Howard’s End is E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel about three families: the wealthy, materialistic Wilcox clan, the somewhat less wealthy but much more cultured Schlegel siblings, and a working class couple, Leonard and Jacky Bast.
They are all brought together by circumstances, a chance meeting on holiday, or at a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The story of their goings on together raises a number of topics, such as the nature of art, or the need to see life with an open mind. But overall, the subject of change seems to be the most important theme. In some ways we get a picture of a world that really needs a shake up. Leonard Bast is a promising young man with artistic ambitions. But limited means make it very unlikely he will achieve his potential. Helen Schlegel tries to help him, with less than ideal results. Talking of Helen, women have yet to get the vote. However, despite this portrayal of a world in need of development, the book is also about the sadness of change. Old, well-established places represent a steadying distillation of human experience, which cannot be recovered once lost. The book is a constant struggle between a desire for stability and a need to move into the future – all focused on a rambling and attractive former farmhouse on the outskirts of London, called Howard’s End.
Howard’s End is Mrs Wilcox’s special place, where she was born and has lived all her life. Now facing her death, she decides to give the house to Margaret Schlegel, whose London home is soon to be demolished to make way for modern flats. However, when the time comes for Mr Wilcox to honour his wife’s wish, he ignores it.
As the ramifications of this decision unfold, I eventually got the feeling that a rather impossible compromise is required to keep people happy – their lives have to change but also stay the same. This tricky demand is behind Margaret’s house-hunting request, which would challenge even the most creative estate agent:
“We merely want a small house with large rooms, and plenty of them.”
Margaret wants the cosiness of a small home along with space to expand and develop.
This is an interesting book, quite funny in places, usually at the points where artistic or wealthy pretensions get punctured. The school-masterly author voice can be a bit pompous, but its own pretensions sometimes find themselves cut done to size.
Howard’s End still deserves its classic status. After all, people continue to want small houses with big rooms and plenty of them.