Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An aspiration toward wholeness in a fracturing world? (Books - Howards End by E. M. Forster)

E. M. Forster exhorts us to 'only connect' in his great novel Howards End.  I re-read this old favorite every few years.  This time through I was struck not just by the way in which his plea asks us to connect in the sense of building bridges with others, but also by pulling together the apparently disparate parts of people.  If the Schlegel sisters Helen and Margaret represent, as Forster says, the passion and the prose, then true apprehension of a person, including oneself, is connecting all that exists in him or her.

I read in Forster's book this time through an aspiration toward wholeness in one's person.  Is this perhaps a reaction toward the fracturing of so many institutions previously thought to be solid?  The psyche broken into three parts by Freud, the tonal structure of Western classical music abandoned by Schoenberg, the smallest unit of matter - the atom - about to be smashed to pieces by Bohr.  This novel seemed to me suffused with the year of its publication, 1910, which, according to Virginia Woolf was "the year that human character changed."  It was the end of Edwardian England, a period of political, artistic, and sexual liberation.

What is remarkable about Howards End is the intimate scale on which Forster captures this sweeping change.  In the domestic lives of the two maverick Schlegel sisters and their relationships with the wealthy Wilcox family and a working class clerk named Leonard Bast, a seismic shift in English societal structured is played out.  So skilled is his building of the contrasting characters of Helen and Margaret, particularly through their dialogue, I could see why Merchant,Ivory, and Jhabvala were drawn to adapt Forster's novels to film.

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