Books: Howards End (Part I)

I'm reading Howards End, and I don't even know why except that I was bored and couldn't find anything to read, then looked over at my bookshelf and saw it there. I'd heard of it, knew there was a movie version at some point a number of years ago, but actually had no knowledge of the story. I've never read any E.M. Forster, and I don't know what I expected. Nothing really, I guess. I pulled the book off the shelf, didn't even read the back cover, just opened it up and started. Sometimes it's nice to go into a book or movie that way—utterly without forethought or foreknowledge.

So I'm reading it, have just finished Chapter 8, which tells you I haven't got very far. I like it, but at the same time I'm sort of resisting it a bit, and I think it's because I have this feeling Forster is trying to persuade me of something. And yet I'm not sure of what. So I'm reading with a kind of guard up, a sense of suspicion against the author that extends to the story that is his "tool."

I'm also trying to figure out if we're ever actually going to go to Howards End (which turns out to be the name of a house in Hertfordshire). Well, we started there only briefly, but I'm wondering whether we'll ever get back. It would be rather stupid to name a book after a place you hardly spend any time at, but (having worked in publishing as an editor) I've seen authors and publishers do many stupid things. And if we don't go back to Howards End, it would only confirm my suspicion that Forster means something . . . As if the place were not a place but an ideal (which, even if we do go back to it, it more or less is just based on the way it is treated when people talk about it). Harumph. Tara in Gone with the Wind was an ideal, too, for all it got anyone, but Margaret Mitchell and her publisher had better sense than to name the book Tara.

I will say I identify a bit with Helen, or I did at a particular moment—at the concert at Queen's Hall. I, too, see pictures and stories when I hear music; these things flash vividly upon my mind's eye, though I am not so intractable as Helen in insisting they are the only possible interpretation. There is a flow between types of art, I think, and some people's gates are more open than others. I recall once when I was fifteen and sitting in Honors Lit, we read Poe's "The Bells" aloud, and when the teacher asked how it made us feel, I raised my hand and spilled the most complicated story . . . The teacher (who was also the girls' basketball coach, and probably only taught Literature as a secondary interest) was rather stunned, and around me my classmates exchanged glances that suggested I'd taken away rather more from Poe's words than was necessary. But at least I'd saved them from having to answer.

So anyway. I did take a peek at the copyright page of Howards End and saw that it was first published in 1910. I always find it interesting to read things written right before something momentus—in this case World War I. How the pervasive sense of foreboding sometimes informs the prose. Or not. Was the author blind and deaf to it? Or was he simply not interested? In this case, of course, Forster does note the discontented grumblings and distant drums of war, and even the main characters are children of a [deceased] German father, so that their cousins are German too, and the English-German tensions of the time are enacted in the novel as part of family feeling.

Forster talks a lot about class, too, going on about money and the lack thereof. This is part of my sense that he means to convince me of something, something to do with class and/or money, though I haven't entirely figured out what. I really want to be able to read this book and just enjoy it, but it keeps trying to teach me something, which I find a tad distracting.

I can't say much more about Howards End just at the moment because I've hardly put a dent in it. I will let you know how it progresses, though.

No comments: