Saturday, 09 October 2010

Howards End

This is one of those classic books that people talk about vaguely as being significant for some or other reason and something that, really, everyone should have read, presumably while at school. Considering the vast amount of classic literature one is expected to absorb while at school it's a miracle one finds the time for anything else. While searching for images of the book cover (which is not this one, but this one is pretty and I couldn't find mine) I discovered that the movie stars Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson (who I loved together in Remains of the Day) and Helena Bonham-Carter. I shall have to see it now.

Anyway, this book is about class struggle and other social things in turn of the century England. It's exceptionally well written and I'll be on the lookout for other works by Forster in my charity-shop scouring. His writing is evocative and there's an underlying sense of camaraderie that's difficult to explain.

As far as I can tell the class struggle is between rich and poor and where one's social responsibility lies. You have the vulgar, wealthy Wilcox family, concerned only with themselves and their accumulation of wealth and power. There are the Schlegel sisters, academic, concerned and determined to help anyone they deem worthy. Then there are the Basts, proud, downtrodden and victims of prevailing social norms. Mix them altogether and one gets a book reminiscent of Austen at her best.

This is a quiet story. The thing that remains strongest with me is the Tolkienesque (is that really fair, considering Forster predates Tolkien?) description of Howards End and surroundings, the sturdiness of the land and the depressing, ever present removal of humanity from any consciousness of it. At the same time, this is one of those books that provokes subtle shifts in your subconscious without your permission or your notice. Read it, it's worth it.

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