Books: Howards End (Part V)

I finally finished!

And it wasn't that the book was a slog or anything; I've just been very busy. (I've got Richard Marx's "I Get No Sleep" stuck in my head these days . . .)

Howards End has a plot in it somewhere—there's a story, if you can read through all the embedded ideals and philosophies, and get past the thick descriptions of England itself. Forster does a lovely job with all these things, of course, but when you get down to the actual story, it's very thin. It doesn't have to be; Forster could have expanded it. But that doesn't seem to have been his aim.

What do we learn from Forster in Howards End? That who owns a house has less to do with the deed and more to do with attachment, I suppose. Emotional connection. Some people are attached to things, to property, because they are materialistic, and it makes them feel good about themselves to own houses and cars and whatever else. Somehow this makes them feel secure. It gives them a definite place in the social hierarchy and becomes how they define themselves. But the emotional connection in these instances is one supported by fear—fear of not having, of going without. These people are like squirrels storing up nuts against a cold winter.

Then there are people who form attachments to things for other, more ephemeral reasons. A place "speaks" to them. And this emotional connection develops out of love and understanding. There is a commune, an unspoken dialogue between the person and the place (or the tree, or whatever other thing the person has become attached to). Yes, even if it is a house or country to which you have no family connection, you may fall in love with it as with another person and know you are meant to be together.

There are other themes in the book, ones I've written about in previous posts. The practical people in the world being at odds with the idealists. And yet one cannot do without the other, not really. If the world were all idealists, we'd have a great many thoughts but difficulty putting them to any practice. And if it were all practical types, we'd never make any progress because we'd all be devoted to just doing what we've always done, the way we've always done it. The best sorts of people are able to do both to some extent, I guess. Or the best couples are the ones who balance one another out. But one cannot go through life unchanged, either. Margaret's marriage necessarily changes the way she sees and does things, at least a bit. And Helen is also changed, affected by Margaret's marriage and also by her own pregnancy, which forces her to be more practical than she had been.

As for Howards End itself, I'm glad to be able to say they do eventually go there, and so finally a swath of the book takes place in the titular location. But still, it's mostly an ideal in the form of a place. So are all the locations in the book, I think. And maybe that's true in the world. Maybe places—houses—are ideals made flesh. I'm pretty sure I've seen or read things about the "rhetoric of architecture" or whatever. Houses might be the skins of families and the people who live in them the organs functioning within. Or something like that.

I did enjoy the book, though I'll choose something lighter for my next read. Because while I don't mind being made to think—I like that, actually—Forster laid it all on rather thickly. Reading Howards End was a bit like eating something heavy and dense. So now I'll go in search of something sweet and fluffy . . .

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