E.M. Forster delivers love, society, class, and changing English sensibility in Howards End

E.M. Forster‘s Howards End delivers love, society, class, real estate dealings, and changing sensibilities in Edwardian England. In its strictest sense, the period of King Edward VII‘s rule was 1901 to 1910. The period in some ways extends an ongoing discussion of the treatment of wealthy and poor, as well as different classes of society. These are subjects recently reviewed in the books Oliver Twist and The Remains of the Day, both of which followers of Matt Lynn Digital will recognize that Matt has reviewed earlier this year.

The story of Howards End, a country estate whose ownership is called into question when the dying matriarch of the Wilcox family, Ruth, bequeaths the country property to Margaret Schlegel, is a book on social trends of the emerging twentieth century written before much of the conflict that came about with the two great wars that later defined the century. Note that there is much to learn from this book in discussing world views between England and Germany before World War I, when much of the conception of what it meant to be German was still in the world of musicians like Wagner and philosophers like Nietzsche.

Howards End 2 (E.M. Forster)

Per the setting the E.M. Forster has established for this book, the Schlegel family symbolizes the idealistic and intellectual aspect of the upper classes of a mixed English and German family. Margaret and Helen were at the head of this family. The Wilcox family represented upper-class pragmatism and materialism, largely with Henry at its head with the passing of his mother. The Bast family symbolizes the aspirations of the lower classes. Taken together, the stage for exploring the social, economic, and philosophical trends of English culture, and European culture, are set.

Howards End 3 (Margaret Schlegel and Henry Wilcox, as portrayed in the 1992 film Howards End)

Margaret Schlegel is the mature, strongly focused feminist of the story that, in marrying Henry Wilcox, a wealthy patriarch that takes a dim view of the very real struggles that those with less affluence must confront from a a subsistence and day-to-day living basis. This relationship is perhaps the postcard home for showing us how we as people are so apt to wear our ideals, our manners, and our allegiances (spiritual, moral, social, political) for all to see. These two, with Howards End the place and the families both the stereotypes and the people, are the true genius of Forster in exposition and lyricism.

My rating of this book is 3.5-stars our of 5.

Matt – Saturday, June 17, 2017

Oliver Twist critiques abject poverty from the mean streets of 17th century London

Oliver Twist tells the story of abject poverty from the mean streets of London, England in the early 1800s. Published in serial form from 1837-1839 by Charles Dickens, the story focuses largely on the abuse of indigent orphan Oliver after his years of mistreatment in a private workhouse. Oliver flees the workhouse after being beaten in response to a rebellion among the malnourished orphans. In that request for proper quantities of food, Oliver was chosen by the orphans to ask for more food to ease his famine level hunger.

Oliver Twist 2 (Oliver asking for more food)

Oliver Twist is a largely autobiographical piece written from the point of view of characters with dark and cruel intentions towards the poor and downtrodden. The major action after leaving the orphanage are especially true of Dickens‘ background, though much of the adventure was contrived for the serial reader. Think of the novel as having been written for an audience of television viewers in a time before there was television.

Oliver Twist 3 (Charles Dickens)

Much of the action for this novel occurs when Oliver is roughly 10 to 12 years old. The moralizing that Dickens aims for was to challenge the Victorian age notion that the poor were born to their lot from birth, were essentially born in a criminal status owing to this, and to challenge the injustice of this societal treatment of the poor. Many will recognize this theme from other works of Dickens, with the novella A Christmas Carol as seen on stage and in movie format across many adaptations.

In Oliver Twist, Oliver joins company with John Dawkins, The Artful Dodger, and Fagin, the head of a group of criminals who teach Oliver to act as a common criminal by picking pockets. Oliver goes out with Charles Bates and the Dodger, struggling with his conscience as he is forced by necessity to act in a thieving, morally objectionable way.

Oliver gains his freedom when rescued by a benefactor, Mr. Brownlow, who notices a resemblance that Oliver bears to a portrait of a young woman in Brownlow’s home. This happenstance bears fruit much later in the larger narrative of bringing the tale to resolution. In the meantime, Fagin has set his crew locate themselves in a new headquarters. Fagin elicits the help of Nancy Sikes to bring Oliver back to the band of criminals in order to continue in this ignoble trade.

Oliver Twist 4(Nancy helping capture Oliver)

Eager to get Oliver completely in his power by entangling the child in deeper aspects of their criminal activity, Fagin convinces Bill Sikes to use Oliver in a major burglary. Taken west of the city, Oliver is used to gain access to a house that is to be robbed through a window. In the resulting scene, Oliver is shot in the confusion of the event while those responsible for the planning make their escape. Oliver is left for dead, though through happenstance survives long enough to be granted assistance by those he would have robbed. Before this assistance, the malfeasance of even these well-to-do benefactors is called into question.

Fagin makes inquiries after Bill Sikes when the above details are revealed. He then has an ominous meeting with a person called Monks, who is angry with Fagin, who he claims has failed in his obligation to ruin Oliver by tricking him into a lawless life. In my opinion, it is here that some modern day readers might lose Dickens. Following the many hustles and motivations tend to lose some folks. Keep in mind that were you to read this more like binge watching a television series, some of that confusion would be alleviated.

Fagin later discloses some double-dealing Nancy takes on behalf of Oliver, owing as her heart has sympathy for Oliver’s goodness in battling against evil. Meanwhile, Mr. Brownlow has been searching for Monks since the Oliver’s disappearance at Nancy’s hands.

With the help of Nancy’s change of heart and some discoveries Nancy herself made in service of Brownlow for Oliver’s benefit, Brownlow learns of Monks’ vindictive conspiracy with Fagin to destroy Oliver. Faced with this and other revelations of Monks’ criminal behavior, plus Brownlow’s reminder of Monks’ complicity in the murder of Nancy by Bill Sykes, Monks agrees to disclose the truth in exchange for immunity. Monks makes restitution to his brother (Oliver) in accordance with the terms of a will in the death of a wealthy relative of both Oliver and Monks.

Oliver Twist 5(Portrait of Agnes Fleming)

You might ask who was in the portrait that struck the fancy of Mr. Brownlow earlier in the book Oliver Twist. The image was none other than Oliver’s mother, Agnes Fleming.

I like classics by Charles Dickens. My rating is 4-stars out of 5.

Matt – Sunday, May 21, 2017