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

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way

Kazuo Ishiguro‘s The Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way. The full effect was subtly delivered through demonstration, seeing truths the central players in some ways denied to themselves, and the role of place or station in stratifying the professional and personal experiences of dignity. The story culminates in some long overdue self-introspection, the many layers of a faded or lost glory, of yesterday.

The narrative and expressions of the butler James Stevens ostensibly took into account his professional perspective of the butler profession in England as Stevens looks back on his career, and the fate of England, in a past that takes place against the backdrops of fascism, two world wars, and an unrealized love between Stevens and the housekeeper known throughout much of this story as Miss Sarah Kenton.

For an American audience familiar with the novel made movie Forrest Gump, The Remains of the Day follows along with an unreliable narrator that really misses much of the significance of the life around him. Stevens, as Ishiguro’s sad foil in this reality. The questions for Stevens, and Lord Darlington in the service of England, and for England, France, Germany, and to a lesser extent America within the fate of Europe, would include answering questions like these:

What is dignity? What is greatness? How do you define your purpose? What are the proper roles of nobility, compassion, and love in the emerging norms of society? To a certain extent, how do you come to grips with these after realizing that you’ve lost your chance to stake your claim on these? How do you then move on?

The telling of these questions were beautifully taken in The Remains of the Day. I personally felt more heartbreak for Mr. Stevens, Miss Kenton, the house servants separated owing to religious bigotry, and Mr. James Stevens’ father more than I felt these for Lord Darlington, the doctor in the village where the sedan was without gas for an evening, or the colleagues of Lord Darlington that took the butler Stevens to task that day.

the-remains-of-the-day-2

Many would find the story telling slow. Others still would find the unreliable narrator unpleasant,  off-putting, and lacking in self awareness. That there is a redemption, an awakening of sorts, for the narrator at the resolution is the payoff for those with the patience to persevere so worth it.

My overall rating of this novel is 4-stars out of 5. While difficult for an American audience, I ultimately fell for The Remains of the Day. Why? Kazuo Ishiguro‘s The Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way.

Matt – Sunday, February 26, 2017