the plot, and don't think I will. It's still summer, & with confidence I can recommend Howards End to you as a "beachy" read. I dare you. Take it on vacation with you—I think you'll find it bears up! Chapter 33 made me laugh out loud & read with my jaw agape in totally...preposterously...amused astonishment. There's also a pretty strong feminist streak that runs through the book (in a 1910 kind of way). And, without spoiling a thing, I might add that I personally find the ending of the book dissatisfying: another reason I want you to read it. It seems to me that the concrete plot points are wrapped up, but the more abstract things like personal relationships still teeter. But that may be Forster finding his way, bumping up against the poles, trying to connect, and offering us an organic denouement. So precisely in being dissatisfied with the ending of Howards End...I'm OK with it!

"Life is indeed dangerous, but not in the way morality would have us believe. It is indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle. It is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence is romantic beauty."