Review: Howards End by E.M. Forster

“Only connect!”
~E.M. Forster, Howards End (1910)

Dear all,

let me kick off the series of reviews by the very first item on My Top 30 Books, Howards End by E.M. Forster. I will review all 30 items on the list in the order of appearance. The purpose of the review is not to spoil all the fun but give an outline of the atmosphere in the book.

Photo: Blog owner
Cafe+ in Helsinki, Finland. Photo: fiktiivinenstina

The reviews will feature the following:
– quote(s) from the book
– plot summary from Goodreads
– three key words I picked for the book
– my review on the book
– further information and other books written by the author

So, let’s get straight to business! Howards End (1910) by Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970) is a masterpiece on social perception. The society it portrays is ancient to the contemporary reader but Forster’s perspective is purely timeless.

Plot summary

“The self-interested disregard of a dying woman’s bequest, an impulsive girl’s attempt to help an impoverished clerk, and the marriage between an idealist and a materialist — all intersect at a Hertfordshire estate called Howards End. The fate of this beloved country home symbolizes the future of England itself in E. M. Forster’s exploration of social, economic, and philosophical trends, as exemplified by three families: the Schlegels, symbolizing the idealistic and intellectual aspect of the upper classes; the Wilcoxes, representing upper-class pragmatism and materialism; and the Basts, embodying the aspirations of the lower classes. Written in 1910, Howards End won international acclaim for its insightful portrait of English life during the post-Victorian era.” More on Goodreads

Key words
  • Gender roles vs. social portrait
  • Humanistic perspective
  • Concept of societal boundaries

In Howards End, E.M. Forster managed to be so universal in his social portrait of the characters and the landscape of post-Victorian England that one often forgets the era he was actually living in. Forster’s books often portray characters that are in some way or another estranged from the social setting due to their gender, social status or personal issues. One could think that perhaps he was an outsider as well.

In some sense, one cannot review his other books without considering Maurice, written during 1913 and 1914 but only published posthumously in 1971.

“Maurice was ahead of its time in its theme and in its affirmation that love between men can be happy. ‘Happiness,’ Forster wrote, ‘is its keynote….In Maurice I tried to create a character who was completely unlike myself or what I supposed myself to be: someone handsome, healthy, bodily attractive, mentally torpid, not a bad businessman and rather a snob. Into this mixture I dropped an ingredient that puzzles him, wakes him up, torments him and finally saves him.'” On Maurice at Goodreads

Forster was a young man during Oscar Wilde’s trial on gross indecency, in times when homosexuality was criminalized in Britain. The Sexual Offences Act 1967 was adopted only shortly before Forster passed away, so the whole spectrum of his life was characterized by legal ramifications on the private sphere. Wendy Moffat highlights this feature in her biography on Forster.

Looking in from the outside

In Howards End, there is a clear tension between gender roles and expectations. The main female protagonists are independent in comparison to the possibilities offered in their time and day, but they still struggle against the patriarchal society norms and expectations. All in all, Howards End also deals with the social categories, but I would say the tension is most evident through the gender lenses.

This was actually a book that I did not read but had the beautiful chance to listen to as an audio version. Highly recommended and what an elegant language. I’m sure you’ll enjoy! I’ve enjoyed all of his books, so he definitively won’t disappoint the reader. I’m yet to read A Room with a View as well as A Passage to India. Below you’ll find a sample of Forster’s other novels.

More information
– Review in the Guardian on 26 February 1910
– Film Trailer: Howards End (1992) on YouTube
– Wendy Moffat (2010): A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster

Other books by Forster
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905)
  • The Longest Journey (1907)
  • A Room with a View (1908)
  • A Passage to India (1924)
  • Maurice (1971)

“What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives? They have never entered into mine, but into yours, we thought – Haven’t we all to struggle against life’s daily greyness, against pettiness, against mechanical cheerfulness, against suspicion? I struggle by remembering my friends; others I have known by remembering some place – some beloved place or tree – we thought you one of these.”
~E.M. Forster, Howards End (1910)


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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