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Howards End

I've just finished Howards End by EM Forster. Like The Fear Index, by Robert Harris, I read it completely on my iPhone. Howards End was one of the books that had rested in the periphery of my constant 'to read' pile. The only other Forster book that I'd read was Maurice, which I liked very much, although the misogyny is clearly there. Howards End, despite being denser in its prose style than Maurice, is feminist; it champions women. It is, more than anything else, a novel of ideas. There are maxims and philosophical nuggets galore, such as referring to the hopeless, remorseful Leonard Bast:
'Remorse is not among the eternal verities. The Greeks were right to dethrone her'.
Bast, though, does not quite meet any happy end. I found Forster's devices interesting in the way that they could be seen as opposite to those of Charles Dickens. The latter would always kill a fallen woman off, death being the only possible redemption. With Forster it is the fallen man. The woman - or rather the Schlegel women - are allowed to flourish. This is, though, a novel that pits capitalism against socialism - German idealism and the Romantic versus stolid pragmatism. Spirituality versus property. Imperialism versus internationalism. Man versus woman. One great scene is when Margaret confronts her husband, Henry, and, using the plain language he sets great store by, forces him to listen to his hypocrisies - his moral failings - the connections. The test of greatness of a book by any long dead author is whether it can relate to us here and now - and this does on so many levels. Henry Wilcox is your archetypal Tory. Enough said. I had also been surprised to discover that Howards End is set in Stevenage. I work part of the week in London, and the other part in Stevenage - the address being 'Six Hills Way' - this landmark is referred to frequently. Who knew, I thought, that Stevenage, the first 'new town' had such a heritage?


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